Saturday Studio: Square Up

Naomi Vanderleest, Education Assistant

The National: Best Contemporary Photography 2022 is a hybrid invitational and juried photography competition currently on exhibit at FWMoA. Typically held every other year, the events of COVID-19 delayed its return until now, making its return even more special! The featured artists exploration and command of the photographic medium, coming out the other side of lockdown, makes us question our definition of photography and inspiring us to think outside the traditional rectangular photo.

Eric Kunsman (American, b. 1975). Unknown Number- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA, from the Life-Lines Throughout the US series. Archival pigment print on paper, 2020. Loan from the Artist.

What is special about this image, above, by Eric Kunsman? To some it may be the payphone, a relic of technology many of us have never used! I selected this image not because of its subject matter, however, but how it is shaped. This image is a square, and most photographs are rectangular. Why is that? Traditionally, photographs are rectangular because the shape creates a more pleasing image, often because it can follow the rule of thirds. A square photograph doesn’t follow those rules, it only follows one: balance.

Balance is a principle of art applied to an image that is visually stable, though not necessarily symmetrical. How do your eyes move when looking at this photograph? After I notice the payphone, my eyes move in a circle around it. The artist carefully placed this payphone close to the middle to guide us around the image and provide a balanced focal point. 

With fall arriving comes photographing the changing leaves, pumpkin patches, and so much more. So, today we’re going to explore a new way to take photos. I’m going to crop my photographs into squares by looking for a central focal point (a noticeable object in the middle) to guide me. All you will need is:

  • A phone camera
  • And imagination!

The biggest challenge you will have today is imagining your photograph as a square. Phone screens aren’t square, so when you take the image it will be a rectangle. Look for objects that can fill your photograph and take as many pictures as you like. Play around with how close and far you are from the central focal point. Once you have found some square worthy pictures, let’s crop them! This is a picture I took with my phone camera:

In your phone camera settings, under edit, look for numbers that say 3:4, this stands for the ratio of the picture. The ratio explains how the dimensions are relative to each other; when you print these photographs out, it will look like a rectangle in 3:4 ratio. You might see other numbers listed under 3:4. We want a ratio of 1:1, or square; this will crop your photo to square.

When cropping, remember that you can also adjust the size of the square. A smaller square can give you the freedom to change the placement of objects. How has my rectangular photo changed in its square shape?

In the original photo the dark mark of the wood on the bottom of the frame is the first thing I notice; in fact, it’s almost distracting! Cropping this detail out of the photo allows the viewer to focus on the pieces of the wood, moving along the grain of the wood. Creating a square photo is a great way to save a photograph from becoming unbalanced and uninteresting. Look through your camera roll on your phone or take some new fall photos. Which ones would look better by cropping them square? 

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