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Rebellion: Three Successfully Broken Rules of Photographic Composition

Yesterday, I posted the four rules of composition I can’t live without. Rules are made to be broken, right?

Right. But you can’t break these rules until you can master them. So now that we’ve had a few days to contemplate these rules (or perhaps you’re already a photographer who harnesses the powers of composition with ease) I’d like to pose a few thoughts on the breaking of these rules. The only one I’m going to leave out is the last one I mentioned in that post: Viewpoint. Point of view (POV) isn’t necessarily a rule of composition, but rather an element of it. It’s not really a breakable rule because point of view is whatever you want it to be. So first things first. Rule of Thirds:

Rebellion: Three Successfully Broken Rules of Photographic CompositionRule of Thirds – It’s so so important that we understand and successfully create imagery which follows this important rule before we can successfully break it. I believe I can tell the difference between an image where the photographer knowingly broke the rule with style and finesse and one who didn’t know the rule in the first place. To the right is one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken of my son. You’ve probably seen it before in another post. For me, it’s a great example of knowingly breaking the rule of thirds for a reason. His face was expressionless. The POV was straight-on. No bull. I wasn’t trying to say anything with the POV and wanted it to be completely neutral. And so I composed him bang in the middle of the photo. I wanted it to be strange, emotionless, not saying anything at all. Just a boy with a pot on his head for no apparent reason.

Rebellion: Three Successfully Broken Rules of Photographic CompositionRule of Odds – The rule of odds states that images are more visually appealing when there is an odd number of subjects. For example, if you are going to place more than one person in a photograph, don’t use two, use 3 or 5 or 7, etc. There are times where you will have to break this rule. For example with an engagement shoot (two people) or a set of twins. No way around that. But there are definitely clever ways you can do this. I like asking couples to stand with their arms to their sides, side-by-side. And what seems like breaking the rule of thirds isn’t really. Yes, the couple may be in the middle of the shot, but each one is in the left or right third of the photo. And to ease the discomfort a viewer may feel with this even-numbered, symmetrical, rule-breaking image, I make sure they’re smiling 🙂



Rebellion: Three Successfully Broken Rules of Photographic CompositionRule of Space – This is perhaps the hardest rule to break. According to the rule of space, this photo of a runner should be the opposite of what it is. He should be running into an open space, not out of it. Photography should always saysomething unless, like my photo of the pot-head-kid, what you’re saying is nothing at all. And the rule of space says so very much to the viewer. What does this photo, which breaks that rule, say? For me, it’s saying he’s leaving us. He’s been there, done that, onto the next stretch of desert.

What’s your favourite rule to break? The hardest?

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Elizabeth Halford
Elizabeth Halford

is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

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