Photo Daily: Fire Alarm, Wacker and Madison

Fire Alarm, Wacker Drive and Madison, Chicago ©2013

Fire Alarm, Wacker Drive and Madison, Chicago ©2013

I don’t usually crop my photographs in post. Any “cropping” is done when I decide what the composition is going to be. Stepping closer or further away. Moving to the left or right. Except when I’m posting work to my Instagram account. For photographs originally shot in my usual 2:3 aspect ratio, Instagram prefers a square. And it usually pains me to do so, because I’m cropping out something I originally meant to be there.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the square format. But I only use the square format in camera when I’m shooting with my Hasselblad, which produces a square negative. And I compose for the square when I click the shutter.

But every once in a while, I find that cropping to a square is actually a better composition than my original. This is a good case for that discovery.

It’s an unwritten rule that it’s usually less pleasing to cut a photograph in half, be it putting a horizon right in the center of the frame, or something else. We enjoy symmetry, but it’s usually a more interesting image if the subject matter is balanced in thirds, not halves.

When I made this photograph, standing under the arcade of the Civic Opera building (home to Chicago’s Lyric Opera), I liked the juxtaposition of the fire alarm in the corner of the arcade pillar, with the people walking across the street in the background. And because I only had a second to compose before the people walked out of view, I quickly mentally broke the photo down into balanced thirds, with the fire alarm on the left third, the people crossing in the center third, and the cross walk and lamppost filling in the right third.

It seemed to work. Although the right third is a little weak.

In preparing this photo of today’s Photo Daily, I was also making the square crop for Instagram, which I post concurrently with the blog. And I discovered something interesting.

Fire Alarm, Wacker Drive and Madison, Chicago ©2013 (cropped to square)

Fire Alarm, Wacker Drive and Madison, Chicago ©2013 (cropped to square)


The square crop works better in this case. By eliminating the crosswalk on the right and using the pillar line as the line between the second and third thirds, instead of cutting the image in the center, it’s more visually interesting to me. More pleasing. It simplifies the composition and gets rid of the noise that was originally on the right side of the frame. It’s a better balance square.

Had I been shooting square with my Hasselblad to begin with, I probably would have composed it that way anyway. It’s one of the fun things about shooting with different format cameras from time to time. It forces me to compose with the frame I have, and usually differently than I would compose with another aspect ratio.

It also proves that once in a while, I miss the composition in camera and a crop in post is better. The exception that proves the rule!

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