What is Aspect Ratio? A Formula for Framing Success

The shape of your image is dictated by its aspect ratio. In the early days, there was only one option while today there are many. Understanding the power of aspect ratio has on your storytelling starts with basic math.

Common aspect ratios

In film, it is critical to determine which aspect ratio you want to shoot in, depending on the context of the film, and what you want to show. Certain genres lend themselves to certain aspect ratios (e.g., Westerns highlight landscapes so a wider frame is better suited).

What is Aspect Ratio - Aspect Ratios in Film

Figure out your framing with aspect ratios

We also want to be able to show our project across multiple platforms. But viewing our films in theatres vs. on a phone or laptop, demand knowledge of aspect ratio for proper conversion.

When you’re editing or resizing images, it’s essential to have an aspect ratio calculator, especially if you’re going from widescreen to full-screen aspect ratio. 

These calculators use an algorithm to make edits precise and help you to crop or expand images without it looking too stretched or shrunk.

2.76:1 Ultra Panavision

Popularized in the 1950s when widescreen presentation was all the rage. It hadn’t been used for decades until recently when Tarantino brought it back for The Hateful Eight.

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

This ratio is helpful when the landscape or story world is a major player in the story itself. Even close-ups allow us to see the full landscape. Star Wars often uses this. We want to see everything, all the time.

1.85:1 Standard Widescreen

Helpful when we’re framing taller buildings than the previous ratio. This one is a bit more versatile. Because of its tighter focus, a close-up fills more of the frame, and the moment becomes more intimate.

16:9 Standard Video/Television

Computer monitors and televisions began to take on different shapes in the last few years. They morphed from a boxy 4:3 to a wider ratio to accommodate widescreen content.

1.43:1 IMAX

If you’ve been to an IMAX movie, you’ve seen the screen is much taller than a standard multiplex. This is because of the 65mm film used for these productions to capture the largest image possible.

1.33:1 Full Screen 

This ratio was used for decades before the advent of widescreen formats. Any classic, black and white movie or vintage television programs used this more “full screen” shape.

9:16 Vertical Video

The most recent evolution of popular aspect ratios has everything to do with our phones and the tendency to film in vertically instead of horizontally. Social media has embraced this and 9:16 has become the standard for content on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.