In Praise of the Square Portrait

The first camera I ever owned was an Ilford Ilfomatic 100 which took 126 Instamatic film cartridges producing a square photograph. Square photographs are a bit unfashionable these days, most people preferring (or at least living with) the rectangular frame that comes out of their camera by default.

Michael Freeman in his book The Photographer’s Eye goes so far as to say the square photograph is “unsympathetic” and imposes a “formal rigidity on the image”. He says that square is “the most difficult format to work with” and that “very few images lend themselves well to square composition.” Hmmm?

Personally I think a well framed portrait does lend itself to the square format, especially when looking at a simple head shot or head and upper body with a bit of background either side. There is after all a close relationship between a square and a circle (i.e. roughly a human head) which allows the face to pretty much fill the whole image and for the viewer to concentrate on the features of the subject.

Square PortraitThe great thing about cameras like the Olympus OM-D is that you can actually change the picture format in-camera so compose for a square as you take the picture. This forces you to ‘think square’ as you look through the viewfinder.

I’ve started a project, that I’m documenting on my photography website, of square portraits all made in black and white to try and revive the art of the square image. A couple of examples are below and the ongoing project can be viewed here.






2 thoughts on “In Praise of the Square Portrait

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