Animated Video Production

Vertical Video Guide: Facebook, Snapchat, Aspect Ratios & More

Shawn Forno 08.31.2017

If you’re an online video purist, you probably hate vertical video. For years, portrait mode videos have been a sign of low quality production, but that’s quickly changing. In 2017, mobile devices surpassed desktops as the main way people watch online (vertical) video. Thanks to user generated content and quality branded videos on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, vertical video has gone from an unforgivable sin to mainstream media staple practically overnight. Embrace the madness and learn how to make vertical video—and mobile video—work for you with this complete vertical video guide.

Adapting to Vertical Video

Vertical video has overtaken “traditional” landscape video for the simple reason fact that “vertical video delivers better results than standard video in environments where people tend to hold their devices upright.” Snapchat even reports that “vertical video ads have up to nine times more completed views than horizontal video ads.” Translation: People watch more video on our phones than ever before, even ads.

vertical video guide

That kind of a jump is hard to ignore, but easy to understand. Phones have better screens, faster processors, and more video options than ever before. Video messaging is a built-in feature on apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and even Whatsapp. Video is easier to make and share, and as a result we’re all glued to our mobile screens.

Even juggernauts like Facebook and YouTube (to some extent) have embraced mobile vertical video formats. Bottomline: If you optimize your video for mobile viewers, more people are going to see it. They’re just going to watch it on their phone. Here’s a vertical video guide for Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, and more.

Vertical Video Guide: Aspect Ratio

Vertical video (also known as “portrait mode” video) comes in a few shapes and sizes, but generally vertical video means a video with a 9:16 ratio. For a more comprehensive look at aspect ratios and the evolution of the modern video format, read our complete guide to aspect ratios.

The easiest way to shoot vertical video is just to hold your phone vertically. *mic drop* However, if you’re looking for higher quality video (hopefully you are), you can follow Mashable’s process for creating quality vertical video—shoot horizontally and edit it into the right aspect ratio later.

Mashable’s creative director, Jeff Petriello, admits that they tried shooting horizontally, but simply didn’t like the results. ““In terms of quality, and for the content to live on in as many forms as possible, shooting it on at least a 4K camera horizontally has proven to be the most efficient way.” What’s even more interesting is that Petriello estimates that only a third of their vertical videos actually even need a camera. The majority of their popular videos are “created through animation and design programs like After Effects.

vertical video guide

The secret to creating adaptive vertical video for a wide range of platforms and websites isn’t completely changing the way you create video. Simply add animation and edit your videos to fit on vertical and horizontal screens.

Vertical Video Tips

If you do commit to shooting vertical video, make sure to:

  • Avoid too much horizontal movement, fast pans, and excessive swipe style transitions
  • Shoot wide to avoid an overly tight shot
  • If you use text, it can be longer than two rows

vertical video guide

Facebook Vertical Video Guide

While Facebook hosts a variety of aspect ratios (1.77:1 / 16:9 / HDTV, 2:39:1 or 2:40:1 / Widescreen / 9:16, 1:1 / 1.33:1 / 4:3 / SDTV, 1.375:1 / film, 1.85:1), it has fully embraced vertical video largely due to vertical video engagement rates with mobile viewers. Facebook recently A/B tested vertical video against square ratio video using “the same creative, video length, targeting, budget and bid—the only difference was the aspect ratio. The results: “Seven of the ten tests showed that vertical video ads drove an incremental increase in brand lift, including a three- to nine-point increase in ad recall.” People prefer vertical video. But what’s more interesting is how vertical video changes how we watch video ads.

vertical video guide

70% of video watch time during the test, including video ads, was with the sound on. Typically Facebook mobile viewers prefer muted video. However, full screen vertical video is engaging enough to encourage audio. And Facebook isn’t alone in their findings.

Executive digital editor for Annenberg Media shared what his team learned about vertical video on Facebook. “On average, our produced and uploaded vertical cuts reached more than 25,000 people, beating out both our square and horizontal post formats.” By all accounts, vertical video seems to be great for engagement, that’s why Facebook is prioritizing it.

Facebook recently updated the News Feed with “larger vertical video format in the Facebook app” as well as “other apps and surfaces, including Instagram, Facebook Live and the channel view on Facebook.” Facebook is doubling down on vertical video. Maybe it’s time you did too.

Facebook recommends “designing for mobile first to maximize your impact through vertical video in every scenario possible. To learn more about vertical video, see Upgrading Facebook Video for People and Advertisers. “making your video more visually engaging by using a format better suited to mobile, such as a vertical or square video.”

Facebook Vertical Video Guide: Aspect Ratios

Here are the technical specs for Facebook vertical video:

vertical video guide

  • Aspect Ratios Supported: 16:9 (full landscape) to 9:16 (full portrait)
  • Mobile in feed: Videos will be rendered as is up to 2:3, with masking to 2:3 for aspect ratios between 2:3 to 9:16
  • Desktop in feed and desktop player: For desktop in feed, vertical video will continue to be letter-boxed to 1:1. For desktop player, vertical video will be 9:16 with no black bar letter-boxing
  • Recommended Aspect Ratio for Vertical Video: 9:16 (full portrait), ensuring core content falls in the 2:3 mask for mobile News Feed

A few important takeaways from that jargon is that vertical video is supported on both desktop and mobile players, and that vertical video is presented on Facebook without letter-boxing—the only exception being in feed desktop letter-boxing. That’s not complete adoption, but it’s a big step forward for vertical video from a platform with over two billion users. And the lack of that annoying black border is increasing engagement rates on Facebook for vertical video.

Optimize your videos for mobile feed playback at 9:16 aspect ratio and find out if your target audience has made the shift to mobile viewing. This one act could be the first step in updating not just your video marketing strategy, but your entire inbound lead funnel.

Instagram Vertical Video Guide

vertical video guide

Even though Instagram is primarily mobile, the platform isn’t really designed for “true” vertical video (9:16 aspect ratio). According to their site, “Instagram supports video ratios from 1.91:1 to 4:5. This includes: Landscape (1.91:1), Square (1:1), Vertical (4:5).” It’s a small difference, but an important one to note when creating vertical video for multiple formats.

Make sure you leave a little room along the top and bottom of your video for square formatting and cropping.

YouTube Vertical Video Guide

More than half of YouTube views come from mobile devices, so it’s no real surprise to see YouTube adapt to vertical video. Previously ground zero for letter-boxes, YouTube updated their app to “dynamically adapt to whatever size you choose to watch it in.” It’s open season for YouTube vertical video creators. Let the comment section rejoice.

vertical video guide

Snapchat Vertical Video Guide

You can’t talk about vertical video without mentioning Snapchat. Snapchat is the true home for vertical video, period. News outlets and major media companies like Vice and ESPN, create 10-second vertical video ads that see “hundreds of thousands— if not millions of viewers each day.” And according to Cheddar CEO and founder, Jon Steinberg, “On Snapchat Discover, the default content formatting is vertical.”

Steinberg looked at the different engagement rates of Snapchat ads in both horizontal and vertical formats and “vertical video ads have up to 9x more completed views than horizontal video ads.” Steinberg is convinced that vertical video is the future for branded content. “We need to move even more aggressively to develop vertical content, especially on our Snapchat Discover channel.” Sounds like a plan.

Great Examples of Vertical Video

Still not convinced that 9:16 videos are any good? Check out some examples from the world’s first vertical film festival. You’re welcome.


“Basket Case” (2nd prize winner)

Nespresso “One Day”

“Rhapsody in Blueberry”

“BBC Media Action”

BBC created this fantastic first-person vertical video to demonstrate the value of a phone as a survival tool for refugees. Viewers see the refugee experience in a we all understand—through our phones.

Vertical Video Guide

Vertical video on mobile devices, desktops, and even feature films is here to stay. Understand how to shoot and format vertical video for every platform to reach more viewers.

But if you just can’t stand vertical video, we totally understand. For more tips on how to succeed with animated video, download our free eBook.

Shawn Forno

Shawn Forno is a massive Studio Ghibli fan who does content marketing. In that order. Find his other writing and extensive travel blogging here.

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