Basic Rules of Photography (and Why You Should Break Them)

Photography is an art governed by many rules, which when followed, can result in beautiful images. However, photography is also an art that rewards people for breaking the rules. After all, turning the rules on their head is another way you can capture beautiful images.

But before you can break the rules, you have to know them. With this in mind, consider these three basic rules of photography and how they can help you get the best images by following them or breaking them.

best wedding photographers long island

The Rule of Thirds

In a nutshell, the rule of thirds suggests that an image’s central features be aligned along a 3×3 grid, framing your subject such that it falls along or near the intersection of the grid’s vertical and horizontal lines. Doing so helps you create interest in the image by avoiding having the subject smack in the middle of the frame.

Break the Rule! Even though part of the rationale of using the rule of thirds is to create interesting compositions, following the rule of thirds on each and every shot can actually have the opposite effect. Framing your shots such that every subject is slightly to the left or right of center, or in which every horizon is aligned one-third from the bottom or top of the frame, can be a tad redundant.

Check out the video below for a very long intro to composition and breaking rules

Instead, don’t get locked into a specific way of visualizing your shots and work on varying your framing. Doing so will help you develop a keen eye for composition while also resulting in a portfolio that shows a lot of diversity and creativity.

Keep It in Focus

Obviously having your subject in focus is a rule followed by most photographers most of the time because the bulk of photography work falls into the “traditional” category – weddings, portraits, and other heavily posed imagery. In such cases, customers are paying to see their loved ones, not a blurry ghost of their loved ones.

Break the Rule! While maintaining focus on your primary subject is a good suggestion to follow most of the time, breaking that rule can result in truly beautiful and powerful images. Deliberately throwing your focus off can generate a nice abstract effect. Motion blur can add a feeling of movement to your images as well. To break this rule, choose a slower shutter speed to get some motion blur, or simply focus on an object closer or further away than your subject.

Shoot From the Front

Beginning photographers are usually taught to keep their subject in front of them. Focus on their face. Get in close. Like the rule to keep the subject in focus, these are usually good rules of thumb to follow.

Break the Rule! Focusing just on a forward-facing subject immediately eliminates 180 degrees of potential subject matter. Yes, if you’re a portrait photographer, having the subject’s face in the shot is probably a good plan. But changing the perspective from which you shoot opens up many other possibilities for capturing the essence of the subject. A forward-facing photograph of a friend standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon can be a fine image. A photo taken from behind your friend, showing both them and the scene upon which they are gazing, can be even better. Look around for different and better perspectives. Go high. Get low. Doing so brings added interest and life to your images.  You will see a lot of wedding photographers breaking these rules all the time.  Largely because the wedding day has to be shot from more of a photo-journalistic perspective.  Take Long Island Wedding Photographer, Jasmine for instance.  She specializes in engagement and wedding photography.  When I reached out to her about this post she said this is absolutely the #1 rule that should be broken at weddings.  Otherwise all of the images from the day will look almost identical.

We live in a rules-based society, so it may seem counter-intuitive to throw caution to the wind and become a rule-breaker. However, photography is about creating depth and meaning, being creative, and getting the best shots possible. If breaking a few rules helps you do that, by all means, do it!  This is especially true if you hope to start a portrait, wedding, or boudoir business.

Remember, break the rules!