I’ve always found the limitation of image format to be fairly arbitrary, and have enjoyed using “alternative” crops (where possible) in my work. I enjoy using the Hasselblad XPan for its panoramic field of view and almost comic-book double-spread feeling, and I like the work of Fan Ho, especially the ones where he cropped down to a sliver from a much larger, usually medium format, frame.

Although I respect the power of the un-cropped, in-camera frame, especially for journalistic applications, I find the actual shape of that frame itself to be meaningless. As long as an artist is honest, and makes their un-cropped version available on request when presenting it as documentary/reportage I think that the potential for the shape of the frame to change is underrated.

Presented throughout this article are a few frames from my recent trip to India which were close, but not quite right. They were shot on various film stocks, all 35mm films. Some, like the shot below, were shot with the square format in mind, as the train windows really lend themselves to that final result.

Others use the square format to salvage an otherwise failed attempted at a larger, balanced shot.

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About the author

Simon King

Simon is a London based photographer and photojournalist. He is currently working on long term personal projects, and has been shooting on 35mm film since late 2016. You can follow his work on Instagram, or read his personal blog, both linked below.

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  1. There are a few relatively obscure 35mm cameras which take square (24x24mm) images. The Robot series, Minolta 24 Rapid, Zeiss Tenax II, Agfa Isomat Rapid, Mecaflex, Memox…
    Like Dan, the photo with the boat is my favourite, very nice work 🙂 I tend to raise an eyebrow at photos of homeless people (except in some circumstances, for instance if it’s somehow connected to a photo project directly aimed at helping them – which, tbf, in your case it might be).

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you like it.
      Photographing people is definitely a subject that I think will always be debated, but in India it’s almost entirely unavoidable to photograph anyone who is at the same financial level as a photographer is likely to be, let alone someone better off. It’s better in my mind to incorporate them into my images without treating them any differently than a man in a suit – certainly not treating them any worse, and certainly not ignoring them, or what they may represent.

  2. Nice article. I’ve been toying with the idea of cropping recently so this is very timely.

    I really like the square format and love my 6×6 medium format camera. But for a project I have in mind, it would be more practical to take my 35mm camera. Plus, as you said, it’s nice to have the option to correct a composition and give yourself more wriggle room.

  3. Hi Simon,
    A nice article to read over morning coffee & hot oatmeal (gotta keep the cholesterol in check!)

    When we were young, the full frame was sacred. I used a Nikon F and religiously composed to the very edge of the viewfinder. In the darkroom, the negative carriers were filed to expose black, ratty looking edges on our prints. I was 19 and believed in H C-B. Now I’m 68 and I have no guilt cropping a 35mm negative in the darkroom for impact or to correct a fault in framing. Sometimes the real world is sloppy and you can’t line up the perfect shot. I’m using a M2, and the viewfinder lines provide a mostly accurate guide to the scene (the Leica Police will come after me for that misdemeanor.).

    John Loengard of LIFE magazine fame once stated: “certain photographers compose pictures like flowers – putting the interest in the center like the stamen and surrounding it with harmonious shapes, like petals. ‘See how pleasantly I present the subject,’ the picture says. Another method says ‘See how everything all across the picture is related.’ That’s the system I prefer.” Me too. (AS I SEE IT, by John Loengard.)
    Being a guy with a graphic design background, the photo of the man with the circular object balanced against the tip of the boat with the (almost) vertical line is really good.


    1. Thanks Dan! I’ve been having a bit of trouble with the not quite 100% coverage finders on my Nikon FM/FE’s, which has led to some annoying crop necessities. I think I find my Leica frame-lines easier as they don’t cut off my vision meaning I can still control my edges and overcompensate, rather than not being able to see at all.
      That’s a great Loengard quote, I appreciate you sharing it! Helps put an experience into words, definitely an analogy I’ll be stealing! 🙂