#895. The power of the square. And of mutual help.

By Sean O Brien | Art & Creativity

Aug 28

Quick intro by Pascal: in the background of the blog, we are quietly working on individual galleries for each of us to display, swap or sell photographs. The process involves mutual help in selecting said photographs. For his second post on DS, Sean describes the process and a newfound interest for the square format. You can find his fab first post here.


The following had its beginnings in a submission of some images to DearSusan. Then the DS overseer responded with subjective feedback, along with a suggestion to consider a re-frame of some images from a framed 2:3 ratio to a re-framed 1:1 ratio.

This initially jolted me as I had never considered crafting an image in a 1:1 ratio. I heeded the advice of the overseer’s artistic nudge, and the re-framing noticeably improved the selected images.

I had learnt something: listen to good peer feedback, and take on the advice being offered because you’ll not realise the benefits of the learning curve.
My first thought’s on this were, to myself, framed as a ‘Why?”. I could have dug in my heels and resisted the artistic nudge. I quickly realised that I can learn something from another photographer based on their competencies in the art and craft of photography.


Another benefit was to bring some clarity in steps to be taken, so as to help me remedy a photographic rut I’ve been bogged down in of late. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an outcome where I’d adopt the 1:1 frame on a wholesale basis. I’d consider the 1:1 frame’s use when appropriate for the image subject and subject matter. It can also raise levels of an authors satisfaction in crafting an image, along with achieving a desired end result.


The third thing that became evident was that it re-invigorated my interest and motivation. I knew I was in a rut and lacked oomph to escape its slippery slope. The overseer’s nudge caused a spark, to immerse myself in learning from the exercise – reflect, reap rewards.

Until the overseer’s nudge, I simply crafted images in a 2:3 frame, cookie cutter fashion. I then presented them as such, and left it at that – my photographic craft could now do with another frame of reference. The exercise actually made me realise I’d never considered the effect a frame ratio had on a viewer’s affect, understanding and appreciation.


For me, one key positive outcome of this exercise was the 1:1 re-frame had the potential to craft a clearer image – enhancing content, presentation, reading or viewing experience.

That is, the viewers relationship with the photograph was enhanced, as a result of the exercise. It may also speed up immediacy in connect, because an image makes more sense. This is possibly due image essentials being revealed in a clearer light, in terms of subject and subject matter – the re-frame exercise removed the unwanted. This does not mean a 2:3 frame is not as effective, but could indicate it is not always the answer to being creative. An image also shows us how a camera and lens sees, because it imposes these limitations onto the way an image is drawn – it’s a deciding factor.


Thus it’s a combination of how the photographer makes use of the camera and lens, along with the specificities of the final framing ratio, and the photographers eye, that can help craft the in-camera image.

Sometimes, in the eyes of a viewer, it is interpreted as different to that intended by the photographer; and sometimes it only takes an artistic nudge to help a photographer to understand other additional and better possibilities do exist – to guide, review and re-frame – which, in the end do prove to be better options, and more satisfying for the photographer.


Another thing I came to realise was this exercise was infused not only from its immersion in a positive learning experience, but from being woven on a sturdy loom of collaboration.

It didn’t require a must have bag full of the latest and greatest, photography wise. It had delivered due to a two-way communication, using individual and collective knowledge, skills, and experience in the art and craft of photography – not as professional subject matter experts in photography, but in collaboration using individual capacities and abilities.


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  • Patrick says:

    Interesting and courteous views, thank you, Sean. Indeed the square format is my favourite as well. However, I usually decide upon the final format to be used when I’m doing the post-processing, not when I took the picture.

    • Sean says:

      Thank you Patrick. Yes. I agree. Looking back, it’s one of the things I discovered in the image re-frame exercise. Moving forward, I also twigged that I need to be more mindful of where the point of interest is placed within a 35mm frame, particularly when my real intention is to craft a final image in a square frame – doing so will make PP just that much easier.

  • NMc says:

    Thanks for the article and I really like your tonality in this set.
    One thing about photographs composed to the square is that there is probably more thought put into composition, perhaps simply because it is not the default from the camera. There often seems to be something more deliberate or crafted about square photos.
    Maybe the square attracts more attention simply because it is less common, or perhaps a square is more visually dominant than a rectangle and the format demands more compositional integrity to look ‘right’.
    Regards Noel

    • Sean says:

      Thank you sir,
      I feel that a 1:1 frame and a 35mm frame are both crafted with their fair share of attention to detail. The 1:1 frame may attract more attention, not only due to being relatively uncommon today, but due to other factors. These may be due to the 1:1 frame’s to more effectively reduce or eliminate empty wasted space, that has more opportunity to remain in the 35mm frame. The flow-on is that it facilitates a viewer’s ‘immediacy in connect’ because composition is clearer in the 1:1 frame. That is, the viewer can appreciate image balance – can be subtle – that a 1:1 ratio tends to magically give rise to. Well, that’s how I see it here, in this instance.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I shoot 2×3 because that’s the format my camera shoots at. Not by choice, in other words – simply because there’s no alternative.
    Well at least in the past that’s been true, although my cameras now include on that shoots 3×4 (which is then a puzzle, in post processing, because it’s the odd man out) and one that gives me the option of selecting practically any image shape I could think of.
    But then comes post. And in post, you often find yourself seeing things you didn’t realise or notice at the moment when you pressed the shutter button. Or perhaps realising that you simply cannot fit the image that you want to retain in a pre-determined 2×3 ration container – it screams for some other shape.
    Square is one option. In the past, I seen negative comments about square – virtually hurling abuse at the very idea of a square picture. Just another of those damn “opinions” that I’ve developed a deep seated allergy to. If square suits, why not? – anyway, merely trying it might suggest something that wasn’t obvious while the shot was framed as 2×3.
    And that’s exactly what happened recently, while I was processing some photos – 2x3simply didn’t suit, and I tried a number of formats before I realised square or something nearly square was going to be the best, to do the shot justice.
    I rather suspect Sean that you originally printed none of these shots as square – and that the shot of the stairs with the wrought iron balustrading was much more powerful when you printed it in a square format.
    The most compelling reason I have for retaining the SOOC format of 2×3 is simply the simplicity it generates, for placing the shots in a photo album. Not exactly an aesthetic reason for doing it, is it?

    • Sean says:

      Thank you Peter,
      Yes. True, in most instances the 2:3 ratio “… not by choice …”. Incidentally, I do like the 3:4 ratio, as to me, it’s a pleasing ratio to my eye – I don’t often use my OlyEP-3 and m4/3 lenses. As you question, and I quote “… If square suits, why not? …” My case rests, as indicated in the above post. You’re entirely correct here “… I rather suspect Sean that you originally printed none of these shots as square…” and no, it’s “… Not exactly an aesthetic reason for doing it, is it?…”

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    “Mutual help”. Overlooked that – my “bad”. One of the things I love about photography is that there are so many really nice people involved in photography – and people who don’t “troll” everyone else, or grandstand, as happens in so many other forums on the internet. Instead, photography is generally characterised by a willingness to share – to share our photos with other photographers, and to share our knowledge with them, too. There’s a really great bonhomie and camaraderie! This post on “square” is but one example – DearSusan is absolutely drenched in it! 🙂
    And a PS – Sean, you simply can’t make this stuff up. After I finished on this site, I returned to my own photos – found one open in a program I’ve only just started using, and exported it to another program so I could close that one – opened it in the other program and to my delight, discovered it’s a perfect example of what you’re article is all about. In 2×3 format, it’s OK – but really just another landscape shot, practising. But in square format it LEAPS at the viewer! It’s suddenly an entirely different photo! 🙂

    • Sean says:

      Thank you Peter,
      So true, it’s particularly relevant here in DS, being that “… people who don’t “troll” everyone else, or grandstand …” has got to do with why DS excels at that “… willingness to share …”. This is born through DS’s culture. DS has created a community that actively strives to achieve through collaborating and sharing in the art and craft of photography – as knowledge, problems to solve, and good practice. DS also encourages positive feedback between its network of friends, participants and contributors. The dialogue, critique and feedback provided in DS – to me – is healthy and respectful. It is facilitated – in my experience to date – by experienced and guiding voices within a safe and open forum, and certainly not, by contrast, as an instructive – or destructive – mantra. Lastly, if I did not sense this, I would not have commented in this way.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Great observation, Sean. What you are describing is something that seems to set photography apart – a willingness to share knowledge and experience, and a comparative lack of ‘trolls’ and their criticisms or negative comments. All in all, there is a great sense of camaraderie amongst photographers, making it a very pleasant pastime – and hopefully, for some, a very pleasant career. Two stand outs, in my mind, are Dear Susan and Ming Thein – I love come back to them over & over again! I don’t know if you ever do this, Sean, but it’s fun and informative to go back and dig through earlier postings on both of these sites.

        • Sean says:

          Thank you Peter,
          Re “… I don’t know if you ever do this, Sean, but it’s fun and informative to go back and dig through earlier postings on both of these sites….”

          Yes I do, do that, from time to time; in some ways the re-read takeaway message is clearer and more relevant because on the first reading the info was ahead of the pack, at the time, for its significance to sink in meaningfully.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    I grew up with rangefinder viewfinders which made precise framing difficult, especially as I’m wearing glasses, so I left that to the darkroom and learned to adapt the aspect ratio to the motif ending up with anything between square and 3:1.

    [ Perhaps the VF of a TLR Rollei would have better taught me the advandages of squares, but my 6x6cm Superikonta was so much handier.
    Later without a darkroom the cost at commercial labs made me resign to the 3:2 of 135 film.
    Now a good EVF makes precise framing possible – I used an SLR for a while, but the focusing aids on the screen distracted me from concentrating on composition.]

    But your article inspires me try to frame in squares again – the Canon M5 can set the EVF to different aspect ratios without cropping the RAW file, it just draws a frame on the JPG.

    And thanks for your well composed inspiring square photos! B/W does lend itself to strong geometry.

    • Sean says:

      Thank you Kristian,
      You know, I only discovered the rangefinder and it’s issues a few years ago, and oddly it appeals to me. I really like how fast you can use them – I like ‘street life photography’. Having said that, I do appreciate the exactness of the digital EVF, even though I still treasure my old 35mm film SLR’s – I’ll not surrender them. It’s good that you’ll attempt a re-fraim, because you wont know where the journey takes you until you start it. It may provide you with some ‘pearls’. Yes, the 1:1 ratio excels at crafting a B&W image, doesn’t it.

  • Lad says:

    You have a lovely eye for composition, and it shines in these square images. I like the B&W play of light and shadow. Very well done!

    • Sean says:

      Thank you Lad,
      Thank you. Yes, I certainly concur that a 1:1 ratio lends itself to both good composition and a B&W rendering.

  • Sean, another great article, I’ve also found over the last year or so the joy of the square format thanks to fellow DS’erPhilippe, again like Patrick I crop at the conclusion of post.

    • Sean says:

      Thank you Dallas,
      Indeed, the 1:1 ration has also been a joy to use for me, too. Just like you, I’ll now need to crop during PP.

  • Michael Fleischer says:


    Freely sharing (ones valuable findings) is a great human virtue, especially in these
    sub – human – behaviour – encouraged days, as you splendidly point out
    in your demonstrations of using square frames…

    That framing, when used rightfully, adds qualities of being deliberate, essential & stature and more.
    Especially like the “everything you see is a lie” sign picture and the last staircase one.
    Personally, I prefer to “freely frame compose” according to the nature of the light/subject – however,
    sometimes things work better out when framed differently in post… 😉

    Thank you for sharing your story – now I’m going to “squarely challenge myself”!

    Keep going,

    • Sean says:

      Thank you Michael,
      True – freely sharing has many virtues, especially in the art and craft arena of photography, as you point out. Indeed, there are definitely appropriate PP’s that are proof positive where “… sometimes things work better out when framed differently in post…”

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