The Square Affair – A Return To 1:1 With The Ricoh GRD III

The first time I ever shot a photograph with a square, 1:1 aspect ratio, was with a Holga 120N, a birthday present in June 2012.

Prior to that, I was heavily embedded in 4:3, having photographed for eight months solid with a Nikon Coolpix P300, my first “proper” camera, and before that, for five or six years with Sony camera phones, also 4:3.

As I evolved from the Holga to 35mm film, my default became 3:2, although I’ve still used 4:3 digital cameras ever since too, so it’s remained very familiar.

Now and then though, I drop the rectangles, and dip back into the square format.

As a few of my digital cameras have 1:1 as an option, it’s easy to shoot in camera with no need to crop afterwards, which is my preferred approach with any aspect ratio.

I can’t remember the last time I cropped any photo, it must be years, which is all part of my zero processing approach.

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This month I’m using my Ricoh GR Digital III exclusively as part of my One Month One Camera project.

Which happens to be one of the cameras with a 1:1 option.

So today I decided to switch it up to squares again and see what compositions I found. 

There are a few reasons I like square photos.

1. The proportions are equal.

This sounds obvious, but I just like the balance and the simple symmetry of squares, and how it eliminates the need to consider whether the composition should be portrait or landscape. A square is like both, at once!

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2. You see more sky.

Usually when shooting any landscape with sky above, the tendency is to use a landscape orientation, and make the land to sky (or sea to sky) proportions 50/50.

Sometimes though, in fact for me it’s more often than not, the sky tends to be more interesting than the land.

There is of course the option with 4:3 or 3:2 to flip the camera 90 degrees, and shoot with a portrait orientation to feature more sky.

But then usually this means more land too, or if the land isn’t interesting, there can be too much sky.

With a square, the proportions feel right to make a more dynamic sky the predominant feature of a photo, without it entirely taking over.

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3. It’s more challenging.

I’m so used to 4:3 and 3:2, which are subtly different, but close enough to be able to interchange without much extra effort.

With square framing though, it’s very different, and if you’re constantly looking through an imaginary gilded golden picture frame (or the actual rectangle of your viewfinder or screen) for compositions that fit, it’s quite a challenge to adapt to 1:1.

It feels like you can’t crop out anything at the top and bottom, which would be just outside a rectangular outline, there’s more in the frame to have to consider, work with, and make a part of the overall composition.

And whilst I do like using a camera to be pretty simple on the technical front, I enjoy a bit of a challenge now and then in terms of looking for compositions to capture.

All photographs in this post were made with my Ricoh GR Digital III on its 1:1 aspect ratio, so there’s no cropping, or indeed any post processing at all.

How about you? How often do you shoot with a square format, and what do you enjoy about it?

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).

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28 thoughts on “The Square Affair – A Return To 1:1 With The Ricoh GRD III”

  1. Reading this made me realize I do a lot of cropping, and it’s mainly because I don’t see the image properly when I’m shooting. I sort of see the view, but not accurately – no matter how good the finder or screen (the Lumix has a better LCD than the Nikon or Canon, btw). So for me post-shoot cropping is inevitable if it is to be done at all. I shot one series of square images on the Canon, when imitating a Kodak Brownie. But as a rule I would only ‘square up’ afterward, as with picking B&W over colour. When I get the image on the big computer screen, that’s when I can see what it needs to be right.

    1. That’s really strange Marc, I’m not I understand. What is it you’re not able to see do you think? I like to review and edit on a large screen (nearly always my 15″ MacBook Pro) but I have no need to crop. When taking a picture I just basically move the camera around until the photograph looks how I want it in the screen, then shoot. I’m not sure what’s preventing you from doing the same.

      1. It’s simply that my eyesight isn’t good. I can’t focus near or far, have a fair amount of astigmatism, and difficulty discerning small details. So any camera’s viewfinder or LCD is a small, indistinct blur of the scene. I’ve even tried using the excellent quality LCD on the Lumix held out at ‘focus point’ for my eyes, but the image is too small then to tell what exactly is in the scene.
        I guess I need an 8×10 digital view camera!

      2. I had a magnifying eye piece with a couple of Pentax DLSRs, but it didn’t magnify it hugely, just helped a little when focusing with manual lenses. But to be honest I prefer a screen. My eyes aren’t as young as they were and using any viewfinder tires them pretty quickly.

        I think dedicated cameras have kind of maxed out with screens, the optimum seems to be considered around 3 inches.

        Maybe you could somehow use a tablet as a viewfinder (or use a tablet with a great camera) but they’re not exactly the most ergonomic devices for photography.

  2. I don’t know what percentage of my photos are square, pretty high I expect, but I do know I rarely publish a ‘straight’ landscape shot. I find vertical format works better for a lot of my landscape work anyway, which is a shame when it comes to submitting shots for the local annual calendar!

    The nature of the dynamic abstract means accurate composition in camera is pretty much impossible, so I rely more on post processing to gauge what crop works best with each shot for those, and it is almost invariably square.

    1. When you do shoot square for a landscape, do you have the intention to shoot square before you look for compositions, or do you just look generally for photogenic and scenes, and if one looks better suited to a square, make the decision then?

      With abstract work I like how a square kind of gives equal space and symmetry to every part of the picture. Somehow it gives more freedom to the viewer to interpret in their own way. If that makes any sense!

      1. For landscape, I tend to be able to see the likely square composition within a shot as I take it and frame accordingly. I tend to shoot vertical for these, as the width gives me at least that horizontal boundary in my framing in camera. This results in a 4000×4000 pixel shot from my camera, which is plenty big enough for a very decent sized print!

      2. Definitely. So is it around a 21MP camera? I like the idea of using the horizontal edges to frame when the camera doesn’t have a dedicated 1:1 mode. I imagine this is easier than shooting in landscape and trying to imaging where the left and right edges are.

      3. 24mp… and to think we were selling fixed lens ‘compact’ (and fixed focus, no AF), VGA resolution cameras for over £1300 at first!
        Yes, that’s one way of planning the shots, but of course the other way is just sometimes seeing a more ideal and tighter composition – in the ones I didn’t plan to be square – in reviewing and processing the shots later too.

      4. I wonder why they were fixed focus, because AF systems were decent enough in the mid 80s. I’ve had a few Minolta film SLRs (and even older Minolta and Canon film compacts) that I didn’t have any particular trouble with. Was it that the digital technology was so expensive they had to cut costs on the rest of the camera, or it would have been even more expensive?

      5. Yep, a cost and model differentiation thing. The two models I was thinking of were Olympus Camedia, one a 0.8 MP FF, the other a 1.3MP AF. If I remember right, it was £1000 and £1300… in 1997.

  3. When I made pictures with the iPod Touch, and then the iPhone I shot square all the time. Haven’t now since I use a flip phone. But I resonate with the great environmental art photographer, Ansel Adam, who preferred square format for easy cropping and no need to rotate a camera for vertical shots. He saw no loss of performance with a cropped 6×6 image compared to an uncropped 6×7.

    1. Yes, thanks for the reminder Frank, I forgot I used to use my iPhone for square shots, and processed with Hipstmatic the vast majority of the time.

      I also just remembered back when Instagram was actually quite an original and intriguing platform in its early days, all photos had to be square, and most tended to look like they’d been made on a Polaroid with expired film. Shame they opened the floodgates to all dimensions and lost their (for me) most interesting selling point.

      Yes like you and Ansel, I like the simplicity of the square and how it eliminates the portrait/landscape decision.

  4. I never shoot square… which is the main reason I was never on instagram.
    I hear you can shoot any ratio you want on instagram now? Still, I don’t feel the urge 🙂
    I’ve done a couple square crops before, mainly pictures of flowers when the composition dictated it, to get rid of a lot of empty space. That’s about it…

    1. I actually quite liked the original idea of Instagram – square photos only, shot with (i)phones and fed through vintage looking filters. It made it a very different and fun site compared with more serious photographic options like Flickr, 500px etc. But they opened the floodgates and it lost any charm it had, and now you get people using crazy high end gear and sharing to an app where most of its users are viewing your finely crafted photos at a size of about 3×2 inches, if that!

      Yeh a square crop works very well for a close up of a flower head, like you say it optimises the space.

  5. During my one camera project last year, I experimented so much with the camera, especially the 1:1 aspect ratio.

    I really enjoyed composing the image through the camera viewfinder, rather than cropping after the event, the subsequent Jpeg’s from the X100F were very pleasing and helped me get over my ‘RAW’ only tendencies.

    I found myself taking shots of subject matter that I may never have considered shooting with the standard aspect ratio, more importantly it added an element of fun to the days outing.

    1. Andy, does the X100F have a 1:1 aspect ratio mode so you’re composing with a square, or framelines in the VF, or did you have to imagine it?

      I’ve also found that once you commit to one camera for a longer period of time you tend to delve deeper into its options and possibilities. Which is fun, and all good experience.

  6. My two favorite ratios are 1:1 and 4:5. Is a pity that in the digital age, taking advantage that lenses are circular, companies didn’t make square sensors, one would think they have a shape with less waste of space. Said that to achieve those ratios I prefer to stitch photos rather than crop them.

    1. What do you mean by stitch photos? Like merge two together side by side? If so, how do you get 1:1 or 4:5? You’d need two 1:2 photos to make 1:1, or two 2:5 or two 5:8, to make a larger 4:5? Which are even more unusual ratios!

      1. This is impressive Francis… But not my thing at all, I just like to keep it pure and simple, and whatever I see in the viewfinder or on screen when I capture the photo be the same as the final image, rather than get involved in any digital trickery afterwards.

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