The Square Crop is My Favorite Crop and More Thoughts on Photo Layout and Design

The Square Crop is My Favorite Crop and More Thoughts on Photo Layout and Design

I know you’re not supposed to have a favorite crop, but the square crop is my favorite.

I’m not sure if anybody’s noticed or not, but I think in the past few days Facebook has added a few little redesign elements into our timeline views. Most notably it seems like the “your contacts” that they show you are better positioned. More and more these days I’ve noticed that from a design standpoint facebook seems to be favoring the square crop. I love this.

Look how square all of the photos look on my Timeline screenshot above. I get a big bold photo (square). I get thumbnails of 8 of my friends (I have no idea how Facebook chooses who to show here do you? — but again square). I get avatars of 58 friends I’ve added recently (again square). Square, square, square. Of course Facebook also just bought the most square photo site of all Instagram.

I’m not a designer, but personally I think this page looks GREAT. I can’t believe how far Facebook has come. I remember when I used to bitch at Facebook all of the time because they gave us these microscopic thumbnail sized photos on our pages and that was it — but now we get these gorgeous oversized square photos on our timeline page. We also have a tool to “feature” a photo on Facebook now (just hover over a photo on your timeline and push the star button).

Facebook also now has the absolute best full screen photo view in the business. (click on a photo, click on options when it comes up big, click on enter full screen). From here you can just use your arrow keys to go back and forth through someone’s full screen photos.

Now next Facebook needs to increase the size of the photos in the regular feed. They are still way too small there.

One thing for sure with photos online is that bigger is better. I love that on Google+ the photos keep getting bigger too. The recent redesign there showed us a big bump up in landscape sized photos in our stream. It also came with the introduction of the black bars that people don’t seem to like. I like them for some reason, but I’m weird.

There is one very simple way G+ could improve the photo though and that is to make square photos even BIGGER. If you let a square photo on G+ fill the entire envelope on a post, you’d make the square photo the largest photo of all on G+. This would look great. Look at my Flickr stream here. Notice how the square photos are bigger than the other photos. Smart, smart, smart flickr. Look how much better the square photo looks than the other ones simply because it’s bigger.

Again, bigger is better (just ask Jeff Wall or Richard Serra).

The other thing that I like, besides the square, are photo mosaics. This is my favorite page of my photography that exists on any site, anywhere on the internet. So many photos and with infinite scroll. You know what else is cool? The hover over fave. Hover over any photo on this page and click on that little +1 button (hey thanks for the +1 by the way!) 😉

Flickr’s new justified view is another example of this. Look how cool my favorites on flickr look as a photo mosaic. Flickr also uses this view for the photos from your contacts. Flickr pretty much ripped off Google+’s page design here but that’s ok because Google then ripped off their hover over fave/+1. I love it when photo sharing sites rip each other off and take the best elements of design. Flickr does need to remove the photographer name from their mosaic views though. That looks ugly. They should only show the name if someone hovers over the photo. It looks too much like a watermark the way they are doing it now and we all know how ugly photo watermarks and signatures look on photos. Also Flickr still needs to give us more infinite infinite scroll. Six pages of photos is not enough. Maybe if they bumped it up to 25 pages that might work.

I’d love to see sites do more and more mosaics like this. That’s what I want to see in the future of online photo display — more mosaics and more squares. What about you?

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  1. Great post Thomas!

    Personally I’m a fan of the square crop but I don’t like to limit myself to it because some scenes are better composed in a landscape or portrait format. I also think that square is the best option for displaying photos on a website because it creates a better visual design.

  2. Stefan says:

    Almost every image look better square-cropped, I totally agree!

  3. I too like the square crop and sometimes wonder if this is a legacy from my early beginnings in photography when all cameras gave a square crop (I’m old enough). I also like what they’ve done on Flickr but don’t you think G+ took a step in the wrong direction with their latest redesign. All the icons and chat space around the images is distracting and what I was most disappointed with is the fact that they removed the landing page which used to show all the photos that had been posted by people in your circles. Now all I can see is my stuff and I never look at my stuff. Who does look at their own stuff?

    I also agree with you on the name appearing on Flickr photos but G+ is no better with that silly icon and number in the top right hand corner.

  4. Qlakk says:

    That’s really a great post about something complicated…

    Whereas I have always been a fan of square crops, I am very sure some pictures don’t work well with this crop. Somewhere I disagree with you, I can’t have a favourite crop! That’s said, I understand the design constraints and therefore, I am fine with Google+ albums where the front page is always square. Another issue I have with square crop: it used to be, ok a long time ago, mostly for 6×6 shooters, so a kind of elite. Funny thing, nowadays, that’s more the other way around, with Instagram, everybody must crop pictures square. Well at the end of the day, I just like having some choice. Again I love the square crop, but not always!

    About mosaic, you are very right. Basically, we like to browse as many pictures as possible and bigger is better too. So I would love to see Flickr implementing this for everything (I think the tiny thumbnails of their groups, with only a few picture per page, for instance, is just the ugliest way possible, whereas endless stream of justified pictures as a mosaic is just superb). However, again, it cannot be the best thing for any purpose. E.g., a photographer wants to showcase a gallery of let’s say a dozen of pictures, you may like to see all of them as big as possible, so not through a mosaic but just as either a stream or a slide show. Mosaic are great to discover or for casual pictures but not always.

    So, the bottom line would be to indeed replace some outmoded way to display pictures thanks to the new HTML5 or other improvements, but to remember that choice is paramount and to also align the user experience and the technology altogether. The designers and the developers should work accordingly. But obviously, they do and things have improved dramatically for the last months!

  5. Dave Yuhas says:

    “I know you’re not supposed to have a favorite crop”

    News to me, a Rolleiflex owner.

  6. Kirsten says:

    I am a big fan of the square crop too, and i really like the improvements fb has made. I hope g+ takes notice of all the criticisms of the whitespace (which i hate), offers a more central posting system, and yes, make those square images bigger! :-))

  7. Jeff says:

    I can’t stand the square crop. I have been searching for ways to turn this feature off. Don’t get me wrong, it does improve 99% of snapshots but that is because most people don’t have a good grasp on how to compose photographs. I would say that all snapshot photographers place their subject right in the middle and too far away from the lens so cropping into a square improves the photograph tremendously. But, cropping a well composed photograph into a square will destroy it. For those who know how to properly use the rule of thirds and the golden mean to compose their photographs, the square crop is a terrible feature. Every single image on my facebook page looks awful with this square crop. I get so aggravated when I upload a great shot to share with friends and the square crop cuts off much of the important detail and ruins the shot. The only way to fix this is to compose all my shots so they work better in a square format but I prefer photographs to be landscape or portrait aspect ratios. Facebook is not a priority. It is a big disappointment. At least the visitors can still click on the image to see the real deal.

  8. Paul Abrahams says:

    I’ve been a G+ fan boy and facebook fanboy since the start. I agree that its great to see these networks borrowing each others improvements. Photo sharing and viewing has improved on facebook and it so easy to share a quick shot from iphone to fb on the fly. I guess I could do the same on G+ but with limited time I got to choose one… ‘Someone please make an app that will share with both sites’.

    I’m a newbie to photography so no vested interest in years of uploads, the only reason I started using flickr was for sharing across multiple sites and the Groups feature is indispensable. I’ve since started using Picassa (I’m on imac) and once G+ manage to bring in groups (similar to flickr) It will be G all the way for me.

    The square crop does suit fb layout and other restricted width sites but I think an option for Square & Landscape would be ideal. G+ bringing a similar view to albums as fb is not far off….. its already available in blogger under dynamic views.

    The decision for beginners is… which platform do I invest my time in?

    If you’re patient I’d say G+ and fb for sharing & social. For pros? Only you guys know that one, maybe Google will throw their hat in the ring and buy … (insert other pro platform here)

  9. Dave Perris says:

    Square crops are fine for some photos but I hate not having the choice.

    Composition is one of the most important considerations in photography so having to chop everything down to a square format really annoys me.

    This seems to be a bit of blatant Facebook fascism to me, an imposition of a very rigid design for no good reason.

    I’m a latecomer to Facebook, I’ve only just started using it for business, so I spent quite a long time trying to find out how to change format before I realised that you can have any shape you like as long as it’s square. Grrr, I want my landscapes!