I like square photographs and wish my camera shot that way. Recently there’s been a flurry of good online talk about picture shapes.

Back in January, Mike Johnson (AKA The Online Photographer) asked: Why Not Square Sensors? This struck a chord with me, and I echoed it on Twitter. Alex Waterhouse-Hayward emailed me an eloquent little essay, mostly in opposition. I asked him to blog it and now there’s The Perfect Square.

Mike Johnson brought in guest blogger Kirk Tuck to write They stole our choice of aspect ratios. Now we’re getting them back. If you’re arguing about pictures, I think you ought to argue with pictures; so I offer Jon Ellis’ Tokyo Square.

Everybody knows that a square format works well for isolating the subject of a portrait.

Lauren Wood

But this one, happily square, is about as much unlike a portrait as can be imagined.

Red and silver truck

Ideally, I’d like the subject matter of a picture to speak as directly as possible to the person looking at it, with as little presentational clutter as possible. I can make an argument that a square presentation represents the minimum possible decoration at the level of shape, and that any departure from it is a choice that you’re imposing on the contents.

I don’t actually believe that. But I do recommend the following practice, which I apply to nearly every photo I edit: Early in the editing process, I jam it into a 1:1 aspect ratio and see if that’s going to work. I don’t always leave it there, but sometimes I do, and some other times I find myself making just a few little adjustments, ending up almost square.

Anyhow, I’d totally love to shoot with a square-sensor camera.


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From: orcmid (Feb 19 2012, at 18:12)

There is a surviving square format camera. It is called a Hasselblad. You'll have to save up a lot of bottle caps though: http://www.bing.com/search?q=hasselblad+digital&qs=AS&form=QBLH&pq=haselblad&sc=8-9&sp=6&sk=AS5


From: Bowie (Feb 19 2012, at 19:57)

I'm hardly a photo enthusiast but I take a lot of photographs with my point&shoot Lumix. I'm always thinking of printing my photographs, and the quick/cheap printing option is in the 3:2 ratio. My camera by default (full 10MP) takes photos in a different ratio and this was irritating when printing (I had to crop every photo). Luckily it has an option to take photos in 3:2 @ 9MP (the view screen has black lines top/bottom to block in ratio).

I love that my camera has the option and I see no reason why a modern SLR camera couldn't have a similar option to take square photos, but I realise that isn't quite your point...


From: Ronald Pottol (Feb 19 2012, at 20:03)

Why not round? Just make the sensor to match the area exposed by the lens.


From: Alex Waterhouse-Hayward (Feb 19 2012, at 23:19)

In fact George Eastman's Kodak Model 1 camera took (if you were lucky) 100 perfectly round photographs. The first camera using the much faster (relatively) Petzval lens also made round photographs.


From: Michał Ty (Feb 20 2012, at 03:49)

I imagine the reason cameras shoot a wide, rectangle picture is that most people, having two eyes, see the world as a wide, rectangle picture.


From: Ross Reedstrom (Feb 20 2012, at 14:09)

@Michał Ty: Hmm, I think the natural human field-of-view is much more oval, though I grant the rectangular aspect ratio. In addition, it's strongly vignetted, with high-resolution only in the center, much fuzzier towards the extremes.


From: Jon Ellis (Feb 20 2012, at 22:40)

Thanks for the link.

Everything in the Tokyo Square series is shot with a Hasselblad, mostly on Fujifilm Neopan Presto, and with either a 80 or 40mm lens. They are all the full frames.

I found that when shooting with a dSLR only a 1x1 portion of the frame would be the focus of the composition. At the time i put this down to my right eye / left brain dominating... no idea if that's a rational explanation.

Moving to a square view finder really changed my compositions and allowed them to become a lot more considered / complex.

Well, something like that. To keep thing interesting my other camera that i shoot a lot has an aspect ratio of 3x1!

BTW, the Ricoh GR Digital III has a 1x1 mode. might be a good way to experiment. A fair few of my film shooting 6x6 friends use them as proofing / lightmeter cameras.


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