Photography Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Photography is full of rules regarding every aspect, including composition, lighting, editing, and more. And while those rules can be tremendously useful, adhering to them strictly is likely to handcuff your creativity and limit your growth as a photographer. This interesting video essay discusses the ideas of learning the rules, following them, and then breaking them. 

Coming to you from Craig Roberts with e6 Vlogs, this great video essay talks about learning and breaking the rules. There is certainly a place for rules, particularly when you are new to photography. Many rules are there not because they are some arbitrary declaration by some invisible authority on photography, but rather because they are the codification of certain trends or styles that appeared over and over. This means they can be an important learning tool when you are growing as a photographer, as they help you follow in the footsteps of previously successful photographers. On the other hand, they can eventually limit you. Because they are often created as a result of common practices, if you never move away from them, you might never discover your own unique voice. I generally find it better to think of rules as starting points. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Roberts. 

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Doug Blake's picture

I hear this cliche all the time about rules in all of the visual arts including photography.
There are no rules but, rather, issues to explore: technical, formal, psychological impact, etc.
The rest comes down to developing discernment with these issues in the development of one’s voice. Exploring what is possible through these issues as well as one’s equipment and tools such as software is paramount in the pursuit of originality.

Shawn Moore's picture

Arnold Newman told me if someone tells you this is the only way to do something run away. I have one rule if it looks cool take a picture.

Tdotpics photography's picture


Bas Meelker's picture

Although the intent of the video is good and it is impossible to make a video that completely covers all the aspects of composition, it also shows a lack of knowledge when it comes to composition in visual art. First of all, there are no rules, only forms of composition. And there are more than 15.000 different forms of composition. Not using them (breaking) has only been done by a handful of artists, sculptures, painters, designers and photographers in the world. The 'Art' of composition is not an 'art' but science. It has to do with what actually happens in our brain. There is scientific research being done on why we perceive something visually as pleasing or 'beautiful'. For instance, placing a subject in the middle of the frame is one of the most basic forms of composition. It's a symmetrical composition where all opposing spaces are equal. There is nothing wrong with that composition and certainly has nothing to do with 'breaking the rules' (again, wrong use of words). Several examples shown in the video are simply asymmetrical compositions, symmetrical compositions or compositions based on our (natural) line of sight in the Western Hemisphere. I hope this helps and makes your readers curious to explore the world of composition. If you are, I advise you to explore composition in the architectural, design and mathematical world. There's a lot more knowledge there which we as photographers can benefit from. Enjoy!

Aaron Dougherty's picture