How To Choose the Right Aspect Ratio For Your Film

This is a bit more technical and can sometimes be subject to personal preference especially as you gain more experience as a filmmaker. But if you’re just starting out and a complete novice, is there really such thing as the right aspect ratio you should go for in your films?

Chances are, if you’re a beginner you usually shoot at 16:9, which is the general aspect ratio, used in YouTube and HD video. There’s no shame in doing that but also understand there’s so much more you can try out depending on the effect you want.

What is Aspect Ratio?

Aspect ratio refers to the width and height of the visible area of the video frame. Standard NTSC and PAL monitors is often 4:3 or 1.33 (which is what’s common in television) while for HDTV formats, it’s often 16:9 or 1.78. For most directors, sticking to a single aspect ratio during their film is a standard. Meanwhile, there are those who live on the fringes and switch between ratios to convey style, emotion or feeling and only very few of these can do so effectively. When it comes to choosing your aspect ratio, go with what you’re trying to convey. A standard 16:9 is wide enough to capture a good amount of info on your scene and it’s also more visually appealing to look at. There’s also the 2.35 ratio or the Cinemascope, which is great if your scene requires a lot of extras and is essentially a huge spectacle. Of course, this is a case-to- case basis.

As mentioned, the more proficient you are as a director, the more you can make use of the aspect ratio to your advantage. Steven Spielberg used the 1.85 ratio for Jurassic Park, it’s slightly similar to the 16:9 but he managed to capture amazing camera work and composition in the movie despite the scenes being pretty big. Wes Anderson, on the other hand, plays with aspect ratio almost on a whim. In one sequence in Budapest Hotel, he cycles through not 1 but 3 aspect ratios, changing each time to convey a different scene while also communicating what’s needed in the story.

However, if you’re looking for a general rule, the 2.35 is highly recommended for large projects requiring a huge ensemble while a 16:9 gives off the perfect balance for various other projects.