Anybody interested in talking about square format composition and how you shoot to fill the negative and then make your own black and white, square prints, as close as possible to using the whole negative. Bullets on questions you ask yourself while you are composing. Or, what's the last thing you do before you squeeze the shutter?
I find I'm more conscious of using the edges of the frame when I'm shooting 6x6. Many of my compositions tend to run along a cross centered in the frame or along one of the diagonals, and even occasionally on the thirds, though I don't intentionally try to compose according to the rule of thirds. Circles in the square can work nicely. The corners pull more with the square than with the rectangle.
Way back in the olden times, I used to look at 12" record album covers. Even the ones that sucked (IMHO) musically often had photographs of a variety of subjects, usually portrait but often pictorial, that were beautifully composed to a square format. Even the graphic covers could be instructive from a purely compositional viewpoint.
I have often thought that square is the only way to print square negatives. I do not think that there is anything inherently incorrect about a square picture. I think it is too hard to view a square image of a subject with a preconception of cropping the image to be either vertical or horizontal to either 8x10 or 5x7 proportions. What you see is what you get.
A while ago on this site we discussed "the golden mean" which is a concept that states something like: this is a universal dimension, repeated in nature, that we seem to be drawn to and feel comfortable with.
The shape is used close to, and used in things like 8x10 dimensions, credit cards/id cards, magazines, newspapers, you name it.
However TV screens are square, or were, and we have gotten use to that.
Personally, although I shoot with a 6x6 I have almost never printed a square print. Even though it works great for certain things.
Cheryl shoots and prints square almost exclusively, so her input would add to the discussion.
I always try to compose to the format that I am working in. However, I believe that the subject ultimately should determine the shape of the print.
When I shoot using my 6x6 mf cameras, I always print square - even if it's a crop of the original neg size, i still crop to a square - it all makes so much sense to me. To compose the image, I walk around looking in the viewfinder until the motif looks correct, I dont consciously look at thirds or any other "rule" of composition. And strangely, when people have looked at my photographs, very rarely have they said "I wish this wasnt square" or "what a strange format".
I always print square from 6x6 negatives and never crop anymore than about 5% [as my viewfinder is approx 95% and occasionally I find something on the neg that I hadnt intended]
To answer your question; what's the last thing you do before you squeeze the shutter?
I cant really explain it but I just look for a sort of balance, I know it when I get it.
Rather than focusing on the theory of the square composition I check out different photographers that use this format and see what I think works and what I think doesn't. I regulary go to www.hasselblad.se and look at their gallery, both their masters and forum magazine which I subscribe to. I also buy books by square-eyed photogrphers.
I agree with you, people love this format. Personally I cant understand why someone like Michael would buy a square format and almost never print square. To me there is a mystery about it, I even find it difficult to use 35mm [except xpan 65mmx24mm] as I'm conditioned to the square.
The last thing I do before I release the shutter is to quickly glance around all 4 edges of the framed image to check that there are no annoying intrusions that may be difficult to deal with in the darkroom.
On the subject of using a square format and always printing the full frame: why place such a restriction on how you "see" a subject? I think you are in serious danger of making photographs to a formula by following this practice, square prints do work but not for every photograph you make. I've taught myself to frame the subject before I look through the camera and so eliminate the possibility that I'll frame to suit the format.