Dicks Last Resort - Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Shooting Square Pictures
The square format was first introduced by Rolleiflex in 1929. Hasselblad followed in 1948 and kept the square design until the release of their digital cameras in 2002. The square format negative measures 2 1/4” x 2 1/4” and will fit 12 images on a single roll of film. Fashion photographers were the first to tap into the square format. Shooting square eliminated the need to choose between the horizontal and vertical composition during the shoot. Images could be reviewed for cropping dimensions on the final contact proof sheets. The popularity of the square format increased with portrait and wedding photographers around the start of the 60’s. What started out as a time saver turned into a cult phenomenon as square prints were now all the rage.
Negatives from the Hasselblad were distinguished by two triangular notches present on the edge of the film. The notches were masked out during the printing stage. Filing out the edges of the negative carrier solved that problem. Printing the image full frame with the notches gave that artistic touch on the final print. In time every Tom, Dick and Jasper started to print out the edges. The practice of filing the edges of the negative carries continued way beyond the notches. This resulted in a larger and irregular black artsy border around the edge of the print. I can recall many album covers that used the artsy border technique. Wedding photographers even started to print out the edges of the square format. The popularity of the square format eventually made its way into the fine art world.
All of this came to a crashing halt toward 2002 when Hasselblad stopped the production of the film camera. The newer Hasselblad’s were built for digital backs. Hasselblad wasn’t the only pony on the race track, yet they were the most popular. The popularity of the square format film camera stated to diminish. Time moved on as the digital revolution took over. The square format was tossed to the side of the road. Then something odd happened. Film came back from the dead. Or so most seemed to think. The reality was that film was never dead. The popularity of film took hold and a new generation of film shooters jumped in with both feet. This is partially due to the mystic and allure of film. The digital world is often perceived as perfection. The truth is that both digital and film suffer from imperfections. Most of those imperfections can be overcome with digital cameras. Not so much with film. And that ladies and gentlemen is the attraction of film. Perfection was starting to wear thin.
Even the most hardcore digital shooter started to seek the imperfections of the film world. Shooting film became popular again, yet film was always popular in the fine art world. Some of the top portrait photographers never stopped using film. But this story is not about film vs. digital. That war is over for the most part. Both digital and film offer advantages and disadvantages. This story is about the coolness of shooting with the square format camera. Let me get back to the task at hand.
Shooting square images can be very difficult. Some subjects and compositions simply don't fit. That's always been the conventional wisdom for years. I did a search on the square format several weeks back. This is one of those topics that is extremely heated the world of photography. There are some seriously opinionated people out there. I embrace the mindset of both the difficult and different. Last fall I came across a church with an interesting large wooden front door. Including the entire door would result in excessive unwanted image content to the sides. I decided to isolate a part of the door and compose that in the camera as a square. Now your eye is guided toward that element of composition, thus simplifying the view of the door. The square format allows the artist to isolate and simplify the image.
Displaying square prints is also cool. Physical prints are making a comeback. A new generation has learned to embrace the printed image. The Polaroid camera is back in full force as well. When the Polaroid company went bankrupt, the Impossible Project company took over. Fast forward and 90% of the film once produced by Polaroid is back in production. The Impossible Project company morphed into Polaroid Originals and started making an updated Polaroid instant camera. I have the retro turquoise colored model. They even took the old school Polaroids cameras from back in the day and offer them as refurbished. I’m doing a dedicated blog post within the month on the new Polaroid offerings. Until then, check out the link at the bottom of the post.
The sad reality is that the square film camera is no longer made. For those of you chomping at the bit, there is still the used market. eBay has thousands of these cameras. There are even models that are rebuilt, refurbished and have a warranty. The price of cameras in general on the used market are a fraction of what they were new (except Hasselblad of course). Film is readily available and, in more varieties than ever before. A few years back I bought one of the last remaining square format cameras from Fujifilm. The camera was no longer being made, yet I snagged a brand new one. My Fujifilm camera is an old school folding model complete with bellows. It looks like a camera from the early 20th century. I’ll do another blog posting on the Fujifilm GF670 camera next month.
Now as to why I like the square format. I find simplicity in keeping the camera in one orientation. No more deciding which way looks better. The square format can also decrease the clutter around the edges of the film. Take another look at the image at the top of this post. The image is much more effective in the square format. Most of you already know that I am very old school. For this reason I never crop a negative for a different view. This habit comes from using a view camera. The saying I learned was “frame it like you print it”. That philosophy has served me well as I printed large format negatives. There was no enlarger used. A simple contact print suited me perfect. The square format isn’t for everyone and that’s what makes it special. Tapping into the square format can open a whole new world. Social media has also caught on and started using the square format. Even Facebook is recommending the use of square videos, while Instagram has made the square format standard. I don't see pitching my panoramic camera nor my 8x10. My trusty Fujifilm GF670 will be my go to camera for those fun images. I've even started to embrace the world of color. The Fuji is perfect for color work. No matter what camera you use, keep shooting and enjoy the magic of photography.
The Polaroid instant camera has a new lease on life. The camera is now being produced by Polaroid Originals. This version is a slightly upgraded model with a few fancier features. The film had to be reversed engineered as Polaroid destroyed all of the machinery used to create the cameras. The new film is a bit sharper, has more color, but retains that classic look. Film is available in both color and black and white. There are also fancier borders offered in place of the traditional white border. The One Step 2 has become so popular that it is now is available at stores like Target, Walmart and Kohl’s. May the Polaroid live long into the future.
My Polaroid One Step 2 Instant Camera.