Quick Reminder: It's OK to Break the Rules

There's a new photo-related YouTube channel called "Light Club," and their first video reminded me of something: it's OK to break the rules.

Photographers often get caught up in the time-tested "rules" of photographic composition; leading lines, texture, et cetera. The most famous of all of the "rules," I'd wager, is the "rule of thirds." But, like all good rules, it's a rule that is meant to be broken once you understand how to do it correctly. And our ability to break the rules is something that's easy to forget. I'm a firm believer in the idea that you need to learn the rules before you can break them, so if you're starting to feel like you want to break the rules for one reason or another, go for it and see if it works for you. Breaking the rules can lead to extraordinary things.

This video goes through examples of art (photographs, paintings, etc.) and reminds us that the "middle line" is a viable option for composition, even though it goes against the "traditional" rule most photographers go by. There are a surprising number of historical artworks that use this technique, and it's one that many of us might have never noticed. I'm sure I've noticed it, but I'm not sure I've thought specifically about how it could be used effectively. 

What other rules do you like to break in your photo work?

Stephen Ironside's picture

Stephen Ironside is a commercial photographer with an outdoor twist based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. While attempting to specialize in adventure and travel photography, you can usually find him in the woods, in another country, or oftentimes stuffing his face at an Indian buffet.

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I agree! I like to call them "suggestions". :-) Matter of fact, I was at a market today peddling my prints and had a conversation with a more or less beginner about this very thing. While the "rules" do make sense and in many cases, enhance an image, obsessing over them has a way of stifling the creativity that could turn a shot into something that could become a wall hanger.

A good read!

Why does everyone these days get a woody over "breaking the rules?"

It's like a rite of passage for everyone to demonstrate, "Look everyone! I broke a rule!"

It would probably be better to call them "photography hacks." They are just things people have learned to make something work better. Take them or leave them.

And the reality is that all these rule breakers aren't actually breaking anything. Not using a technique doesn't break it... it just means you are using a different technique (such as centring)

In the case of the video, the author is failing to account for the other composition aspects, such as using tonal values to draw the eye

Ironically, centering the eye is considered to be a rule by many.

Am I missing something? This video is all about staying within the exemplified “rules”.
And even suggests to go to a museum and look for them.

oh geez, here we go again.

"look at me, i'm breaking a rule with another rule, not knowing most of these "rules" were applied ex post facto. i'm a rebel with a Rebel."

use what works for you, discard what doesn't. every composition is different and just be aware of that. the most important part of composition in photography is knowing what to exclude, yet no one talks about that. i'm sure we can all exclaim why that is.

Sorry Stephen but I don't see why you think this video has anything to do with breaking rules - or how you think it is possible to break the rule of thirds at all. There are many techniques in photographic composition and using one doesn't break the others.

The rule of thirds does not state "you must place your subject on a third in every single image ever" - It states that if you position on a third it will create or enhance a certain feeling that the viewer has. There are other techniques that achieve the same result and using those doesn't "break" the rule of thirds (in fact they can often be used together - EG panning/motion blur + thirds to give a feeling of motion). Likewise there are techniques that have a completely different or opposite effect than the rule of thirds. Using those to get the effect they engender doesn't break the rule of thirds, it just means that the photographer decided that the RoT wasn't the right technique for that image.