When Are Squares Cool?

Squares are cool when they’re photographic images! Have you ever thought about the actual shape of an image when you look at it? Have you ever considered how shape alone may influence your perception or emotional reaction to an image? Until recently, I hadn’t given aspect ratios much thought. My digital cameras have a 3:2 aspect ratio. This ratio is the “norm” in digital cameras today and results in rectangular shaped images. My cameras have always generated rectangular images so that’s what I’m accustomed to seeing. In fact, rectangular images are so common today that their shape is somewhat subconscious. Even televisions are now designed with rectangular displays. While it’s true the majority of images we see today are rectangular, things were not always this way…

Historically, popular film cameras such as Rollie, Holga and even Hasselblad utilized a 1:1 aspect ratio which rendered square (not rectangular) images. Yep, back in the day, photographs were perfectly square. You may be wondering what difference it makes. An image is an image – right? Well, not necessarily. Square images can be stronger compositionally. They’re visually symmetrical and evoke a sense of immediate balance to the viewer’s eye. This balance frees the brain to focus on content and not worry about compositional issues. Aesthetically, square images are often easier for the brain to look at. With square images, the primary subject is often near center or placed along one of the edges.

Recently, I was researching square images. I’m intrigued by their visual simplicity. Technical considerations aside, square images just look cool. Perhaps it’s because square images are not so common today. Perhaps, it’s because square images have such innate symmetric balance. I don’t know, I just like them – a lot. As I was learning about square images, I wondered what it would be like to generate some of my own. Would any of my images look better if they were square (not all images do)? I didn’t know for sure, but I wanted to find out. I started looking through my personal library of images taken over the past ten years or so. I soon identified several that I thought would benefit from being cropped square. I decided to use a format of 1,000 pixels by 1,000 pixels. After generating two or three square images, I absolutely loved the results! I saw my images in a light I had not previously considered. Suddenly, images I had looked at countless times before now looked different. They were more simple and deliberate. They had a charming nostalgic appeal to them. A friend of mine said looking at square images is like recalling a memory. I completely agree.

I ended up generating several square images and I have ideas for more. I know this square format is something I will continue to work with in the future. I’m excited about shooting new images specifically with a square format in mind. I created a gallery specifically for my square images. You can see it here. I’ll continue adding new square images to the gallery as I process them. I hope you enjoy square images as much as I do.


  1. Kathy

    Thank you so much for the opportunity to give thought to something unique. I love having a chance to now recognize and observe pictures, advertisements, news, etc. in that format and study the differences.

    • Charles McPadden

      Hi, thanks for checking out my square images and leaving a blog comment. Square images are really cool and offer something unique to the eye.


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