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If it's square, it must be art

If it’s square, it must be art

Have you noticed how square photos are all the rage? Every photo must have a black border and be faded or discolored. Throw in a few scratches, and your masterpiece is complete.

Even the New York Times recently posted stories about Instagram, a popular photo-sharing app that only shoots in the square format. Square has become a fixture, and you can thank the cellphone camera for its popularity. But is it really anything new or different?

When I first ventured into photography, it used to be only those photographers using a very expensive Hasselblad camera were even thinking about a square negative. Next came the instant SX-70 Polaroid camera, spitting out cute little pieces of instant artwork. The super-creative types might even squish the emulation with pens, paper clips or such and add their own creative flair to the Polaroid prints.

I never used a Hasselblad; it was always out of my price range. And I still believe that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The top-priced Hasselblad camera is still way out of my price range, costing more than a Smart car. The Hasselblad H4D-200MS Digital Camera sells for around $45,000, and that’s only for the body. It features a whopping 50 megapixel sensor. You can even ramp up to 200 megapixels, using a multiple-photo option. Just think about how fast you can fill up hard drives with this size chip. Forget the Smart car, I’m going to move up to a Lexus. Add a few lenses, and we’re nudging 50 grand. Who buys these cameras?

Hasselblad has shifted away from using a square format with the H series and uses a more conventional 6×4.5 cm size. Also, there are many lower-priced options in the Hasselblad line of cameras.

The other square option back in the day was shooting Polaroid. The SX-70 models made a cool whizzing noise as it sent your photo from the camera. Though we are in a whole different price ballpark, the cameras were always fairly reasonably priced; it was the film that set you back. I always remember how much it was going to cost for a small instant snapshot. It was great, though, even if it was only good for some instant photo gratification.

It’s funny to think that a photo in 60 seconds was instant. Times have really changed — gas costs about $4 a gallon, the average cable bill and internet service will set you back over $100 a month, and the must-have cellphones for my family features a bill too high to mention.

So although you’re not paying for film and processing for your super instant digital photographs, you’re paying for all that great technology in different ways.

It’s all about that funky square format. When I was growing up, if you were a square, it meant you were too straight-laced and old-fashioned. But today, square is cool, and the number of  four-equal-sides photographs and apps is spinning out of control.

Let’s all check our smartphone and count our square photos. … I need a little more time. … I’m almost done counting. … I’m looking at about 3,500 square photos. Hey I used the Hipstamatic App for some time, plus I’ve bought all the lenses and film for it. Just trying to get my money’s worth. I have probably spent about $10 on it.

Let’s take a look some the popular square options:

Instagram — Certainly one of the most popular. It’s the new hot item for this year’s photo-sharing app. It’s simple to use. I can send my square image easily to my Instagram stream, Twitter and Facebook. I mean, really, my fans can’t wait to see my next photos. Does this whole idea of photo sharing really make any sense? It must because everyone seems to partake in the process. Instagram is free for the app and the online storage. Someone please explain to me how these companies make any money. I just don’t understand business and the Internet. The app will take pictures or use the ones in your phone’s photo library. Just a little cropping, if you want, and then picking one of those old-school filters, which will make your photo discolored with a sketchy-looking black border. Just hit the done button, and your fans can start liking your photo by pressing the little heart under it.

Hipstamatic — My fav square app takes a different approach. You pick a film and lens and shoot your photo. You get what you get. No redo or enhancing of photos from your library. I understand how this company makes money. They charge for the app and add on lenses and film. This app now lets you send directly to Facebook, Twitter and email plus order prints. It’s very simple to use. Hipstamatic for your iPhone cost $1.99. Additional film and lenses priced at $1.00.

100 Cameras in 1 — This is an easy-to-use app for your iPhone. Take a new photo or use one from your library. This software lets your select so many effects, it’s tough to count, and you can layer one on top of the other using a slider to vary the amount. The app from photographer Trey Ratcliff also features a Web sharing page and exports to email, Twitter and Facebook. It sells for $1.99.

ShakeItPhoto — This is the simplest of the bunch. This app replicates the look on your iPhone. Take a photo; shake the phone until your photo appears as a digital Polaroid photo on your screen. The ShakeItPhoto App is priced at $1.99.

Top photo: A variety of iPhone photos. Credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

Second photo: Hasselblad H4D-200MS Digital Camera. Credit: Hasselblad

Third photo: a Polaroid SX-70 processed with the ShakeItPhoto iPhone App. Credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

Read more reviews and photography tips by Robert Lachman


  1. June 26, 2011, 6:18 pm

    [[When I first ventured into photography, it used to be only those photographers using a very expensive Hasselblad camera were even thinking about a square negative.]]

    Yes, except for people shooting with inexpensive Yashica 6×6 cameras.

    By: A. Guy
  2. June 28, 2011, 3:37 pm

    You're correct. One more to add to the square format list is the Kodak Instamatic which featured 126-film cartridges. Did I mention those square flash cubes?

    By: Robert Lachman
  3. June 28, 2011, 2:00 pm

    You forgot the even more ancient 120 film — you got it developed and got back contact sheets, more or less. I'm pretty sure they were square — or close to it.

    (Dark ages — my start to photography. In the 60's

    By: freffred

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