In certain filmmaking crowds it is often expected of me, as a student of film history, to abhor the modern trend of vertical video or 9×16. But many people would be surprised to find out that I actually do not have a problem with the format at all. We take photos in portrait mode, we Facetime in portrait mode, we read articles in portrait mode… the simple fact is a smart phone is just easier and more natural to hold in portrait mode. So why not have video that’s designed to fit that natural aspect ratio?


Now a clear distinction must be made here – we’re not advocating that all media be produced at a 9×16 aspect ratio. That would be as silly as calling for all productions to use 16×9 or 2.39 – some things work better in one format or the other and it’s up to the filmmaker to choose.

Until very recently, the 9×16 aspect ratio hasn’t been taken seriously by content creators, employed only by well meaning amateurs just trying to capture a spur of the moment event. Well it’s time to change that. What if you used the skinny aspect ratio to your advantage? What if you could be one of the pioneering filmmakers creating new aesthetics in the 9×16 video world?

Nespresso Talents 2016 is offering just that opportunity! An international search is on for the three most innovative filmmakers working in 9×16 to be showcased at the Cannes Film Festival 2016.

So How Do I Compose 9×16 Anyway?

The narrower framing of the vertical video may seem alien at first but it really isn’t that unfamiliar. If you’ve ever taken a portrait photo, you’ve framed for 9×16 – now we’re just adding motion. Check out these three Nespresso commissioned films by the jury members for some amazing composition ideas.

Martin Scorsese famously asked how you would compose a close up in widescreen. It can be difficult as closeups in widescreen result in some sort of compromise between cutting off parts of the face or having lots of empty room on the side of the frame that need to be filled. Well the human face (and body for that matter) fit much better in a 9×16 aspect ratio.

Landscapes might be something you would think lend themselves better toward widescreen and you’d be right. You’re not going to get Lawrence of Arabia vistas in 9×16 but if you look for interesting compositions, you’ll find lots of stunning natural imagery that fits the tall frame:

Architecture almost lives in the 9×16 aspect ratio – seemingly perfectly suited for this documentary on Doors:

And of course in animation – you’re only limited by your imagination:

Keep in mind that with the vertical edges of the frame so close, where you place your horizontal lines becomes much more important. Also consider what’s in the frame and what’s not and use that strategically to tell your story. With less horizontal real estate you have to be more selective about what you choose to show which can make for some stunning compositions.

Always remember: it’s what’s in the image and what isn’t – that’s the only thing that matters.

Technical Considerations

You can create your 9×16 film in anyway you want. Shooting video on a phone held in portrait mode would be the simplest but it may not be the most creatively interesting. For mounting GoPros and small DSLRs you can look into ball head tripods. These are designed for photographers who  shoot stills in portrait mode – however they are not great for shooting pans and tilts. In those situations you may need mount the camera on an L bracket on a fluid head tripod to get the sideways shot. You can purchase them premade or make one of your own:

L Bracket

You don’t have to always shoot locked off on sticks. Handheld is always an option when shooting 9×16 but there are some things to consider. CMOS sensors capture the scene from top to bottom – the resulting “jello effect” causes vertical lines to slant in a pan. In vertical mode, the “jello effect” will cause things to stretch-and-squish when performing quick pans. Because of the claustrophobic nature of vertical video – excessive camera shake or fast moves may cause motion sickness in the audience so either avoid that or use it sparingly and always with a purpose.

When it comes to editing you’ll want to create a custom timeline in your editing suite (like a 1080×1920 timeline) so you are filling the entire frame with your 9×16 image. Things like cuts, dissolves and other transitions will have a little different effect when working with 9×16 versus widescreen. The best approach is to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t for your idea.

How Do I Enter?

The Nespresso Talents 2016 contest is open to international entries starting on March 7th and closes on April 10th, 2016. The top three filmmakers will be selected to have their work screened at the world famous Cannes Film Festival in May.

Head over the Nespresso Talents 2016’s submission page to submit your entry- the deadline is April 10, 2016!



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