Wim van Velzen photography
Published in the German magazine NaturFoto, May 2003. The photos
are the same ones as used in the article.
These photographs are also
available large (about 850x850). Click on the image to enlarge.
Composition with a 6x6...?
Historically many landscape photographers have used large format cameras. The
large negatives or slides deliver beautifully detailed images with a very nice
tonality. Most of the time the subject doesn't move, so the slow way of working
is no problem. An added bonus is the possibility of using tilt, rise, shift and
the like - those movements enable exact placing of focus and
These cameras have disadvantages as well: heavy carrying is
involved, the materials used are rather expensive and slides can hardly be
On the other end of camera spectrum there is the 35mm camera (film
or digital) with its many lenses, its low weight and relatively low costs. One
clear disadvantage they have: the small film area.
No surprise many
photographers choose the golden mean: the medium format!
Landscape seems to fit best in the panorama format. Most scenery stretches
into a certain width. But most medium format cameras make images with a less
rectangular ratio, like the 3:4 of 6x4.5 or 4:5 of the 6x7 format (actually
55x70mm) or even all square: 6x6!
And frankly, yes: for panoramas a 6x17
camera is of course a magnificent tool to approach the landscape. But I myself
chose the square.
Problem or challenge?
I like to work within this format. On first sight it isn't the most intuitive
for landscape, but it has several important advantages for me.
This format is
very flexible for composition - but there is more. In this article I mention the
most important points. By no means though am I claiming superiority for the
square over other formats. But it certainly is different and has its own charms.
The square frame has no tension as such. It gives the subject lots of space
and therefore breaths rest. It is up to the photographer to give the image
tension and excitement by means of subject choice and composition. In other
words: lots of space for the photographer as well!
To me a good (landscape) photograph, is a photo where my eyes are drawn all
over the image and make some sort of route. As a photographer one can use forms,
colours or visually striking parts of the subject itself. Nice is of course when
all these different image elements come together and support each other.
A good exercise for me to learn how to compose is
this: I take a photograph that has some value for me, that doesn't leave my
mind. On a piece of paper I make an outline of the most important parts of the
photo. Then I take a pencil and put a circle or circles about the point(s) my
eye keeps returning to. Then I place some arrows to point out the route my eyes
take from point to point.
This analysis of images is a good way as well to
judge my own images critically. Have I framed well or are some parts
meaningless? Are some elements disturbing because they draw to much attention?
Is the photo a unity, or did I just draw all independent arrows?
process of making photographs I try to see what the most important points of the
subject will be, in other words: where the circle(s) will be put. Then I frame
around those points in such a way that all of the images will be filled with
arrows - parts without interest should be left out.
This making of a composition can take a very short time (because of midges I
had to retreat from the field of Buchaille
Etive Mor within 10 seconds), sometimes it has me puzzled and it takes a
long time: a bit to the left, some sky or not, telephoto or standard, no - this
way is best.
The square has some interesting possibilities. First of all, one never has to
choose between horizontal or vertical position. Doing landscapes this means the
width and space of a scene can be shown without leaving out the foreground.
Something 35mm can not always do! And this way the eyes are drawn from the
foreground into the landscape.
||Buchaille Etive Mor|
Within the square many routes for the eyes can be made: triangles (Glen
Rosa), diagonals (Tyndrum);
Etive Mor); Andrews crosses, where everything points to the center (Loch
Etive); ovals (Sanna
Of course all of this can be done with the rectangular format as
well, but in my experience the square has more to offer here.
For symmetry (Loch
Etive) there is space enough, even if the axis of the reflection is not
exactly in the middle. Within the square one can very well put that axis higher
or lower, without hitting the head or bottom of the frame.
Learning how to visualize
Most images we look at are rectangular - like television and computer
screens. By the square one is forced to see the subject and the world of forms
in another way. The first times I used my 6x6 camera it caused some desperation:
how to fill the square?
But in the end this meant that I had to spend more
time and attention to the making of my photographs. It forced me to look with a
fresh vision while framing and to experiment with the placing of the
Of course after a while the novelty of it is gone - tame to take a
rangefinder, a pin hole camera, or whatever I never did.
A great help for composing is the waist level finder most 6x6 cameras have.
Taking your ease you can look at the image - no peering and peeping through a
tiny little finder - and examine the slide on the light table so to speak.
Especially combined with a tripod, this is a great way of working.
will need a tripod soon anyway if you use medium format gear - especially so
with landscape. It can be a bit of an enemy on a photo trip, but once returned
home it is found to have been a great friend!
Projection and presentation
It is not only the making of a photograph that counts. Presentation is an
important part of the work as well. After all: what is an image nobody wants to
For projection the square is a very pleasant format. The entire
screen is filled. The image is as it were without edges, without an imperative
frame. And you never have to look at an awkward change of horizontal and
Most albums and books are upright rectangular. No good for
broad panoramas. Square photos cause less problems and leave some space for
captions - nevertheless at the same time filling the page nicely.
small series of 2 or 3 square images on the wall. Very special is the segmented
panorama: a series of linked photos within one frame, with each its own cut out
in the mat.
For an editor of a magazine, books or ads, the square is nice as well. It
leaves lots of space to put text in or to crop the image. Of course this doesn't
apply to each image!
And it draws more attention than all those rectangular
images. A square photo has more stopping power and can therefore be sold more
And then this ..
It isn't necessary to set aside lots of money just to experiment with the
square. A TLR is a nice introduction and for many the camera of their
An by means of a good cutter each rectangular print can be cropped to
square. And for those who project their slides: if you put both sides of the
mount cross-wise, you get some sweet do-it-yourself square mounts!
This article has been written by Wim van Velzen, ¿
Comments on the article and photographs are welcome!
More thoughts about composition and the use of different lenses
can be found in the article on focal
All the photographs shown here and lots more are put in several
Do you want to see more use of the square?
Take a look at the
site of the British
photographer Keith Laban.
Published with the permission of the author. Original article can be found here: