Determining your aspect ratio before you roll your camera for the first time is crucial. It can effect your locations, props, wardrobe, everything. But by picking the right one, you can turn your film from good to great and your audience will be none the wiser. If you want to see some quick examples, check out a few of our Local Films and compare their aspect ratios.
Before we dive too deep you might be wondering what exactly is an aspect ratio. Well, you may remember a time when TVs were practically square, or had an aspect ratio of 4:3, but now almost every TV is wider than it is tall, or 16:9. That is aspect ratio. If you’ve ever noticed the black bar at the top and bottom of your TV change in size from one show to the next, this means that those productions were using different aspect ratios. There are a wide variety of different ratios but we’ll give you the idea how to use the main ones later on. For the most part, the aspect ratio is added in post production. However, during production the camera operator, DoP, and director will have frame lines added to their monitors so that they can accurately shoot the movie exactly how they want the finished product to look. You can add these frame lines in the settings of most modern cameras. Just to clarify, I’m talking about digital cameras, not film. Film camera aspect ratios are based on the actual film you are putting into the camera. If you want to play around, check out this Aspect Ratio Calculator!
Disclaimer: This isn't my movie.
Which Ratio Should I Use?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one answer to this question. It’s all up to the director and DoP of a particular project. Every movie is aiming to make their audience feel a different way and there are different opinions on which ratio does what, but I’ll give you my take.
Using a 4:3 ratio is a great way to show old timey footage, it gives the viewer nostalgia to when they watched everything that way and also allows younger audiences know that this particular section of the movie is different from the rest. If you match your 4:3 with some good color correction given the period, you’re left with a very effective way of showing the past. 4:3 is definitely the most noticeable change compared to changing between 16:9 and 2.35:1.
With 16:9, which is pretty standard at this point, you can create more hard edge close ups. Since your frame is not as tall as 4:3 but also not as wide as 2.35:1. You can get very close to your actors face and really bring their emotion directly to your audience, making them feel it more than they would with other ratios. However, this will also limit the negative space you have in your shot. In my opinion, 16:9, or a ratio similar, is great for films where the characters and their dialogue are what the film is about. No flashy explosions or chase sequences, just compelling characters interacting with each other in interesting story driven ways.
2.35:1 is great if you love utilizing your wide shots and having a large negative space in your picture. Using negative space as a story telling device is a whole article on it’s own but it’s great for making your subject look and feel smaller and more lonely. However, on the other end of the spectrum you can create incredible action set pieces with lots of moving parts in the same shot. You’re essentially given more space to fill with awesome stunts that will make your movie look bigger overall.
Which Aspect Ratio Will You Use?
Now that you know a bit more about aspect ratios and how they can help control the feeling of your film which one are you going to use? Let us know below!