The square format requires a completely different approach in terms of composition. In particular the classical rules of composition cannot really be applied, like the “rule of thirds” or similar. Let’s see why this is true and how to improve the composition of square format pictures.
Why did so many important photographers use medium format? Irving Penn and Diane Arbus are only two examples. It cannot be (as we saw in the previous “episodes” of the series) only for a technical property of higher quantify of film used, so that images have more quality. There must be a composition reason. Actually, there are several, that we are going to face.
General Composition of a Square Image
Square frames have a certain equilibrium by their own. There’s an implicit design of the image that looks good in square pictures and that is totally missing in rectangular frames.
The rule of thirds is not valid any more. As you can read in one of my older articles (outside of this series), that rule is based on the golden proportion, which relies on a rectangular frame.
With a square format I have the feeling that sometimes putting the subject in the middle is just the right choice, without any other possibility. This is because a square image is easier to “read”: in a rectangular image you can read a “story” from left to right, from right to left or from up to down, while in a square there’s only a way to view it. The scientific reason of that is because the eye moves in a circle while looking at a square image, without distracting the viewer from the center of composition. It’s something more implicit, than conscious.
Just imagine. On 35mm you take a portrait picture and then you realize that you’d like to change the composition; the problem is that you don’t have enough quality to crop the image and the final result would have a too low quality (due to a low surface of film).
So that, in square medium format, you can easily take a portrait picture, put the subject in the middle, and then decide what to do in post-production, in the moment of cropping. You can decide to crop also a rectangular picture from a square frame: this is due to an high surface of film, which gives you the freedom to cut part of the frame, as you like.
The space of film around the subject could be cut as you prefer.
Personally I don’t like this hypothesis, but it is one of the possibilities.
I believe in composition BEFORE the post-production.
Disclaimer: We spoke about philosophy, history (ancestors and birth of the project of the Lubitel 166+),tech specs. Inside all the previous article I left some little, but very important, details that will let you easily interpret the next ones. These articles are meant to be read in series, so don’t lose the opportunity to go and check the previous episodes.
Alessandro Panelli (aka yo.panic or .panic) is a Medicine and Surgery student, a photographer and a writer from Padova (Italy, near Venice). Read more about Alessandro’s work and life in his website or add him on Facebook or Google+.