When to ignore the rules

 Symmetry • by aebphoto, on Flickr

The arrangement of your pictures can be so much more than a simple rule followed.
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Symmetry • by aebphoto, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

What works tends to get overworked…

The “rule of thirds” works in more than 95% of photographs. OK, maybe there is not a certain statistic like that. But it sure is effective to the eye. For that reason it helps us to compose most of our photos.

The principle behind the rule of thirds is not a universal “Law”. No one went to prison for violating it. It is more what we might refer to as a guideline. The rule helps us to compose a picture to meet the expectations we have wired in our brains about what is pleasing. Aesthetics is a funny thing – we all have our own preferences about what we like. However, we all seem to have some generally appreciated ideas. The rule of thirds seems to be one of them.

What if you feel like breaking the rules?

No problem. Do it!

A cavalier attitude to breaking the “rules” when you are learning photography, or any art, is a good thing. The difficulty is knowing what will work when you stray from the guidelines. That is a fair point. But there is no need to be fearful. You need to have a go to see what will work. And, like any experimentation, you will more likely be unsuccessful than successful.

Ah! But if I am going to be unsuccessful then why try? The simple answer to that is so that you can know yourself and your audience better.

No artist is born as a seasoned and finished creative. They all devote long hours to learning, experimenting and listening to the thoughts of others on their work. In other words, they practice, practice, practice. They get feedback. Then they practice some more. There is a lot of work and experimentation in becoming an artist.

Breaking the rules is about trying out something lots of times. If you have one particular passion for your photography then go for as much variation and feedback on your work as you can. You will perfect your shots only when you know that the work is capturing attention and holding it.

A more general approach to your photography, photographing many different things, is another approach. However, it is reasonable to take a similar attitude. Instead of trying out lots of shots about one subject you can try lots of different angles around each subject. I am not talking about a machine gun blast of pictures from one button push. I am talking about genuinely working the scene. Try all the angles, all the possible ways to frame your subject. Do some of the shots in a traditional way (Rule of thirds etc). But do some shots that are decidedly not traditional. It is all about experimentation.

As long as your approach is considered…

Louis Pasteur External link - opens new tab/page, the father of modern microbiology said, “Chance favours the prepared mind”. He did not mean you should go shooting off random shots at everything in sight. What he meant was you should consider your options. Know your subject. Experiment with a good knowledge and background in your subject. Move forward in a logical and consistent way. It is this approach that will help you to learn to successfully break the rules. Know what the different shots are about, how the different methods of composition can affect the shot. Understand how the different shots would affect your subject, or experiment until you know.

Practice, practice, practice… and careful thought about what you have done and what you are going to do is a route to success. Enjoy the journey as well as the outcome!

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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