It started with a Holga 120N, given as a birthday present in 2012, and, in retrospect, a life changing camera.
Not only my first film camera, the Holga was my first medium format camera, and the first that only shot square images.
Before this, my only association with 1:1 aspect ratio photography was vague recollections of Polaroids from my childhood, perhaps not even of my own family.
All the images I’d made myself in the previous six or seven years had been in 4:3 format, the standard for the camera phones and Nikon digital compact I’d been using up to then.
In fact, even more than being the first square format camera I’d used, the Holga was the one that brought to my conscious mind that photographs could be made with different aspect ratios.
Since then I’ve tried 3:2 (the standard with 35mm film, and an option with many digital cameras I’ve used), 16:9 (commonly called widescreen, and influenced by cinematic films) as well as the 4:3 I already knew.
But let’s get back to 1:1 square photography.
What was most strange initially with the Holga is, previously I’d seen every potential scene quite clearly as either a landscape or portrait orientated photo.
I rarely stood there with my camera flicking back and forth through 90 degrees to figure out which look best.
I just kind of knew.
With square images though of course, portrait and landscape are exactly the same.
Which means that taking pictures of, well, landscapes, you can’t rely on a rectangular aspect ratio to crop out any unnecessary foreground or sky. You get more of one or the other, or both, with 1:1.
Similarly, with photographs of more vertical subjects, where a rectangular crop in portrait orientation elegantly mirrors the subject, again with 1:1 you have to be aware of possibly extraneous clutter each side of it.
When I first started out, the compositions that felt easiest and most natural where ones of square or circular subjects, which neatly fitted the square format better than a rectangle.
But seeking out only subjects that were roughly square was going to be rather limiting longer term, and would likely soon become formulaic.
So I started looking for different opportunities to make the most of the square format.
For example, with the beach flag photograph below, previously I would have likely shot this as landscape in 4:3 without a second thought.
But the square format allows us to reveal more of the sky and, I feel, add more drama to the scene.
A landscape rectangle would have not shown as much sky vertically to give the same effect, and a portrait shot wouldn’t have shown enough of the sea horizontally to appreciate its suggested drama and tumultuousness.
I haven’t used my Holga in years, and even longer for square format – my later pictures most being experiments with loading it with 35mm film.
But I haven’t forgotten about the challenges and pleasures of square photography.
With my iPhone (5C) I shot a fairly high proportion of square images (perhaps one in three).
Using the Hipstamatic app, it was a great deal of fun, and became as close to I’d got to a digital equivalent of my Holga.
My Ricoh GRD III has 1:1 as an option, though I’ve used it less than I did the iPhone.
It’s an excellent option for when I want to explore square format again.
But the camera now most likely to help me make some new square photographs is my current favourite, the Pentax Q.
There’s virtually nothing the Q doesn’t offer, for my needs, include having the option for 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 images.
In the next few weeks I plan to explore some more square format photography with the Pentax Q, and see what comes of it. I’ll likely publish a follow up post too.
Just as an aside, I know some people shoot 3:2 or 4:3 with the intention of making square images, then crop afterwards. I’ve never been comfortable with this – or indeed cropping at all.
I just feel that, for me, the edges of the frame are there for a reason, and I should be striving to fill them the best way I can, by the choices I make about where I stand and where I point the camera, before pressing the shutter button.
Not just making sure everything I want is in the frame and relying on cropping later to neaten up the edges.
Call me pedantic or controlling, I just don’t like messing with photographs afterwards by cropping.
Plus it’s another decision I can make in-camera, so I know once that shutter is released, the image that’s made is the way it’s going to stay – no cropping, processing, tweaking or enhancing afterwards, I either keep it, or delete it. Irreversible Photography!
How about you? How often do you shoot square format? What do you like about it? What do you find challenging?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
Thanks for looking.
Share this post with someone you think will enjoy it using the buttons below.
See what I’m up to About Now.