Do you enjoy sticking to rules or are you a bit of a rebel? Some rules are there to be broken and in my opinion, especially those rules in photography that we all know and love. But there’s the old adage “first learn the rules before breaking them” to take into account. This is what Daniel Inskeep of Mango Street explains in his latest video.
So why do we have rules in the first place? By rules I’m talking about photography rules, not like laws and stuff like driving on the correct side of the road. Photography rules tend to be a bit less life and death. Daniel talks about compositional rules mostly in this video, saying that these rules go back 182 years to the infancy of photography. I would counter that many of these rules actually go back much further in art history, to the time of the renaissance when painters were beginning to understand things like balance, the golden section principle and perspective.
Generally, Daniel is correct when he says that rules exist in photography to make the image aesthetically pleasing and to guide the eye to the most important parts of the photo. So what sets beginners apart from seasoned pros when they break these rules? Well, Daniel says that it’s all about intention. The beginner breaks the rules not really understanding what they are doing, and by breaking them they don’t add anything to the story of the image. With professional photographers (by pros I’m assuming he means anyone with some competency and years behind the camera, not just someone who earns money from taking photos!) there is intention behind the rule-breaking, and the composition actually adds to the story.
Daniel addresses three main points or rules:
- Framing: Rule of thirds, leaving headroom, looking room and avoiding cutting off the subject at the joints. Generally following these particular rules end up with more pleasing photographs. However, by intentionally breaking these rules we can evoke a feeling of tension. By pushing the subject towards the edge of the frame ignoring looking space it can feel like the subject is trapped. Similarly, the rule of thirds says we should place the subject on one of those intersecting lines, but putting the subject in the centre can make the subject feel more important and assert dominance, also providing balance and symmetry.
- Focus: Usually we want the focus to be sharp and on the correct part of the subject (often the eye in portraiture for example). By playing with slow shutter speeds and creative use of focus you can make a feeling of confusion, loss or carefree. Dragging the shutter and introducing motion blur can evoke a feeling of speed or time passing.
- Clean background: The subject should be isolated in the background through the use of lighting or depth of field, colour or placement in the frame. By ignoring this you can use the background to coincide with the subject in fun and playful ways, like architectural and design photographers Anniset.
Those are three ways you can intentionally break the photography rules to add interest and tell a story in your images, do you break any others?