Breaking the rules of photography: before you break the rules!

I was having a casual conversation with a renowned photographer. And he proudly said that it was all about breaking the rules – he never follows any rules. He said he does that because if he followed the rules he would never have grown beyond those rules.

Though breaking the rules is creative, lately I’m getting the feeling as if it’s becoming a fashion statement – such statements seem to be lacking depth and knowledge and irresponsible. I have a more conservative approach to “breaking the rule” rule. It is this attitude that prepares you for a long haul at photography. So go ahead and break those rules; but here’s a checklist before you set out to break them.

1.Know the rules – You can’t break something you don’t know about. You need to understand what the rule is, why is it practiced and what is the barrier it poses to your creativity. Certainly there must be a drawback else why would you bother to invest time in breaking the rule.

2.Perfect the rules – Understanding the rule is not good enough. You should be perfect at following them. If you are not, you are already neglecting them. That’s breaking the rules in a sense – but it also implies what level of control you have on your art and equipment. Practice till you set some of the best examples for yourself. You will realize, at some level the rule gets in the way of your creativity and results. Now you know you can explore further.

3.Don’t reinvent the wheel – Most of the times people just end up reinventing the wheel. I asked this photographer “Do you make use of the rule of thirds?” He answered that he never followed any rules. The rule of thirds is a rule of composition that helps you frame shots which are aesthetically more pleasing. This and similar rules are tested by specialists and through big surveys. When you make such a statement saying that you don’t follow the rule of thirds, you are saying you don’t invest efforts in making your composition more aesthetically pleasing. You may make some great compositions and then you may make some other – but in this context they are more of exceptions than rules. At the end of the day after shooting a few hundred shots you realize all the best shots follow some or the other rule of composition.

4.Work to get better results – Breaking the rules is a great idea provided if you get better results than you’d have got following the rules. What’s the point in breaking the rules when you end up with something which doesn’t make sense? Get better results – that’s the way creativity is rewarded.

5.Experiment - Breaking the rules doesn’t work by itself. You have to spend hours experimenting with light, composition and several other parameters, get creative, visualize and try again. Explore your talent and get creative. Getting creative is the way to breaking the rules. It is when rules get in the way of your visualization and creativity that you have to chose not to follow them. Creativity is what makes a photograph stand out of the thousands. Creativity gives you the edge and you realize the individuality of the photographer within. The more you experiment, the more you get experienced and the better your work becomes.

So go ahead and break the rules. But tick off this list first.

Photo credits: Imaengine.

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July 23, 2010


Thanks for sharing about your knowledge. :)

June 24, 2010


Here is a good example of someone (David Hobby of Strobist) who knows the rules, breaking them... He put the subject facing out of the frame with space behind for design reasons (program notes, etc.). Note the comments and his reaction - how boring if every photo was setup in the exact same way :)

June 09, 2010


good point. thanks

June 09, 2010


Know the rules to break the rules.......well said.

June 08, 2010


Thanks for sharing, nice to know, good blog.

June 08, 2010


Only of you own the rules you can breaking them gettin great results;)

June 08, 2010


Breaking the rules is a very good sensation, but first you must know the rules

June 08, 2010



June 08, 2010


For those further interested in the above mentioned "rule of thirds", I wrote an article about it. Follow the link

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