The Evolution of Aspect Ratios (And The Rise Of Vertical Video)

The Evolution of Aspect Ratios (And The Rise Of Vertical Video)

Date: 31st March 2020 | By: Zachariah Gidney

I used to despise vertical video. In the past, and to some extent today, many people viewed it as a mistake made by mobile phone users filming “fail” videos and Snapchat stories.


However, after learning of big brands and businesses using this 9:16 format deliberately and strategically, I started to reconsider my lack of enthusiasm for the format.

What Is Aspect Ratio?

Now, you may be reading this and understand the use of the word vertical video, but have no clue what 9:16 means. Well, allow me to fill you in.

Aspect ratio in film terms is essentially the width and height of the frame and how those two numbers relate to each other. that is normally shown using two numbers separated by a colon (9:16).

Now that that’s out of the way, I would like to take you on a brief history tour of the significant moments in the ever changing world of aspect ratio, to give you an understanding of what it is and how it evolved into what we see today.

A Brief Overview of the Aspect Ratio

We begin with the first standard definition ratio, the square 4:3 that you will recognise in all those early silent black and white films your grandma loves. This was an almost square frame film’s used to use.

Then entered 2.35 (1953)  which has a much narrower field of view -  this paved the way for the typical cinematic look most would recognise from the Hollywood blockbusters we’re all familiar with.

Finally 16:9 is the widescreen rectangular format most television shows and documentaries use and the aspect ratio most camera’s capture footage in.

An example of the 4:3 aspect ratio.

Vertical Video

So where does the “vertical video” 9:16 aspect ratio come into all this?

According to mobile advertising platform Receptiv, they calculated that vertical videos have a 90% higher completion rate compared to horizontal videos. They also found that less than 30% of users will turn their phone horizontally to view an advert and those who do only watch 14% of it.

So how can businesses use this information to their advantage?

It is clear to see that mobile ‘vertical’ viewing is extremely popular and most people are viewing content this way on their phones. This is understandable as it’s simply the most comfortable, natural way to hold the device. And thus seeing the benefit of using this ratio in their distribution strategically, many big brands, companies and artists have adapted to the times and are using this to their advantage.

Netflix is a marvellous example of a company strategically using vertical video to continue to engage and entice customers to view films and television shows on their preview section on the mobile app.

Mobile users are able to see a preview of the film/series much akin to Social Media stories. The preview is seen in a vertical format and the viewer can swipe onto the next video showing the next film on the user personalised list. This gives the user an easy and accessible way to view a snippet of the film with a clear genre description at the bottom, options to add it to your list, view it in full and to see further information about the film.

Spotify have also added vertical content to their user experience by overlaying a 9:16 looped music video snippet over songs by some artists. This combination of music and visuals creates a different kind of user experience. I have to say that when I first discovered this browsing through some of my favourite tracks, I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued to know which songs had videos overlaid and which didn’t.

There are even filmmakers that have used this vertical aspect in creating groundbreaking projects in new and engaging ways.

Eva Stories are Instagram stories adapting the Holocaust diaries of Eva Heyman. They recount the true story of a Jewish girl murdered in a concentration camp,  imagining that she was capturing moments of her life on Instagram.

This intriguing approach is a fascinating concept and serves to educate the audience. The vertical style creates a relatable, emotional connection that helps you imagine what this Jewish girl went through at the time.

Many filmmakers have embraced vertical video by even starting the Vertical Film Festival that was founded in 2014, where films are shot in 9:16 and projected on a tall screen.


Instagram Stories Vertical Video

Image stills of Eva.Stories Instagram Project
Used in the correct way and for the right reasons, vertical video can have a massive impact on your business that can attract mobile users to your product or service, but it needs to be carefully thought out in the early planning stages.

Using it needs to be a strategic and justifiable production decision made in the planning process. As you can see from the examples above, the uses of all the aspect ratios were thought up carefully and they were a decision made not only for visual purposes but they met a certain goal in mind.

This careful planning and thought doesn’t just apply to aspect ratio, but all aspects of the production. Whether that be the distribution platform which will ultimately inform the content, length of video, style, music choice and so on. Each aspect of planning will inform the next so that you can effectively and strategically produce content to connect with your audience in a personal and emotional way.

Do you see the benefits of using vertical video in your business?

Schedule your free Video Breakthrough call today to discuss your video strategy with one of our experts.