What Is Aspect Ratio?

Updated October 6, 2023

Creating high-quality videos is an integral part of modern marketing strategies. The creativity and the story you’re telling are important, but if you don’t pay attention to the technical elements, your video will underperform.

One such technical consideration is the aspect ratio.

The following is what you should know about aspect ratio and how it can affect your video marketing and advertising.

Aspect Ratio

The Basics

Aspect ratio is a term that refers to the relationship between the width and height of something. The width is usually the first number listed, and the height is the second number. Aspect ratio, as the name indicates, is just that—a ratio. It’s independent of something’s actual size.

Sometimes, you’ll see that an aspect ratio is listed as one number, and that means the ratio has been divided.

Aspect ratio isn’t just used to describe videos—it’s also relevant to photos.

It’s the proportion of your content, or essentially its final shape, whether that’s horizontal, square, or vertical.

A square image will have an aspect ratio of 1:1. The image resolution can vary, but the aspect ratio stays the same. A small image can have the same aspect ratio as a larger one.

Understanding aspect ratio, at least in a basic way, is important for the creation of online content. If you’re not taking aspect ratio into consideration, your videos could look like they’re stretched or distorted.

The Importance of Aspect Ratio

Again, the aspect ratio is important because it impacts how your photos and videos are going to look when you share them on social media platforms. You want to optimize your content in all ways, and aspect ratio is one of those ways.

Think about what happens if you have an image and then you want to share it on Instagram, for example. It might look too large, or it could be surrounded by black bars. The reason is that the aspect ratio isn’t formatted for the platform you’re sharing it on.

Aspect ratio affects your design, impacting how and where you add captions to a photo or text to a video.

Preventing letterboxes is a reason to make sure you’re paying attention to aspect ratio. Those are those black bars mentioned above.

Aspect Ratio vs. Resolution

Aspect ratio and video resolution are sometimes used interchangeably with one another or confused with each other, but they’re not the same.

The resolution of images is the total amount of pixels displayed on a screen. To get resolution, you multiply width and height. The bigger your resolution, the more defined your image will be. A bigger resolution also means your file is bigger.

The most common video resolutions currently are HD or full HD, 4k, and 8K. A video might be distorted, or black bars can occur if your video aspect ratio and your screen size or orientation aren’t matching. If your video resolution is lower than your screen resolution, this can also create problems.

If you need to, you can change your video resolution, but it’s often an easier approach to edit your aspect ratio to the right size.

In the past, most people just had a square TV that had a 4:3 ratio shape. Now, with all the mobile devices and widescreen TVs, aspect ratios are shifting.

Social Media and Aspect Ratios

On social media sites, the most common ratios are 16:9, 4:3, and 1:1.

Most social media sites will allow different aspect ratios, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to perform the way you want them to. Every platform provides its own set of best practices for your content sizes and aspect ratios.

The 9:16 aspect ratio is the most commonly used on social media, including Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram stories. It’s a vertical shape that works well on mobile phones.

The 16:9 aspect ratio is used for things like computer monitors, TVs, and slides.

The 4:3 aspect ratio isn’t very widely used at this point.

To figure out the appropriate aspect ratio for your content project, you want to think first about the social media platforms where you’re going to be sharing it and the general format. Largely, vertical video is on the rise, with mobile phone users making 9:16 the go-to in a lot of instances.

For YouTube, the standard aspect ratio is 16:19, but you can upload other ratios. If you use a different shape ratio, then YouTube adjusts it automatically by adding the black bars.

Finally, if you need to change your video aspect ratio, there are platforms that make it pretty easy to do. You can use video resizing tools and video makers.

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