On Seeing Square

Each of us has a unique way of seeing the world; the photograph is proof of that. And there is a workshop experience I love that drives that point home: Take ten students, have them set up their tripods and cameras side by side to shoot, and you’ll see ten very different photographs the next day in critique session.

The other thing I would notice in those critique sessions is that there was often a student in the class who was “seeing square.” She would be shooting in a rectangular, 35mm format, but cropping it square would strengthen almost every composition. It was usually a surprise to the student, but others in the class would agree.

When I switched from a 645 film format to digital, which has the longer rectangle of the 35mm format, I found myself very frustrated in the field. On almost every shot, there was just “too much” in the viewfinder. I wanted to crop off one side of the image when shooting. In most cases, I wanted to crop past the 645 format all the way to a square.

It got to the point that I found a good deal on a used Hasselblad 6x6 and started shooting film again. I absolutely loved the square format. It was like I could “see” again. But my clients didn’t want film, and my digital gear already filled a much-too-heavy camera bag that I had to lug through airports on a regular basis. So my solution, although I realize some purists would balk at this, is that I simply compose for the square in my mind when shooting digital and then crop to square in Photoshop. For my personal work, I now crop nearly every image square. For my editorial work, I tend to submit a mix of rectangular and square images. This gives the art directors a choice—the rectangular images that suit their page format, and square images for variety.

Photo ©2008 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved.