Experimenting with square format
Okay, this is purely an experiment to see what a difference my work will look like if I consider adopting a square format for my photography. I know us photographer suffer from what Zack Arias terms “G.A.S”, Gear Acquisition Syndrome, but I am seriously considering buying a square format analogue camera. Something has been niggling me recently and it won’t let go and I think I may have finally identified it.
Why Square Format?
I bought an Olympus Pen at the first half of 2011, just after I cleared out all of my Canon 5D MK II kit. The Oly Pen was to be my stripped back, start again, find my way camera. And it would have stayed that way too but the optical viewfinder option was just too hard to get used to. Perhaps if I stayed with it longer I would have found a workaround but I didn’t love it enough to persist.
Anyway, I digress. What the Oly had was the ability to switch format to 1:1 which gave you a square format image. Now I was framing via the optical viewfinder so it was hit and miss anyway but I liked the option but didn’t realise until this week how much.
The Oly Pen square format option was just an in-camera crop of the jpeg image into a square format. If you only shot in jpeg, which I did on the day I tested this, you would get a square format jpeg back. However, if you shot jpeg and RAW, the RAW file would retain the 3:2 format for you to work on as you chose later on but you also could download the square format jpeg.
Above: jpeg square format shot on the Oly Pen.
I currently shoot with a Fuji X100, a brilliant little camera capable of incredibly great image files. However, the Fuji X100, the Olympus OM-PC, Oly Pen, Canon 5D MK II and Canon 450D I owned before that all share two thing that bugs me.
1. I absolutely cannot get used to, or comfortable with, orienting these cameras into portrait mode. The Fuji X100, with its left sided viewfinder, is particularly difficult but the dSLRs as well always felt awkward to me in this mode.
2. I like to shoot in close but always feel with 3:2 format that I have something ‘extra’ at the edge, top or bottom of my frame. I try to eliminate where possible by coming closer but still I have more than I want or need.
Going back to the image above of the lady smoking in Trafalgar Square, I don’t feel like I have extra space, nor did I have to bend my arms into a shape to change the way I held the camera to get this image.
I am also enjoying the instagram app on my iPhone which also employs the square format to my images. I know this is by virtue of a crop but, regardless, this little app seems to do a good job of it.
iPhone 4 | instagram
But why buy a film camera if digital is the future?
As well as thinking about going ‘square’, I also want to move into Medium Format. I will continue to shoot with my digital Fuji X100 for day to day stock photography and grab shots, but I want to experiment with producing much higher quality prints and for that I believe I need to look at investing in a medium format camera system. Entering the MF arena in digital means an investment of upwards of probably £6-8,000. Entering analogue film medium format second hand systems is much more practical with kits starting at around £100. I appreciate on top of that there is film, processing and scanning costs, but regardless, it is the only option available to me at this time.
But there is another reason. Although a lot of what I shoot is eventually processed as a black and white image, I do enjoy and appreciate colour photography. The reason I don’t do more is that in many cases I actually don’t trust my colour manipulation and correction in post processing. I know there is no right or wrong, but I don’t have the confidence in what I do with colour. However, using different film stocks will allow me to experiment and find a colour ‘style’ or palette I am confident with and can apply to different shoots as I visualise them. Whacking on different filters in Nik Colour Efex Pro on a trial and error basis just doesn’t suit me.
So why not save money and crop digital files?
The top image on this post is a crop. I don’t normally crop any of my images. If I don’t get it right in camera, then I have to suck it up and learn from my mistakes. I will allow myself to straighten a horizon but other than that the orientation of the image stays the way it was originally created.
Today, I worked on a few images to see what would happen if I applied a square crop. Some of the images look okay. Again this is subjective but I can see potential in doing this. But, and it’s a big but, the way I shoot is determined by the format I am shooting in. The top image would have been created differently if I had shot square at the time rather than cropped. I could see that when I was experimenting with where to ‘fix’ the square cut out to the image. So for me, I don’t think post-production squaring is going to work for me.
So what medium format square camera to go for?
I know little about analogue photography. I know less about medium format photography. So I asked somebody who knew more about both than anybody else I have encountered in the interweb. Jonathan Canlas is a film evangelist and shoots with medium format cameras. Whilst I don’t think square is necessarily his thing, he did suggest that a low cost way to get into square medium format was to buy a Yashica 124g or a Holga. The Holga to me didn’t work. I have played with these before but they feel too, I don’t know, toy-ish for what I want.
I want this camera to have the ability to create fine art prints and so would like to be able to depend on the results I will get back. So, by process of elimination, I am now trawling through ads for a good / excellent Yashica 124g for not too much money. Seems to be that around the £120 – £150 mark will get you a decent example. I wanted a second opinion and so had a Twitter conversation with @timothycochrane last night and he highly recommends his Yashica, so much so he even photographed Richard Hawley with one in a portrait session.
- Secure the funds for my new / old Yashica 124g
- Find and buy suitable rig
- Buy Jonathan Canlas’ book, Film is not Dead
- Experiment with film
- Attend the Film is not Dead workshop in Surrey, May 2012
Points 1 – 5 are feasible, point 6 I am still working on but it is a definite maybe as long as I can get the money together.
Whatever happens, experimenting with a square format will only do me and my photography good and I look forward to seeing the results.
Cropping? Think I will leave that to somebody else.
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