Aspect Ratio: a Guide to Understanding Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio is a crucial aspect of both film and photography, but many people don't fully understand what it means and why it even matters. There's a huge difference between an Instagram photo, an HD widescreen, and a cinema screen. Each of these applications requires a different aspect ratio, but worry not, we've compiled a quick and easy aspect ratio guide to help you with your next project.

What is aspect ratio?

Aspect ratio refers to the proportional relationship of width to height of an image and is presented as two numbers separated by a colon. Units are not attached to an aspect ratio, as it simply represents the proportions of the sides rather than the actual size of the image. If you have an image with an aspect ratio of 1:1, for example, you can scale the image to any size you want and the aspect ratio will remain 1:1. Put simply, the aspect ratio doesn't determine the size of an image, it determines the shape.

Why is aspect ratio important?

Using the right aspect ratio for your intended format is crucial. An incorrect aspect ratio can make your images or videos look unprofessional, pixelated, or even distorted. When you make use of the correct aspect ratio, your projects will be presented the way you intended without any distortions or other issues.

Beyond technical considerations, different aspect ratios can also be used for more artistic purposes. Making use of an aspect ratio like 4:3 can give an image or video a more vintage look by mimicking the aspect ratio common before widescreens were the standard. Conversely, using an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, or anamorphic widescreen format, can make your projects look more like a dramatic feature film.

How to choose the right aspect ratio

Choosing the right aspect ratio is crucial when it comes to both photo and video. There's a wide variety to choose from, but there are a few common aspect ratios that are most often used today.

1:1 aspect ratio

A photo or video with a 1:1 aspect ratio has an equal width and height. To remember this aspect ratio, think of a square photo on Instagram or a profile photo on most social media sites. This aspect ratio is typically seen in print photography, social media, and mobile screens, but is less common for things like film or television.

4:3 aspect ratio

An aspect ratio of 4:3 creates a rectangular shaped image. Typically used for older television displays, digital cameras, and computer monitors, this aspect ratio is also known as standard definition. Though this aspect ratio fell out of favor with the rise of widescreen, it has started to make a comeback as an artistic choice for some film directors.

16:9 aspect ratio

16:9 aspect ratio is what most of us think of as widescreen aspect ratio. This ratio is most often used for computers and widescreen televisions since 1920x1080 aspect ratio is considered to be HD. Photos and videos intended to be viewed on computers, especially via the internet are most likely presented in 16:9.

1.85:1 or 2.39:1 aspect ratio

Both 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 are standard aspect ratios in modern cinemas. 1.85:1 is normal widescreen format, while 2:39:1 is the widest aspect ratio common in modern cinemas. Both formats are wider than 16:9, giving photos and videos presented with these ratios a more cinematic or even dramatic look. 2.39:1 can be particularly useful for shooting scenic landscapes.


Whether you're an aspiring filmmaker or a social media influencer, it's important to understand aspect ratios and their proper uses. With this knowledge, you'll be prepared to properly present everything from video for the cinema to your next Instagram post.

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