Welcome my rule breaking readers! I’m so glad you’re here.
When you first learn about photography, you learn the rules and what to do to take a good picture.
There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, you need to know what the rules are so you know how it feels when you break them.
If you are saying to yourself, “what rules?”, then here are a few common ones —> 13 Composition Rules To Take Your Photography From Boring to Striking.
So now that we know what some of the rules are, let’s talk about how and when we should break them for even better photos.
10 Photography Rules That Should Be Broken
1. Rule of Thirds
This is the most popular composition rule in photography. Basically, you divide your viewfinder into 9 equal squares. Then you put the most important part of your image in the intersection of those lines. This keeps the subject out of the middle of the photo and makes it more visually appealing for the eye.
Here is an example:
The rule of thirds is important to learn when you are just starting. Otherwise, you would do what most people do with their iPhone and put their subject in the middle of the shot every time.
So why would we want to break this rule? Variety in our photos.
Here are some examples of people breaking the rule of thirds for great photos.
So pick your subject carefully and if you feel the photo is stronger with your subject in the middle, go ahead and put it there. It’s your photo!
If not, stick to the rule of thirds 90% of the time for a more compelling composition.
2. Odd Numbers
If you are grouping items in your photo by number, an odd number is usually more visually interesting then an even number. That’s pretty common knowledge.
People also use the rule of odds in home decor, design and other artistic areas.
But does that mean if you are photographing a couple, you are out of luck? Of course not. There are plenty of interesting photos with even numbers in them.
So if you have an even subject that you love, keep it. Here are some great examples:
If you aren’t sure what to photograph or you can control the numbers in your shot, then stick with the odd number rule. It’s a winner.
3. Horizon In The Middle
The commonly accepted rule in photography is that if you are shooting a landscape photo, you should have your horizon at the top or bottom according to the rule of thirds.
And as a rule, I agree.
But what if you are taking an amazing reflection photo of mountains in a lake? You want to see just as much of the scenery above the horizon as below. So you want your horizon in the middle.
Here are some great examples of breaking this rule, in action:
So in general, if there is a symmetrical reflection in your landscape shot, put the horizon in the middle. If not, put it at the top or bottom according to the rule of thirds lines.
4. Fill the Frame/Get Closer
I love this rule when it comes to portraits or taking pictures of my kids.
I mean, after all, you don’t want people to see the background when your house full of toys and mess.
Filling the frame and getting closer to your subject takes all that other stuff away and let’s you see how beautiful they are (even if they have ice cream on their face).
But what if the background is important to the story? Like the subject only makes sense when the background is included?
Then break this rule and let the background help tell the story.
Here are a few examples:
So basically, if the background helps tell the story, leave it. If not, get in closer to your subject to cut down on the distractions. It really depends on the vision of the photo.
5. Shallow Depth of Field
Shallow depth of field is all the rage right now. Especially in portrait and lifestyle photography.
And I can see why. I love that creamy bokeh too. It makes you feel like a professional photographer, even if you don’t know what the heck you’re doing.
If you want to know more about depth of field, check out this post –> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Aperture Basics.
But kinda like #4, sometimes you want to see the background of your subject. Using a shallow depth of field for every photo is really keeping your photos very narrow.
If you do this for every photo, you might be missing a better story.
Here are some examples of using medium or deep depth of field in portrait photography:
So choose your depth of field for the story you are telling. Don’t just shoot wide open because everyone else is doing it. Mix it up a bit too.
6. Don’t Chimp
When I first started getting serious about photography, I hopped on several online forums where photographers would hang out.
One of the things I kept hearing was “Don’t chimp!”
What do I mean by chimp? Chimping means looking at the back of your camera at the LCD screen after each photo you take.
I always thought that was odd rule, and this is one I think you should ALWAYS break. Maybe not every shot, but you should check your camera after you get in a new setting to make sure your camera settings are correct.
If it is too bright or dark outside to tell, read your histogram on the back of your camera to make sure you photo is properly exposed.
Why was this advice given in the first place? I don’t really know.
I think it was when we were transitioning from film to digital and people thought they were cheating by looking at the back of the camera.
Spoiler alert: it’s not cheating. It’s getting it right in camera so you don’t get home and realize your settings never changed when your environment did.
Believe me, I’ve been there. It sucks. Just sayin’.
7. Don’t Shoot Portraits in the Sun
If we had our choice, we would probably shoot every photo in beautiful, golden light that only comes at the beginning and end of each day.
Most photographers are told not to shoot in mid day or when the sun is bright. This is good advice, if you have control over your shoot time.
- What if you are shooting a wedding mid day?
- What if your kid has a baseball game in the sun that you want to shoot?
- What if you are on vacation and the only time you can get tickets to see the Statue of Liberty is in the middle of the day?
What do you do then? Take the shots.
Here are some examples of photographers that are killing it, even in mid day sun:
Shooting in the sun can be tricky. I’m not gonna lie. But don’t put your camera down just because it’s sunny outside.
Here are some tips to help you if you need to shoot in the sun: 15 Sunny Day Landscape Photography Tips to Maximize Shooting Time.
8. Don’t Create Blurry Photos
A good photo has a clear, in focus subject and good lighting.
That is the basis of all photography. You definitely want to have in focus, non blurry photos 99% of the time.
I discuss getting the clear shot in this post —> 8 Ways to Turn Blurry Photos into Tack Sharp Images.
But what about the other 1%? Experiment a little.
Try an out of focus shot and see what you get. Here are some examples to give you an idea of what I mean:
Blurry shots can show motion, can give an artsy feel and portray a mood that in focus shots just can’t.
So if you are feeling adventurous, get your camera out and experiment. You may love the results!
9. Use Higher ISO
When learning to shoot in manual mode, one of the first things you learn is the exposure triangle and how to adjust the three settings of aperture, shutter speed and ISO to get a properly exposed image.
When discussing ISO, everyone says to keep the number low. After all, the higher the ISO number the more noise you may potentially add to your image.
But what if you have to bump it up? What if you have maxed out the other 2 settings and the only way to get a proper exposure is to raise the ISO?
Then do it. Because getting it right in camera will introduce less noise than trying to raise the exposure in post processing.
Most newer dSLR cameras have pretty good ISO capabilities. Many are good at 1600 and some are good at much more before noise is introduced.
So try to keep that number as low as possible, but don’t be afraid to raise it when needed. It’s a balancing act and you want to get it right in camera if possible.
10. Don’t Blow the Highlights/Clip Shadows
It is common knowledge that when taking a photo, you want to get as much information in tonal range as possible.
That is why we shoot in RAW and watch our histogram to see if we have cut off the darks or highlights.
For the most part, the goal is to have an evenly lit photo that has equal parts of lights, mid tones and darks.
But is that always the case? No.
Sometimes your photos will have blown out highlights (when there is no detail in the brightest areas) or clipped shadows (where there is no detail in the darkest areas).
Why would we want to break this rule? When you are taking a really light or really dark photo, on purpose.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
These photos would not be nearly as dramatic or eye catching if they had even tones throughout. This is defiantly a rule that needs to be broken when you want a super bright or super dark feel to your photo.
How do I know when to break the rules in photography?
In my photography, I follow the rules about 80% of the time. After all, the rules were made because they created better imagery.
But the other 20%, I do my own thing and don’t worry about it. If the photo looks more compelling when you break the rules, then do it!
I hope this lesson has helped you identify 10 common photography rules and given you examples of how to break them the correct way.
Be a rebel. March to the beat of your own drum.
After all, it’s digital photography. You can experiment forever and see what works best for you.
You got this!
How do you like to break the rules with your photography? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!