Over the past few years I have found myself wanting to moving away from the 3:2 aspect ratio of most digital 35mm SLR cameras switching over to the 4:3 of medium format. I was heavily cropping my images, ending up square and I hated the feeling off throwing all those pixels away. At the moment I love square format images and now by being able to see a square image out in the field I think my compositions have become much stronger and simplified. Below I hope to give you an insight into why.
The problems I found with the 3:2 aspect ratio was the length of the rectangle. Reviewing images at home the shape made me feel uncomfortable. Whilst actually trying to compose out In landscape it was either too wide and short or turning the camera over to portrait to take a vertical image I find it now the reverse, far too narrow and quite hard to fill the frame without leaving empty space at the top or bottom. Using medium format the shorter rectangle of the frame becomes easier and the elements of the image seem to hold a better relationship to one another as there are never too far apart. I instantly found this aspect more pleasing and balanced and from this starting point producing square crops was more economical with those precious pixels.
So Why Am I Square
A Square is a very stable shape. It is grounded, predictable and due to this quality of stillness it provides a balance to an image which is what I seek. A square arena works well I find with a multitude of scenes, from inanimate and serene to ones filled with chaos, energy and drama.
Because of the lack of bias to any one direction the viewers eye is not pulled and tends to move around in a circle, often towards the center. With the use of vignetting and a minimalist approach with the subject close to the center, the feel or direction can magnify a zooming in sensation, helping to concentrate and hold the viewer's eye. Square photos in my opinion have a certain beauty and class to the design that rectangular images lack.
NEVER PLACE YOUR SUBJECT IN THE CENTER…WHY?
When starting out in photography there are many so called rules and ideas that you will come across. Thirds being the most talked about I believe, but also it is often regarded as a mistake to place your subject near to the middle of the frame. Well what happens if your main subject is the only subject, does this not work? ￼
Generally speaking, if you have a strong and simple composition then placing the subject in or close to the center is fine. I'm sure some may disagree but i think this image below works perfectly well.
Keeping the composition as simple as possible and try to eliminate everything that is not relevant to the subject. I am not one for consciously thinking and applying rules but the one I disregard more than anything is not placing a subject central to the frame. I think this works amazingly well and feel squares call out for a centralized composition and maybe throw in a strong leading line and you could have a very compelling image.
A classic scene from Perth-Western Australia of the Crawley Boat shed on the Swan River. A very simple composition with the boathouse placed just below center and the centralized boardwalk leading straight in towards the main focal point.
The square format is experiencing something of a resurgence at the moment. Aerial photography which I enjoy has now picked up a name of "squarials" as most people that participate in this type of photography seem to all crop square. For me it's because most of these are heavily abstracted landscapes with strong patterns and textures which once again do not need an outside influence of a rectangular frame directing the eye about.
Before digital cameras, you really needed a 6x6cm medium format camera to use the square format. But now anyone with a digital camera can take advantage of this very interesting aspect ratio. Intriguing because it circumvents the 'rules' of composition that we are accustomed to using within the 35mm frame.The rule-of-thirds becomes more or less irrelevant . Placing a subject in the centre or close to one of the edges is just as compelling.
In this image of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia I have placed the lone photographer way down in the corner. I feel this gives the image a good anchor point and the line or pattern he is photographing helps to lead you over to the volcano in the distance and then back again. I found this relationship between the two components did not work aswel in any other aspect ratio.
Hey give it ago and you may find it works for you too. With digital you have nothing to lose and now you can even pre-set different aspects in live view to help or as I do, use masking tape on my live view screen.