A Tip for Cell Phone Videos


One of the side projects, or hobbies, that we do here at BJPDS is light video editing. Its not something we advertise, because it is very time consuming. But its something we love to play with for friends and family.

Something we have been noticing lately is the increase in usage of cell phones to take videos. Many cell phones have great cameras in them and they are always within immediate reach to capture those important moments (its our go to video capture device!), but there is a common mistake many people make.

When using a cell phone for photos, you have a choice of either holding the phone vertical  (in the same position as if they were making a phone call) or horizontal (sideways). But, when holding a phone for video capture, many people keep the phone vertical.  This can create problems.

While many online sites, like Facebook, and some applications are adapting for cell phone videos and automatically rotating or cropping their video windows to fit “vertical” videos from cell phones; many TVs, media streaming devices, apps or web sites are not. In our case, many video editing programs can’t rotate the video automatically. While some will let you do it manually, not all do.

Why is this such a problem? Well first, let me explain a little about widescreen (16:9) vs Full Frame (4:3). Do you remember the “widescreen” wars. Where you could purchase a DVD in either “widescreen” or “full frame”?

TVs originally weren’t made rectangle, they were square. So films that were shown in widescreen had black bars on the top and bottom of the screen, to make the movie fit on the square TV. Think of widescreen as a panoramic view of a scene. Full Frame was a cropped version of the movie to fill up the entire screen of a TV. So many people would purchase the “full frame” version of a movie to fully fit a square TV. But then that meant that you lost extra footage on the left and the right. For many films, this didn’t matter as much as what was being cropped was negligble. But take a movie like Titanic for instance, and you were cropping off parts of the ship, and you lost the grandeur feel of the ship and what the Director was trying to get the viewer to  feel.

Now many TVs are built as a rectangle to take advantage of “widescreen” films. But then this means that anything that is in “full frame” mode, now has black bars on the left or the right, or the image is “stretched” to fit the wide screen. (To see some examples, visit wikipedia and look at the images in the bottom).

Again, why is this such a problem? Think of holding your cell phone vertical, as “full frame” and holding your cell phone horizontal (sideways) as “widescreen”.

So, let’s say you take a video with your cell phone vertically, and then you burn it to a DVD to share with family. They put it on their widescreen TV and they will see one of two views. Either they will see it vertically with large black bars on either side (fig. 1) OR they will see the video on its side (Fig. 2). (A third option I haven’t shown, is that the TV may keep it vertical, like in Fig. 1, but stretch it to fit the screen. YUCK!)

Vertical photo made to fit a TV.
Fig. 1: Vertical photo made to fit a TV.

Vertical photo not rotate for a TV.
Fig. 2: Vertical photo not rotate for a TV.

See how it “feels” like it’s been “cropped in the first example? Look at all that wasted space on the left and the right that could be filled with just gorgeous video?

If you were to turn your cell phone horizontal (sideways) this is what someone would see on a TV or older device (note: some TVs may have very small black bars on the top and bottom, since some TVs are “not quite” made the size of standard widescreen. Odd, I know):

Horizontally taken video on a TV.
Fig. 3: Horizontally taken video on a TV.

See how it fills the screen with all its glorious goodness? If the moment is a precious one you want to share with the world, you would probably want it to be larger than life, and you won’t necessarily get that with a video shot vertically.

But there is something else I want you to notice between fig. 1 and fig. 3, notice the area around the subject (my son). There is more being shown around him in fig. 3! Now just think if you were taking an actual panoramic view of the ocean or some mountains or kids playing at a park. If you took the video vertically, you would need to pan A LOT to capture it all, but if you flip your phone horizontally, you don’t have to pan as much, and you might even be able to get it all in one view! That’s less work for you and it makes it more enjoyable to watch for your viewer. Your not making their eyes and brain work as hard to keep up.

So which way should you rotate your phone? It all depends on the model. Some phones it doesn’t matter which way the phone is being held sideways, it will adapt. But some phones do have a particular way they want it held. So my rule of thumb is: Wherever the lens of the camera is, that should be at the “now top” of the phone. (Like a digital camera has their viewfinder near the top of the camera)

So if your using, say, an iPhone, that means the home button (that is usually on the bottom) is now on the right. Make sense?

But, you may need to play with it a little bit and see what works.

We hope that this little tip helps you create amazingly gorgeous “embiggened” videos to share with the world!