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1. Once upon a time a square was someone that wasn’t “with it”; he or she was not cool or hip. Depending upon your point of view, there may still be many squares populating the world; but when it comes to your digital photography, it’s hip to be square. Many photographers, including pros, bring their camera to their eye and simply accept unconsciously that all their images will be shot in the rectangular, native aspect ratio, horizontally or vertically. This is especially an old habit for many veteran photographers, who migrated from 35mm film cameras to digital equipment.
2. This unfortunate acceptance of the rectangular format as the only one limits your creativity. Your mind is attuned to arranging subjects, objects or a scene within that rectangular space, so you do it without even considering other possibilities, such as composing for a square image. Suddenly, there is a new challenge for your photographer’s eye and mind and new ways to express yourself, artistically.
3. Digital photography has removed the final barrier to thinking of and shooting square photos. It’s much easier to crop an image to an intended square dimension in editing software, and still retain the quality. Film photographers’ images degrade in quality whenever they crop a 35mm negative in the darkroom to make a square print. A number of digital cameras include a superimposed square guide via the live view or as you look through an electronic viewfinder.
4. Most of the time, less is more when composing a photo; so being square allows you to create photos that concentrate on what’s most important about the subject or scene you want to capture. This is an opportunity to look at and frame the photo’s components with a final square image in mind. You may find it a helpful learning experience to return first to earlier photos that weren’t originally composed for a square format. Review them on your computer, as you experiment with square cropping. Don’t be surprised to find some gems that weren’t very interesting as rectangular images.
5. Being a square photographer frees you to compose your photos differently than you would in the rectangular format. For instance, the rule-of-thirds no longer applies (regardless of whether you follow this rule much at all). Not only is it acceptable to frame a subject or object in the center of the image, but also it often grabs the attention of viewers stronger than a subject or object positioned at the crossing lines of the rule-of-thirds in the rectangular format. You can also generate more interest in the primary element of a photo with it near the border, or even partially off-frame.
In a square-format image, lines and primary shapes (square, circle and triangle) compel viewers’ eyes to enter the frame and be guided to the elements captured within it.
6. Monochrome, or black-and-white, images are often rendered more artistically in the square format. Lines and primary shapes become even more dynamic, heightening the mood, message or drama of your photos.
7. Composing in the square format is also an opportunity to learn more about the positive value of negative space in a photo. Think of how much “open” space your images will contain if you shoot a slender, vertical object within a square border. Conversely, negative space becomes a different creative tool when the object fills most of the square space, or maybe just the upper or lower half of the image.
8. Final images in square format can also add more interest to your online gallery or as prints for display in homes, offices and photo galleries if that is your professional focus. On a wall, a square print is more likely to draw viewers because it’s unique within a sea of rectangular prints. You can also create a quite exciting display of multiple square prints that sends a message that is not possible with a group of rectangular images.
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Photo by PhotographyTalk member J. Hansen