Breaking a few rules

Throughout my life I’ve never been afraid of breaking a few rules now and again and this has also applied to my photography work.  At some point or another, anyone who is really serious about taking photographs is going to learn about the fundamental rules around composition and ‘how to get a good image’.  I have to admit that many of my images fall in line with these rules but on occasion I throw the rule book out the window.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds applies to any visual art form whether it’s painting, design or photography and suggests that the image should be split into nine equal parts.  During composition you should imagine two equally spaced lines both vertically and horizontally across the image and any important elements that you want the viewer to focus on should be positioned along the lines or at the points of intersection.

Here’s a shot which adheres pretty much to this rule:

The key elements here are the bride and groom and so their faces are around the top right intersection.  The flowers are another important aspect and they appear at the bottom right intersection.  The wall on the left is also significant as it’s used to help frame the couple and it also runs very close to the left vertical line.  Photography teachers would probably give me ‘a good effort’ mark with this shot.

But here’s a shot that doesn’t adhere to the rule.

Positioning the subject matter right in the middle of the frame  is what many people do when they take a photograph with their point and shoot camera but isn’t something more experienced photographers do very often unless they have a good reason.  With the image above I wanted the boy exactly in the centre.  His body cuts the image in half , suggesting a feeling of strength which is  important to me especially when taking shots of children in poverty stricken countries.  There are far too many images out there looking down in pity on these children and losing sight of the incredible strength they have when dealing with their circumstances.  This Bolivian boy had to walk several kilometres each day over hazardous terrain to get to school so it was essential that I try to communicate this through the image.

Keep your photos sharp (avoid blurred images)

There are three key elements which are going to affect whether a photo is sharp or not.  1) Focus – your camera’s ability to focus on the subject matter, 2) Stability – how stable you are when taking the photo and 3) Shutter Speed – the amount of time your shutter is open to let light into the camera, the faster the shutter speed the better chance of capturing fast movement.  Having control over these elements will help you achieve a sharp image but what if you don’t want your photo to be sharp?

Here’s a shot that breaks the ‘keep your photo sharp’ rule.

This little boy in Nicaragua was helping his dad build a new house for the family, he was vigorously sifting the sand ready to be used for making the cement and loving every minute of it.  I could easily have bumped up my shutter speed to 1/1000 second as there was plenty of light and the image would be tack sharp but I particularly wanted to capture the sense of movement.  To achieve it I purposefully slowed the shutter speed to below 1/60 second and feel the image gives the viewer a much greater sense of movement that wouldn’t have been so evident had I followed the rule of keeping it sharp.

Shooting into the Light

I can remember my dad instructing me, “never shoot into the sun, you’ll get sun flare”.  In general this was good advice but I’m increasingly finding myself shooting into the sun……and I want that sun flare!  Many of the fashion photographers are currently using this technique to give that retro feel and this is exactly what I wanted with the following photo.  From a technical point of view it’s not as easy as it looks to get this type of shot  as the camera goes crazy trying to focus and expose correctly. I love the low contrast of this shot and the sun flares, it reminds me of photos back in the 70’s.

These are just a few examples of how I occasionally break the rules of photography, yet in my view the images still work. What I will say though is that before you can break the rules it’s worth having a good understand of what those rules are and why they are there, most of your images will look better if you use them, but once in a while you can throw the rule book in the bin, start experimenting and be a  photographic rebel!