Is there anything as annoying as some clueless rube, be it a friend, a neighbor or a relative that uploads some cumbersome video to Facebook in portrait format? I used to think so, but then I started doing it too — inadvertently. You have too, admit it. Even though it’s wrong.
Why is it so annoying though?
Your first argument might be because of the fact that traditionally photos and videos are shot in landscape format, for a multitude of framing and historical reasons. It doesn’t hold water though. Cameras also shoot in portrait, by virtue of the photographer turning the camera. Paintings come in all sorts of aspect ratios. Film, well — no. Only because the historical size of the cameras precluded turning them on their size (and the fact that the internals can be delicate and expensive).
People tend to shoot portraits in a vertical aspect, not because it’s called portrait, but given the focal length of the lenses — it allows the subject matter (their loved ones, generally) to get closer and fuller in frame. It allows for the entire building to get into the shot. Many people will often remark that the ‘photo doesn’t do it justice’, and anecdotally that’s because how small things appear. People have always been taking these photos.
Now the proliferation of smartphones has given the ability of everyone to shoot many, many casual photos. Social sites have created platforms and algorithms to display those. For the first time ever, video can be shot just as easily and ubiquitously.
Smartphones used in landscape mode are a cumbersome experience. They’re designed to be used one-handed, more or less. (the iPhone won’t even bother to rotate the home screen unless you get an iPhone6). If people are comfortable using their devices in one-handed mode, then they will be most comfortable shooting in one-handed mode. That comfort leads to adoption.
Rotating the phone to shoot a ‘proper’ landscape photo is a cumbersome experience. Sure, it’s not “CUMBERSOME” (all caps and finger-quote emphasis mine) — but in an era where it’s finally possible for the average person to be able to capture quick photos with the camera they have (in their pocket), cumbersome can equal the moment’s hesitation, which leads to the moment being lost.
No, the reason it’s annoying is because designers have designed it to be annoying.
Mind you, not phone software designers — portrait or landscape photos look great — and not just in image focus, but in grids, because the software designers have designed representations of these photos which are meant to be navigated into for the image. If the image is landscape, the user will either pinch to zoom on details or rotate the phone. If it’s in portrait already, well — they’re probably already using it in portrait.
It’s web designers that have created the problem.
Web designers fundamentally aren’t concerned primarily with the user’s photos. They’re concerned with portraying the environment best. The photos are generally one content concern among many (navigation, indication of content, text, etc) — and that’s how the users ‘use’ it wrong. Because the designers didn’t factor that use case in. And so, the images look broken when displayed out of the desired aspect.
The thing is though, it doesn’t have to be this way. We live in an era of responsive design and flexible grids. Of screen sizes of all size. So the task of designing something around the users falls to the designers. And the developers to implement.
Tools and frameworks exist to quickly allow for flexibility in the presentation. Mobile development guidelines practically require various screensizes. We just aren’t thinking necessarily about the content of that presentation as rigorously as we should.
Instagram forces users to shoot in square format. So users are already cropping their own photos. Other social sites have started dynamically creating curated galleries that crop in on photos — that are meant to be clicked into for the full image. It’s a brilliant solution because it’s so equalizing.
Unfortunately, the opposite thing is starting to happen. Apps that force videos to be shot in landscape. Tools to correct ‘incorrect’ videos on sites like Youtube. PSA videos or websites to send to clueless family members that snarkily tell them how dumb they are.
It’s elitism. Not problem solving.
Next time you see a video or photo that is shot portrait — don’t send a snarky video or comment about how its best to shoot it in landscape, blame the designers of the interface who should follow their users. I’m certainly going to try.
If you’re a designer: consider the use case of your interface. If it’s conceivable that people will upload in a format that isn’t conducive to your interface, adapt your interface to allow it. Allow users to click for more detail to see the original source. Better still, make your interface adaptive to the aspect ratio.
Alternately, integrate the uploading process to allow for user-cropping to your desired aspect. Let them participate in your design decision, and empower them to make their photos look even better in presentation.
If you are a user of Facebook that sees a family member or friend uploading in the wrong aspect — stop and ask yourself if the video is better because of it: is it shot surreptitiously, or does it allow for a full presentation of the subject? Was it shot quickly, off the cuff? If so, then stop being an ass. Your personal mission isn’t going to be to educate someone on how to frame and compositions.
Try empathizing. Try shooting in one-handed mode. Examine the ease and rapidity of getting shots and the camera launched. Look at the benefit of doing so — outside of aesthetic composition. Are you capturing a memory that you might have lost by waiting 2 seconds longer? Are you shooting something pure and wonderful because the subject doesn’t notice? Does it matter?
Don’t blame the photographer. Blame the designers. We can be better.