Melisa Taylor 6:21pm, 17 March 2005
I'd like to know what everyones' thoughts are on what makes good composition in a square photo.

I've read a few things on it...some say if your image makes "triangles" in the composition, that it's good composition. I'm not sure if people will understand that one. There's a web page on it somewhere (i can dig it up if need be).

Do any of you think about the rule of thirds with square shooting? What about centering subjects (especially people)? It seems ok in the square, even though it's not ok in 35mm.

Just curious on what you all think. :) Any tips on square composition are welcome.
dinosoreis 11 years ago
i now almost enterly use my bronica for shots of pepole and a 4x5 for anything that dosnt move (which is most of my work) i see alot of good head shots of pepole that are mostly centered but there eyes will fall into the rule of thirds. i kinda feel the rule of thirds is a total mind fuck for any one who wants to express a relashon between subjects (mostly for marganel subjects) if you dont expect pepole to look very hard at the subject matter then i think it helps and almost never hurts (so long as you inclued every thing you wanted) but i personly have been told by many pepole that my work is center waited.
saturndesignDOTnet 11 years ago
i use the rule of 3rds a lot, as well as composing the shot on the center diagonal of the frame.
nicolai_g 11 years ago
I think that if it looks good, it is good. Rules are one, but not the only, way to get there IMO.
alexlustre 11 years ago
I agree with you nicolai, I think the rule of thirds is a great starting point, but sometimes you have to break the rules and go against the grain in order to set yourself apart from the rest.
Rodrigo Perez 11 years ago
i kinda like when things are centered in a square composition
elencita 10 years ago
I never thought about square composition until I found this group, as I am a starter photographer, but I think it works especially well for portraits, what do you think?

Boquita de piñón
poorusher 10 years ago
You need to push composition. It's important to go against the grain. Photography books say make the horizon one third of the way up the picture, I think that's daft.
f >> Posted 10 years ago. Edited by f >> (member) 10 years ago
i found this link on square composition

i consider rules useful and not actually as rules, but as techniques, as others have mentioned, starting points, and as tools, which can be adhered to, bent, ignored or broken. photography can also be composed intuitively. an image following the rule of thirds or with the subject centered can work, as could numerous other arrangements. but i think what is apparent is a sense that the composition just looks right, just works, or not.
Matt Needham [deleted] 10 years ago
I rarely ever think about composition. I just go with what feels/looks right.
Jason "pyro" Putt 10 years ago
my old high school teacher told us to memorize rule of thirds then forget it.

for most formats(except studio work) i shoot point of focus off center.

im new to square shots, using a yashika-d 6x6
i find with the format i like to shoot with parrael angles to subject here is a good example, the front headlight is my point of interest.

mariamazizphotography Posted 10 years ago. Edited by mariamazizphotography (member) 10 years ago
I think when starting out in square format one should just go ahead with the basic idea that things generally look good in square format... like the children's close up portrait posted above... putting things in a square kind of makes everything intensified. I think the rule of thirds CAN be applied to square format... but as with a lot of others i agree that the rule should not be used BLINDLY.
square is also great for FLAT surffaces and juxtaposing textures, not to mention bringing out DETAIL...
James Disley Posted 10 years ago. Edited by James Disley (member) 10 years ago
This is such an interesting group, with so many really high quality images, it would be good to try and discuss these things. I am no expert (in fact a total beginner), but here are my thoughts on composition.

When I am framing square format pictures, I almost always try to go for thirds. My reasoning can be illustrated as follows.

Here is one of my shots where the rule of thirds is in effect:
Leaving Sapporo 2

And here is one from the same sequence where the picture is split in half:
Leaving Sapporo 3

I think both just about work, but the `rule of thirds` shot is certainly more immediately appealing to the eye. It just has more balance, more formal power.
Buze [deleted] Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Buze (member) 10 years ago
Strong diagonals work very well with square too. Otherwise the thirds...., even if I have a tendency to make it more like a "quarter" than a third when shooting square...

oldweston Posted 10 years ago. Edited by oldweston (member) 10 years ago
Photography should be your expression of how your see the subject. Don't get dragged into the world of club composition. Photo Clubs are the death of expression with "Is it sharp". "Has it got a full range of tones" "Is the main subject on the cardinal points". What about the picture ? If you look at some of the old master's works that is your best guide to what makes a picture. Rules guide wise men, fools follow them to the last dot and comma. Produce your own pictures, if it looks right to you it's a picture. Just keep it simple. Then think about cropping it .
Michael Costolo 10 years ago
Rules guide wise men, fools follow them to the last dot and comma.

Very well said.
maz hewitt PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by maz hewitt (member) 10 years ago
Here is what I do when I have time, which is pretty much all the time when working in medium format.

I think, what do I want to take a picture of, what am I going to say on film.

Then I look for thinks in the scene that may help me do that. That's when the "rules" of composition come in, I look for leading lines, symmetry, silhouettes, things to place on the cardinal points.

I choose the depth of field that will give me the *feel* or effect I'm looking for.

After that I look for hindrances, like objects poking into the frame, or very bright or dark objects and adjust the composition.

Lastly I check exposure, I spot meter off different areas of the scene, I check the sky vs the ground etc.

Then I look again at the viewfinder and do a last check and shoot.

When I'm working in 35mm or digital, I tend to be much less fastidious. But overall the process is exactly the same, I don't think I treat the square format any differently.

Actually what often seems to happen is that I give up on the shot at the hindrances stage.
Jason "pyro" Putt 10 years ago
now i got more experience on square i understand what they mean by triangles, if you shoot on an angle hoeizontal lines become slightly diagonal then if you image two imaginary lines connecting to diagonal closing it up you get a triangle if scroll near top thread there a pic i posted here when i was knew to this format if look at it the lines on the car are slightly diagonal.
Jason "pyro" Putt 10 years ago
also vanishing points very important in medium format, where in 1:4 and 1:3 formats vanishing point is just a plus.
tinkerg Posted 10 years ago. Edited by tinkerg (member) 10 years ago
i notice my horizon line can be just about anywhere, though if its exactly half way up theres usually an expressive reason--like to reinforce the plane of your subjects' eyes. what seems important is that you get everything you want into your picture without any wasted space. i do seem to use a lot of angles to counter the stasis of the evensided square.

i use dianas, which dont have very exact viewfinders. that may explain why i suspect our minds may be more accepting of variant composition than we think. once we have a successful picture it seems as if it had to be exactly that way, but deciding what to include and what not to and then trying to fill the frame may be most of whats involved.
raizans 10 years ago
go with the flow.


try this and that.
mrblacksand [deleted] Posted 10 years ago. Edited by mrblacksand (member) 10 years ago
you don't have to have things centered in the square format. i do see what you mean by that statement and i think it's because in the 35mm format or 645 format, one side is longer than the other (this gives room to fill the frame with negative space)

i believe the reason why people think centered is ok for square but not 35 is because it's a psychological thing. we are used to seeing passport photos and other such things in a square form. but, it's also about balance. it doesn't mater what your photo looks like, it has to have some kind of balance no matter what format you are using. by balance, it doesn't have to be in the center if you know what i mean. in 35mm, centered is usually not a good thing because it usually is a photo of a person standing in dead center. but, if you pay attention to shapes and forms in real time, you can work compositions out where it would be ok for 35mm format.

you should try to explore and make things uncentered using square format. i've seen it done all the time. 6x6 can be filled with negative space sucessfully. remember you are always dealing with a film plane no matter what format you are using. it's the phototaker's job to fill the plane with as much positive space/negative space as they want. alot of times people shoot 6x6 and then they crop their images down which is fine, but why not shoot the photo the way you see it/the way you intended it? that way you get the full advantage of 6x6. my professor taught me to shoot how you want it from the get go. it saves time in post-production.
eye of wally 10 years ago
BTW the rule of thirds is really for rectangles not squares. It is also called the golden rectangle. Basically the rule of thirds work because if you take a rectangle make one end a square. With the left over part make another smaller square and you will be left with another rectangle the same shape as the first one. Where these all meet is where the rule of thirds come into play. See this link for the math

With square formats it really does not work.
raizans Posted 10 years ago. Edited by raizans (member) 10 years ago
some famous photographers who've shot 6x6.

diane arbus
william eggleston
mary ellen mark
harry callahan
lee friedlander
hiroshi sugimoto
ralph eugene meatyard
cecil beaton
bill brandt
robert adams
helmut newton
richard avedon
irving penn
imogen cunningham
robert mapplethorpe
walker evans
Ian Tindale 10 years ago
Another thread
that can't be read
The text on the left
is all that's left
tinkerg Posted 10 years ago. Edited by tinkerg (member) 10 years ago
cant seem to leave this topic alone.

subject matter is everything.--diane arbus

form is no more than the extension of content.--charles olson

for me, the huge temptation is to futz around "composing" inconsequential content, shot after shot. yes, abstract patterns are often an integral part of good pictures, lines of visual force an actual part of the meaning, but the ultimate challenge is to find the meaningful picture, which is rarely (tho sometimes) arrived at by concerning oneself at the outset with composition.
stuartmccallum1956 10 years ago
I hope you don't mind me posting to this group. I'm not a photographer but I have a strong interest in composition and your discussion looks very interesting.

I am particularly interested in the composition of abstract patterns within the frame. I would like to know if there is something fundamental in composition that can be separated from aspects such as 'meaning', 'story-telling' and more refined details. For example, if we see a face looking off frame, then we might follow the line of site - we are being directed with an overt viewing line. However, if the image is purely abstract then my question is: do the eyes read the image in some sort of common way if the image is generally considered to be a 'good' composition?

Are the 'rules' for composing a photograph the same as the 'rules' for composing an abstract image at some fundamental level?

Here's something to consider - if you take an acceptedly well-composed image and remove all the detail, perhaps through some sort of blurring process, would the resulting image still be well-composed?

I would be very interested to hear your views and please forgive this intrusion if it is inappropriate to your group.
raizans 10 years ago
You already answered your question. For the most part, yes. But there can be details of the thing photographed that make a difference, like eyes.
grainisgood PRO 10 years ago
Like shooting square because it is the closest thing to circular...

Enjoy using a couple of techniques. Shooting with the edges. Include incomplete aspects of the scene to fill out and connect with what is in the central area. At the same time, create space by finding a diagonal shooting angle. A high angle is also a great way to include more information and take the subject out of its spacial context in the surrounding world. If you want it, you also get more depth of field.
GoddessOfHellFire 10 years ago
I agree with oldweston it's there as a guide , fundementaly I go with what is most pleaseing to me..... rules don't always apply. Plus if you think about it too much it definatly shows! But then I am a live for the moment shooter!~ That's why cropping is a GOOD THING!!! PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by (member) 10 years ago

I don't know what the 'rule of thirds' is. Don't tell me.


James Disley - I think you're selling your bottom picture short. The top image has balance but it is also rather static. The bottom photo is more dynamic.

The dynamism comes from its built-in counterpoint. The image is both divided in half, as you say, and divided into thirds. The line of the horizon defines the halves. The thirds are defined by an ascending diagonal in the top half of the picture and a descending diagonal in the bottom half. These diagonal lines make a progressive effect: when we read your picture left to right, the center third expands at the expense of the outer thirds.

Your image thus plays 3 against 2 and expanding proportions against statics. It also unites these apparent contradictions inside an overarching structure (namely, the one provided by perspective, with a vanishing point ouside the frame at left) that accounts for each element.

That said, if it was my photo, I'd crop a chunk of the sky from the top. This moves the action (the expanding middle third) toward center and bumps the horizon (less interesting) up from center. It also gives the photo a rectangular shape that echoes the shape of the reflected train windows.

Which reminds me... !


On the subject of reasons for a square format: the shape of the frame can sustain a motif that already appears in the picture.

your move

Midori no Saru [deleted] 10 years ago
.alton: I don't know what the 'rule of thirds' is. Don't tell me.

It is an approximation of the golden section theory. Apparently the ratios of the 35mm negative are close to this ratio. I think these proportions could be incorporated into a square frame though. PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by (member) 10 years ago
If we mean Golden Sections let's talk about Golden Sections. Thirds are a symmetrical ratio, like halves. The Golden Section is an asymmetrical ratio. Sounds to me like 'the rule of thirds' is not so much an 'approximation' as a dumbing down. It misses the whole point.

If we're going to play with shapes and proportions, let's play.

Can thirds work inside a square? Of course. Imagine a tic-tac-toe board inside the square. We've got our thirds. Let's play.

Can Golden Ratios work inside a square? Of course. All we need is a line of finite length and we can play with any ratio we want. We can divide lines by Golden Section as easily as any other, anywhere.

Altering the shape of the field, though, does alter the game. It forces changes in strategy.

Using a Golden Rectangle (a la 35mm) as a frame naturally invites the eye to seek more Golden proportions inside it. A harmonious effect is created when that search is rewarded.

night reflections

A strictly symmetrical shape (such as the square) directs the eye to seek similarly symmetrical proportions (halves, circles, thirds). Rewarding this tendency also creates a harmonious effect, though a far more static one because of the symmetry.

Introducing skewed elements inside the square (Golden proportions, curves and arcs) creates a tension between the static frame and the dynamism of its contents.

black box

It's all fair game. It just depends on what you want.
Ian Tindale 10 years ago
I want round format. PRO 10 years ago
So do I. And oval. That would be fun.
MarceloGom 10 years ago
Thanks Alton for the insights.
rolleijoe 10 years ago
Square definitely makes printing easier for me. Plus I always crop in the camera. In other words, I shoot what I want to be in the image. 6x6 gives a larger-easier full-frame print.
Franck Yvonnet 10 years ago
Kerik Kouklis shoots circular images, check his Full Circle galleries here and here.
Ian Tindale 10 years ago
I've done a few round ones in my time, too.
Beckton Park
gtsberg 9 years ago
Don't center the subject matter. When in doubt, take several compositions, and let one grow on you. (Ian, what's in that coffee cup you have there? Liquid Crack?)
GraemeNicol 9 years ago
Apparently the new Canon 400D shoots in spherical format. Where do you suppose one should place the subject in such a shot ?
Kent Johnson PRO 9 years ago
If it works it's good !~))
Alfie | Japanorama PRO Posted 9 years ago. Edited by Alfie | Japanorama (member) 9 years ago
I dunno Gtsberg, centering works.

The interplay between straight planes and curves works well too.

*omnia* 9 years ago
interesting thread :) i don't have a lot of square format photos yet, but I do like it a lot and think more pics in my stream would look better square ... so I'll be playing with it

i think the subject/content makes square a natural choice sometimes - especially if it enhances geometric aspects

these two both seemed to just be better square

circles in a spiral in a square ginkgo square
Alfie | Japanorama PRO 9 years ago
Great shots Omnia and perfect for square. The format has always been a fave of mine for portraits and montage.... lots of square bits of a whole landscape for instance. The constraints of it are good for training the eye too.

First square format I had was one of these

Bought for £3 in a junk shop in about 1985. Lovely soft lens. I still use it too.

This is my baby though ....bought for £80 about 9 years ago and it was still in its original box with the original receipt from 1955!

Neil D. 9 years ago
The 'rule of thirds' can work in a square composition:

Window & Stairs #2

(Of course, this photos doesn't actually follow the 'rule of thirds'!)

I agree that centering can work well. Actually, many things that work well for square format is not so good on 3:2 format, and vice versa. I've only three words of advice: practice, practice, practice!
katydaly PRO 9 years ago
I am a graphic artist who happens to own a camera. I never heard of the rule of thirds, or even the Golden Section? I try to compose my shots in camera, but I must admit I find it difficult to concentrate enough on my subject to do that. With my Nikon Coolpix tiny little camera, and with my 50YO eyeballs, it is much easier for me to include more in my viewfinder, and come back home and crop on my 17" monitor.

I agree that composition works pretty much the same in any format, go with your gut. But, that being said, I do think square (and maybe round) formats lend themselves to centering the subject. Here are my 2 favorite of my square format photos. I don't think they follow any rules, and they may not be perfect photos, but I prefer them in the square format to the way they looked previously.

river.dead tree

Neil D. 9 years ago
I think the rule of thirds works better on rectangular formats than it does with the square, but that's just my own opinion. By the way, the rule of thirds is that you try to position things of interest (could be faces, flowers, or even fuzzy patches of light) on one of the four intersections of the 3x3 grid lines (see my photo above: it is called the rule of thirds because the photo is divided into thirds in both dimensions by the lines - normally, these lines are imaginary!). My photo doesn't actually follow the rule of thirds because the figures are not at the intersections!

The Golden Section is more mathematical in origin, but it approximates to the ratio of 1:1.6 - I'm not a big believer in deliberately using the Golden Section in my photos (there's always a chance I do it unconciously of course) but many others are.

If your photos please you then that is all that matters. It's only when we start to wonder, "why don't my photos look as good as his/her photos?" that we might try to figure out things like composition (beyond what we already know that is). As long as we are 100% happy with our own photos then there is no great pressure to learn more (this has both good and bad aspects, but that's a whole new thread waiting to be written...)
devilinsidela 9 years ago
in squareformat,

i like things centered when the shot is very compelling and the subject practically makes a statement when you look at it, like "hey. here i am."

when an individual subject is not so clear, i like things off center such as the landscapes above, or the diagonal layouts .alton presented.
katydaly PRO 9 years ago
Neil D.:

Thanks for the definitions. Now I understand those "rules" better. And I think you are right on the money when you say that it is an attempt to learn

"why don't my photos look as good as his/her photos?" that we might try to figure out things like composition (beyond what we already know that is)

Although many of my photos please me, I am almost never 100% happy with them, and am always ready to learn more. Now I have.

I think part of the reason I am not totally satisfied is that I need a better camera. My Nikon Coolpix is great for stuffing in my purse and using all the time, but not so great for controlling all those important things (like FOCUS!) that I had with my old SLR.
Neil D. 9 years ago
katydaly (I presume I should call you Katy but with these usernames you never can be sure!), you don't give specific reasons for your dissatisfaction with your photographs but don't make the all-too-common mistake of thinking your camera is at fault. Many people spend big money on new equipment only to discover that their photography does not improve!

If it's composition which needs improving (not a hint from me at all - I'm just covering all bases), your current camera is plenty good enough. In fact, with a quick look at your photos (no time right now to do it properly), they seem to me to be quite sharp etc. OK, DOF control is more difficult without an SLR, but a decent digital SLR will cost some money. Actually, as a graphic artist, you are probably better at composition than the rest of us! (or you should be...)

Do you realise that the 1.6x crop sensor of the cheaper Canon dSLRs (or 1.5x crop of Nikon's models) will give deeper DOF than you were used to with film? Still more control than with your Coolpix though - I can understand why you want to upgrade. In my portfolio (free plug I know, but you are under no obligation to comment!) you will see two photos which come from a P&S digital like your Coolpix: one called Eternal Remembrance and the other called In the Park. Don't let thoughts of better gear blind you to what can be done with what you already own :-)
katydaly PRO 9 years ago
Interesting discussion, thanks!

It is not so much the composition that disturbs me, but that I cannot control what the camera will focus on, the telephoto is terrible, the wider shots have a parallax problem (I think that is the right word), and the camera is so small (good for some reasons) that it is hard to keep steady or level when taking a shot.

I know that equipment is not the whole problem, but some of these issues are frustrating. I have no intention of upgrading any time soon, because of the cost, and I know for a lot of reasons I would probably still be disappointed for some reason with my photos. Perhaps I am just too critical of my own work!

Composition-wise, I think I do have a good eye, but I think too much about it and sometimes make the wrong decisions when cropping. A little knowledge of Photoshop is a dangerous thing. Probably the same issues if a photographer tried to design a newsletter, we both have our strengths.

I will look at your photos when I have more time. Thanks for the invitation.
Neil D. 9 years ago
I guess I wasn't meaning to say "don't upgrade" but rather just to be aware that if you do upgrade your problems may not be solved. This is pretty obvious in some ways but many people don't consider the possibilty and then they are disappointed or upset that they spent their money on "useless gear".

As long as you know the limitations of the equipment before you buy it, everything will be OK as you will not then be expecting too much from the new stuff. I agree that focus points and DOF control are a problem with some cameras :)

I shoot digital all the time because I post my images to places like this... but the actual handling of my digital cameras (you know, just the 'pleasure' of using it) is not as good compared to my old film cameras (I'd rather use those all the time, but the scans of the negatives are always awful, so they just sit in the cupboard and I shoot digital instead - I could consider 'ease of use' as a limitation of my digital gear compared to my film cameras!).
scribblegurl 9 years ago
just tossing out there i hate the coopix too. i've got a minolta 35mm and two canons, and even the canon i don't like kicks the coolpix *ss. i'm just sayin'. i think in her case, it very well might be the camera. :)
lost4words [deleted] Posted 9 years ago. Edited by lost4words (member) 9 years ago
There's an uneasy relationship between art and 'the rules'.
The difficult part is to try to be open to something new or to saying things in your own way, rather than following someone else's 'right way'.
Kent Johnson said it all - 'if it works it's good'.
The danger is that Fred Bloggs does something good and people quickly invent 'Blogg's law' or the rule of whatever.
There's a reason why Picasso's paintings are nothing like the work of Rembrandt and yet both are amazing artists - they had their own voice and didn't follow other peoples rules.
You could say that they invented the rules or that they tore up the rule book etc but that way of thinking comes from our own insecurity - 'the rules' make us feel safe.
Anyone who's ever joined a camera club or a watercolour class will know that you can quickly become overwhelmed with rules.
I tend to think that at best, rules can help us to work in an organised way etc but at worst can suck the life out of our art and make everyone's work really homogenised.
An diabhal glas 6 years ago
I have never before thought of the rules of square composition. I feel though that hey if it works it works. Someone told me in a comment to this photo that its a nice square composition.
Aran Islands - Inis Oírr by An diabhal glas

Does anyone know what rules have been applied here or think I could have improved?
mikepetersphotography 6 years ago
I don't ever think about rules when composing. As a matter of fact, when in the act of making a photo I don't think at all. Photographic composition should be an emotional response to the subject matter at hand and the elements available to compose with. Rules are something you need to forget if you want to make images that are personal and authentic to who you are. Just concentrate on your subject and making the organization of the frame interesting for you, even if it means breaking the rules. Making a photograph is a lot like hitting a fastball, you can't think and do it at the same time, because if you think, the moment is gone or the ball is in the catchers mitt.
Jonathan Kos-Read PRO 5 years ago
Setting aside the question of whether these ratios are a good idea, terrible crutch, mystical truth etc., you can download a great Photoshop cropping tool that overlays all of these ratios onto your pic. Very useful just to actually see them.

It's free:
Ben Wolfarth 5 years ago
it really depends on what your shooting. if your shooting paterns you want to go central, if you have multiple subjects, the rule of thirds, but the truth is, shoot what ever looks the best. rules are there to be broken :)

table and chair by Ben Wolfarth
CorgiHouse PRO 5 years ago
The square format has often been used through art history for iconographic images, because it is more stable (static) that horizontal or vertical rectangular shapes. The composition tends to not to pull as dramatically left/right or up/down, instead feeling very self-contained. For that very reason, I often find it more compelling to try and throw the square off-balance. It's harder to do than with a rectangle, but I think makes for a much more interesting image.
bDe gNas 5 years ago
I like square format because I shoot almost exclusively portraits and, for me, the composition is much easier:
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