Breaking the Rules

July 10, 2010
Photowalk.19 - Kenmore Construction

This photo does NOT follow the Rule of Thirds. And ya know what? I like it.

First off, I wanted to apologize in the lack of posts around here lately, but hopefully things should be back up to normal now. Including a post in a day or two with my favorite photos from June in the Monthly Themes group on flickr. June’s theme was Urban. July’s theme is bokeh, and I really look forward to seeing what you all submit! Also, at the beginning of the year, I asked people in the flickr group to vote on what the theme for August would be, and reflections was the clear winner, so keep it in mind for next month!

The real point of this post, though, is something that’s been weighing on my mind lately as I read posts on photography forums where people are putting down either their own photos or critiquing someone else’s and mentioning them not following a certain composition rule. It has bothered me because, to me, a photograph is more about beauty and a feeling you get from looking at it than it is about lines and positioning.

I’ve talked in the past about some composition rules (here and here, for instance). The classic composition rule I hear about the most is the Rule of Thirds – which basically states that you should put something of interest in your photos at the one of the intersections of a horizontal or vertical thirds line in your photo (the first “here” link above describes it in more detail). Often this means putting your horizon line on one of the horizontal lines. But sometimes I think it’s really important to forget about the rules.

Why You Should Forget The Rules

My biggest reason I think you should break the rules is because photography is an art! I try to keep the rules in mind when I’m taking photos, I’m not denying that, but sometimes I get so annoyed when I see people taking these rules so seriously that taking a photo seems more like a chore – a checklist of To Dos, if you will – than something creative.

It is my opinion that the rules are a great guideline, or a great starting point when you’re looking at something you want to photograph and you’re not sure how. But if you’re just going to concentrate on rules, where is the fun? Where is the art? Where is the creativity?

When and How You should Break the Rules

I feel like I shouldn’t even write this part of the post. Aren’t I tell you rules about how to break the rules? That just seems wrong.

But I’m writing it anyway. Here are the times that I especially think it’s important to break the rules.

  • When you have a lot of time available to shoot the same thing. Play it safe and take some photos follow the rules, and then give yourself a chance to play around and do whatever you want. You may very well find out you like the ones where you followed the rules anyway, but you’ll never figure out what works and what doesn’t if you don’t play around.
  • When you’re taking a photo in some type of tough and/or unpredictable situation. For instance, if you’re at a fast-paced sporting event or taking photos of a moving object like an animal or child. Sometimes it’s better just to get a photo that’s in focus and sharp than it is to spend so much time trying to line things up right that you don’t get any photo at all.
  • When you’re trying some new technique. First time panning? Or light painting? I find when I’m trying to learn something new, it goes much better if I throw all the other rules out the window so I can just concentrate on that technique.
  • When you just feel like doing something different. Everyone else has taken a photo of the sun setting over a body of water with the horizon on thirds line. Yes, it’s beautiful, but why not play around and turn your camera at an angle? Or purposely go out of focus create an all-bokeh sunset. Just be creative!

I hope that inspires you – and perhaps even takes some pressure off you – for the next time you’re out shooting!

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  • Rachelle Lemke

    I really love this post ;-) So many times I shoot just to shoot or work on 1 technique.... you almost have to throw out the rules!

  • Welcome back Iffles, I'm hoping you got plenty of shooting in the past couple of weeks? This is a really great post and I also like its attitude - down with the rule-monkeys, up with creativity. Hey, did you see this:

    I saw it linked over at TOP and it made me laugh.

    Bokeh, good call, I'll dial my 50mm to 1.8 and start punting them in...expect about 30...

  • I totally agree too. Once you know them it is so fun to break them. A lot of my favourtie shots break the rules in some way or another, it is what makes them stand out. I'm not saying that you should break them all the time but it definately makes for a more outstanding image :)

  • Great Article. Totally agree with you that sometimes you need to break the rules.
    I see photography rules more as guidelines myself and these guidelines have definitely helped improve my skills but then you can always move away from them and apply them in your own way, thats were creativity takes over.
    I thought that you put forward some good arguments and as always well written.

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