Skip to main content

Breaking the rules?

Talk to an expert (fill in occupation) to explain an aspect of their work and they'll tell you how easy such-and-such is. Most jobs become so routine after you have been doing them for a while that you forget how difficult it was when you first started out.

For example, a friend of mine, who is also into four wheeling like I am, is a mechanic. He has been turning wrenches for so long I swear he teethed on them as an infant. When we talk about Jeep modifications he rambles on explaining how you can do this or you can do that while the whole time I'm nodding my head in polite agreement. My understanding of engines and suspension systems is basic at most so I can follow some of what he is saying, but if I had to do anything he describes on my own--let's just say it would be a series of very expensive experiments.

The reason I mention this is because learning photography is much like learning to modify a Jeep. You have to know the fundamentals before you can advance to the bigger stuff. That is why I shake my head whenever I read a photographer's blog or watch a YouTube tutorial and the presenter comes out with. "you can do this, or you can do that, there are no real rules here." Another one I shake my head at is, "If you want to stand out from the rest you have to break the rules."

Really? No rules? Break the rules? I can rattle off half a dozen rules they have applied to their "no rules" image they showcase. When you think about it, every time they break a rule they are actually applying another rule. But, to steal a line form Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, "They aren't so much as rules, per se. More like guidelines."
Fundamental rules serve a purpose, to give you an understanding of the basic laws governing photography. While some of these instructors promote ignoring or breaking rules you have to know that there are some rules that are unbreakable. For example; film or sensor exposure to light is quantitative. Not enough light hits the sensor and you don't get a decent exposure. Too much light and you've blown out the image. Can't really break that one but you need to understand it to be able to manipulate it to your own needs. Choosing to overexpose or underexpose an image is not breaking any rules, it is making a conscious decision about the creation of an image. That or just a rookie error that becomes a learning experience. Either way it is one that gets refined as you advance with experience.

Another instructional video had the photographer talking about "breaking the rule of thirds". Technically the rule of thirds is not a rule but a guideline to help beginning students understand the effects of composition. Advanced photographers are not breaking any rules here, they've just advanced and refined their compositional style beyond those of a beginner. They have mastered the nuances and subtleties to capture a moment with such finesse that the viewer does not have to guess what the image is all about. They are still using compositional rules, just not that particular one. It's like saying a driver that turns left at a green light is breaking the "right turn on red" rule.

I hope this article makes you see things a little differently when you watch videos or read blogs. So now when you pick up your camera I want you to remember; there are no rules so go out there and break them!


  1. There are "rules" and there are "laws", rules can be broken and it can be fun to try and break the laws.


Post a Comment

Post a comment only if it adds to the topic being discussed. Spam, hate or derogatory comments will not be allowed.

Most Popular Posts

Large DIY Diffusion Scrim

One of the most commonly used tools in my photographic arsenal is the all purpose diffusion screen . I use it to soften light, create gradients and light fields or as a background. One of my current favorites is a metal framed 4' x 4' foot scrim with thick white artificial silk made by Matthews. I didn't think I would use it so much, being so large, but having borrowed it from a friend I really came to love it. The downside for me is the price. At just over $100 I couldn't really justify the cost, considering I want at least two of them. Time for a DIY alternative.

DIY Softbox Storage Hanger

If you own a softbox, or two, you understand how bulky and unwieldy they can be. Imagine owning several in different sizes. Storage becomes an issue. One solution is to break them down and store them flat, but that becomes a pain after the first few times struggling to put one of these things together. It is more convenient to just grab one "off the shelf" and go to work. Allocating shelf space seems like such a waste of valuable storage space. In my case I have two square softboxes, three striplights and soon two more rectangular ones. That's a lot of real estate. Time to come up with a storage solution that doesn't require floor space or shelf space. The solution I came up with is a compromise of an idea I originally had of hanging them from the ceiling on pulleys so they would be out of the way until needed. I still like that idea, but for now I will be suspending them from a wire rack shelf system in my studio. Here is what the system looks like.

Don Julio - Hero Shot

For starters, a hero shot is one in which the product is showcased in all its splendor. Careful attention is placed on making the product look its very best. For this shot of Don Julio I knew I wanted to give the bottle some majesty by photographing it from a low angle. That low angle makes the bottle look tall, towering over the viewer and creating a position of dominance. Can't you hear the choir of angels singing in the background? I also knew that I wanted a rich, moody image with lots of darks. I am partial to darker images, which is surprising to most people because the majority of the work I do are images on white backgrounds. But that's another story. I also tried a lifestyle type shot with glasses and lime slices but I wasn't feeling it and ended up scrapping it. Again, that's another story.

Observations on composition - Pieter Bruegel

In this article I am reprinting a critique I published on regarding the painting entitled ' Census at Bethlehem ' by famed painter Pieter Bruegel , who was born in what is now the Netherlands in the 1520s. The first point I would like to say is that you first need to consider both the medium and the time frame of this painting. Being a painting, the artist has a certain advantage of being able to carefully direct the large amount of content presented to the viewer, unlike, say, a photo of opportunity of the street photographer (I strongly believe Pieter would have been the 'street photographer' of his time). Even a studio photographer, with the luxury of space and time, would have a hard time justifying creating such a complex composition. Where you would see this type of visual composition today would be in modern cinema. In particular, period pieces that rely on background elements to "sell the era" .  Secondly, the era in which thi