Film Photography

In praise of square photographs

I wonder why square photographs aren’t more common. Maybe it’s because starting in the 1980s 35mm point-and-shoot cameras became popular. That could have cemented the format’s 3:2 ratio as normal for photographs.

In the digital era the DSLR kept 35mm’s 3:2 aspect ratio. Point-and-shoots went with 4:3 for some reason, but that’s close enough to 3:2 to not look weird. My digital point-and-shoot, a Canon S95, has a 1:1 setting buried somewhere in its menus. My iPhone 6s also offers a square setting. But no digital camera I know of shoots square by default.

For me, however, shooting square feels like going back to my roots. For the first eight years of my photographic life, I shot nothing but cameras that made square photographs. It was the 1970s and early 1980s; square was very common then thanks to the wildly popular 126 format.

Here’s a scan of a print from my first-ever roll of film, Kodacolor II in a Kodak Brownie Starmite II, August, 1976. Side note: just look at how beautifully these drug-store-print colors have kept over the last 40+ years! These are my childhood friends Darin, Colleen, Christy, David, Mike, tank-topped kid whose face I can’t see and therefore whose name I can’t recall, and Craig just entering the frame from the right.

Here’s a scan of the negative, cropped 3:2 to the subject. Conventional wisdom calls this the better composition because the subject fills the frame. But what it lacks is the big blue sky we used to play under and the city infrastructure that lay all around and above us. The crop also cuts off the rounded tip of Mike’s grand walking staff. The square format brought in all the details.

That’s not to say that square format is inherently magic. Just like with any aspect ratio you have to find the subjects and compositions that work best. Here are some decent square photos I’ve taken more recently.

Wheeler Mision
Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Ektar 100, 2018
Fire Station 32
Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Portra 160, 2012
Benches
Yashica-D, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2014
Jet
Yashica-D, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2013.
Charles H. Ackerman
Yashica-D, Kodak Ektar 100, 2017
Available
Yashica-12, Ilford Pan-F Plus 50, 2018

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Camera Reviews

Shooting my Kodak Brownie Starmatic

I normally spend every spare summer Saturday exploring the old roads, but it’s been too stinking hot! So I’ve been taking pictures with my old cameras instead.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

I was feeling nostalgic about 127 film after I found the negatives from my first photgraphs, which I took with a Kodak Brownie Starmite II. That camera was part of a whole family of similarly-styled “Star” Brownies made in the late 1950s and early 1960s. My collection includes the finest camera in the series, the Kodak Brownie Starmatic.

127 film hasn’t been made in the US in 30 years. Dedicated 127 shooters know that B&H Photo carries a few varieties still made overseas (check out what they offer). B&H used to offer Kodak Portra 160 cut down from a larger film size and spooled by hand. I got a roll before it was discontinued and loaded it into my Starmatic to revel in the nostalgia.

Not only does the Starmatic automatically set exposure, but it also compensates for various film speeds. At ISO 160, the Portra is on the fast side for this camera. I set the camera to its maximum, 125 ASA, and hoped for the best. I needn’t have worried.

Canoes

A few shots on this roll were ruined by some sort of funky pink clouding. A little of it shows up on this shot, but I like the colors I got in the evening light well enough that I am sharing it here anyway.

Caboose

So far, all of these shots are from Broad Ripple, an Indianapolis neighborhood. It’s been a frequent photographic destination for me this year.

Fire Station 32

I got this last shot in Handley, West Virginia, while I was there for a family reunion. This burned-out and fallen building stands along “the hard road,” highway 61, Handley’s main drag.

Collapsed

It was great to shoot square photos again, as I did as a kid. I enjoy and kind of miss the format. These photos were better than anything I ever got as a kid, though. I know how to hold my camera steady now, and I’ve learned a little about composition. Also, to my eye the Portra 160 renders color more pleasingly and with finer grain than the Kodacolor II I always shot.

Few labs still process 127 film. Dwayne’s Photo does, and they got my business this time. I normally have the processor scan the negatives for me, but Dwayne’s doesn’t offer that service for 127 film. So I had them make prints, which I scanned on my new Epson V300 scanner. After scanning they needed a little color correction and cropping, which I did in Photoshop Elements 9. Whaddya know, a workflow.

See more photos from this roll in my Kodak Brownie Starmatic gallery.

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