Why The Web Made Square Format Images So Popular

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No, Instagram isn’t really the reason why square format images so just so popular with folks. Despite the fact that today’s digital age has put such a big emphasis on it for many reasons, photographers have loved to shoot square images since the film days. One of the more popular formats for many photographers was 6×6–which required medium format film and was stuck right in between 6×4.5 and 6×7, both rectangles. These images were from some popular cameras like the Bronica SQ-A amongst others in the SQ series of cameras. Using these cameras, both portrait photographers and wedding shooters were able to have an easier time creating images for many reasons–with many of them attributing to them square format.

Here’s why the square format strikes such a chord with viewers today.

The Way That the Eye Travels Around an Image

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Oggl 2.1 iPad (1 of 1)ISO 16001-100 sec at f - 5.0

When it comes to the online world, a fair argument can be made that people look at images completely differently than they do when a print is shoved in their face. The world works in a fashion that requires browsers to scroll down or up. When this happens, a person takes in a part of an image (usually the top) and more is revealed to them as they scroll down. And when working in the confines of a small table (in HTML terms) the more in-your-face that you can make an image the more that it will have an impact. When an image is a square, the eye often has less space to travel around to take in the entire scene.

Because of this, there is less for your eyes and brain to focus on and it’s easier for the viewer to get to the point immediately.


Point taken.

Point taken.

Square images overall have a simplicity to them that not only makes it easier to shoot them but also makes the photographer focus less on the outside edges and more on whatever is towards, or in, the center. The reason for this has to do the with laws of composition for a square format image–which we will get into later.

Consider this:

– When the average person shoots an image with a camera, the image is rectangular. Many normal people (not photographers) put their subjects in the center and then tend to just upload the image. But naturally, the eye goes towards the center then goes all around the image frame to explore the left and the right sides.

as opposed to

– When the average person shoots a square image, their natural reaction is to get in close and cut out all of the excess–forcing the viewer to just focus on their particular framing of a scene.

Composition Requires You to More or Less Center Your Subject

Remember the rule of thirds? You know–it’s that rule that every single photographers talks about and harps on all the time and that many pretty much lock themselves into. Well, with a rectangular image, a photographer actually has a tougher time than with a square image. With a rectangular image, the photographer needs to place their subjects around the corners/outer edges of the center as opposed to when working with a square image. When shooting a square image all of the edges are equilateral and no matter how you position the subject, it will more or less always be in the center.

And because of this, you can easily say that centering a subject has everything to do with the square format in today’s modern world–though we totally understand how composing for the rule of thirds for a square image can be much more complicated.