#932. Square Format Challenge Results (+ next challenge)

By pascaljappy | Art & Creativity

Nov 25

Well, it’s that time again! A time I dread because of my relative lack of organisation, but provides so much fun as well. When someone else writes a post on DS, I don’t like to look at it before it’s complete. To me, discovering it finished is like a child finding a well wrapped present under the Christmas Tree. Whereas seeing the post as it is being built doesn’t bring the same sense of discovery and awe. The same goes with those challenge posts.

While I do acknowledge receipt when photographs are sent in, I do my best to forget all about them (and I’m really good at forgetting stuff) and rediscover them in one complete sequence on the day. Which explains the dread (of forgetting someone). If this is the case for you, you know the drill: (1) let me know (2) don’t hate me πŸ˜‰ If it isn’t, you can torment me all the same!

France inside The AA. And a spiral frame inside a square frame.

This month’s challenge was to create square images. (Many thanks to Lad Sessions for suggesting the idea).


Because, as you can read in my ongoing course on composition, I consider frame format to be the single most important desicion you can make about composing! And we have largely been stuck with one of the least interesting formats possible due to purely technical and legacy reasons: the ubiquitous and non-committal 3:2.

You see, a long format has inherent dynamism and a fat (square-ish) format brings sedate, centric, serenity. And something in the middle has neither. It’s just plain boring and inefficient for storytelling and image strength.

Hence the detox challenge: send me your squares. And I think, after reading my subtle-as-usual take on formats, you can begin to imagine what the next challenge is going to be πŸ˜‰

Fleeing Cambridge. I used the rule of thirds. I did. Me!

Now, it’s not that you can’t make a nice/powerful photograph in a 3:2 format. Decades of photojournalism prove the opposite, as do the thousands of excellent 3:2 photographs sent in by readers over the years.

It’s more that the format isn’t doing much to develop creativity in photographers, with its middle-of-the-road attitude to composition, I feel that good and great photographers that use it have become accomplished in spite of the format rather than being helped by it. Remember the tremendous X-Pan camera? remember the Hassy 6×6 and imitators? When the current photo market has finally perfected its well-deserved collapse, I’m pretty sure we’ll see cameras like those rise again from the ashes and it won’t be a second too early πŸ˜‰

Hence the provocation: send me your squares!

In the middle of the middle

So, what am I looking for? Essentially how you fill the frame in a square format. You can clearly see 3 levels of proficiency in this:

(1) Cropping an existing photograph
(2) Mentally, deliberately, viewing a square in a rectangular viewfinder
(3) Viewing the world naturally in squares, which takes decades of practise

At some point, decades ago, I wasn’t far from 3. Today, 2 is a more honest evaluation. And it’s not rare for me to see one of my 4:3 photographs in the square previews of the WordPress back-office and think to myself how much better it looks that way πŸ˜‰ Oh well …

Caught out in the rain. Not quite square.

Readers have asked me whether near-squares are OK. Sure they are. Replacing one normative pain in the arse with another would be silly of my. I’m just interested in viewing compositions in centric frames.

Linhof, bless their cotton socks, dubbed the 56x72mm format the ideal format. And I’d have to agree, particularly in a vertical frame. So, who am I to deny anyone the search of ideal?

4:3, however lovely in its own right, is a step too far for this challenge though. As stately and yummy as it is, it has lost most of the feeling of inward centric pull that a real square produces.

Big bubble or not, 4×3 is too rectangular for this challenge.

With all that squarely out of the way, let us continue to your photographs.

Let me just thank you once again for taking the time to send those in and opening yourself up to (positive) critique by others, and for sharing ideas that are sure to inspire others.


Philippe Berend

I do lottsa squares. Hell, I am a square, Exept if you look at me, when you’ll see I am more Michelin Man. So I am sort of an unsquare square, and that is what I picked for this challenge. Un-square squares…


Michael Fleischer


Michael adds: “The square format is not a native format to me, however it does seemto provide a strange in-build quality of freedom within its confines!So it truly is a challenge for me… ;-)In this set I have tried to provide a dynamic, almost challenging testingof an inherent “calm and conform format”.Some more than others…


Jean-Pierre Guaron


Pete adds: “I thought this one might amuse you  – the rose window on Strasbourg cathedral.  Bummer of a thing to straighten up – there’s no easy way to climb up there, nor – for a ground level shot – to straighten it up, so it’s circular and correctly aligned. Never mind – it was fun to do.”


Pascal Jappy

Stranger Things
Shadows, no doubt

Jean-Claude Louis


These images are part of a body of work concerned with the meaning of the past for those living in the present. Over a period of five years (2004-2008) I have photographed in many regions of Asia, in cities and in the countryside, in the homes and fields of peasants, in monasteries, in mountains and seashores. I have avoided most aspects of modern lifeto seek out the elements of the past that still have meaning and usefulness today. I have portrayed the landscape, both unadulterated and transformed by humans, buildings of ancient stones, places of worship, all integrated in the daily life of ordinary people. For this project,  I chose to use Polaroid Time Zero film and an SX-70 Polaroid camera. I embraced the imperfections of the flawed Polaroid film, its muted, faded hues, its blemishes, its light flares. They symbolize an alternative world view and I adopted it as the voice I had been looking for to convey the sense of these vanishing places. It also conveys the message that everything has flaws, nothing is perfect and that’s OK.


Steve Mallett


Here’s a few squares for your perusal.  I like square and shoot often using the format so I have plenty, but how to find then?  You can’t search by aspect ratio in LR but you can sort by aspect ratio but it’s a real fag.  So having got fed up with it these are my offerings! 


Leonard Norwitz


Pascal Ollier


Paul Perton

The amazing bookshop – Spitalfields
Untitled, Barbican

Sateen Prion


Sateen adds: “Fun challenge, thank you. I never shoot squares. And since you ask for provocative uses, I’m providing a uniform photograph with no composition at all. I’m interested in decay as a subject. Decay implies a loss of structure (and colour differentiation) and the absence of composition, in this square frame, is how I choose to represent it for those leaves. You did ask for it.”


Mark Raugas


I wanted to contribute to the blurred photo exercise on Dear Susan and lost track of time, but did manage to dig up some shots taken with my Mamiya 6 camera.  The black and white photos with Fuji Acros 100 and the color ones with Fuji Provia.  I don’t claim they are all special, but they are square by nature and composed as such, and it has been fun to dig through some of my film scans for compositions that worked out moderately well.  I hope you enjoy some of them — if any strike you as interesting, please feel free to include them.


Nancee Rostad


Here are my two images for the Square Challenge. Autumn is always my muse!


Lad Sessions


Ahem, shame on me. I forgot this great image in my selection, even through it was Lad who suggested the square challenge in the first place. Ahem indeed. So sorry πŸ˜‰


Dallas Thomas


Summing up and next challenge

You may have noticed I didn’t comment on the individual submissions as I usually do. It’s not out of interest, I assure you. But I don’t want to put a subjective spin on what should be perceived as an objective science. A composition either fits a frame or it doesn’t. And I can only say that most of the above do so very nicely πŸ™‚ I have to salute frames inside frames, a circle inside a square, possibly the most centric compositional device you can imagine, and the saucy absolute lack of composition by some teasers. Two ladies, I might add πŸ˜‰

As for next month, our final challenge of the year, well, you might have guessed it from the intro, why not play with the exact opposite of a square and go for very elongated frames ?

So bring out your panos, your stitches, your crops and stretch your creative muscles (see what I did there? πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰ )



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  • Sean says:

    Wow! What an accomplished showing by all involved, in this square challenge. A format that certainly has advantages and strengths, given what’s been shown and written about, here. Now I’ll have to begin thinking and acting like a square frame, to begin to start equalling these lovely images. Now that’s a challenge, for me, at least; how few word moves will it take me to go from ‘square’ to ‘lovely’?

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    A joyful ride – through some wonderful photos! Thanks, Pascal, and thank you very much, all the contributors!

    2×3 is my standard size, simply because 6 shots fit one page of my photo album – and I print & mount all my photos.

    Unfortunately it doesn’t always work – I seem to be taking heaps of shots that are 2×4, others that are 4×4, and others that are just whatever they turn out to be. Of course that all creates dilemmas – do I place photos out of sequence in the album, to fit the size? – or use up all the blank paper between odd shapes, to write a story about the photos?

    And like your contributors, I have found plenty of shots that simply cannot be made to work EXCEPT in a square format. “Rules” are for beginners! πŸ™‚ They simply stifle creativity, and they were put forward in the forlorn hope that they might stimulate creativity.

    But hey! – Pascal has now invited us to send ANYTHING – even panoramas! Well, volenti non fit iniuria, my friend – brace yourself! And you had a rough idea what to expect, when you suggested such a thing! πŸ™‚ But the worst is yet to come! πŸ™‚

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Pete.

      3:2 was after all best used for pages in magazines, so there’s nothing wrong with continuing the tradition in albums, right?

      But, no no no, not everything is expected in the next challenge: only wide panos! Otherwise, you are right, we will be swamped πŸ˜‰

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Well I did try taking one in Praha, in the square beside the astrological clock – a 360 degree panorama of the entire square – but I’m not so sure that my panorama program can handle that one. However, between that and the ones you’ve already seen, of Rottnest Island or the facade of Strasbourg cathedral, I have several others – a horizontal one of Garden Island which will drip off both sides of the page, on DS – and some more vertical ones, which might prove a better fit.

  • Pascal O. says:

    Well, well, well, thank you Pascal for having me (us?) push the envelope yet again. I was only recently introduced to the world of squares, your challenge was an opportunity to focus.
    Some outsanding shots here, giving me lots of inspiration for future squares. Thank you everyone for the great contributions.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ah well, thank you for sharing your work, Pascal πŸ™‚ I’m glad you found it entertaining and profitable and hope to see your contributions in future challenges!

  • Michael Fleischer says:

    Thanks, and that was quite a challenge hehe!
    Normally don’t go beyond 4×5 ratio…although try to compose framing
    that suits the subject.

    What I really enjoy are the many different subjects and styles that work,
    and these are all part of a challenge and not a competition.

    Many special contributions, some of my current favourites are;
    Paul Perton “Bookshop”, Pascal Ollier “Old street in b/w” Pascal Jappy “Brook”
    and Phillipe Berend “Squeezed Can”.


  • Nancee Rostad says:

    I’m blown away by all the wonderful submissions to the Square Challenge! It’s so interesting to see each and every interpretation of working within the square frame. Architecture is a natural within a square frame, but so is the natural world with its leading lines and pathways. The square format does a great job of keeping the eye from wandering off the edge of the image. Instead the eye seems to keep getting drawn back in, over & over. I must comment on the sheer beauty of the Asia series by Jean-Claude Louis – simply breathtaking!

  • Pascal, square is square and you have done it well, the challenge was a success, the excellent images confirm this. Congrats to all.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:


    The photo I love most is Jean-Claude Louis’s last shot, of the river meandering down the frame, to a boat in the lower right. There is a mystical quality to it, and just enough “sharp” to offset the soft focus that permeates the rest of the image.

  • Steve Mallett says:

    So many wonderful images! So many different subjects, approaches and styles. If I had to pick one, just like Pete, it would have to be the last image of Jean-Claud’s set of the river and boat. It is just so evocative, filled with subtle beauty and meaning. Jean-Claud, if Pascal ever gets his print sharing idea to fly I’d love a print!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Me too! I’ve already asked Jean-Claude to participate and he seems to agree. Watch this space on Monday for more about the galleries πŸ˜‰ (at long last)

  • Frank says:

    I think this fine collection shows us just how wonderful the square format can be and does so with a wide variety of image subject matter and compositions. Hardly any of the images feel constrained by the format; if anything it helps concentrate the eye. I personally believe that the Michael Kenna is the living master of the square format but these images help me understand how broadly the format can be applied with success. Thanks for all the effort to assemble and publish.

  • PaulB says:

    My congratulations to all the participants! These images remind me of a line made famous by Huey Lewis and the News,.

    β€œIts Hip to be Square!”

    I look forward to the next challenge.

  • philberphoto says:

    Wow, what wonderful contributions! What a display of talent! Stand up, each and every contributor, and take a bow, for there hardly any picture that wouldn’t grace any wall. Can’t avoid mentioning Pascal J and Pascal O, Jean-Louis, Dallas, Paul P, Steve, Michael, Lad, Leonard, Nancee…. You really dropped my jaw….

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