At Long Last, Instagram Ends The Tyranny Of The Square

The image-sharing service now lets you go wide–or tall–for photos and videos that don’t fit into its iconic square frame.

In its own way, it’s been as defining a restriction as Twitter’s 140-character limit. Instagram photos (and videos) come in one format: square. It forces the service’s photographers into choosing thoughtful compositions, and provides an aesthetic link to the square snapshots that folks once took with Instamatics and Polaroids.


Except . . . Instagram users have stubbornly ignored this limitation. Actually, 20% of the photos people see on the service are portrait or landscape images that have been padded with white or black borders to fill out unused space, especially images that involve buildings, large groups of people, and other subjects that tend to be tall or wide. There are whole apps and tutorials designed to make this easy.

So maybe it’s not that huge a deal that Instagram is taking this workaround that its users have embraced and turning it into a standard feature. Henceforth, the service’s iOS and Android apps will allow folks to share images and videos in a variety of aspect ratios.

It’s tough to fit a model of San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid into a square format.

Instagram being Instagram, it’s tried to implement the new capability in a way that doesn’t introduce unnecessary complexity. When you peruse photos and videos in the app’s gallery, they’re cropped into squares by default. But tapping a new icon lets you preserve their original orientation, be it landscape or portrait. That’s about it.

The service left the parts of the app alone that would have been much harder to rejigger–the built-in camera interface and three-across grid view of photos. They’re still square.

“When we started taking on this project, there was some skepticism,” says Instagram product manager Ashley Yuki. But it’s considerably more elegant than the current situation: “One in every five moments I’m seeing basically feels like it’s not natively supported by our platform, which is not great.”

Me, I’m still getting my head around the new formats. But I know I’ll use them, at least from time to time. An hour or so before Yuki gave me a peek at them, I’d shot a photo of a model of San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid. I ruefully chopped off its bottom to cram it onto Instagram. As of today, no such artistic compromises will be necessary.


About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.