Hip to be square: How to take great cropped photos on your iPhone

square photos poolside

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We’re in a square-photographed world: Square images fill our Twitter streams, Facebook dashboards, and just about everywhere else. If you’re a photographer shooting on your iPhone, it’s hip to shoot square—especially if you know the right tricks to make your images look fabulous.

Entering square station

If your phone is running iOS 7 or later, you don’t have to go far for cropped shooting: Your Camera app has a dedicated Square mode. Just swipe once to the left from the main Camera screen to bring up the cropped shooting screen.

Create an effective crop

square photos screenshot3

Turn on the grid to properly frame your subject.

When it comes to framing your square shot, here are a few tips and tricks I rely on.

Use the grid: For fans of the Camera app’s Grid feature, it works in both Square and Photo mode. (You can enable the grid at any time by going to Settings > Photos & Camera > Grid.) In Square mode, the grid is overlaid in nine even boxes, allowing you to easily line up your subject matter.

When you’re shooting smaller subjects, frame them in the top or bottom thirds of your image to provide a stronger composition—especially if you have a strong environment that can provide contrast in its negative space.

Larger subjects are a bit harder to frame by the rule of thirds, as the crop forces you to get creative with your composition. In my experience, you can best frame larger images in a square crop when they take up at least three squares of the grid; it prevents the image from becoming confusing or abstract.

Center your subject: Given that the square crop removes most of your extra composition space, some consider it a negative to have to cram their subject inside the frame.

square photos snowy beach Mary Gordon

On the flipside, the square crop really highlights subjects you want to center in your frame; by providing equidistant negative space on all four sides, it places a strong focus on your subject.

Negative space is positive: Have fun with your negative space. Some of the most powerful Instagram images I’ve seen focus on a simple detail of an environment; something overlooked on a daily basis. Experiment and combine negative space with the rule of thirds, and your results can be quite beautiful.

Line em’ up: I love lines in my photographs: Lines in negative space, lines highlighting the rule of thirds, and sometimes even lines that lead you through an image. Almost every scene you’ll shoot has lines within it—natural or man-made—and you can utilize those shapes to create compelling crops that set your viewer’s eyes on a path through the photo.

square photos window duomo

Beyond the crop

Square photos and filters seem to go hand in hand, but there are other options for making your photos pop off the digital page. For instance, While shooting, you can use your phone’s HDR feature to drastically boost your colors.

Individual edits, too, can make all the difference: Use a third-party editing app to add a small boost in contrast, and it can give the natural colors of the world around you an unmistakable beauty in your photographs.

These are just a few of my favorite tips for fellow square photographers, but keep in mind that they are up to your own interpretation, and you can mash them up as you please. Go forth! Experiment! Every picture you take will make the next one even better.

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