It’s funny. These days, most people associate an image that’s cropped as a square as something that’s being done as a compromise for the benefit of social media – particularly Instagram. For the longest time, a square was the best format to use on Instagram because it’s all it would display, and it still is the most common crop today. On other social media, square became popular because it has the same dimensions whether the viewer holds their phone vertically or horizontally.
But square images have been around since long before Instagram or social media. In fact, they were around long before the Internet existed at all. And it has a very different psychological effect on the viewer than a vertical or horizontal orientation image. In this video, Mark Denney walks us through the square crop, how and why to use it and how you might want to use it to get better compositions.
The video takes an interesting look at the psychology and aesthetics of the square crop as well as giving guidance on what types of images work well for a square crop. Obviously, not every scene is going to work when shot square, especially if you don’t shoot your original horizontal or vertical shot wide enough. But once you get used to composing specifically for square because it suits the subject and not just as an afterthought, it really opens up a lot of new creative options.
I’ve always loved the square format. I’ve still got a Mamiya C330 Pro F and an Agfa Isolette here that I shoot whenever the opportunity arises. Both of these shoot 6x6cm (or “two and a quarter” as the US calls ’em) square negatives on medium format film. There’s something about a square composition – which Mark describes in the video above – that gives them a unique perspective on an image. Something that’s difficult to get across in a landscape or portrait orientation. And it’s all down to that aspect ratio.
I still shoot either horizontal or vertical for the vast majority of my images, but even with digital, I’ll regularly shoot with a square crop in mind for the final result. And it’s certainly not the compromise that many seem to deem it to be just for the sake of social media.
Do you normally shoot horizontal or vertical? Do you ever shoot specifically to produce a square composition?