Choosing the Ideal Aspect Ratio for Your Video

Make simple math your best friend and start creating more intentional experiences for your viewers.

Jenny Mudarri

Creative


Aspect ratio is one of the most important creative decisions you’ll make as a video marketer — just ask a filmmaker. Take Alfonso Cuarón, director of the award-winning film Roma, for example. When describing the production of the film, Cuarón said, “I wanted to do the Academy format; [the cinematographer] convinced me to go 65 and wide. That started to inform the whole thing.”

Don’t know what “Academy format?” or “65 and wide" means? Don’t worry. That’s just filmmaker-speak for different aspect ratios. What he’s really saying is, video dimensions have just as strong an emotional and persuasive effect as any other visual effect. Here’s why.

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Still from “Roma” in widescreen 2.35:1 Source: Netflix

The creative power of aspect ratio

In the past, aspect ratios were shaped by two factors: the type of film used and theater screen size. Now, videographers have more creative freedom, but there are still standards, thanks to online video platforms.

Aspect ratios for online video players come directly from movie history — with a few tweaks here and there. On desktop, mobile, and smart TV, there are three standard formats:

  • 4:3 — “Academy format,” aka 1.375:1, the standard for most films made before the 1950s
  • 16:9 — aka 1.78:1, this “widescreen” format is standard for HDTV (and now, most desktop video players, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter)
  • 21:9 — aka 2.33:1, or “anamorphic” format is most often used in movies by filmmakers shooting on digital

These standards have influenced creators in several ways. For instance, in anamorphic, you can include more objects and scenery in the frame, informing the viewer about the world they’re seeing.

In 4:3, the squarer frame means that it’s easier for a person to fill the screen, and the details of their outfits and hand gestures become more apparent. The 4:3 format also looks a little old-school, so it works if you’re going after a vintage vibe. In both, you can play with how intimate or zoomed-out the scene is.

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As mobile video becomes more and more popular, the standards for aspect ratio are shifting. If you can get ahead of these trends, you can make content that looks great on any screen and feels fresh and relevant to your audience. But, how can you make sure you’re using the right aspect ratio from the get-go?

Use our Aspect Ratio Calculator as part of your process

In an ideal world, deciding on your aspect ratio should be an early part of the creative process. As a general best practice, you should always consider what shape the final format will take before you start shooting.

If you calculate the perfect dimensions for your video ahead of time, you’ll never have to worry about cropping out people’s heads or your product! or wasting space with black bars.

Luckily, we’ve got a tool for that! All you have to do is enter your video’s current or desired width, and we’ll give you the corresponding height (or vice versa) for the appropriate aspect ratio.

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Why not give the calculator a try for yourself!

Thanks to these exact calculations, your video will look its very best and your creative vision will remain intact!

The best video aspect ratios for social media

In the 1930s, the addition of sound in “talkies” led to the Academy format. And now, new developments in mobile video are changing the standards for video sizing. Picking up on new trends and tech will help you choose the best dimensions for your video goals.

Today, mobile video consumption dominates. Social media platforms have invested in video, we have taller phones with HD screens, and we’re more likely to just watch a video as-is rather than rotate our screens.

With the rising popularity of mobile video, three new aspect ratios are going to be just as important as the classic movie examples:

  • 9:16 vertical video
  • 1:1 square video
  • 4:5 portrait video

So with that being said, let’s gather everything we know about choosing the best aspect ratios for social media video. Here’s a complete list of aspect ratios for video marketers to use right now, along with examples of what they look like:

Facebook aspect ratios

Furniture brand Burrow uses a variety of aspect ratios in their Facebook videos. Here’s what a classic widescreen video of one of their couches looks like on Facebook:

  • Feed video: 16:9, 1:1, 4:5, 2:3, 9:16 (recommended: 1:1 or 4:5)
  • Facebook Stories: 9:16
  • Facebook Live: 16:9

While 16:9 has dominated Facebook in the past, square or portrait videos can help you capture more mobile viewers, since taller videos take up more of the screen.

Instagram aspect ratios

Instagram is known for the classic 1:1 square format, but now allows a variety of styles. Try a portrait-style video to maximize screen space, like Magnolia Bakery does:

  • Instagram feed videos: 16:9, 1:1, 4:5 (recommended: 1:1 or 4:5)
  • IGTV: 9:16
  • Instagram Stories: 16:9, 1:1, 4:5, 9:16 (recommended: 9:16)
  • Instagram Live: 9:16

Twitter aspect ratios

Twitter recently introduced square videos, and some brands are already taking advantage. But for now, the safest bet for video on Twitter is still 16:9. Look how nice this widescreen video from Zendesk looks:

  • 16:9, 1:1 (recommended: 16:9)

YouTube aspect ratio

  • 16:9

In 2018, YouTube quietly started adapting its player to the aspect ratio of original uploads. However, the standard player is still 16:9, and that’s our recommendation (for now).

When in doubt, go widescreen or square

The ideal aspect ratio, of course, depends on your goals. If you are primarily creating video content for desktop devices and smart TVs, then stick with widescreen. However, if you’re creating content that will mostly be viewed on mobile, try square video. The 1:1 aspect ratio will make your video a bit more prominent for your viewers — so it’s easy to take in your beautiful work.

Make simple math your secret weapon

While it may seem like a small thing, your video’s aspect ratio is a powerful creative tool. With a few easy calculations (using the Wistia calculator, you can make your videos look amazing for every social platform. This unlocks the potential to show your video to as many people as possible. Your audience will see a high-quality video — and you’ll make sure your message gets heard, seen, and understood.

Jenny Mudarri

Creative

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