When I first got into photography I was given a Pentax K1000 for my birthday and I had no idea how to use it. It was a long time ago and the internet wasn’t around so I couldn’t google “how do I use my SLR”, so I had to figure it out for myself. Trial and error got me there. I did one course at the CAE here in Melbourne, but it was about black and white processing, didn’t really help with learning how to use it. I did read a lot, and I figured out what it all meant.
Composition was a different thing though. I had to learn that on my own. I had to work out what was the best way an image looked. Then I did a beginners course at a local camera club and I learned the”Rules”.The rules that say everything must be on those thirds lines in every image, you must not deviate, you must not be creative, you must follow those rules at all times.
So it may not have been exactly like that, but pretty close. It certainly felt like that when they had their competitions and if you didn’t have things exactly how they should be you lost points. Didn’t matter if the image was great, if your horizon line was in the middle, well then, almost automatic disqualification. Okay, it wasn’t really that bad, but I do remember that anything different from the norm was pretty much frowned on and didn’t go well in competitions.
The reason for this post today is because I was recently asked on my other blog if the rules should be stuck to religiously or can we deviate from them, or do professional photographers not bother with them. I thought it was an interesting question and one that should be discussed.
We all know what those rules of composition are and if you don’t, then you should google them, now that we can, and find out what they are. So how strict should we be with them?
When I am teaching, the only class I really talk about composition, as far as the thirds go, is my landscape class. I really only follow the rules when I am doing landscape photography, I don’t follow them religiously, but I do think about them more. You will find the horizon on one of third lines at lot more with my landscapes. I think with this sort of photography it is good to know the rules, think about them and practice them. Taking photos following the rules, taking photos not following them, compare the results and see which you like best.
When it comes to other types of photography, like portraits and architecture, I find the rules fly out the window, and I do what I want. Which is probably what got me into trouble with the clubs. I took photosaccording to what I liked, what I thought looked good. I didn’t follow the rules at all. If you are photographing a person or a building, who cares where the horizon line is, it is about the subject.
I’m not saying I don’t think of things to help make an image more interesting, like lines that will lead you into an image, or not cutting off someone’s feet, which can look like you were clumsy and didn’t take enough care. I think what I am saying it is that I let the image dictate what it will be, rather than some rules. I decide what I think the image needs.
I have started doing my portraits and the person in them is always very central in them. I like that, I like the symmetry, I don’t mind if others don’t like it, but I do. I remember a teacher at art school telling me once, “it is your image, do what you want”. I like that idea, so that is what I have followed ever since. It doesn’t always work, but you have to try and you have to experiment, what would life be without experimentation?
All the photos in this post were taken before digital and are all photos taken with black and white film. Do you know the rules? Do you always follow them?