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How Important Are Verticals for Videographers Shooting Property Video?

June 19th, 2017

Over the past year, I’ve had a couple of discussions with videographers that have an extensive background in video production about the importance of verticals in property video.

To my surprise, both of these videographers claimed that interior verticals in a video are not important and nothing can be done to keep them vertical.

Perhaps I’m over-obsessive about verticals but when I see a property video shot with the camera slanted downward so the walls slant back, I get all worked up. Sure, keeping verticals vertical is much harder when shooting video and there are some camera moves where it just can’t be done. In the example video above there are only two such instances where the verticals are not dead on vertical.

I’ve decided to consult Hamish Beeston (who did the example property video above) who is a past PFRE videographer of the year and juror for the monthly PFRE video contest to get his opinion on this subject because in Hamish’s video the times when the verticals aren’t vertical are few and far between. I asked Hamish, “What do you do to keep your verticals vertical” and “Do you ever touch up verticals in post-processing”?

Hamish replied as follows:

Unlike the stills verticals debate which is pretty much un-challenged, I guess that in video it’s still up for debate as real estate video as a discipline which is much less established. And, as you note, in regular TV production, camera people have been shooting interiors for years with little concern regarding the verticals.

That’s fine in a standalone TV show but, and I think this may be the key thing, when you are promoting a property with both stills and video, and the stills follow the straight verticals norm, then you can argue that the accompanying video should too. In my work, my goal is to make all the marketing visuals have a unified look.

The main place I try to keep my verticals correct is in camera and the primary thing is to make sure the tripod is absolutely flat. In my tripod there is a bubble in a circle which you center whenever you set up. This will mean that not only is the static shot level but also any tilts or pans are level through out their movement.

Yes, I correct verticals in Adobe Premier Pro. I typically use a combination of rotation, distortion and corner pin effects filters.

As Hamish says, this subject is still up for debate so I’d like to hear other opinions on this subject.

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17 Responses to “How Important Are Verticals for Videographers Shooting Property Video?”

  • If you look at professionally produced TV and Film the verticals are vertical unless the director/cinematographer is going for an effect such as POV of an actor. I clear mark of an amateur production is off-kilter camera views and bobbing up and down (and zooming in and out). Jibs and camera dollies are built to maintain a level camera when moving up and down.

  • Great discussion,

    I have given this some thought as a primary still photographer who has done some architectural video. It looks so unprofessional to me to see a property video where there is disregard for verticals and horizontals square. I often sub out property videos and if the videographer disregards these basic principles I will pass them by.

    As a still photographer I spend a lot of time getting all images squared during the shoot or in post and this same focus on detail is important to me whether still or in video.

    My two cents!

    Ethan

  • While I definitely think it’s important to keep verticals square in general, I think there are many instances where breaking the rule is totally acceptable, and necessary, to achieve a particular move. Looking up to see an interesting ceiling feature, looking down over a balcony, etc.

    I would only break the rule with a specific purpose in mind. If you are just shooting a wide shot of a room, there is no reason not to be leveled.

  • I would say that it is a mistake to compare the videos we make with movies or TV. Our world is marketing and TV is “art”. The rules are different. We should keep the verticals straight as much as possible whenever possible.

    I do not agree with Ken saying that professional filmmakers always hold the verticals unless they are recording an actor’s POV. That is simply incorrect. You just have to watch a few movies. In movies or TV they play with many more sensations than we have to play and that involves using many more resources and breaking many more rules to convey those feelings.

    I like Matt’s last sentence. I would complete it by adding the following. The less focal length, the more vertical the lines should be. If you are with a long focal length recording a detail, I do not think anyone will care.

    Excuse my bad English. I am from Spain.

  • Hello, my name is Lee and I am a Vertical Rule Breaker.

    Yes I know one should try to keep verticals straight, but only in still photography.

    In videos you can’t really shoot with tilt shifts. Well, you CAN do it technically, but it is cumbersome, and virtually no one does it. If you look on Google to see what films were shot in tilt shift, you won’t find much. People don’t shoot that way. If you go to NAB show in Las Vegas, and look at all the new film/video lenses, the word “verticals” is never found.

    But it is possible to keep verticals straight if you don’t mind losing cool video moves. Since video is about motion and movement, it will restrict your options.

    I have worked for 25 years in video production as a video producer, director, and editor. In all the years, not one client, not one producer, not one director, has ever mentioned the word “verticals.”

    With that in mind, here are the kinds of moves one can make when creating motion pictures.

    1 Tilt. Moving the camera up and down. One of the most common moves that always causes shifting verticals. No way around it. But who wants to shoot a video without ever tilting?

    2. Panning. Camera on tripod. Operator just swings the camera from left to right. This creates ever-changing verticals. No way around it. The Pan is one of these most basic, commonly used moves there is because it is easy and looks great.

    3. Zoom: Lens zooms in and out with camera stationary. Vertical will stay essentially vertical, but only if zoom straight in and out.

    4. Pedestal. Often called out as “Ped Up” or “Ped down.” This is moving the camera up and down on a pedestal without changing its direction at all. This will keep verticals vertical, assuming they were to begin with.

    5. Dolly. This is moving the camera left and right along a track. Keeps verticals vertical, IF they were to begin with. Shooting with a super wide angle lens on a video or film camera? It’s gonna distort the vertical when dollying.

    6. Truck. This is like zooming the lens, but instead of zooming the lens you are physically moving the camera forward and back, Keeps the vertical if they were to begin with.

    7 Handheld. Forget about. Verticals can be forgotten here! Yet, handheld is one of the most common moves in contemporary video. Everyday on prime time TV, they do handheld because it looks cool, it’s real, and it’s exciting. It’s POV, which is why it works so well. Now shooting handheld is one of the toughest things to do right, but when it works, it works.

    8. Steadicam. Gimbal shots. Forget about it. Keeping a vertical while operating a Stedicam or gimbal is like trying to walk a straight line after doing a fifth of vodka. Ever watch Homeland? The majority of shots are Steadicam.

    9, Cranes. These are for hoisting the camera up on a jib. Verticals will go crazy when tilting. But not too many people want a crane shot without tilting.

    So out of 9 shot types, just a few can work at all for keeping verticals. So if one wants to make a video with beautiful verticals, one will have to restrict oneself to the most basic moves. Out of 9 potential moves, you can just use a few.

    Probably the most successful Real Estate show on the air is Million Dollar Listing New York,. They have said “NO” to straight verticals. They don’t care. They make no attempt to shoot anything vertical. They don’t fix them in post either. Their shooting crews and their editorial staff are top notch. No straight verticals on this show.

    My conclusion is that verticals are important for still photography, but unimportant for moving pictures. I feel one should go with a creative shot, go with interesting motion, and go for an exciting cut. And if the verticals are not so vertical, then I’ll be straight with you, shoot it anyway.

  • All that freedom Lee mentions about video also exists in photography. We could also make a list of all the types of photography we could do. But every field has its rules.

    And that in RE photography we keep straight vertical lines does not mean that we are depriving ourselves of a lot of creative visions.

    He sets as an example a TV show. But I think that example doesn’t work here. We don’t make shows, we don’t work to entertain a non-professional audience that doesn’t know very well why there are things that work and why there are things that don’t.

    We work for more or less professional clients and the goal is to sell, not entertain. And I think there are certain rules that we should all strive to maintain.

  • Always. Drives ME crazy otherwise. Plus, as opposed to a TV show where the characters are the main focus, in real estate video, the HOUSE is the main focus. I see videos where people shoot low to the ground and tilt up and it feels like I’m in a funhouse – it’s way too distorted.

    Personal preference really I guess.

  • It’s easy to do, and it’s extremely distracting when that attention to detail is omitted. Shoot it level in the first place, and then it’s easy to fix what little bit is left in post.

  • I counted more than just a few shots (not including the aerials) where the verticals were NOT vertical.

    This house is not a typical house. With high ceilings, it’s entirely possible to create many attractive wide shots of a space and keep the lens level (and the verticals vertical). In a more typical house, with 8 foot ceilings, maintaining verticals would mean never attempting a tilt move and always keeping the camera directly in the vertical center of the room at 4 feet high.

    Because the image is a moving image and a single framing stays on screen no more than a couple of seconds, a viewer will subconsciously ignore a changing perspective and slightly off verticals. Even YOU didn’t notice it in your sample video above.

  • Question – Could you shoot in 4K, use the corner pin effect in Premier (straighten vertical), and output as 1080p to make up for crop from corner pin?

  • Yes Tony, we could say it works as a “fake tilt-shift” shot in photography. One thing is how you shoot and another thing is how you export the final file. And you can crop however you want in Premiere Pro. 1920×1080, 1280×720, 1234×123… whatever you want. Like Photoshop or Lightroom.

  • Here’s an interesting fact that someone just pointed out: if you shoot an interior video for HDTV you are told that “verticals MUST be perfectly vertical”.

  • Good discussion all and I agree with most of what’s been said.

    To pick up on a couple of things:

    – When I bang on about verticals, it’s only in those shots where there are meant to be verticals – as per the regular ‘rules’ of RE photography. Matt and Sergio put it well that verticals tend to matter in wide shots but not so much when you’re zoomed in – as well as the many instances when breaking the ‘rule’ is fine – tilts, looking over balconies, up at features on the ceiling etc.

    – Re your list Lee, I would argue that you can keep the verticals right in a panning shot, if your tripod is levelled correctly. And I certainly try to when shooting with a gimbal, which is not as tricky as you might think – at least not with my Ronin, which naturally tries to sit horizontal anyway. Interesting too what you say Lee about never hearing the word ‘verticals’ in 25 years of video work. I had 15 years in broadcast television and was the same. It was only when I started photographing RE that I heard about the concept, first in my photo work and then it seemed natural to apply it to my video. Now it’s second nature and truth be told I find myself looking for those verticals in pretty much all of my video work now. Is this better in itself? No, absolutely not of course, for all the reasons you mention above. I just happen to like the more geometric / precise look I guess. And I mentioned above, for RE, I like the video and stills to have a similar look.

    – Tony, re using Corner Pin in PP, in my experience, you don’t need to down res from 4K to HD in order to make up for the loss of image / zoom. At least not if you are just tweaking out a couple of corners a little to make things just right. I do find though that using Corner Pin on an image that’s been heavily colour-corrected (eg if you are shooting in Slog3 or similar) can make the whites a bit patchy / pixellated. The way round this is to colour correct the shot, export it as a highish res file (I tend to use .mp4 format at c35 Mbps), reimport that and then do the Corner Pinning. It’s a bit of a faff but ensures you get no picture break-up. Corner Pinning can also make the image slightly soft, so I’ll normally add 50% sharpening at this point too.

    As an aside, I’m also a fiend about straightening pictures hanging on the wall – even in other people’s houses – which probably is all connected!!

  • I can see Hamish’s point. When I started with real estate work, that is when I first heard the word verticals. So maybe the issue of verticals is reserved for some areas of imaging but not others.

    While I can totally see why still work requires the straight verticals, I can not see it for video. I like the way video moves and I think interesting movement trumps verticals almost every time. I guess I am in the minority here 🙂

    Here is a show on HGTV about Barak Obama’s house in Hawaii. Lots of great shots in the show, but not a straight vertical to be found. Here are some screen grabs I took from the show.

    https://leemiller.smugmug.com/My-First-Gallery/

  • Being a video guy I tend to agree with Lee here. Thats an interesting topic that I’ve only ever seen or heard about when you talk with real estate stills photographers who shoot video as well!

    Don’t get me wrong I’m all for making properties not look distorted when shooting them and doing my best to make them look good. However for example if I’m shooting a wide of a room I will always tend to have the camera pointed slightly down to achieve a pleasing composition to the shot which can sometimes be at the cost of verticals distortion. I will always err on the side of framing for composition first and verticals distortion second.

    If wide angle distortion was as easy to fix in video as it is with stills then yes perhaps my framing of verticals would be different. I would even go so far as to challenge a stills photographer that says they are framing for non-vertical distortion first and shot composition second!

    I’ve also seen examples of stills photographers who have obviously shot on super wide lenses and then corrected the verticals which end up with an image that just looks weird and unnatural, sort of like an Escher art work!

    I also believe people can get too hung up on this for if you are shooting commercially (ie. a paid job for a client or repeat business) we shoot it to the best of our ability but at the end of the day its a satisfied client that is the ultimate judge of your work not how straight your verticals are!

    I’m sure common sense prevails with all of the readers here and we wouldn’t purposely shoot wides with fish eye lenses (unless thats the effect you were after) and like anything its great to have a knowledge of the ‘ideals’ when shooting but also knowing when you can break these rules if practicality or demands require it.

    Thats my 10 cents worth.

  • With my very limited knowledge and experience on the video subject, there are simple effect tools to straighten verticals. CORNER PIN EFFECT is one that springs to mind! You also can rotate and scale the image too – I have a very old tutorial here > https://goo.gl/w8vYtZ but still relevant. Maybe it can help someone? that’s my 2 cents worth!

  • Great video Allan. I’ve never tried that one. Seems Premiere is endless.

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