When It's Okay To Break The Rules Of Photography :: Digital Photo Secrets

When It's Okay To Break The Rules Of Photography

by David Peterson 3 comments

We've spent so much time talking about what you should and shouldn't do in photography that we often forget that there is a time and a place to break the rules. You've heard about the rule of thirds before, but did you know that it's okay to break it every once in awhile? Or what about the assumption that your subject always has to be in focus? Did you know you can create some pretty surreal effects by leaving your subject unfocused?

In this article, we'll discuss some very useful rules in photography, why they're important, and when it's okay to break them. Sometimes you can get a better photo or a more interesting interpretation of a scene when you consciously decide to forego a few conventions. Give the following bits of advice a try and see what happens.

The Rule Of Thirds Revisited

It's something I keep hammering into my readers from one article to the next. Most visually interesting images are not centered, and the point of interest is usually somewhere in one of the four thirds of the frame. I've been telling my readers for years that easiest way to create better photos is to simply stop putting their subject in the center.

Interestingly, there are a few situations where it's actually better to have a perfectly centered subject. When might that be? You can break the rule of thirds when you are dealing with a subject that is truly symmetrical. In normal centered photographs, your eyes immediately disengage themselves, but when your subject is symmetrical, your eyes take the time to point out the similarities and differences in what you see. The end result? Your image has a mesmerizing and unforgettable appeal.

It's also okay to break the rule of thirds when you are up close and personal with your subject. When this happens, your viewer gets so drawn into the image that the composition doesn't matter as much. That's when it has more to do with creating drama than following the rules.

Keep Your Subject Out Of Focus

We also just assume that you've always got to focus on your subject and draw attention to a particular feature about your subject. Most of the time, this gives us a pretty desirable result. We get crisp and clean photos where you friend's face is the center of attention instead of the microwave behind him.

But it pays to do a little experimentation and try leaving the main subject out of focus. You could focus on some other element in the scene, perhaps the edge of a keyboard, a feather on a hat, or the words in an opened book. These photos can be interpreted in all kinds of ways, which is why it's so fun to take them.

Try focusing on falling snowflakes, raindrops in a window, and insects in the foreground. I'm not saying you'll always get an interesting result, but it's worth trying when you're bored with taking "standard" shots.

Overexpose And Underexpose For A More Dramatic Effect

Who says you've gotta get your exposure correct all of the time? Sometimes overexposing or underexposing can make your images more interesting. It all depends on what you're shooting. The following are a few good examples.

Overexposing your image (or letting in a little too much light) works well when you are trying to soften your subject. That's why many photographers purposefully overexpose when they are taking pictures of female models for magazines. They also overexpose (ever so slightly) when taking pictures of their kids or favorite pets. Here's a rule of thumb. If it's soft and cuddly, it's ripe to for the overexposure treatment. How do you overexpose? Set your exposure compensation to a positive number.

In contrast, you will want to underexpose your images (let in too little light) when you want to create more defined shadows. It's the perfect technique when you are working with silhouettes. Your main subject won't have enough light, but you'll be able to see all of the bright colors in the background. If you are shooting at sunset, the effect is all the more dramatic.

Don't Break All The Rules

I'm not saying this applies to all of photography, but when you break one rule, you usually follow 5 more. The rules aren't strict. They aren't there to limit your creativity. All photography rules are "rules of thumb." We only have them because they've worked so well for so many other photographers in the past. You can break one at a time, but I would seldom break them all at once.

Are you an outlaw in the world of photography? Do you have any images you want to share where you're breaking the rules and getting away with it? I'd love to see what you're doing.

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  1. Ronald Hinckley says:

    I'm teaching Photo 101 in 5 city's and think you INFO IS MORE THEN GREAT, It is a bill help to ALL
    that see it . KEEP THEM COMING AND THANK YOU O SO MUCH !!!!!!
    I have been shooting for over 35 years and I find them to be a help for me as well !!!!
    Ronnie H.

  2. Ray Jones, (Australia.) says:

    Hi David.....

    Please keep your tips coming.... I find them inspiring.

    Thank you. Ray.

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