Square Or Rectangle?

I’ve often found it refreshing to occasionally step back from any activity I’ve been engaged in for a few days, particularly when it has become stale. Just walk away from it. A few days not doing something usually rejuvenates me, or at least adjusts my attitude. I can return to it feeling better about it and with a fresh perspective and approach.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the past seven days. It was sort of a vacation from the blog. It didn’t start out as a vacation or holiday. I came down with a flu, so the first three days was just lost time. I didn’t do much of anything but indiscriminately watch movies that I had stacked up on the DVR. I’m sure my viewing was indiscriminate because of the reactions of my wife to what I was watching. She would comment on them, and I’d agree. “Yep, it is pretty bad.” I’d say. Then I’d keep watching.

After the fourth day, when it seemed that I would survive the flu since I was starting to feel better, I still didn’t want to turn my attention to writing anything. So I didn’t. I didn’t have the attention span, anyway, so it is probably just as well. Several times I walked toward the phone to call an old friend who recently had bypass surgery, but got sidetracked every time. Between movies of questionable quality, I puttered around aimlessly, researched Canon FD mount film cameras, and read my favorite photography blogs.

A topic on a couple of the blogs, The Online Photographer and The Visual Science Lab, was the the square or 1:1 aspect ratio often employed on medium format cameras. The point, misunderstood by several readers (due to poor reading comprehension skills), was that different photographers are comfortable framing with different aspect ratios, and that for the photographers who are most comfortable with the square (1:1) aspect ratio, it is a good thing that a few of the smaller (non- medium format) digital cameras now offer the 1:1 aspect ratio, in addition to the more common 3:2, 4:3, and 16:9 ratios.

A choice, an alternative or two, is nearly always better than none at all. Though I don’t have a camera that allows the use of the square format, I can see that there would be times when I would use it if it was available to me, particularly for portraits. Digging through a file cabinet in my garage recently I uncovered around three hundred photo prints that I didn’t remember I had, including a couple prints from the first roll I shot on the first 35mm camera I owned, a manual Canon (I remembered shooting the unremarkable photos because of what they depicted). Among the newly-rediscovered prints from the 1950s and 1960s were many black and whites shot on 110 and/or 220 film. I don’t remember much about the cameras that produced them which were used by my mother and aunts. But I liked the square format used and I can imagine that it would have been easy to visualize those squares after shooting a few rolls of film.

But looking at some of my landscape photos from Joshua Tree today, I realized that I am most comfortable composing with a rectangular frame, due to the 35mm and smaller cameras I’ve always used. That first manual Canon was eventually replaced by a Canon AE-1, and that camera was stolen many years later. Other cameras came and went over the years, all using the 3:2 format. I’m very much used to that frame and visualize photos I see in that format whether I have a camera with me or not.

Looking at the photo shown here, captured on a warm morning in June 2010, I realized that I would have had a hard time cropping the scene to a square. It would have changed the composition completely. But I might have tried, anyway, since the compositions would have been different due to the framing change. It is always nice to have a choice, whether it is used or not…