#165 – Square Format

While I’ve never shot a square format camera, I’ve found myself on a number of occasions recently, cropping to a square format. While of course this is retrospective re-composition, as opposed to deliberate in-camera composition, the square format is an interesting one that for some reason is difficult to use. Maybe it’s to do with unfamiliarity, as we are so used to seeing rectangular images, or maybe it’s an unnatural composition, as our field of view is not square.

While it’s difficult to compose square on an SLR (unless you’ve got a decent live view option), it is easier on a compact camera by cutting a square template out of card and attaching it to the screen on the back of the camera. Of course the images will still be recorded square on the sensor and so will have to be cropped in the computer, but it’s a good starting point.

So what should we consider when composing square? David Prakel (Composition, AVA Publishing, 2006) writes:

Square images are symmetrical about both the horizontal and vertical axes, which lends solidity and stability. The resulting quarters are also squares, and the whole form is strongly directed around the centre, which can lack dynamism. The diagonals however, can be used to dramatic compositional effect.

Having parts of the subject radically break through the square frame can add dynamism. Intentional compositional imbalances between contrasting areas, jagged lines, and edges that extend beyond the visible frame can unsettle the square format and be used to great creative effect.

While not truly symmetrical, I chose to crop this square as the reflection does give an element of symmetry, while the diaganols add a sense of dynamism that can be absent from a square due to it’s inherently solid, static shape.The other key reason was that there was too much in the frame simply not adding anything – empty sky and puddle. The fact that I used a 28mm lens may have been a disadvantage in this instance as it simply gave me too much I didn’t want in the frame.  As discussed before on this blog, a good rule of thumb for cropping is to look at what you are thinking of removing and thinking about whether it is adding anything to the image.

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