March 21st, 2013

It’s hip to be square

They started appearing in the Facebook updates of my savviest friends: square photos with a retro feel, snapshots that are both quirky and charming. The square photo trend is now in full swing. Instagram and other file-sharing apps have made cropping and adding filters simple for anyone.

What is it about square images that is so eye-catching? Let’s break it down.

Why square?
A rectangular photo has a long vertical or horizontal side, which skilled photographers use to make the composition beautiful. A well-composed photo will use line, shapes, and patterns to tell a visual story, drawing the eye around the photo.

A square photo is visually more restricted, like you are looking through a little window. The symmetry makes composition simpler, the sides cradling the image into a manageable space.

image 1


I stumbled on Henry having a nap with his friends. I snapped a photo quickly to catch him before he moved.

image 2

Cropping the photo into a square improved the composition. The original photo was messy, but the simple square helps draw attention to Henry’s natural beauty.

How to take a great square photo

Squaring your images has a big advantage: to square, you have to crop, and to crop, you must choose the best portions of your photo. This editing process improves your eye over time—you can see the elements that make an image striking.

If you’re planning on squaring your images, here are a few things to think about when you’re shooting.

Stay loose
Your camera captures a rectangular image, so keep your composition loose. You will be trimming off a good chunk, so don’t zoom in too much on your subject.

image 3
The basics of this composition are good, but there is a lot of space that is not visually interesting. This is a good example of loose composition—the lines, positioning, and main subject are there, but there is room to crop.
(Photo credit: Dylan Marks)

image 4
The square crop is more intimate. Reducing the uninteresting space on the right and left draws attention to the kid, and the square shape hearkens back to vintage photos that possess a timeless charm.

Forget the rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is a handy way of composing a photo. In a rectangular photo, you are spacing visual objects on the horizontal (in the case of landscape orientation), or on the vertical (with portrait orientation), and the rule of thirds is a good way of spacing in a visually pleasing manner.

With a square photo, the symmetrical sides hem in the subject, making these rules easier to break.

image 5
The purple flower is clearly the main subject of the photo. This composition isn’t bad—the flower is offset to the right, with the budding leaf on the left third.

image 6
In the square format, I centred the flower top and bottom, right and left. The new composition brings out the natural, symmetrical beauty.

Go for the bull’s-eye
In a way, cropping your photo to a square is like focusing in with a telescope—you disregard the background to put the spotlight on one interesting feature.

image 7
The main subject of the photo is the eye contact between tiger and baby. In a rectangular format, the impact is lost.

image 8
Zooming in on the action makes this photo sing. The beautiful tiger dominates the photo, as he looks straight at the baby in the bear hat.
Photo credit: Dylan Marks.

Think vintage
Many old-fashioned cameras shot in square format—I have albums of old family photos that are printed on a glossy white square with a white border. For a timeless, vintage look, play around with black and white or sepia filters. Instagram is an easy way to try different filters to get exactly the right look.

image 9

This is the first photo I took with Instagram, and it is one of my favourites. The vintage filter gives just the right feel to the photo: sweet, sentimental, a moment in time.

Multiply the impact
The great Renaissance painters often created diptychs or triptychs—sets of two or three paintings that each depicted a different aspect of a common idea. Printing squares in doubles, triples, or in larger squares of 4 or 9 images, is a modern update to this ancient practice.

Series of photos can be anything: close up portraits; your favourite holiday spot during the day and at night; abstract images from around your house; or elemental photos of stone, water, wood, and leaf.

We print square in many different media – learn more.

image 10
A triptych of flowers in primary colours makes a big impact.

Create a paned window
For a lovely effect, take a square photo and divide it into 4 or 9 squares (look for a grid filter in your photo editing software). Particularly lovely for landscapes, a photo with a grid pattern looks like your gazing through a paned window. You can have your image printed as one, and cut with a paper cutter, or take the image in to the London Drugs photo counter and we can print it as separate images.

image 11
Dividing a photo into a grid creates a snappy, modern look. The blocks would look sensational printed on photo tiles.

Questions? We can help!
We are very square at the London Drugs photolab. Drop by our counter to ask questions, see our square samples, and order your own square prints.

by Angela Ford, photo blogger

One thought on “It’s hip to be square

  1. Penelope says:

    Your posts are much appreciated. I am looking at my photos in a new way. Thank-you.

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