Aspect ratio is the proportional relationship between an image’s width and height. Seems simple enough, right? So how is it that until recently, people have preferred video to be horizontal?
The answer: movies. Cinema, where moving images first took a foothold in culture, started with a 4:3 aspect ratio (width to height). From there, as stories became more complex, as the “visual world” of the narrative took more precedence, wider aspect ratios were introduced. 16:9 and 1.85:1 were normalized, along with 2.35:1, the most widely used aspect ratio in science fiction, where the landscape is paramount.
Vertical video, with a 9:16 aspect ratio, seems like a total deviation from the norm. And for moving imagery, it is. However, photos are taken like this all the time. We all know the term “portrait.” It is so ordinary and commonplace that even deconstructing the idea of “portrait” seems like a waste of time. However, since portraiture is new within how video is consumed by a mass audience, the intellectual and emotional unpacking of “portrait” gives us a very simple and powerful understanding of its ramifications within our culture.
In ancient times, the first portraits were created to reflect gods and rulers. Now, they reflect any person or persons. For something to be considered a portrait, a human face has to be present. Therefore, a portrait, at its base form, is always about replicating the likeness of people—of us.
Us. Humanity. You. Me. Why pay attention to the world of an image, when you can solely focus on its subject? Isn’t that the most important part, the human in the image? Social media, which has served as the catalyst for the rise of vertical video, is all about digitally expressing who we are: our brand. Telling people what kind of human they are, and what kind of human you can be, is an important and pressing social construct that has taken over our lives. The zeitgeist of the 21st century will be remembered from this psychic focus on the ego.
Those who understand the world’s present day egocentricity understand vertical video as the most important marketing tool taking shape within social media today. Brand marketers should take a step back from the engrained usage of horizontal aspect ratios in video and focus on the portrait. Why do you think Instagram repurposed Snapchat’s story function? Because Facebook, the ultimate enforcer of the “I” in brand marketing, is always looking to appeal to the individual. They appeal not just to people’s egos, but also to their innate desire to connect with other human beings. With a 9:16 aspect ratio, you put the focus on the individual, on their story.