10 Rules Of Photography To Know And Break

Knowing when to apply the rules of photography and when to break them is essential to making great images. There are times when the rules will serve you well. Follow then too closely and your work will become predictable, rigid and dead.

Before you can break the rules however, you need to know them and how they impact your photographs. As the Dalai Lama so eloquently put it “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

I recommend you spend some “quality” time with the rules. Get to know them and how they work for you. Follow them as strict guides. Find their strengths and weaknesses. In the process you will find some of your strengths and weaknesses as well. I suggest taking one rule at a time to really get to know it.

Once you are familiar with the rules break them. Break them with a vengeance! Pay attention to the visual shift in your photographs. Rather than trying to analyze which photographs are better and which are worse, pay attention to the messages they communicate to you. Try to quite your mind and let your intuition speak to you. What does your “gut” say? Take notes for yourself to refer back to. You may find printing small images of your pictures and adding them to a journal where you can write your thoughts to be a very useful technique.

Once you have an idea of your emotional responses to your images you can analyze their structures to get an intellectual understanding of how the rules of photography impact your photographs.

Ultimately you will want to express ideas and emotions through your photographs. The rules of photography and their opposites will become part of your visual language. Use this exercise as a step towards discovering your creative vision.

1. Rule: Focus your camera on the center of interest or subject of your photograph.
Break: Keep the center of interest out of focus; use the “background” to draw attention to your subject.

2. Rule: Fill in the frame with the subject. Get close and crop out the surroundings.
Break: Allow space around the subject; use the space of the image.

3. Rule: Do not shoot between 10 A.M. and 3 P.M. (the light is too harsh).
Break: Shoot on any day, at any time. Try extreme times of day like dawn and dusk.

4. Rule: Shoot with the sun at your back.
Break: Photograph into the sun. Be careful not to look directly into the sun.

5. Rule: Hold the camera still and use fast shutter speeds to prevent camera shake.
Break: Use slow shutter speeds and move the camera. Spin it around, spin yourself around, experiment.

6. Rule: Follow the “rule of thirds”: e.g., 1/3 sky and 2/3 land or 2/3 land and 1/3 land.
Break: Vary your composition. Respond emotionally. Tilt horizons and angles.

7. Rule: Always follow your light meter to get the correct exposure.
Break: Disobey your light meter. Overexpose and underexpose your photographs by two, three, even four f/stops.

8. Rule: Photograph children, pets and animals at their own eye level.
Break: Move up, down on the side, all over.

9. Rule: Avoid lens flare when shooting against the sun.
Break: Use lens flare to enhance a composition.

10. Rule: Keep camera level with the horizon.
Break: Create your own horizons.