FMP Week 14-16: Rut of Repetitive Sameness? Crop and focus point of an image

Thinking about the images that will make up the final project I am at this stage plumping for a square format to contain circles but I do have some of the beach debris in particular that suit rectangles much better, particularly if the subject matter has length greater than width.

Sarah Newton 2018, Dark Matter 3

I presented several images on the subject of circles to my local photography group on 17th December (week 13). Interestingly while I have been trying to avoid placing of the object or focus in a diagonal line in my images (as I thought I was getting too repetitive) one person suggested I moved the subject from a vertical thirds to a diagonal position and now like the image much better (as do I)!

Sarah Newton 2018, Event Horizons series
Sarah Newton 2018, Event Horizons series








With regard to the long debris objects I will have to treat each one individually I think. Reflecting back on Paul Kenny’s work a collaged panoramic option, combining a rectangle and squares may also be effective in some exhibition locations and publications. 

Paul Kenny 2017, Catch a Wave – Luskentyre Beach

I am realising that thinking about the shape of the resultant image before I have taken the photograph or scanned the debris is reaching my compositional subconscious and is becoming an automatic first attempt at processing in Apple Photos, Lightroom and Photoshop. Is this a good thing or not I ask myself? It is good to recognise this is happening in order to use that awareness to constantly challenge and continue to develop thereby avoiding getting stuck in a rut of repetitive sameness. On the other hand some might say that consistency is a good thing!

Researching this subject a little more I found some very helpful references (eg.   Gibson 2017; Suler 2013) These reminded me of how early photographic equipment used square plates, then with the advancement of photographic equipment and the various sizes of digital sensors rectangles became the favoured option. With ‘toy cameras’ such as Holga and Diana, and later social media developments such as Instagram and the promotion by Squarespace, the website building and hosting software, square has come back into vogue.

Interestingly, circles are well placed in squares and even if not the subject of the image, can be used to highlight parts of a non-circluar subject with vignetting and the way in which radial filters can be used to ‘spotlight’ features in Lightroom and Photoshop. The combination of square format and circular subject can have the effect of directing a viewer’s gaze in directions that differ from looking at a rectangular image.

“Reigning in the eye

Because the square minimizes feelings of up-and-down and back-and-forth by eliminating longer vertical or horizontal lines, the viewer’s eye tends to move around the image in a circle, often towards the center of the photo. Vignetting and circular compositions, especially those with the subject near the center of the square, can magnify these sensations of circling, spiraling, and zooming in. Diagonal lines serve as an effective means to break up these movements, encouraging the eye to experience some back-and-forth and up-and-down energy.” Suler 2013.

Advantages of a square format include drawing a viewer’s attention right into the focus of the image, the part that matters, without being distracted by surrounding space. Adding to compositional knowledge is an experiential feature too (although some might say ditching what you know and are familiar with is a disadvantage). For example, as my images above illustrate,  The Rule of Thirds does not necessarily apply. Placing the subject matter close to one edge or in prime central position can be fine in a square format. If contextual setting does not matter very much it seems square is potentially the better way to go.

With the processing options now available it is easy to play with different crops to achieve best effects. Perhaps because I am somewhat risk averse and would not want to miss opportunities for a better quality image, cropping during processing rather than shooting in a square frame gives me more choice for the final image. With more experience of composing through later cropping for rectangles and squares I hope to start to automatically complete the initial capture in the optimum format for the subject matter I am interested in.

“Showing off shapes

Due to its talent at focusing the eye and gathering up objects, the square format is a good way to show off geometric shapes of all kinds. Those shapes seem to grow even stronger inside the formal boundaries of the square. I especially like a circle, or portions of a circle, embedded inside a square frame. The pure natures of the curving circle and the linear square balance each other in an archetypic dance of the two most basic, ideal forms. Symmetrical subjects also fit comfortably inside the square frame.” Suler 2013.

Agreeing with this viewpoint I am clear that many of my circular subjects are well placed in a square format. I remain flexible about others, particularly debris, and having done some, albeit limited research, I am now more aware of the effectiveness combining square and rectangular  images in dyptics, tryptics and other multiple displays.

Sarah Newton 2018, Event Horizons coasters


GIBSON, Andrew. 2017. Square: The digital photographer’s guide to the square format. Available at: [accessed 08/01/19].

HUXLEY-PARLOUR ARTISTS. Available at: [accessed 23/08/2018].

KENNY, Paul. Available at: [accessed 23/08/2018].

SEYMOUR, Tom. 2016. Paul Kenny’s Land and Sea. British Journal of Photography. 21 June 2016. Available at: [accessed 23/08/2018].

SULER, John. 2013. Square Format Photographs.  Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche. Available at: [accessed 08/01/2018].


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