The Focus  

March 28, 2016

As educators we know that what seems obvious to us is not always obvious to our students. We therefore design lessons to help our students see the world through focused vision and understanding. The following is part one in a series designed to help your students create better video.

Landscape vs. Portrait

The obvious thought is that everyone knows what we mean by Landscape and Portrait. Unless you have really thought about it though, you many not understand the differences. First let us define the two different modes:

Landscape gets it name from the wide view that we see along the horizon. The orientation is horizontal and the picture is wider than it is tall.

Portrait is the traditional view of a single individual having their picture taken. The orientation is vertical with the height greater than the width.

Make sure you clarify for your students that Landscape mode doesn’t have to show pretty mountains; it can be a shot of a car in a snowstorm. Portrait mode seldom is of a single individual. We can take pictures of trees, buildings or even an entire soccer team on some playground equipment in portrait mode. The terms Landscape & Portrait are not constraining to the subject but rather there to help us remember the orientation.

Definitions are fine but why do we care?


In photography both Landscape & Portrait orientation are widely used depending on the subject and the focus of the picture. If you are looking at a single subject then Portrait is often the preferred orientation while if there are multiple subjects we tend toward landscape. 

In videography we almost totally stay with Landscape mode. Ask your students why and see if they can find ownership in how they shoot video. Our world is primarily designed in landscape mode. If you look outside, you naturally see more activity from side to side in contrast to action up and down. If you look across the room your in, for the most part the walls are wider than they are tall. 

One of the primary reasons we shoot video in Landscape mode though is because of how it is displayed. Think about the orientation of your TV, computer or the projector in your classroom. There are exceptions but for the most part we are persuaded to view video in landscape mode. 

When taking pictures on a cell phone, feel free to hold the camera in either orientation but when shooting video hold the phone in Landscape mode. Like any rule there are exceptions but help your students discover the differences and learn how to choose the appropriate orientation.

If you do find yourself working with a video in portrait mode that you have to use in your final production, there are some tricks you can use.

•  The best option is to reshoot the video if at all possible, but seldom is that a viable alternative. 
•  The next thing to try is cropping the shot so the most important part is the focus of the shot. Enlarge the video thus cropping off the top and bottom. This usually will eliminate some of the background above your subject and could crop off the subject at the knees or waist. That might sound cruel but this method focuses your audience on the important part of the video. 
•  Create a background layer. This might be colored or textured background to help fill the empty black space. Some video editors like to take the main shot, enlarge it and then take it “out of focus”. This creates a background that can trick your mind into believing the video clip is larger than it is in reality.

Do you have a different suggestion? Please send it to us so we can share it with others. 

-William Bolen, Videographer