Film aspect ratios is one of many storytelling choices a filmmaker makes when deciding how to shoot a film. A good filmmaker knows how to select the right film ratio (or screen proportions) to give his/her audience a better ‘more cinematic’ experience. So why choose one ratio over another? Well PremiumBeat explains it nicely in the following: “Making informed deciscions about your aspect ratio can improve the style of your story and create a dynamic contrast between shots and scenes. The wide screen ratio limits the field of vision both above and below a horizontal axis, the audience’s eyes move less around the composition, allowing you to tighten focus and attention on particular narrative elements. The 4:3 ratio, unlike a full frame or widescreen shot, allows them to travel a bit around the composition.” you can read the full article here.

What Is Aspect Ratio?

A film aspect ratio is simply the proportional relationship between the width and height of the dimensions of a projected moving image. For example, in a group of images that all have an aspect ratio of 16:9, one image might be; 16 inches wide and 9 inches high, the other; 16 centimeters wide and 9 centimeters high. Aspect ratio is about the relationship of the width to the height, not the image’s overall size or dimensions. Aspect ratios are written in a figure like this: width:height (width always coming first) so;

  • 4:3 (also written as 1.33)
  • 16:9 (also written as 1.78)
  • 2.35:1 (also known as Anamorphic Scope, CinemaScope)

Movie Aspect Ratio

A Brief History of Aspect Ratios

The first widescreen ratio was used in the film of The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight in 1897, a black and white silent documentary shot on 63mm Eastman stock in an 1.65 :1 aspect ratio. By 1932, the Great Depression had forced film studios to cut back on expenses and it was not until 1953 that wider aspect ratios were used again in an attempt to stop the fall in theater attendance. The motion picture industry began shooting on wider range anamorphic lenses that gave the footage a much wider (and shorter) look. The goal of these wider range lenses was to capture as much of the frame as possible onto as large an area of the film as possible in order to fully utilize the film being used. Some of the aspect ratios were chosen to utilize smaller film sizes in order to save film costs while other aspect ratios were chosen to use larger film sizes in order to produce a wider higher resolution image.

Watch: On the Waterfront – Aspect Ratio Visual Essay by CriterionCollection on YouTube

Change Your Aspect Ratio

When working with today’s footage most of the time you are going to be editing in a 16:9 aspect ratio. If you find yourself wanting your piece to be in another aspect ratio to either more effectively tell your story or simply want your film to look more cinematic, you can do this simply by adjusting the dimensions of your composition, but there will be times where your output video file needs to be the common aspect of 16:9. Check out our Cinematic Aspect Ratio Pack, it’s a perfect quick and cheap drag and drop solution that can be imported into any Non-linear editing suite or visual effects software and then dropped onto your 16:9 compositions or sequences to quickly create industry standard cinematic framings.