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The Simplicity of the Square Format

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Notes On Photography - The square format is a simple and interesting image aspect ratio worth exploring.

Square format photography, or capturing images in a 1:1 format, has been with us since the days of the Rolleiflex, a medium format twin lens reflex (TLR) camera in 1929. This was followed soon enough by cameras using the same film format by Hasselblad, Holga, Polaroid, Kodak, and other makes. That was it then, these images are captured on 6x6cm negative film on medium format cameras with 120 or 220 rolls of color or black and white film.


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On many current digital cameras, you have the choice of using your camera’s native aspect ratio (normally a rectangle), pre-setting your camera to capture images in the 1:1 format or you can crop the image to 1:1 in post-processing. For social networking, dedicated camera apps are available for Android, iOS, and the Windows platform for you to download and shoot images in the 'square'  for you to share instantly.

Getting Started

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The simplest thing about shooting in 1:1 format is that does not require you to hold the camera any other way than the normal upright position, as a camera is supposed to be held. Looking at the photo opportunities, however, requires you to think slightly differently from what you are used to when taking photographs, for example, in a 3:2 or 4:3 format.

You might feel that a square frame is just too tight and you don't have enough room to capture all the parts of the scene. To overcome the apprehension, try this workaround. Go back and work with images you've already captured. Crop the images to a 1:1 format and see how you can develop a conversation between you and the image you are working on.


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A square is a perfectly balanced shape, with each side being equal in length. The square format encourages the eye to move around in a circle within the frame. This is different from the rectangular frame, where the eye moves from side to side in the landscape format, or up and down in the portrait format.


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Sans the rule-of-thirds in square format photography, it does not really apply. Place the subject in the center of the frame for a strong composition. The fewer distractions there are in the frame, the more effective a central composition becomes. If the subject has a strong shape, the empty space around it emphasizes the shape. And the square format provides the perfect, balanced frame.


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You can create an atmosphere or emphasize the shape of the subject by including negative space around it. Negative space is the term used to describe the empty space in an image around the subject. This can be difficult to do when you are shooting on a rectangular frame, but it can be very effective in the square format.

Shapes and Diagonals

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Shapes are strong elements in square format photography. Linked with this are the ideas of balance and simplicity, looking for shapes such as triangles, squares, and circles to compose the image. Patterns and repetitions do equally well while implied or visual diagonals also add to the impact of the image.

Black and White

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Do it in black and white. The square format and black-and-white images are made for each other. Yes, black and white photography is a format that suits almost any genre of photography, be it portraits, landscapes, images, abstracts, or architecture. It adapts well to all lighting situations, and with digital editing, you are free to set the mode and create an environment for the image to speak for itself.

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