It’s funny. Today, most people associate a square-cropped image with a trade-off in favor of social media—especially Instagram. For the longest time, a square was the best format for Instagram because that was all it would display, and it’s still the most common crop today. On other social media, the square became popular because it has the same dimensions whether the viewer is holding their phone vertically or horizontally.
But square images have been around long before Instagram or social media. In fact, they existed long before the internet even existed. And it has a very different psychological effect on the viewer than an image oriented vertically or horizontally. In this video, Mark Denney walks us through square cropping, how and why it’s used, and how you might want to use it to get better compositions.
The video takes an interesting look at the psychology and aesthetics of square cropping, and provides hints as to what types of images work well with square cropping. Obviously not every scene will work if shot square, especially if you don’t shoot your original horizontal or vertical shot wide enough. But once you get used to composing specifically for Square because it fits the theme and not just as an aside, it really opens up a lot of new creative possibilities.
I’ve always loved the square format. I still have a Mamiya C330 Pro F and an Agfa Isolette here, which I photograph when I get a chance. Both shoot 6 x 6 cm (or “two and a quarter” as the US calls them) square negatives on medium format film. There’s something about a square composition – which Mark describes in the video above – that gives them a unique perspective on an image. Something that is difficult to convey in landscape or portrait mode. And it’s all because of that aspect ratio.
I still shoot most of my images either horizontally or vertically, but even when shooting digitally, I regularly shoot with a square crop in mind to achieve the end result. And it’s certainly not the compromise many seem to think it’s just for the sake of social media.
Do you usually shoot horizontally or vertically? Do you ever shoot specifically to create a square composition?