The Ultimate Guide for Understanding Video Aspect Ratio

Creative Designs

minute read

Usually, when it comes to video production, most priority is given to perfect lighting, audio track, flawless visuals, robust storyline or narrative, color grading, etc. However, there’s another component that deserves more than it actually gets – the video aspect ratio. Aspect ratio is that crucial ‘aspect’ that must always be at the forefront of video content broadcast and production.

For beginners, the concept of aspect ratio in video might seem a little technical; but trust us, understanding the concept is a piece of cake. You just need a wholesome guide to aspect ratio that clearly explains what it is, why this ratio is so vital for videos, and what the most common types of ratios are that video creators use. This article will give you the answers to all this.

Also, as a bonus, we will break down the simple techniques for changing the aspect ratio in a video.

What is video aspect ratio?

The aspect ratio of a video is the video width with respect to its height, especially when it is viewed on a screen. This is the ratio that shows the video’s orientation, i.e., how wide the video is. The ratio is measured in pixels. If one traces the history of motion pictures, in the very first cinema, this ratio used to be 1:33 or 4:3. This was a very crude video width and height measurement, as multiple frames of 35mm photographic film were hand-stitched together.

Although crude and in its nascent stage, this measurement was the standard during the “television era” in the 1990s. The standard eventually changed and evolved for good at the onset of digital video content streaming.

Significance of aspect ratio in online video?

The actual significance of this measurement ratio lies in the fact that it influences the amount of space surrounding the video. You must have watched old classic cinemas, where you have observed the amount of space or black padding present on both sides of the screen. This spacing was present in the old movies due to the aspect ratios in which the films were shot. Earlier, cameras were mostly focused on two people conversing, maybe the lead actor and the actress. Although they were shot in a square frame, much of the background didn’t fit in the frame.

Likewise, vertical orientation could capture the speaker’s face and body but cut out most of the second person onscreen. In present digital times, this has changed a lot because of the screen used to watch movies. Today, content makers and video broadcasters are expected to give the optimum viewing experience to their audiences for the best engagement and response. A perfect video display resolution is much needed for an online video or feature film’s success.

Thanks to technological advances, we now have advanced digital cameras with a variety of aspect ratio settings. There are also several video editing tools available online that can be used to change the faulty ratio of a video. That’s why video post-production is paramount these days.

Given the vital importance of aspect ratio in filmmaking and making video quality effective, more content creators and digital marketers are taking it seriously. Mostly for brand owners who conduct video marketing through Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Instagram, getting the height and width of a video correct matters the most for them. Each of these platforms has its own video proportion guidelines; one has to abide by them for the best results and traction.

Of late, over 96% of digital marketers have spent their marketing budget on video content in 2024, worth $78.5 billion. And almost 70% of online content creators are creating more videos than they did three years ago. This massive rise in video consumption has also made it imperative for video editors to ensure correct video aspect ratio and proportion.

Is there any difference between video resolution and aspect ratio?

Do these two concepts sound similar? Well, it’s no wonder that if you are a beginner, video resolution and video aspect ratios will sound synonymous to you. Both are crucial elements of a video; both must be correct for an effective display and viewing experience. Both are required for an optimum video dimension on various screens. But no, these two are completely different concepts. Let us break them down for you in simple words.

As mentioned earlier, aspect ratio is the proportional relationship between a video’s width and height (length or breadth) that impacts the video’s tone and shape. The wider the ratio, the more the depth of the video; it also looks modern as per current standards. Two numbers separated by a colon indicate the aspect ratio, such as 4:3, 16:9, etc. Focus on this must be especially given when the content maker wants to create something artsy and stylistic, not vintage.

Whereas, video resolution refers to the total number of pixels present in a video frame onscreen. This is denoted as 1920 x 1080, 3840 x 2160, etc. Alternatively, as a number with a “p” (for pixels) or “K” (for thousands of pixels).

For example, 1080p or 4K. Resolution calculates the screens in multiple pixels and then displays the number of pixels across the screen, thus making a video appear high resolution or low resolution. The higher the resolution, the more pixels, and naturally, the clearer and sharper the video. And if the resolution is low, it means fewer pixels and a pixelated video. Resolution is considered most important when creating high-end videos for web-purpose or digital platforms.

Given the fact that both of these aspects are different and have separate roles to play, technically, they are interconnected. A video that has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 can have either of the standard ratios, such as 16:9 (which is a widescreen video) or 4:3 (which is a fullscreen video). That’s the reason why most first-time users and video editing aspirants confuse the two.

What is the ideal aspect ratio for a video?

As per industry standards, 16:9 is the most recommended and ideal aspect ratio for online videos. The reason is that this ratio is supported by most digital screens and devices, such as computer monitors, HDTVs, smartphones, smart TVs, etc.

Moreover, OTT video streaming platforms like Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, Dacast, Disney+, and Prime Video all recommend 16:9 ratio. It enlarges the video, giving viewers a wide viewing experience. That’s the reason 16:9 is considered the best aspect Ratio for videos.

What are the most common aspect ratios that video creators choose?

Video content creators, movie makers, brand owners, and production houses all want to get their videos right, driving in a great deal of appreciation and engagement. Getting the aspect ratio of the videos, among other things, is the first step to it.

Although there’s no fixed formula, the best proportion is always picked based on how it is going to be broadcast and how the audience will view it. If the video is for social media platforms, the ratio will be much different from the ratio of OTT-centric content. The same goes for feature films shown in theatres; these have a different aspect ratio than the ones made for web purposes.

In this section, we will explain some of the most common aspect ratios used across the world. If you are an aspiring video creator or editor, check out the complete list and make your choice wisely

  • 16:9

    This is one of the most commonly used aspect ratios and is also the present industry standard (as mentioned above). This is used for widescreen video, mostly seen on YouTube, TV shows, TVCs, OTT streaming platforms, etc. The beauty of the 16:9 ratio is that it can be used for a wide variety of videos. Such as corporate videos, documentaries, short films, narrative fiction, wildlife shots, action sequences, and more, without cropping.

    For recording purposes, the majority of contemporary digital cameras as well as smartphones are pre-set in this ratio. The versatility of this aspect ratio makes it the first choice for all video productions.

  • 4:3

    Long before the popularity of widescreen TVs among consumers, this ratio was the first choice for the standard “fullscreen” view, slightly wider than the square view. Before the millennium (the 2000s), all camcorders and video recorders recorded in this format; hence, it has that classic 90s retro feel to it.

    Even today, some experimental documentaries made as a homage to the “golden 90s aesthetics” can be shot in this format to evoke a sense of nostalgia in the viewers.

  • 9:16

    This is the perfect video viewing format for the digital era, more so in the “TikTok” and Instagram “Reels” times. These short-form videos are usually watched on smartphones and must be in vertical orientation. 9:16 is the ideal aspect ratio for Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, TikToks, and similar vertical videos.

    Technically, 9:16 is the exact reverse of 16:9, that is used for TVCs, smart TVs, OTTs, etc. Much of the craze for this format is due to its immersive nature and how viewers get engaged with videos with this ratio. Being vertical, this format flawlessly captures human faces with all the expressions, emotions, and facial features.

  • 1:1

    This is the ratio for videos shot in square mode, which is inherently ideal for social media post videos. Digital marketers and brand owners prefer this format for showcasing and promoting their products to an audience on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

    Mostly for marketing and promotional videos, the 1:1 ratio is utilized. Because of its perfect square orientation, product close-up shots can be displayed in an appealing and symmetrical way in this aspect ratio.

  • 1.85:1

    1:85:1 is normally a widescreen video aspect ratio and is another format utilized for feature movies, TV shows, etc. 1:85:1 is very similar to 16:9, although slightly wider and taller than it. Videos shot in this ratio have thin black bars, or "letterbox," on the top or bottom. Usually, we can see this orientation in videos like comedies, modern cinema, dramas, and similar narrative content.

  • 3:1

    3:1 is a panoramic, ultra-wide ratio perfect for landscape videography or photography. Although this ratio is perfect for wildlife and nature videography to capture a vast landscape, 3:1 might not work for all kinds of video content.

    Therefore, the use of 3:1 is confined to the mentioned purposes only and is not a standardized proportion.

  • 21:9

    21:9 is another ultra-wide ratio reserved for cinematic widescreen and all the monitors with an ultra-wide screen. This proportion has gained much of its popularity until recently, providing an immersive and wider cinematic content viewing experience.

    Movie theaters and the mainstream consumer market are eventually witnessing the rise of the 21:9 ratio for its super cinematic ambiance. This format also has a few other names, like Panavision, Anamorphic, CinemaScope, etc., although each variation is different from the other.

    These are some of the most commonly used aspect ratios in recent digital content, modern cinemas, ultra-widescreens, and more. Besides these, there are a few other ratios; broadcasters and content creators usually make their pick based on the end objectives and what works best with their audience.

What is the simplest technique to change the aspect ratio in a video?

If you are a beginner wondering how to change aspect ratio in videos, fret not. Faulty aspect ratios can be corrected and changed during the post-production process. The recommended resolution for shooting a video is 4K so that the editor can utilize any portion of the frame during the editing stage. There are a lot of video editing software programs available online that can help in altering the video proportions for the best viewing experience. In this article, we will discuss how that can be done in Adobe Premiere Pro, as it is one of the most used video editors by professionals worldwide.

Changing the aspect ratio in Premiere Pro is very easy. Just create a new sequence, go to Settings, and then adjust the video frame size.

You can fix a lot in video post-production. If you’re shooting in 4K or higher, that high resolution will allow you to use any portion of the frame. You can change the aspect ratio of any video in Premiere Pro by creating a new sequence, clicking on Settings, and then adjusting the frame size.

Settings > Match the vertical sequence frame with the vertical frame of the 16:9 video footage.

This might crop the edges of the widescreen video display; hence, the editor may need to pan right or left. This will ensure the important actions in the video remain in the smaller frame. In footage with a lot of action sequences, panning helps to keep that movement intact throughout the horizontal frame.

Another simple way of changing the format type is by inserting black bands on the top and bottom of each frame. Doing this will make your video ideal for a 4:3 ratio TV screen, even though you have a wider (16:9) format. Here, you need to pan and scan to avoid letterboxing.

Because Premiere Pro preserves the frame and pixel aspect ratio as well as the frame dimensions when the editor imports video assets, working with it is simple. This ensures the assets do not seem cropped or blurred. Hope by now you know how to set the aspect ratio for any video.

Final thoughts

There’s not much to say after all that's been detailed above. To conclude, understanding the video aspect ratio is the best thing one can do for 2024 and beyond. Because the coming years are going to see a whole lot of new kinds of video content and a lot more frequency in online video consumption. Be ready with your content and, most importantly, in the right format. Only then can you win the digital marketing game.

As discussed, aspect ratios are immensely vital for any video content to ensure an optimum viewing experience. Whether you pick 16:9, 4:3, 9:16, or 3:1, make sure the video doesn’t get cropped or distorted in any way. Foresee the platform for which you are making the content, as well as the types of devices your target audience mostly uses. Consider the demographic and use the best aspect ratios for your next videos.

Remember, producing high-quality videos must always be your motto. And if you need any help with this, there are several professional companies offering excellent video editing services out there at reasonable prices and a fast turnaround. Experienced professionals with years of experience and expertise in various industries support these external agencies. Collaborate with such a team and get flawless, professional video content.

Leon William

Working in MAPSystems as a Senior Business Strategist, Leon William has solid experience in strategizing business plans that are targeted to meet business objectives in every way possible. Leon is specifically interested in performing gap analysis and adopting special measures to take the brand to the next level by using the right communication channels. He can handle challenging situations while developing a hard-core strategy for the emerging markets and is passionate about taking the legacy forward.