Why Instagram Needs to Ditch the Square

On social media, I always tell people that it is best to embrace the format of the platform they are using. Each platform generally has some unique characteristics. For instance, Twitter forces you to post messages that are 140 characters or less, Snapchat deletes your content over time, and on Instagram, you can only display photos as a square.

While I always try to embrace each platform’s unique characteristics, as a professional photographer, I’ve never been a fan of Instagram’s square format. Cropping photos to a 1×1 aspect ratio often ruins the composition of my shots, and makes some of my best shots completely unusable on the app. This is a problem because as an artist, I always want to show my best work and present it in the best possible way.

Over the years, I’ve gone back and fourth between trying to embrace the square and completely rejecting it. I’ve gone through phases where I’ll crop all my photos to a square, and I’ve used third party apps to resize and constrain my shots to retain the original aspect ratio. What I’ve found is that both techniques are completely flawed.

While cropping to a square can ruin the composition of a photo, constraining and resizing photos to retain the original aspect ratio causes other problems like making the photo smaller and harder to see. It also leaves dead space on the edges of the photo, which makes the grid gallery look terrible. For a while I’ve been torn about what to do. Do I crop or not?

Recently, I was complaining about the issue on Twitter when my friend Kate Hailey put things into perspective by explaining that “our vision can’t be put in a box that someone else dictates,” meaning that I shouldn’t have to crop my photos if it’s not in line with my creative vision.

This got me thinking. Why does Instagram only support square photos? What purpose does it serve? Why does Instagram “put us into a box” as Kate put it? Instagram should be about sharing all photos regardless of their aspect ratio but instead, they seem content with the 1×1 aspect ratio.

While Instagram might have began as a mobile app with a square photo in mind, it has since evolved into a photo sharing network that all photographers regardless of skill level and gear use. Aside from making our galleries look nice and tidy, the square format doesn’t add anything to the user experience and has become an obstacle to sharing our best work and being creative.

Instagram should adopt a layout that displays our photos in a way that respects our vision and doesn’t discriminate against photographers that prefer to shoot in landscape or portrait orientations. It wouldn’t take much, just a few design tweaks to turn Instagram into a photo sharing app that all photographers could use and love regardless of what type of photography they choose to share.

What do you think? Do you like the square format or would you prefer that Instagram give us some more flexibility? Feel free to leave a comment below and share your thoughts.