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The Five Main Rules of Photography… And How to Break Them

Creativity knows no boundaries. Why be confined to a box when something far better can be done outside of it? These photography rules were made to be broken.

Article by Grace F.

In society, it’s crucial we uphold some form of decorum and regulation. Without it, civilians would probably run rife. See horror movie “The Purge” for more details. However, there comes a time every once in a while where actually it’s good to bend the rules. And no, that doesn’t condone using the hard shoulder during rush hour after a long day in the office. Believe me, we all wish we could break that one.

The beauty of the creative arts is that it’s entirely subjective. Take a look at artists like Banksy. From an objective point of view, his work is a form of vandalism; emerging in the morning upon various buildings and stores across Bristol. But to the art enthusiast, Banksy’s work is revolutionary – legitimising (so to speak) street art as an art form in its own right.

Art’s rules were meant to be broken – why be confined where creativity is concerned? Of course, this doesn’t mean that your villainous ideas will always prove successful. Take a look at some of the ways in which you can break the rules of photography and capture some incredible images as a consequence.

Rule #1 – The Rule of Thirds

Often as photographers, we are instructed to apply this rule when focussing on a specific subject. It states that an image should be segregated into nine equal segments, preventing the subject from being in the centre.

The theory states that by doing this, points of interest can be placed at the intersections of this grid created, keeping the image balanced and allowing more natural interaction between the photo and the viewer. 

Image by Au Kirk

Keeping with the Rule: All main elements of this image are kept in the confines of the grid. For example, the horizon is situated below the halfway point in the photo.

Whilst this may be a good rule for the photography students who are just starting out, you don’t need to continuously apply this to your work. Sometimes, there are exceptions to this rule; resulting in striking examples of photography.

Image by Lightstalker

Where can one break this rule? Well, photos featuring symmetry (see above) can be a great place to start as they work well as a composition already. If you were to take a shot of some beautifully aligned mountains adjacent to the sea, the symmetry created in the reflection would be further emphasised by placing the subject (the mountains) in the middle of the shot.

Rule #2 – Avoid Distracting Elements in Landscape Images That Could Disturb Composition

Image by infomatique

Of course, it cannot be denied that if you have too much going on in a photo it can be detrimental to the outcome. Think Where’s Wally – those observing your work wouldn’t have a clue about what was going or where to look. Not great if you’re supposed to be focussing on a specific object or person. However, this rule can be broken. If done correctly.

Check out Zack Schnapf’s rule-breaker:

Not bad ‘eh?

Note that whilst this element has disturbed the composition somewhat, it still compliments the overall tone of the photo. With the trunk leaning outwards towards the scene surrounding it, the eye is drawn towards the landscape after first clocking the element; this “disturbance” making the image all the more original and interesting.

Rule #3 – Keep it Straight!

Often, we tell budding photographers to keep their lenses perpendicular to the scene they’re trying to capture. No one likes a wonky image. Or do they? Well, as it turns out wonky can work well with photography. However it’s better not to test these waters until you’ve had lots of experience in the photography arena or else, you’re at great risk of looking amateur (and slightly uncoordinated).

Here’s an example of what you shouldn’t do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image by Ambernectar 13

These gates are naturally straight. So don’t go slanting them without reason. It will immediately take away from the professionalism of your shot. What’s more the audience of your image will be sure to get a horrendous neck kink! Instead, keep your lens in sync with the balance and proportions of that which you are capturing.

That said, this rule can still be broken. Sometimes by tilting your shot you can inject more energy into it. For instance, if you’re trying to capture a sports car, you can give it an edge by turning your camera to an entirely different angle to give a new perspective.

But consider very carefully before you choose to slant your shots. Such a measure is an all-or-nothing decision. If you only tilt your camera slightly, it’s likely to look like you’ve gone wonky by mistake.

Rule #4 – The (very) Close Up Shot

No one likes having a camera close up to their face. It’s invasive, it’s usually unflattering and it can look rather frightening. So it’s no surprise that photographers are told not to do it. And somehow, I don’t believe your friends (nursing a hangover in the early hours of the morning) would appreciate it either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image by Stewart Black

He certainly wasn’t happy about it.

Still, there is a way you can use the very close up shot to your advantage. Disproving the rule that tells us all incredibly close up shots are awful. By working your make-up magic on the participant your photographing, or opting for a model with healthy skin – you can (with their permission) get your lens very close to their face and use your focus and angle to emphasise certain features. This helps you to create unusual and striking images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image by Silly Person

Rule #5 – Don’t Overdo it on the Contrast

Commonly, we do come across photographers that get a little too excitable when it comes to the editing process. Instagram – hated by many in the photography community provides many examples of people going overboard; removing the natural lighting and colours of the original shot. Not to mention the compulsory crop. And so, we are taught to subtly emphasise as opposed to dramatically change an image.

Yet, photographers are beginning to show that dramatic editing doesn’t always compromise the quality of the image. In fact, it can add an entirely new (sometimes eerie) dimension to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image by Ernest

The image above is one such example. According to the rule, it is of poor quality because the use of contrast eliminates the facial features of the individuals and merges them into the background wall. However in doing this, our focus is immediately drawn to the photographer’s point of interest – the window – through emphasis created by the darkness-versus-light aspect; the monochrome colours setting an apprehensive and gothic tone to the setting.

Summary

Whilst breaking the rules can bring a sense of originality to your work (and allow you to be a little rebellious) – it’s important you don’t get ahead of yourself. These photographers had to have mastered the rules in order to know how they could later distort them in these spectacularly creative ways. As the famous saying goes: don’t try to run before you can walk.

Photography is a great tool for self-expression. But similarly to any other form of learning, it’s through dedication, time and practice that we flourish, breaking away from the traditional stereotypes and making our own creative rules!

 

Grace is a student who is about to embark on her final year at university. She loves to blog and snap photos of everything – no living thing is safe from her camera. 

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