Best Size and Aspect Ratio for Your Images and Video on Instagram and Facebook (Social Media)
Introduction: What Image Size is Best for Social Media?
These days the most common format for photos and video on social media is square, but portrait is becoming more popular, thanks to the rise of Instagram. Traditionally, because the viewer was usually interacting with the media on their phone, formatting to take advantage of this small screen meant cropping your media square. People still post wide images at ratios like 16×9 but this is becoming less common – and for good reason since a 1×1 or square image looks way better!
Many people are posting the wrong size images on Instagram. They want likes and comments, but they haven’t considered the best ways to maximize viewer interactions
Personally I’m interested in making an impact and the best way to do that is to post portrait photos with 4×5 aspect ratio. This size simply fills more of the screen on a phone and gets more engagement.
The second choice is square (if my image warrants a wider frame) and I absolutely never post wide or landscape shots at 4×3 or 16×9 unless they are secondary images in a multi-image post utilizing the swipe-able carousel.
Read on for more tips and examples!
Defining Terms: What Do We Mean by Size and Aspect Ratio?
There are a few ways to describe or measure the format, size or aspect ratio of photos and video.
When we consider size we may think first about how big an image is, and secondly about the length and width of the image, which relates to aspect ratio and will be covered in the next paragraph. First off, you should be using the biggest, highest resolution media you have. Do not resize or shrink your files before uploading – the software will do that anyway! Upload images and videos at high-res and let Instagram do its optimization thing!
“The aspect ratio of an image describes the proportional relationship between its width and its height. It is commonly expressed as two numbers separated by a colon, as in 16:9. (Wikipedia)”
And here we arrive at the purpose of this post. To describe aspect ratio and convince you to invest in the time and tools to format your images so they look their best online and in social media.
In the following section I will use the convention of describing aspect ratio using the “x” character as in 1×1 (square) since this is a common way to express the ratios in image editing software.
Let’s review some common aspect ratios:
- 1×1 (square) – images on Instagram, Facebook etc
- 4×5 (portrait) – taller, vertical (portrait) photos on social media (IG, FB)
- 4×3 (wide, landscape) – used by compact / mirrorless cameras, older broadcast TV size
- 16×9 (wide, landscape) – used by cameras recording video, standard for broadcast TV
- 3:2 (wide, landscape) – DSLRs often use this for native aspect ratio
Which Size or Aspect Ratio is Best?
It depends on the context, device and other variables, but for social media – which is viewed primarily on smartphones – I recommend 4×5 portrait or square. Portrait is best because it fills more of the screen and gets better engagement. This is as true for video as it is for images, so try cropping your video to 4×5 or square and see how it works. Wide formats like 16×9 or 4×3 or others are not recommended. Do you have a video formatted at 16×9? Post it on your website and YouTube! Have wide images? Use them for the featured images for your website headers, sliders or blog posts.
At left/above: animation showing the difference in viewing a portrait photo vs a wide photo on Instagram on a typical phone
Trends in Phone Design and Media Formatting
Phones are getting taller and skinnier. Before I upgraded my phone, I had a Samsung Note 3, and it had an aspect ratio of 3×4. It was a rectangle but very square. My newest phone is the LG G6 which was the first phone released with a super tall aspect ratio – this phone took the previous ratio of the day which was 9×16 and stretched it out to 9×18.
On Instagram and other apps it’s common to view images while holding the phone in the vertical or portrait orientation. In fact, Instagram doesn’t allow you to rotate the phone to landscape view at all. So the logical thing is to always maximize the vertical space and shoot or crop your images portrait wherever possible. Having said that I generally shoot both portrait and landscape of most scenes when I’m out and about and find something appealing to point my camera at.
Aspect Ratio Quiz
In the image below, there are 3 different aspect ratios. Can you identify them? One is wide, one is portrait and one is extreme portrait. Take a look and think it over!
Did you figure it out? The aspect ratios in this image include:
- 4×3 – wide/landscape photo of the Toronto skyline
- 4×5 – centre area box (this is portrait crop on Instagram)
- 9×18 – black outline of smartphone
How many did you get? It’s not important that you guessed the actual numbers but that you recognize ratios as portrait, landscape/wide etc.
For bonus points you may have also recognized the main image itself is portrait 4×5 (I uploaded an image 1000px by 1250px).
Handy Tools and Software for Resizing your Media
I work with Adobe CC software when editing my images and media, but I also use mobile software because it’s handy and it’s great for perfecting images before final upload to social media.
Here are 3 tools I use for most image editing for social media:
- Panorama Crop
The first three are mobile apps. Snapseed is my go to software for final tweaks after Photoshop. Panorama Crop is amazing for slicing images up for carousel posts (swipe-able multi-image posts). PicsArt is great for collages, or adding text or other elements to images to create graphics.
Overall, mobile tools are convenient for applying edits and formatting prior to uploading your media to social channels. Of course if you are merely using Facebook as a place to store your vacation photos you don’t need to reformat them. But if you want to create a few special posts, consider the advantages of formatting to square or portrait.
Note on carousels: Not everyone is clear about what these are but to put it in a straight-forward way, a carousel is a post with multiple images that you swipe to view the extra content. If you post at least 2 different shots you are going to end up with a carousel. The master of sharing images that are cropped both portrait and landscape and using carousels to do it is Mike Myers from Chicago. Check out this carousel to see how the experts like Mike do it. First image is portrait crop, second and third are swipe-able details of the original landscape shot, and last image is a landscape shot with white letterboxing. Looks awesome!
What About Working with Video and Posting to Facebook?
I’ve focused more or less on Instagram and photos but most of everything I wrote also applies to Facebook and video. Many people will post to IG first and push a copy to Facebook. Some may visit FB separately and craft a different post. All the principles remain the same – if your viewer is likely to be checking out your post on a phone then 4×5 or 1×1 square images and video are best.
Video is a special challenge though because many editors will have spent a lot of time working on an edit using 16×9 or some wide ratio. It makes sense to upload this wide version to youTube and try to crop a narrower version for social media. Keep the potential of creating multiple aspect ratio edits in mind when you are shooting and framing your subjects.
Note on video and accessibility: Many people view IG with sound off, so if there is narration or speaking, you might want to add subtitles that would easily fit into the square or 4:5 aspect. Always make sure your message is accessible to your audience!
Here are some key takeaways for posting images and video on social. Keep in mind you want to make an impact and engage your audience. Post a few images at a time, and consider adding elements like swipe-able posts or video clips.
- Post most images at portrait crop (4×5 aspect ratio)
- Crop landscape images 1×1/square (if wanting to retain some wide feel)
- Upload 3-5 images into a carousel (use different crops, make your posts interesting and tell a story or share from behind the scenes!)
- Post wide images at ratios like 4×3 or 16×9 (unless you also post portrait crops and use the carousel)
- Upload wide aspect video at 16×9 – or at least make an attempt to edit a version square or 4×5 before you do!
Thank you for reading! I hope that’s useful to you! I would love to see your work! Shoot me a dm to your page on Instagram!
Mike Simpson is passionate about photography and education and lives in Toronto, Canada. He works as a teacher and designer, and founded Tdot Shots in early 2018.
Check him out on Instagram: @mikesimpson.ms