Learn to Break the Rules

ImageMaker photography tip number 6
Photography, along with other art forms, has so-called rules: rules of composition, color theory, and so on. Rather than being called rules, they really should be called principles.

Part of our growth as an artist is to know these principles. Study of composition: ideas of rhythm, mass, line, form, contrast, repetition and position is a core part of our education. Likewise color theory and ideas of symbolism is color are important. We all know of the rule of thirds, but there is benefit in knowing how this is merely a simplification of ideas of sacred geometry and the golden section. All these and more should be part of your study, not just in the beginning of your creative path, but throughout it as we all forget and we will also get more out of the study at various times as our thinking and visual vocabulary become more developed.

But none of these principles are, in fact, rules. There are famous photographs that break one or more of them. Main subject in the center, odd color choice, imprecise rhythm, all these and more have been used to create stunning images. Does this mean the rules are wrong? No. It means that, occasionally, breaking them makes for a stronger image. The trick is knowing when to break them.

The beginning photographer and artist violates them constantly, because they do not know better. The developing artist follows them slavishly, hoping they will make their work better, which it usually does. The master knows when the subject or their interpretation of it requires something different. Then the violation in itself becomes a tool. But you have to know the principles to know when you really must break them.

Practice is the key. Examine great images, yours or others, check the composition, analyse how it is constructed and how things are places, the color choices, etc. Practice and analysis is the key.

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