How to Break the Photo Rules for Creative Effect

Photography is a craft that makes use of various ‘rules’, which are actually simply guidelines to help provide a pleasing composition. It can also be an art form, and as ‘art’ is not meant to be controlled and restrained. The following are various photo ‘rules’ which every photographer understand before they are attempted to be broken:

1. Always use The Rule of Thirds – this states that the subject should be placed on one third of the frame, either vertically or horizontally, to create a sense of balance and visual appeal. If you were to place the subject smack dab in the center of a rectangular crop, or if you place it at the very edge of the frame, you are breaking this rule and your image stands the chance of being unbalanced or off-putting. Yet, you can break this rule and still have an interesting image. More visual tension occurs and you can take advantage of this in your shot.

2. The scene must be adequately lit – under or overexposure can mess up a shot and turn a good composition into something you want to discard. However, careful use of lighting can make very dark or bright images striking to look at. Also known as low key and high key, these techniques make use of a lot of shadows or highlights in creating an artistic effect.

3. Remove noise – apparent image noise or grain in a shot are often fixed as soon as they are discovered. We strive to keep our images clear and fine, with no trace of digital noise that can mar our shot. Yet, we can make use of noise to enhance certain images. When used effectively, digital noise can dramatically add to the mood of the shot and evoke an emotional response. For instance, a grainy image of a row of street lamps at night could benefit from some noise.

4. Keep it simple – uncluttered and clean looking images are usually best in presenting the subject to avoid any unnecessary distractions. Breaking this would mean adding a lot of extra elements that could potentially break the shot. Again, control is the key here when setting up the scene. Although it may look busy at first glance, each element can actually support the main subject and the message the photographer is trying to convey.

5. Keep the subject sharp – the general rule is that subjects should remain sharp in the image so they can be easily recognized and appreciated. And yet, images that are completely out of focus can be quite interesting especially if you are trying to invoke a certain mood or design. As long as the out of focus or blur is obviously intentional and positively impact the shot, out of focus images can be a resounding success. However, do not pass off blurry snapshots as being artistic and attractive. Most viewers are discerning and know whether the out of focus is intentional or by accident.

6. Make the subject clearly visible – when taking images, the subject is usually in a prominent place in the frame and is obviously the center of attention. You can also create interesting and provoking photos by placing the subject in a more subtle position, thus creating a need in the viewer to see more of it. For instance, partial portraits are quite popular although you cannot see the entire subject. 

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