Originally wanted to title this post “It’s Hip to Be Square”, like the refrain in the 1986 song “Hip to Be Square” by the American rock group Huey Lewis and the News … but it wouldna been appropriate. Any of youse know why? In that song the singer’s saying he’s starting to conform to the establishment coz he can’t stand the stress of being a rebel no more: i.e. it’s Hip (= cool, fashionable) to be Square (= conformist, following the rules). In photography most images have a rectangular aspect ratio (3:2 or 4:3). Using a square image frame (1:1) is therefore relatively rare, so you actually gotta be a bit of a rebel & break outta the rules if you wanna “go square” 😉!
Since 2010 Instagram has enjoyed a great success as online image sharing platform - until August 2015 only square images were allowed, driving somewhat of a renaissance of the square format: As Instagram is mainly viewed on smartphones, using a square image format means you aren’t required to turn your phone sideways for landscape images, allowing for a more ”smooth” user experience…
But the square format was there long before Instagram came along: Around 1930 first professional larger square format cameras appeared (Rolleiflex, Voigtländer and Hasselblad to name a few), using a reflex mirror to project the image onto a matte glass plate which could be viewed from above. This image was upright but laterally reversed. So if the camera would’ve had a rectangular image format it would have needed to be turned onto its side for portrait images, which would then have resulted in an upside-down viewfinder image! To prevent this inconvenience the manufacturers of the time stuck with a square image format
Interestingly enough there does not really seem to be much older history of the square format, eg. dating back to the times where images were still painted (at least I couldn’t find anything …)
Anyway, with the advent of the digital age came a greater flexibility regarding image aspect ratios, allowing the photographer to choose already in camera or afterwards in post production from a plethora of image formats from 16:9 to 1:1
You can apply the square format during image capture (obviously this works only for JPEG´s - the RAW image always uses the full native format of the camera) or in post production. I usually prefer to decide that when developing the image in Capture One Pro - some images only lend themselves to the square format at a second (or third) glance!
For example, take a look at my first image of this post. I only saw the potential for a tighter square image format when preparing it for uploading to my blog (inspiring me to create this post “Square Affair” on the square image format 😉) On the picture with the blue square frame you can see how it looked originally: Cropping it to a square shape has left out unimportant parts of the image, focusing on the main elements, lines and shadows. I imagine this has just always been a square image just waiting to be discovered! What do you think?
So, what’s behind all this “square” talk? Basically the main quality of this frame is that it creates a natural sense of balance, stability & symmetry. None of the sides is favored, preventing any distraction from the image content. The square composition allows you to eliminate negative space & superfluous elements in your image - excessive space in an image invites a viewer’s eye to wander away from the subject & makes your subject look a bit lost. The square has an inherent classic & beautiful design, which if carefully applied will make your images stand out from the crowd! Because the square lacks any horizontal or vertical bias the viewer’s eye tends to be guided in a circular motion, often converging towards the centre of the image
In the above image I could leave out the right side of the rectangular frame because the shadow of the lamp already tells the story - don’t need to have the lamp itself inside the frame no more 😉)
See here the original framing on the image with the blue square frame. In this case I was not really happy with my initial picture - should’ve gone a bit closer to leave out the white strip on the lower edge of the frame … I learnt from this that you gotta “work” the image more - instead of just one or two frames per subject it would be better to try out different perspectives, distances & framings, giving you more material to work with and increase the chance of getting that perfect image!
As you can see in the image with the lamp below the square format also circumvents the otherwise ubiquitous “rule of the thirds”: The square frame gives you more freedom to place the central element of interest - usually a slightly off-centre position of the main subject is enough to create sufficient tension in the composition!
Here you can see another example: The original image is nice, but includes too much empty (= “negative”) space on the left and right sides. Cropping it to a square focuses on the essential part of the image: The steps with their diagonal lines and railings. As you can see, the content of the left & right borders does not really add anything to the image & I think you will agree that the square image is much more powerful: The square frame gives the image a much more dynamic & interesting look!
In this case I have to admit that I was planning to put this image into a square frame all along. By the way, using the full rectangular native image format and later extracting a square crop during post processing allows you to place your square off centre to create a different perspective. This can help if you are photographing a reflecting house façade or window directly from the front and want to prevent seeing your reflection in the image: You place the square all the way to one side of the rectangle, resulting in your reflection not being visible anymore!
Now before y’all gettin’ too excited here, there’s just one caveat: When shooting square you gotta be aware (WOW, that rhymes ;-) that shooting in the square format reduces your lens’s effective angle of view. The angle of view of a lens determines how much of the image you can cover and is calculated according following formula: 𝜶 = 2arctan(d/2𝑓), where 𝜶 (alpha) is the lens’s diagonal angle of view in degrees, d represents the length of the image’s diagonal in mm (28.23mm for the uncropped Fuji APS-C sensor) and 𝑓 is the focal length of your lens in mm. For those of youse not so much into math here’s the thing: Cropping your native 3:2 aspect ratio image to a square 1:1 aspect ratio generates a field of view (FOV) which makes your lens look like the next longer lens in your system. For example Fuji’s XF 18mm / 28mm Full Frame equivalent FOV behaves like the XF 23mm / 35mm Full Frame equivalent FOV lens, the XF 23mm / 35mm Full Frame equivalent FOV like the XF 35mm / 53mm Full Frame equivalent FOV, and so on - basically you can multiply your focal length by a factor of appox. 1.2 when going square! See the below image, taken with the XF 16mm, it looks more like an image taken with the 18mm:
So I hope I’ve managed to inspire youse to experiment a bit with the beautiful, serene and classic square format, and hope you’ll “dare to be square” (again a rhyme 😉). Please share your experiences in the comments section below or leave me a note on my “about” page. Look forward to the discussion!
PS: The best thing about going square is: It don’t cost you nothin’, jeez - this accessory is completely FREE 😊!
Peace with y’all and wish a very nice weekend
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