As a child of the ’70s, I learned to take pictures with our family’s Kodak Instamatic, peering at the world through the square viewfinder. My love affair with the 1:1 aspect ratio began when I was 7.

Decades later and many newer cameras later, I immediately noticed the square aspect view option on my iPhone. It still felt so right. Instagram became the perfect platform for sharing square smartphone images.

When I’m shooting with my iPhone, I’m drawn to compositions in a square format. Sometimes when I’m shooting with my DSLR, I notice a scene that screams for my iPhone. I’ll shoot the scene with both cameras, and usually the iPhone composition wins.

What makes the square so appealing? What am I looking for?

1. Symmetry

Absolute symmetry inherent only to the square format. The viewer’s eye instinctively moves around the image in a circle to take everything in.

Square composition for mobile photography - symmetry
Square composition for mobile photography - geometry

2. Geometry

The technique of composing using geometric shapes (circles, squares, diamonds, triangles) in the square format is powerful. The shapes seem to grow even stronger inside the formal boundaries of the square.

two pay phones in square photo composition
Square composition for mobile photography

3. Composition

It’s different than composing for a vertical or horizontal aspect. The rule of thirds becomes less applicable; you can place the subject in the center of the frame just as effectively.

Square composition for mobile photography - person walking
Square composition for mobile photography - shadow

4. simplicity

Shapes become more defined as the composition is simplified. Symmetrical subjects fit comfortably in the square frame, and the space helps define the shapes.

rainbow in square photo composition
Dog looking out a window in square photo composition

5. Balance

The square format is inherently balanced. That can liberate you from the sense of gravity that comes with the unbalanced rectangular frame.

“When shooting with a square format, I see the world differently.” — Sally Ann Field

Experimenting with the square format will also help make you more aware of the way you use composition in the rectangular format. It’s an excellent way to exercise and strengthen both mind and eye. And it’s fun!