Does the Square Aspect Ratio Carry More Baggage?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by Norman 202, Feb 24, 2018.

  1. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    By that, I mean are compositional expectations higher using a square rather than rectangular aspect ratio? Or put another way, is a haphazard (or irrational) approach to composition easier to get away with using a rectangular aspect ratio?

    Whaddya fink?
  2. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    I suspect the answer is no but I would be interested in your opinions.
  3. On film, the square 6x6 format was the practical choice for its flexibility to crop either vertical or horizontal for magazine page layouts while keeping the main subject intact. I remember that's how I was taught to use it by my teachers when doing studio still lifes, portrait and fashion assignments. Unless of course one wanted a square composition.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2018
  4. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Interesting that Phil was taught to crop from sq to rectangular rather than the other way around given that more cameras shot rectangular natively (I think???)

    Phil, did your teachers expect you to crop?
  5. They would make crop suggestions based on the contact sheets. This also meant keeping enough room for cropping around the main subject. In product and commercial photography for magazines, I think that's how the 6x6 format was also mainly used ( it not being tied to either vertical or horizontal layout) before the whole of the square frame became more of an aesthetic choice.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2018
  6. Well, if you shoot a TLR, you start of with a square image. I've done that only for a short time, because back then the film and development cost was prohibitive for me.

    Composing for square format is difficult for most people who are used to compose rectangular images. I guess if one grew up shooting square, it would be the other way around.
  7. Way back when I sold Hasselblads, every time they had a sales seminar, all of the visuals were square - whether projected on screen, in their sales brochures, or in a book.
  8. The square format was adopted to accommodate medium format cameras of that era. Neither a Hasselblad nor Rolleiflex (or their clones) can be easily turned 90 degrees between landscape and portrait orientation of a rectangular format. It is only slightly easier using a 90 degree viewfinder, because the controls are not as convenient when the camera is turned on its side. 6x4.5 cameras are typically used with a 90 degree finder, held to the face like a 35 mm camera, having controls that work well in either orientation.

    In my time, we would ink lines no the viewfinder screen proportional to the narrowest traditional print, 5x7, in both directions. That is how you would avoid clipping elbows or other key parts of the composition in wedding pictures. If it fits in a 5x7 proportion, it will work for 8x10 and 11x14 too.

    Whether you publish using a square format or not is a matter of taste. I see it used mainly in trendy restaurants and some hotels/motels, along with "fatter" formats, compared to 3:2, such as 4x5 and 6x7. I think the stark symmetry of a square print can be effective. However paper and frames tend to come in rectangular sizes, so square prints waste a lot of paper.
  9. I would say not necessarily "higher" but different.

    One of the more important things I've learned over the years is how SO MUCH affects how I shoot, why and how I crop, and how I then see my photos. Aspect ratio is one of them. Viewing medium is another. When I print my work, for example, I usually work up a different file from the one I use for monitor viewing and Internet display. Because back lighting has a profound effect on the feel and look of the image. After I printed my first gallery show, I felt myself starting to shoot a little differently, geared more toward the print. Generally, I find prints subtler and that can affect how I approach something I'm photographing.

    Aspect ratio can be similar to that. It is sort of the container in which a photo is viewed, even as it's actually part of and integrated into the photo itself. A square is more "perfect," if you will, so that may well affect how I compose for it or what I will choose to crop out if I'm cropping to a square. But composition is composition and it is just at much at play in a rectangle as in a square, I think. Think about symmetry, for example. Since a square is a "stricter" geometry, a specific kind of rectangle, symmetry will often relate to a square in a stronger and more obvious manner. That can be played with in devising symmetrical, and asymmetrical, compositions.

    Then, of course, there's MARCO SUAREZ - LINK.
    Andy Warhol answered that a few decades ago: "Art is anything you can get away with."
  10. Composition depends on the scene.
    I've seen many square compositions, and many rectangular compositions.

    A square composition shot with a dslr will have wasted space on the sides.
    A rectangular composition shot with a 6x6 will have wasted space on the sides or top/bottom.
    The dslr format of 2x3 (24x36) does not match the standard paper formats (4x5, 5x7, 8x10 and 11x14), so you will have to crop your dslr image to fit the paper. That means you have to leave wasted space to crop into.

    Trying to force a square composition into a rectangular composition or a rectangular composition into a square composition, turns it into another image that may be/likely is worse than the square or rectangle composition that you wanted.

    Personally, I shoot the composition, whatever it is (square, various rectangle formats, triangle, etc.), with whatever the camera format I choose to use or have with me.
    I leave room around the composition to crop, and just ignore that wasted space.
    Then I crop it later in the computer or darkroom, to the composition that I wanted. I can make a print 3 inches high and 14 inches wide if I wanted to.

    The ONLY time that I compose and shoot to the film frame is when I shoot slide film.
    Cuz what you shoot is normally what you project in the slide.
    OK you can crop the slide with mylar tape. But there are limits to this, as the film is static in the slide holder, so a crop will also change the position of the projected image. Crop the right side, and the image will be to the left side of the screen, not in the center.
  11. I compose to what's in the viewfinder: 3:2 with 35mm,. 6x7 with medium format, 16:9 with my cell phone and when I use my digital to capture shots that will be shown on a 16:9 UHDTV screen. I just got back from vacation and pre-set my camera to shoot 16:9 although 4:3, 3:2 and 1:1 are available. You get better shots "cropped" in the camera rather than trying to change the format to something different after the shot was taken in different aspect ratio. Cropping 4:3 or 1:1 or 6:7 camera shots afterwards to 16:9 often does not work.

    Also, your brain automatically composes a shot aethetically regardless of the aspect ratio. What to put in or out, balance, rules of thirds etc work regardless of the format. After all, can't we crop to any aspect ratio to print in whatever format we want to get the best results? Our brain's aesthetic talents don't shut down when the aspect ratio changes.
  12. I'm of the school that keeps stepping closer until something I need in the photo is at risk of getting cut off, and finding viewpoints where I use as much of the film as possible, so whatever the format is, I manage to end up using all of it. I have my favorite aspect ratio, but that doesn't seem to change my practice of using all the available real estate of whatever I am using at the moment. Habit, I guess. I'm one of those jerks who prints the black border, too, to prove I wasn't totally clueless about what the picture was going to be at the time I pressed the button.
  13. Oh, one other thing about shooting stills at 16:9. Since I shoot videos during a vacation which is at 16:9, I want the stills to match. That way a "slide show" with stills and videos displays in the full TV, computer, or cell phone screen. Otherwise you'll have black borders for the still shots and full screens for the videos.
  14. Back in the day the film/camera you used determined the format you shot at. Slide film gave little choice, with printing paper size tended to make the decision (unless you were really radical and trimmed the print). Now a lot of digital cameras give you the choice. 4:6, 4:3, 16:9, 1:1 and what ever I've missed. All editing software leaves the choice to you so my limit yourself, so let the picture decide. Even if I showed my output on a TV I wouldn't choose 16:9.
  15. There are actually interesting times when I haven't had a choice, per se. And then, a lot goes into the way I relate what the picture is telling me to the aspect ratio itself.

    I recently self-published a book of my photos. I did a a fair amount of adjusting and cropping so that photos facing each other on a two-page spread looked well together, sometimes making a photo more rectangular that I'd originally shown in more of a square format because it looked better on the page that way and related to the photo next to it better that way. And, some pictures seemed well-suited to being printed over a two-page spread, which meant considering where the spine line would fall and sometimes adjusting my crop so that the page divide came in a better spot. Also, when printing a full two-page spread, the choice is absolutely limited to the dimensions of the book, so there's no choice but to crop to those exact dimensions. So, it would be a combination of the dimensions and the picture that determined how I'd crop, what I'd include and what I'd leave out and how the scene or subject related to the new dimensions.

    Another similar situation is having a gallery show. In organizing the show, I would often decide on a few photos appearing together on a wall and wanted, for the sake of cost and ease, a somewhat consistent size for matting and framing, at least among those groupings. So very often a photo would, again, have to be cropped in order to fit a need. The aspect ratio could be a big influence here and the picture, contents, and elements all related to that when I determined how to crop.

    Interestingly enough, working within some restrictions and constraints and being "forced" to crop differently than I had originally, I wound up seeing some of the photos very differently and actually liked the newer cropped versions better than what I had originally done!

    IMO, a lot of photography, whether framing or publishing or simply deciding on exposure or composition, is a matter not always of completely free choice but of trade-offs and sometimes restrictions of equipment, time, materials, or technical barriers. I love the process of making those sorts of aesthetic compromises and doing the problem-solving required to come up with a good result.
  16. Depends on the image and what works for it.
    sjmurray likes this.
  17. I've been photographing for 50 years now. I've use 35mm, medium format: square and 6x7; 4x5, and now digital. In the darkroom I always felt it that the image determined the crop, no matter what format I shot with. Nothing has changed with digital. I have probably cropped less with the 4x5 format. I'm guessing part of that is that the process of using a tripod and looking at the image upside down to compose made composition more careful and methodical, resulting in a complete composition in the 4x5 format.
  18. I still shoot a lot of 6x6.

    Sometimes I see a composition that just "clicks" in the viewfinder of my square camera of the day(these days a Hasselblad, for a while a Bronica, before that a Rolleiflex) but most of the time I shoot with an eye toward cropping. I have a rule of 3rds grid in my Hasselblad and in my main Rolleiflex, and that gives me at least a ballpark guideline.

    I'll also mention that I have a D1X that I think came from a portrait studio. I got it from a seller on Ebay that had a BUNCH of them, and mine-like all they sold-has the edges inked to give a 4:5 aspect ratio.
  19. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    In film days I shot 35mm, 120, and an old 5x7 View - I did and still do compose in the viewfinder with digital FX and DX and 35 mm film. I do minor cropping, sometimes major if there is no lawful or reasonable way to get close to the subject. Once in a while, since now everything I shoot is rectangular, there is a situation where square just works for me, and a square rendition clicks. There is a lot of argument about which lens approximates the human visual field in photography, in the old days it was somewhere between 40mm & 50mm for 35mm film - don't know if I agree with that, but it is definitely not Square!
  20. I'm guessing they also showed the Vs too :)

    I don't think the carriers for my Epson will allow you to scan the "Vs" if you want to. I have yet to print any Hasselblad negatives-I generally print with a decent amount of crop, but I think that the Beseler holders will show them if you're so inclined.

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