The Format of the Medium is the Message

We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”— Marshall McLuhan

I believe that the camera you use—and the way that you use it—determines the format, or shape, of the final image. Look no further than the hundreds of YouTube videos that are shot using a vertical format—the shape of the smartphone—despite every moving image that the maker has ever seen in their life is horizontal.

I was having coffee with my friend Barry Staver last week and we were talking about his new camera, a Panasonic Lumix GH5 and he told me that as he begins to shoot more video for his clients he is also shooting more still images in a horizontal format. And the most surprising to me, is that his portraits are now, more often then not, delivered to clients in a square format because social media and many websites show headshots as square photographs.

Back in the film days, when I got my first medium format camera (a Mamiya C33 TLR) it made photographs in the classic 6×6 square format and to tell the truth I never thought much about it at the time. I happily made many thousands of images with that camera as I also did later when I switched to a Hasselblad 500CM, another square format camera. The legendary photographer Ernst Wildi, who wrote Master Composition Guide for Digital Photographers, came at it from the perspective of a lifetime of using a square format Hasselblad.

The shape of your images all boils down to aspect ratio (see my post on this subject) and most cameras these days let you shoot in ratios from 3:2, 4:5, 4:3 and yes 1:1 aka square. So the next time you’re making a portrait, set the camera in 1:1 mode and see if you like the results. And, like the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says “Don’t Panic,” you can always shoot in RAW+JPEG mode and still have the full frame image available for use from the RAW file.

Master Composition Guide for Digital Photographers is available from Amazon, with used copies selling for less than three bucks making this the photography how-to book deal of the century.

Author: Joe Farace

Share This Post On