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Rules Are Made To Be Broken


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Rules Are Made To Be Broken

16 Dec 2008 10:34AM   Views : 2512 Unique : 1439

When we learn how to take photographs, we come across a lot of rules. Rules for lighting, exposure, depth of field, etc., etc.

And I suppose it makes sense. The technical side of photography is quite an exact science. Doing this or that, results in such or so. That's logical.

Anyone who has done science at school will understand and accept that. When you're capturing light, there are some laws of nature and science to adhere to if you want to get a certain result.

But there are creative sides to photography as well, sides that aren't as exact as science - in fact, they're not exact at all. These aspects of photography allow you to do what you want.

Composition, for instance, is a creative process. How you compose a photo, is completely up to you. You can point the camera in any direction you like, at any angle, in any kind of orientation (landscape or portrait, or anything in between), you can include and exclude anything you want.

But since we're used to working with rules, we try to impose compositional rules on photographers as well. The rule of thirds is a well-known example. (That's quite an old rule, actually, which existed long before photography was invented.) But there are many more. (You can find some examples here .)

The trouble with using rules, is that they inhibit creativity. And I wonder if we don't seriously hinder our progress in that creative process when we try to adhere to rules. Wouldn't it be better to just go with our instincts and feelings when composing a picture, rather than a set of rules?

Let me give you an example. I found this very interesting indeed.

I took some photos of one and the same horse. This is the shot I uploaded first. Although it was well liked, there were two slightly critical* comments about the composition: "... I ... wish there [was] slightly more space on the left", and "I'd be tempted to crop a little off the right so that the horse's head [was] not so centred". And to be fair, when thinking about it, I also thought I might have done better if I had given the horse just a little bit more space on the left, and I wondered if I hadn't given it too much space on the right. But those thoughts were based on rules, not on creativity and instinct! People really liked the shot, it quickly gained a lot of votes, and it even got an HC award. (Most of the votes were gained before it got the HC, I would like to add, a consideration which becomes interesting when you read on - just in case you think the high number of votes was mainly due to getting the award...)

When I get comments about the composition of a photo, I check if I can "fix" it in Photoshop, or I go back to my photo folder and see if I spotted the problem myself and took a photo with a different composition. And as luck would have it, there was such a photo!

The new shot, which was taken only seconds after the previous one, was processed in almost exactly the same way as the first, but it was composed differently. This is the second horse shot that I uploaded. Note that the requested space on the left is there, and also the requested lesser space on the right.

But - the first shot has 80 votes and an HC, whereas the second shot has 34 votes and only a click from Pete without an HC!

That certainly made me think. The first shot was taken instinctively, in a series of shots where the horse was moving - in this shot it had only just come to a halt. I seem to remember that I then thought of the compositional rules, re-composed and took the next shot.

So - which is better?

Well, my feeling when taking the shots, was that number one was the better image. Number two was taken after I started thinking about it. And my first preference when selecting photos for upload, was also for number one. (And it looks like both the members of EPZ in general and the Editor agreed with that instinct.)

The shot I took based on the rules was still a nice shot, and it did gain enough votes and comments to make me feel that it was worth taking that way, but I am inclined to think that it looks like you can't beat instinct, feeling and creativity.

What do you think?

* Please note that I welcome critical comments/critiques on my photos, and that I always try to learn from them. I myself was the one who marked these comments as constructive critique.

Tags: Photography Composition Rules Thirds Creativity Process Creative


Coleslaw 12 13.4k 28 Wales
16 Dec 2008 1:31PM

Quote:Rules Are Made To Be Broken

Oh dear, Conrad, that is one of the phrases I hate most.

People keep using it as an excuse for poor result, to make it sound like: well, it doesn't follow the rules, that's why you don't like it.

Know the rules, use it well, use it creatively, then talk about break the rules.

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conrad 13 10.9k 116
16 Dec 2008 3:07PM
Okay, that's a reaction to the title. But how about your reaction to the rest - to my example, for instance?

You clicked the second image, and we already know your reaction to the first one. But do you really like the second better because it adheres to the rules?

Quote:People keep using it as an excuse for poor result

That's not how I mean it, and I think you know that.
Coleslaw 12 13.4k 28 Wales
16 Dec 2008 4:09PM
hmmm...stop writing such a long blog then... Smile

Maybe the 2nd one got less vote is because people have already seen the 1st one and feel that the 2nd is just identical?
Have you uploaded the 2nd one first then your 1st one, then the 2nd one might get better votes?

I don't really think much about rules when taking photos. I just use whatever composition and angle that I think works better. If I have to place something at the centre, then so be it. I always like to use negative space, people will comment like crop them off, but I know what I want to achieve in that particular shot. So, I will keep it as it is.

Things like cropping off the legs or hands or in your case the tail, if that is what you wanted to achieve at the first place, then that's fine, you have your intention and know what you want. If it is a mistake or error and it does look like a mistake or error, then maybe trying to rectify that first might not be that bad before others point it out?
conrad 13 10.9k 116
16 Dec 2008 4:12PM
Ah, the they-must-be-fed-up-with-seeing-similar-images-so-they-don't-click-anymore theory. Hmmm, I suppose I can't rule that one out completely.

So did you like the second one better than the first, or on second thought not?
Coleslaw 12 13.4k 28 Wales
16 Dec 2008 4:20PM
I prefer the white balance, color, and slightly darker exposure of the 1st one. But would prefer 'whole tail in' of the 2nd.
Make sense?
conrad 13 10.9k 116
16 Dec 2008 4:21PM
Okay, I suppose it does. So you are basically a rules man, you just prefer the exposure of the first. Hmmm, interesting.
Coleslaw 12 13.4k 28 Wales
16 Dec 2008 4:22PM
if you want to put it that way....lol
JJGEE 13 7.2k 18 England
16 Dec 2008 8:20PM

Quote:The first shot was taken instinctively

Earlier this year I went on an epz meet and just for fun bought some "single use" ( read disposable) film cameras, fully automatic no controls to set / alter .
Just wandered around Brighton "pointing & shooting".. no tripod. no filters etc. etc.

Had a great time and took some of my best shots of the year.

So, yes sometimes it is good to ignore "rules" & "technique" and just go out and enjoy yourself.
IanA 14 3.0k 12 England
20 Dec 2008 9:03AM
A good friend of mine never tires of telling folk that "Rules are for the benefit of fools and the guidance of wise men"!
In other words, you need to know the 'rules' before you can break them sucessfully.

While the second image has corrected the 'complaints' posted on the first image, it has made the main subject far too central in the frame.
The first image however, complies to a lot more of the lesser known rules and is therefore much more dynamic than the second! (IMHO) Wink

conrad 13 10.9k 116
20 Dec 2008 2:27PM

Quote:just go out and enjoy yourself

There's always something to be said for that!

Quote:The first image however, complies to a lot more of the lesser known rules and is therefore much more dynamic than the second!

Well, there's my theory out the window, then! :-(
But an interesting view on the issue nevertheless. Thanks, Ian!
Coleslaw 12 13.4k 28 Wales
23 Dec 2008 3:16PM

Quote:Pity her right hand isn't visible, because otherwise I really like this!

So, you are a rules man after all... LOL

conrad 13 10.9k 116
23 Dec 2008 3:23PM
Nah, I just hate amputations - real or otherwise! Wink
fauxtography 12 6.6k 36
23 Dec 2008 4:42PM

The first image however, complies to a lot more of the lesser known rules and is therefore much more dynamic than the second!

Well, there's my theory out the window, then! :-(

Not necessarily. Rules did not create the aesthetic, they are simply a way of codifying the sense of human aesthetics into a teachable format. So while your 1st shot may still follow some rules, the fact that you shot it instinctively still remains.
conrad 13 10.9k 116
23 Dec 2008 8:22PM
Thanks, Mark! I feel better now... Nice way to phrase it, too! Smile

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