Aspect Ratio And The Visual Medium

Take a look at a portrait. Then look at a landscape. Then at an argument on the Internet where people complain about someone holding their phone wrong whilst taking a video. In all of these situations, aspect ratio matters.

Aspect Ratio

Marshall McLuhan once said, “The medium is the message.” But what did he mean by that? Luckily, he followed this statement with the more clarifying, “We shape our tools and therefore our tools shape us.”

Wait, what does that mean?

Okay, let us explain. For McLuhan, it was the medium itself that shaped and controlled something. Whether it be a film, a picture, a piece of music, a landscape, or even a broader concept like human interaction, the way something is framed, the “lens” through which we see (or hear) something, very much comes to define it.

In terms of producing videos – since that’s what we do here at Struck Down Entertainment – we are essentially shaping them when we choose what aspect ratio to film in, and in turn that aspect ratio says something about our video.

For example, shooting in black and white will say something to the viewer, just as writing a piece of music in a major key will say something to the listener. To most, a black and white film evokes the past, while music written in a major key often evokes a sense of happiness or triumphant victory.

So you see, aspect ratios are not only important because they impact the size of what will be shown, but because they can be broken down to evoke different reactions from the viewer based on the subtle shape of the screen we are watching.

Below are four popular aspect ratios and how they affect the viewer.

Aspect Ratio:

1) 1:1

Evokes the past. It is often the shape of old photographs and Polaroids.

2) 4:3

Also known as the “Academy Ratio,” this one’s good for period pieces. It was the very first aspect ratio, after all.

3) 16:9

The most commonly used ratio. Often seen on TV, this ratio suggests a documentary type feel.

4) 21:9

Used in most movies. Intense drama, sweeping landscapes, this is the aspect ratio for new cinema. It adds a level of authenticity because it fills more of your peripheral vision.

The bottom line: be sure to keep aspect ratio in mind when filming your next video, because the ratio you choose will undoubtedly say something to your audience.

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