Sometimes breaking the rules gives an artist the creative burst they need. Try these tips on breaking rules and creating the unexpected from seventeen established photographers.
When it comes to photography, we hear a lot about different rules we should follow, ranging from the proper exposure to the perfect composition. But none of these so-called “rules” are set in stone. The great landscape photographer Ansel Adams, for one, liked to challenge the status quo; “There are no rules for good photographs,” he famously claimed. “There are only good photographs.”
It’s the season of New Year’s Resolutions, so now is the time to experiment creatively. We asked seventeen talented Shutterstock contributors of different genres and backgrounds to tell us about the rules they think more photographers should break every once in a while. Read on to learn what guidelines they think are outdated and which still remain relevant today.
On Composition and the Rule of Thirds…
1. “The importance of the laws of composition in photography is greatly exaggerated.”
Image by Fotaro1965. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF20-105 F4L lens. Settings: Focal length 105mm; exposure 1 sec; f/11; ISO 320.
The importance of the laws of composition in photography is greatly exaggerated. This has been noticed by many photographers, not least by Henri Cartier-Bresson in his idea of the “Decisive Moment.” He argues that schematic reading of the composition can be carried out only after the picture has already been taken. Yet, for some reason, many photographers continue to carefully inscribe objects in a triangle or arrange them diagonally before taking a picture. My advice? Less logic, more intuition.
Image by Fotaro1965.
2. “One of the rules that I like to challenge in my food photography is the rule of thirds.”
Image by Alphonsine Sabine. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon 100mm macro lens. Settings: F2.8; ISO 50.
Rules are there to help us when we are out of composition ideas, but when we apply them systematically, we risk falling into monotony. One of the rules that I like to challenge in my food photography is the rule of thirds. My concern is that sometimes this rule makes the composition too “clean.” That’s why I rely first on what I see and what I feel.
Image by Alphonsine Sabine.
3. “One common compositional rule…is that the horizon should stay in the upper or lower third of the image…However, there are many reasons for breaking this rule.”
Maurizio De Mattei
Image by Maurizio De Mattei. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF 24-70 f/4L IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f11; ISO 100.
One common compositional rule in landscape photography is that the horizon should stay in the upper or lower third of the image, not in the middle; for example, the upper third gives emphasis to the land, while the lower portion gives emphasis to the sky. However, there are many reasons for breaking this rule. Most of the time, it depends on the specific elements the photographer wants to include and how they balance each other in a strong photograph.
Image by Maurizio De Mattei.
A reflection is one common example. Here, the subject, positioned in the upper portion of the image, is balanced by its reflection, placed in the lower part of the image. In this case, perfect balance is usually achieved by placing the horizon in the middle of the photograph.
4. “If you’re working with abstract shapes, the rule of thirds can be thrown out the window.”
Shelly Still Photo
Image by Shelly Still Photo. Gear: Canon E550D camera, Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. Settings: Focal length 20mm; exposure 1/80 sec; f8; ISO 400.
If you’re working with abstract shapes, the rule of thirds can be thrown out the window. A lot of the time, the image works better when the feeling and vibe are captured instead of the composition. Also if an image is slightly “off” in composition, it gives the viewer a bit more to think about, especially if you are trying to create a more edgy feel.
Image by Shelly Still Photo.
On Technical Perfection…
5. “Technical perfection is not everything.”
iconogenic (Katja de Bruijn)
Image by iconogenic (Katja de Bruijn). Gear: Unknown. Settings: Unknown.
Technical perfection is not everything. We should loosen up on our attempts to make a “perfect” picture and instead try to express how our subjects make us feel. I think that standing still with a level tripod and a gray card is just the beginning of our studies in photography. It would be fun to see more impressionism, irregularity, and yes, even absurdity, to remind ourselves that we are artists and not human scanners.
Image by iconogenic (Katja de Bruijn).
6. “One rule that I break intentionally is ‘avoiding visible motion.'”
Image by Jennifer Bosvert. Gear: Nikon D810 camera, Nikon Micro f/2.8 55mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/2000 sec; f4.5; ISO 400.
As a nature photographer, I find myself breaking all kinds of traditional photography rules just trying to get the shot; sometimes intentionally, and often out of necessity. One rule that I break intentionally is “avoiding visible motion.”