“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist”, said Pablo Picasso.
Pablo was referring to the rules of art… but what does that statement even mean?
If we break the rules, won’t the image just be wrong? That’s what I used to ask myself! But one day it made sense (ah-ha! Light bulb moment!).
When we understand why the rules exist, and how they help to make an image work, then we can then learn how to break that rule with purpose, and ensure the image still works.
You might ask yourself at this point why we’d even bother. If the rules help an image to work, why would we break the rules?
Because it’s fun! It helps us think outside the square and discover our own creative style. When it’s done purposefully and meaningfully, it can add an extra element of interest or surprise, and create some really stunning images!
So with that in mind, here we share with you 5 rules you should break, and how to ensure your composition still works!
Rule #1: Face Your Subjects into the Negative Space
When our subject is not facing the lens, we need to give them some negative space to look into, otherwise it can feel unbalanced, and lead the viewer’s eye out of the frame, and that’s the last thing we want!
In instances where we’re photographing action, we need negative space for that action to take place.
But think outside the square.
Sometimes deliberately facing our subject facing away from the negative space can tell a story or create interest, or allow us to compose our subject in an unexpected way.
Rule #2: Never Centre Your Subject
This one comes from the rule of thirds, a compositional technique that helps us create images which balance all the elements in a way the human eye is naturally drawn to.
But we can get bogged down in anchoring everything on those handy intersecting points of the rule of thirds grid… and it ignores another compositional rule… looking for symmetry.
When there is symmetry in the scene or the subject, pop that baby in the middle and get stunning results!
Rule #3: Shoot Portraits in Soft Light
Soft light is found in lightly shadowed areas away from direct sunlight. Open doorways, porches, gazebos, and during the golden hour. For flattering portraits, soft light is where it’s at.
But hard light… which can be recognised through the sharply defined lines it creates between the light and shadow… can be used creatively. Look for interesting shadows cast by your subject and incorporate them into the shot.
Even more fun is to look for shadows created by everyday objects in your surroundings and allow the shadow to become the subject!
Rule #4: Don’t Overexpose Your Highlights
This one is so ingrained that there is an actual warning function in most DSLR cameras to alert us to overexposed highlight areas in our photos. So it can be easy to understand why some of us (hand up here!) can get a bit precious about dialling back our exposure every time we spot any blinking red warnings on the LCD screen!
That being said, it’s a handy tool to help us avoid over exposing skin. But when our subjects are backlit, it’s pretty hard to avoid areas of clipped highlights in the background.
This is my personal rule of thumb… as long as the blown highlight area doesn’t distract us from the subject, and the subject is acceptably sharp and clear with good separation, it’s ok.
Embrace the blinkies!
Rule #5: Shoot Portraits at Eye Level
Shooting at eye level is great for helping the viewer to engage with the subject. And when photographing little people, it’s also helpful for the photographer to engage the subject in order to get a natural reaction.
For portraits with a fun twist, think beyond the backdrop that is behind your subject. By getting lower than our subject and shooting up at them, it enables us to use the sky as backdrop.
Conversely, when we get higher than our subject and shoot down at them, we’re able to use the ground as backdrop.
As well as making unexpected backdrops, it’s useful to do this when your environment has a lot of clutter you can’t work around.
Oh and, this can be used for any subject not just portraits!
So what’s the big secret with how you break the rules and still take photos that work?
It’s shooting with purpose!
So grab your camera and prepare to get naughty… break the rules ON PURPOSE and enjoy the creative results!
A big shout out to all our fabulous Click Love Grow grads who took every one of the photos shared in this post!
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