Let's Inspect Your Aspects
Aspect ratios. That may be a new phrase to some and yet they are something that is so important to the way we view media every day.
So, what is an aspect ratio? An aspect ratio relates to an image and the ratio of its width to its height and is expressed with two numbers that are separated by a colon. The most common aspect ratio today is 16:9 which indicates a landscape orientation of an image; 16 units wide to 9 units high. This following image should help visualise this (thanks Wikipedia):
Aspect ratios come in all shapes and sizes. Mobile phones typically are 9:16, a vertical orientation. Old televisions were a standard 4:3 aspect ratio. Cinema commonly shoots in 2.35:1!
Aspect ratios are dictated by the way in which we consume media. For a long time, 16:9 was the standard go-to. This came about when television engineers moved away from 4:3 and chose the average ratio between that and cinema’s 2.35:1. However, not all media is viewed on televisions now, with the majority being consumed through our phones.
Typically, phones are a 9:16 ratio (or thereabouts) and as I am sure you have experienced, watching a landscape video on a vertical device ends in two solutions, either you have to rotate the device to watch or you end up squinting at a small little video. Rotating the device is often the simplest solution however, it’s not perfect. Phones are designed to be comfortably held vertically, holding them in a landscape orientation is unbalanced to the design of the device, and in doing so you lose a lot of the functionality of the phone. Want to type in landscape? It will take up the whole screen and you won't be able to see your video. Want to view a video on Facebook in landscape? Better find that full screen button and then rotate. Let’s be honest, it's not a huge problem, but in the world of mobile phones where ease-of-use is the king, it’s cumbersome.
As a result, we have seen another huge transformation in the way media is made and it’s all dictated by our phones. In some cases you see 1:1 aspect ratios which are square. This is the in-between of the aspect ratios. It works in vertical okay and it works in landscape okay. It doesn’t beat the native solution to either but in a pinch, it does the job. In other cases you see 9:16 ratios, the native for mobile. This is great for mobile viewing, but if you want to view your video on a larger screen that is 16:9… well let’s just say you can’t rotate your TV! Another popular ratio driven by Instagram mainly is 4:5 which gives you more than 1:1 in vertical and a bit more than 9:16 in landscape.
But this is where the dilemma lies, especially for content creators - what orientation do you film in? A lot of creative briefs want video to work on a webpage as well as on a phone, essentially two different aspect ratios. If you film landscape, you can crop to image too make a 9:16 vertical image, however, the end product often suffers as the quality is reduced and the landscape framing doesn’t often work when cut to vertical. Alternatively, filming vertically is essentially a resignation that landscape won’t work at all. There are workarounds, such as filming everything twice or having two cameras on set that are set up in each orientation. Both of these lead to high production costs through either more time being needed to film or more gear needed to be on set.
As a production company we work with our clients to place a lot of importance on aspect ratios as early in a project conceptualisation as we can. Where are the videos being seen? By who? Are you adding it to the website because ‘why not’ and is that a reason to compromise on quality or project costs? These are just some of the questions that we go through early on so we can best serve clients and ensure that those pesky aspect ratios are optimal.