Conspicuous Composition: Favorites and Challenges from The Year of Square

Most Year of Square images were last-minute, grudging snapshots, but I still tried to make the composition matter.

Most Year of Square images were last-minute, grudging snapshots, but I still tried to make the composition matter.

I have been told there are no right angles in nature, but I don’t believe it. Nature’s basic operating principle is infinite diversity. I’m sure there are right angles out there somewhere.

Still, you’d have to scan the countryside pretty intently to come up with a rectangle that wasn’t man-made. Good luck finding a perfect square in a field of flowers. This, I think, was the biggest lesson of my Year of Square photo-a-day project: a square is an unnatural shape that calls attention to itself.

Hasselblad shooters and others created iconic square images, but we are accustomed to seeing photographs presented as rectangles. I found the square format challenging. All the usual “rules” of composition apply, but under tighter constraints. Three-plus weeks into the project, I produced an image that interested me:

Bold, bright, and simple. This got me thinking about what works in a square.

Bold, bright, and simple. This got me thinking about what works in a square.

Reviewing the year’s images, I see that geometry itself was the theme of my preferred square photographs. My favorite images from the Year of Square feature curves and lines and rectangles galore. A shape full of contrasting shapes. And the frequency of favorites increased toward the end of the project, as if I actually learned something…

glass and reflections

Curves and triangles and even a square napkin.

Curves and triangles and even a square napkin.

Squares love circles.

Squares love circles.

Other observations:

Images composed as squares were generally stronger than images cropped to squares:

DSCF1749 - Version 2 (1)

This is cropped, and loses the original rectangle’s sense of scope and proportion.

DSCF1749

Making portraits in a square requires a delicacy I do not yet possess:

Square portraits have potential, but I would need to practice more to really understand how to use and light the space.

Square portraits have potential, but I would need to practice more to really understand how to use and light the space.

Composed as a square, making use of strong negative space and non-square shapes. I like it.

Composed as a square, making use of strong negative space and non-square shapes. I like it.

Making landscapes in a square requires a delicacy I do not yet possess:

To me, the "scape" in landscape suggests a broad horizon. Still...

To me, the “scape” in landscape suggests a broad horizon. Still…

...the opportunity to create "intimate landscapes" intrigues me. This is cropped from a 2007 image that didn't work for me at all, but I like it as a square.

…the opportunity to create “intimate landscapes” intrigues me. This is cropped from a 2007 image that didn’t work for me at all, but I like it as a square.

The project features images from the iPhone 5, FujiFilm X100s, Nikon D7000, and Nikon D610. The majority of images were produced with the Fuji, because it inspired the project and it really is the walk-around camera I thought it would be. Plus, the Fuji and the iPhone let me compose squares in-camera.

I’m glad to have learned some things, because the Year of Square did not go well for me. It created a level of anxiety disproportionate to either the amount or the quality of work I put into it. In the end, a vast majority of the images were grudging, minimal efforts to assuage my guilt at neglecting the project. I fell about forty images short over the course of the year, and finally quit two weeks early. If it were an exercise in discipline only, I would call it a failure. But I spent more time than usual thinking about composition, and that counts for something.

A photo-a-day project is also a way of seeing where you – and your head – were at throughout the year. That sort of reflection, just as summer is ending, doesn’t work out well for everyone. I think my next project will be to shoot whatever I damn well please, whenever I feel like it.

I got carried away with filters during the Year of Square, but it was fun.

I got carried away with filters during the Year of Square, but it was fun.

DSC_1945 (2)

Finding new ways to fight symmetry was an ongoing theme during the Year of Square.

tree through screen obc

Ultimately, I came out of the Year of Square with a strong desire to create images that excite or interest me, with a combination of respect and disregard for “rules.”

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Filed under Camera Gear, Composition, Motivation

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