Following up on our previous article on the second of the three families of crop, Landscape, we move on to the third and final family: Square.
Square crops are defined as such:
An Aspect Ratio whose orientation has the same number of pixels horizontally and vertically. Aspect Ratio = 1.0.
The name, Square, says it all. It is the special and singular instance of the infinite family of rectangles where the adjacent sides are equal. If you divide the width of a square image by it’s height the result will always be equal to one. Again, enough math, already! There are many Portrait and Landscape aspect ratios but there is only one square.
Square Crop Examples:
Square images are somewhat of an aberration. There are few pre-made frames to fit the square format and few cameras can capture in the square. If you have been around photography long enough perhaps you began your career shooting a 6x6cm 120 negative. These were immensely popular with wedding photographers. Many photography-related wedding accessories still revolve around a square image format.
One advantage to a square aspect ratio was that you could always hold the camera the same way and worry about cropping portrait or landscape later if the final image was requested. As long as you left a little space around your subject you were good to go: Portrait or Landscape.
It is harder to find a place for square in our world of cropping. When I judge photography competitions, I find square crops little used and even less understood. I went through my catalog of my top 375 images and found that 33% were Portrait, 65% were Landscape and only 2% were square. It definitely has a place in my workflow, albeit a small place. Here is a list of places where I find a square crop useful.
- Square subjects with attention forward floating in space: The rose picture above is a good example.
- Subject framed darkly within a square lighter space: Items within a window or other nearly square construct.
- Frame-filling portraits of pairs of things: Wedding Rings on hands or individually are commonly square cropped.
- Where the containing frame is square: Passport Photos and Web Avatars
- Circular Subjects: Circles crop to squares as we learned in a previous article.
If you are going to crop square, it matters less how you hold your camera initially. As long as it is level to one of the sensor edges you should be golden. This shot of a Mantled Howler Monkey taken in Costa Rica on one of my workshops with Worldesigns Photo, shows an example of shooting straight-skyward. Here, level doesn’t apply and I let the subject dictate the crop. Ultimately, given what was removed, square was what remained.
Notice that all the rules of composition were considered. Rule of Thirds, Rule of Viewing Space and Framing were all consulted in making this image.
Try finding square objects to shoot against very unobtrusive backgrounds. Leave some space for later cropping. Take those images into software and apply all three families of crop. Consider the square crop. Does it look the most powerful?
Find an old image in whose crop you were never quite happy. Try a square. Does it give you a different perspective?
Now that we have finished the Three Families of Crop, we will move on to some compositional concepts and discuss the many-faceted subject that is the crop.
Rikk Flohr © 2010