Square , Landscape, and Storytelling…

I am wrestling on which way to go with this image – square or regular landscape format? Normally, I try to keep cropping to a minimum to ensure I consider composition more actively at the time of taking the shot, rather than just mindlessly popping away, knowing I can crop everything later. Composing with the camera frame rather than the computer is more rewarding for me.

Square format is something that doesn’t really exist anymore in our brave new world of digital. The same way panoramic format has not survived the current cost per square metre of digital sensors, square format seems to have also disappeared. Two camera systems come to mind when thinking about square format – Hasselblad ended up going down the 6 x 4.5 format, and Rollei just died a quiet death on the camera scene.

Apart from some Holga action, the gear cupboard at home is pretty sparse when it comes to square format. The format continues to fascinate me though – photographers like Vivian Maier and Fan Ho continuously tempt me to pull out the Paypal password and buy a classic…

On a recent trip to the Melbourne CBD, I decided to go “minimalist” – no gear bag – and only took what could fit in my pocket. The digital Ricoh GR is a great compact street option. Here is the original image snapped at the GPO.

R0010653 2


It was a quick capture – as I was walking along Elizabeth Street, I spotted the opportunity, quickly got the shot and kept moving. It is a pretty good image straight out of the camera.

I have virtually given up on colour photography – being quite badly red-green colour blind, retouching in colour just doesn’t work for me at all. The sky always ends up purple… So, the first step is to convert the image to B&W.

There were two areas I have been trying to explore from a learning perspective. First, going back to consider square composition. The second, bringing some more storytelling into the images. Marie Laigneau is a current street photographer who I have been following. She has an excellent free download here of her street photography experience for you to learn from. Her constant focus on storytelling has inspired me somewhat to move from just aesthetically pleasing images to trying to bring something more into my images.

2. Cropping to a Landscape Format


To improve the image, the edges needed to be cropped in a little. The 28mm lens on the Ricoh had captured a little more than I really wanted.

The landscape composition seems to incorporate more parallel lines, shadows, and light shafts. These elements all draw the eye to the older subject in the image – but potentially at a cost of reducing the emphasis on the younger subject? The older subject is nicely framed by the edge of the wall and she is fully in frame – not as cramped as the square image.

Whilst there are more lines adding interest behind the younger subject, they don’t seem to add anything significant for me to the image’s composition. It just feels like ticking a compositional “box”. Still, the parallel lines of the stairs provide a natural entry point for the viewer.

In both formats, there is an aesthetically pleasing contrast of light to dark across the image.

3. Cropping to Square Format


Square format brings more tension to the image by “cramping” the older subject. She is intensely focused on her smartphone in complete contrast to the easy, relaxed nature of the younger subject. The square crop seems to increase teh feeling of balance between the two subjects’ faces. The subjects balance out the left and right sides of the image naturally.

The square crop brings more focus to expression of each of the subjects, rather than the drawing attention to the wider aesthetics of the scene. The umbrella seems more prominent as the light is more concentrated and localised in the square crop.

3. Storytelling

The first step in becoming a better photographer is to focus on learning composition, aesthetics, and how to see light. These can be mastered simply by taking pictures of them. One of my most important stages of development was just going out and shooting interesting light hitting anywhere.

Laigneau consistently talks about having a story to tell in a single frame. During a recent exploration of Street Photography being about an instant and single point in time, I have been attempting to bring more of a “backstory” into images.

So, what are the things that suggest a “backstory” to me?

1. The contrast of relaxed and intense facial expressions.

2. The younger subject has a feel of curiosity, whereas the older subject is much more internally focused on her own world – represented by her phone.

3. Each of the two subjects has a very different background light – a brighter light on the right transitioning into dark on the left of frame.

4. There is a classical intergenerational contrast between the two. The frivolous “Hello Kitty” umbrella vs the very conservative clothes and accessories of the older subject.

Final Thoughts

My preferred crop for this image is square as it brings

  • more focus to the faces
  • increases the “cramped” & hurried intenseness of the older subject by tightening the space in which she exists wihin the frame vs the relaxed outward focus of the younger subject
  • square cropping has removed the visual clutter of the lines on the left of the frame, whilst maintaining some minimal leading lines that help emphasize the transition from light to dark backgrounds

There is more to this image than pure aesthetics. I think it is an OK starting point for adding “storytelling” to images.


10 Responses to “Square , Landscape, and Storytelling…”

  1. i love the original version just to cut off the small piece on the right and to left the girl talking on the left. very beautiful light and isolation of an umbrella. all this remain the feel of the street moment and environment is very important in this case. the square looks very compressed for me.
    just my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The image has punch in color cropped square with the girl holding the umbrella only in the shot and cropped tight on her. There are too many distractions otherwise. I will send you an edited image I did but I will delete your image copied.


  3. Very interesting article – I like how you’ve used Laigneau’s points on storytelling and extracted from the image what you think. The beauty of photography, or art in general I guess, is that each person can have their own interpretation of the same image. However, you as the composer have provided a stepping stone to what you want the viewer to see in your composition and, in particular to this article, framing/format.

    I have to disagree about the square format dying in the digital age. It is true that, hardware wise, ‘professionally’ produced equipment nowadays do not opt to use a square sensor. However, with the proliferation of Instagram I think the square format has made a resurgence. Even Apple implemented the square format in their camera app. Whether people are using the square format intentionally as a way to provide a different composition to their images is a different story!

    The Instagram boom definitely affected me in my purchase of my Rolleicord as a way to try the 6×6 format and I absolutely love they way it provides a different avenue for me to think about how I can take my next shot.

    Keep up the articles, mate. Always a good read. I may not be in Melbourne for the long weekend meet but hopefully we can go do that bar photography catch up we talked about!


    • Ha ha ha – forgot all about instagram! What a doofus I am… Check the date – the bar meet has shifted by a week… Otherwise just let me know when you are free and happy to always catch up for a beer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: