Square Affair - with the X-Pro2!

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” 😉!

Lantern and its shadow, seen with X-H1 and XF 90mm F/2 @F/8, 1/210 sec, ISO 400

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!

Original image, with 1:1 square crop

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

Wall with shadow of another lantern, captured on X-H1 with XF 90mm F/2 @F/8, 1/600 sec, ISO 400

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 😉)

Original image with 1:1 square crop

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!

Lantern surrounded by canvas roof, discovered with X-H1 and XF 16mm F/1.4 @F/5.6, 1/5 sec, ISO 400

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!

Original image with 1:1 square crop

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!

Steps in a square frame, seen with my X-Pro2 with XF35mm F/2 @F/8, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

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:

Dinner out with best friends, image taken on X-H1 with XF 16mm F/1.4 @F/2, 1/40 sec, ISO 2500, +0.7 EV

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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JPEG's ... A Fool's Paradise?

I LOVE Fuji's JPEG’s. Unconditionally. On one of my recent Blog posts praising (again ;-) the qualities of Fuji ACROS JPEG’s, someone commented: “RAW is the answer. Only a fool relies on the severely limited JPEG’s”. So I thought I might take a closer look at my Fool’s paradise ;-) and compare one of those beloved ACROS JPEG’s to the RAW version processed in Capture One Pro 12. Please read on if interested …

A sunlit façade in Bayreuth’s town centre, Fuji X-H1 with XF 56mm f/1.2 @f/8, ACROS-R JPEG processed in LR

It was 0730 hrs when I came across this façade illuminated by the first rays of the morning sun, giving it a glowing, nearly transparent look. After some shuffling & jostling around to find the best perspective (ya gotta be fast, coz the light changes fast at this time of the day ;-) I captured the image on my X-H1 in RAW+ACROS-R JPEG with +0.7 EV compensation. Normally Fuji’s ACROS JPEG’s are just amazing - a little curves and levels adjustments in Lightroom and you ‘re good to go. Instant art. Great images in no time!

However, when I pulled this image into Lightroom it kinda didn’t replicate the scene as I’d visualized it during capture. Everybody knows RAW files got more latitude, so I thought I’d try “fool” around a bit in Capture One Pro 12 and see if I could get closer to my original vision of the scene: A sunlit façade with that delicate, transparent look! See the result below:

The same façade, now as RAW processed in Capture One Pro 12. More as I’d originally visualized it!

What’s different here is that I could keep the light tones of the façade lighter than on the JPEG by flattening the highlight shoulder of the tone curve. This resulted in a greater separation to the dark foreground, giving the image that transparent look. Another key factor supporting this is the possibility to selectively darken the sky on the top left by reducing sensitivity in the Cyan and Blue channels and darkening the roof by reducing sensitivity in the red channel in Capture One’s Black & White tool (without affecting the tonality of the other colors). Try covering up the sky portion with your hand and you’ll see what I mean! No sir, this don’t work on the JPEG, but it does take quite a bit of time to get there. Below you can see 100% crops of the JPEG and RAW images side-by-side:

ACROS-R JPEG - more contrast & tonal seperation!

RAW work-out in Capture One Pro - transparent!

So you gotta choose: Either fast and good (JPEG) or slow and better (RAW ;-) … Which one d’you you like better? Yeah, many try to replicate their JPEG’s with the RAW files, but I think that defeats the purpose, each approach has its merits. As for me, I do like both, each image has its own distinct character - the ACROS JPEG with more tonal contrast, but having experienced the real scene the more subtle RAW image more closely represents my original impression of lightness & transparency!

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below or leave me a private message in my “About” page. Peace be with you & wish y’all a wonderful Easter celebration! Thanks for visiting & reading, best regards


I hope this post was helpful / interesting for you - If you like you can support me by sending me a small donation via PayPal.me/hendriximages ! Helps me run this site & keeps the information coming, many thanks in advance!