Square Format Photography

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Mona Wood-Rolleiflex manufactured 1953-1955

Before the twentieth century square format in Art was uncommon.The rectangular

picture shape was and is vastly more popular than square formats. The square format

photo  made its appearance in 1929 with the introduction of the first Rolleiflex, a square format camera.

Practicality played a bigger roll than aesthetics in the development of the square format.

Franke and Heideche designed this camera as a twin lens reflex with a luminous waist

level viewfinder. It would be difficult to turn the camera on it’s side to change the format.

i.e. the earliest hand held cameras (Leica) used viewfinders and the popular rectangular

format so that the operator merely had to turn the camera to change from landscape

to portrait format.

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Composing in Square Format Photography

My favourite compositional device is to centre the important part of the image. This makes

square format pictures ideal for my type of photography. There seems to be two uses of

composition in this type of photography. First the photo in which the entire square is

filled with important parts of the image so that to crop into the standard rectangle would

trim off important elements. The second uses the whole square but more in an aesthetic way.

eg. white space around that could be trimmed off. Richard Avedon’s portraits come to mind.

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Composing Portraits with a Square Format

It’s in portraiture that the square format has gained it’s greatest acceptance. In the middle

of the twentieth century gifted photographers such as Irving Penn, Robert Doisneau, and

Richard Avedon used the Rolli not only for it’s compositional merits but for the quality

of the large negative. Diane Arbus used a Mamiya TLR for her incredible portraits.

In the early days the common editing technique was to crop the resulting square

negatives down to rectangles but, I suspect, the square image became more and more

attractive to the photographer.

Square Format in Photography

As is with 35mm  and large format photography 6×6 imaging requires its own technique.

The setup and execution of the photograph is slower than the smaller

format and much quicker than 4×5,5×7,or 8×10 sheet film.

Composition? As I mentioned the square image lends itself to the way I see:

centering the image perhaps breaks a few rules but isn’t that what art is

all about?