Breaking Photography Rules

photography rules

"Maria2" captured by Daniel L (Click Image to See More From Daniel L)

Photography is one field that rewards people for breaking the rules. Are you a visual rebel? Like to push boundaries? Pick up a camera. But before you break the basic rules of photography, you have to learn them. There’s a time to follow the rules and a time to throw out the rule book; experience that will help you choose between the two.

The Rule of Thirds

One of the most basic rules of composition calls for the subject to align along the lines that would be used to divide the photo into nine equal pieces. The Rule of Thirds also says strong lines, like the horizon, should be aligned along the same grid markers, depending on where you want the viewer’s attention focused.

The times to consider breaking the rule of thirds are times when you have a natural frame that highlights a central subject or strong lines and other picture elements that lead the eye to a strong central point of interest.

It’s sometimes a good idea to consider shooting a subject both ways. Some of your shots aligned with the Rule of Thirds and one or two deliberately outside the guidelines. Then you can decide in the comfort of your own work space which composition works better. Every photographer in the business has had the experience of pushing the button and chiding themselves over what they think is a poor shot, only to have that picture stand out for them and the client when looking at the shots later.

Shoot first, pay attention to the rules. Then throw out the composition rule book and shoot some more.


Learning to control your camera’s focus is one of those seemingly obvious skills that will surprisingly separate experienced shooters from novice operators.

The main reason it separates shooters of varying skill levels is because it’s difficult to get fine control of focus with your camera’s automatic settings engaged. In auto shooting modes, your camera is going to do everything in its internal computer’s power to make sure as much of the photo as possible is in focus, whether you like it or not.

breaking rules of composition

"fields -country girl - warmth" captured by Shaunna Timmons (Click Image to See More From Shaunna Timmons)

To get shots where you’re deliberately throwing some elements of a picture out of focus, you’ll need to turn off the automatic settings, including autofocus. You’ll have to experiment with your camera’s Aperture Priority mode, usually abbreviated A or Av on the selector dial. Av mode allows you to select an aperture best suited to control depth of field and let the camera select the shutter mode to match.

Shoot From Behind Subject

Many photographers get forward-focused in their photography. They get in close, and take the majority of their photos to include the subject’s face. That is what the textbook says you should do, but don’t overlook the potential to get amazing shots by turning the scene around 180 degrees and shooting from behind your subject.

This can be a particularly good choice for any subject that performs in front of an audience. Then you can put the subject in a less prominent part of the photo and make the audience reaction the focus of the shot.

It’s always good practice to shoot your front-facing shots, but once you have those, start walking around looking for different angles. Go around to the back, see if you can get up to a higher elevation, look for a different perspective.

rules of composition

"Individually Social" captured by Ryan (Click Image to See More From Ryan)

It may sometimes seem counter-intuitive, but there are times the best shots are when you’re making up your own rule book.

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