Are 9:16 Photos Instagram's Future?

Hot on the heels of the head of Instagram's post about the future of the social media service are some takes about what this means for photographers.

Coming to you from photographer and YouTuber Jonny Keeley, he offers some thoughts on what Instagram head Adam Mosseri's comments about testing (very) vertical 9:16 photos means. Mosseri notes that Instagram is really going to be leaning into videos and messaging in the future, and since videos are usually 16:9 when horizontal and 9:16 when vertical, this could mean Instagram becomes more TikTok-like and adopts the grid for reels instead of the standard square grid it has been using forever.

While that more vertically oriented grid might be great for vertical video shooters, it might not be so great for photographers, whose cameras natively shoot in a 2:3 ratio. It would be even worse for Micro Four Thirds shooters whose cameras typically shoot in a 3:4 ratio when shot vertically. It would mean some extreme cropping, which basically would be tossing out resolution, and limited composition should those photos work in a square grid, with the square cropping out tops and bottoms of photos and possibly interesting subject matter in those parts of images.

One option is to set your camera's aspect ratio to 16:9 to force your brain into thinking that way, but it's a lot to ask photographers to force themselves to conform to filmmakers' way of thinking when the app was originally intended for photography. It almost feels like Instagram is turning its back on the photographers that built up the platform in its pursuit of TikTok-like engagement through video. It's also not using the full sensor of your camera, which kind of defeats the purpose of paying for that camera and resolution in some ways.

Mosseri points out that the future is mobile-first, which both Keeley and I disagree with. While it's nice in a down moment to look at Instagram on the phone, I much prefer my 27-inch monitor to do anything and everything whenever I can. Why limit myself to a tiny phone screen?

Instagram can't currently display a full 2:3 vertical photo without some cropping, so 9:16 is a large jump. It looks like the Instagram feed is about to get pretty messy.

What do you think of this possible change coming to Instagram? Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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Or just give up trying to placate Instagram and it’s ridiculous ideas.

A 9:16 photo or video is horrible, no two ways about it. Wasn’t 16:9 originally created as the ideal viewing format for human eyes? If that is the case why the hell would anyone with half a brain think human sight wants to naturally look at that aspect ratio but vertically.

If they go ahead with this, it will be the nail in the proverbial coffin for me to close down my account and give IG the 🖕🏻. I will not allow them to further bastardize my comps simply because they're following the brain-dead TikTok'er's format and abandoning those who helped them building the f'ing platform in the first place.

Exactly, fuck Instagram and their ridiculous influencer crap. Couldn’t agree more..

Any aspect ratio presented vertically is generally going to be LESS immersive than any aspect ratio presented horizontally. The reason for that is that human eyes view the world in landscape mode.

9:16 presented vertically is just bonkers.

One day photographers will realize that fixed rectangular screens, particularly widescreen, are not the best choice for viewing still photographs. Better to use a square screen that can handle images of 3:2, 4:3 and any crop in between, in either orientation. Each image could fill the screen with it's longest dimension in either direction with the unused portion of the display masked to it's aspect ratio. Why photographers still have no alternative than to physically rotate portable devices to view images in their largest size in either orientation, when all rotating and resizing in the digital age is done electronically, is beyond me. There is no single screen shape that can do justice to both widescreen video and still photographs. Videos need a wider display and photographs need a display that can handle both photo orientations equally.

Photographers are a minute portion of the people who consume media, and the vast majority of media that is consumed always has, and always will be televised media, that is why 16:9 is the most popular screen size.

Do you not think electronics companies would have changed this by now if the demand is any different?

16:9 is the most popular screen size, but vertical?

See my comment at the top, im absolutely with you, definitely not vertical.

Interesting to see the trend in still photography moving more towards vertical orientated images as the norm, and now IG trying to "stretch" that even further to make 9:16 the future preferred ratio. Compare that to film and TV. 16:9 has been the standard production ratio since the TV switch over from 4:3, yet now more shows are being made in wider ratios like 2:1, 2.20 & even 2.35 (e.g. Stranger Things, Mandalorian, Star Trek Picard). Movies too seem to be abandoning the 1.78/1.85 ratio in favor of these wider frames or using 2.35.

There are still photos on Instagram? I thought it was video-only now??

Certainly are on my channel, i cant speak for the rest though:)

I'm actually all for it. I take photos of primarily people, and most of those are standing, so a vertical orientation works well for me. I used to have to add sides to my photos to fit the square crop, and then with the 4:5 sometimes I would still have to do a little content-aware fill on the sides. I finally switched my camera to shoot in 4:5 mode so I know the crop in camera will work on Instagram. If they go to 9:16, same idea. I'll probably leave it in 2:3 and just leave some extra room on the sides, but I know I can go to 9:16 when I have to have that perfect insta framing.

As long as it lets me post 2:3 ratio photos without needing to add borders I'll be fine with it.

I don't see the big deal why some folks are overly upset. The fact IG don't support 2:3 is already screwy. You either have to crop down; or add borders; or content aware (or stretch) the sides.

My thoughts with the proposed 9:16:

1. Cropping down a 2:3 you lose less of the image on the sides. Compared to cropping down to a 4:5 where you lost quite a bit of the top and bottom of the image.

2. If this works the way I think it might, 2:3 images can be uploaded with no cropping/adding borders. Even if you had to add borders, it would be to the top and bottom, which means the image remains the same size visibly.

3. If I don't like it once/if they implement it, I'll just do what I do for more than the majority of my images, add borders to preserve the 2:3.

4. IG is not the end all be all of image format. What you do there doesn't mean you have to do everywhere else you upload.

What people fail to realize is, that social media is always everchanging. As creatives, we adapt and overcome. While a lot of people hate Reels and Tiktok style content, if you don't adapt you lose out on a share of the market. Tiktok/IG reels have increased my business by 200%. Social media is a tool when used right. As for the 16:9 photos, unfortunately, a lot of landscape photographers are going to be disgruntled with this change.

I don't think I really care anymore. There's no growth whatsoever on Instagram for me. I'm not going to jump through all of Mosseri's hoops, nor am I going to pay Meta to boost my reach. I'm just going to bide my time and wait for another photographic platform to jump onto that ticks my boxes.

Well at least now I'll be able to post 2:3 images without having to use white borders on a 4:5 rectangle.