Finding the Aspect Ratio That's Right For You
Updated: Sep 4, 2019
From Vertical Video to Cinematic Widescreen - Understanding the Importance of Aspect Ratio.
The Case Against Vertical Video
Most of us never venture anywhere without our smartphones, and with the ability to record HD video at our fingertips, video content can be made by anyone anywhere.
Until recently, shooting vertical video was considered an abomination to professional content. For those who didn't bother to rotate their phones before hitting record, you were labelled as amateurs suffering from 'Vertical Video Syndrome'.
Our eyes are positioned horizontally and therefore benefit from a wider side peripheral, so horizontal content typically feels more natural to us. Of course, unless you intend to hold a screen right in front of your eyes, the advantage of this is minimal.
To the professional eye, a major problem with vertical video is the akwardness of shot composition.
On the other hand, if you're shooting on a professional video camera, then chances are you'll be shooting horizontal video and cropping the footage to 9:16 for mobile devices, losing a whopping 70% of the original frame.
As you can tell from the above example, a 9:16 crop throws your composition out of the window. The uncropped video demonstrates the subject in frame with a clearer understanding of where he is and what he's doing, while the cropped video cuts off a significant portion of his face as well as the majority of the barber's right hand and razor. The only way to counter this issue is to shoot your footage from a greater distance, preferably with 9:16 guidelines to help frame your video more effectively for a 9:16 crop.
The Case For Vertical Video
57% of video plays worldwide come from mobile devices. When you consider that 94% of these video plays come from those holding their devices vertically, it suddenly becomes clear that there is a case to be made for vertical video.
Perhaps the key thing to consider when deciding on your aspect ratio is the subject you're shooting. 2.35:1 is most commonly used for feature films, and presents a wide view that works best to capture landscapes or fit more subjects within frame.
4:3 was the normal aspect ratio for television sets before widescreen TVs were introduced, and is widely considered outdated for film and TV. However, there are times when a 4:3 aspect ratio can come in handy. Although not ideal for vast landscapes, 4:3 can work exceptionally for prime focus on living subjects or to better capture narrow interiors.
4:3 can also create the desired effect of claustrophobia, demonstrated perfectly in Robert Egger's The Lighthouse.