Breaking the Rules


Recently, a senior photographer told me that my photographs do not work well because they do not follow the rules. How important is to apply compositional rules like the Rule of Thirds? Is it not alright if I break conventions, sometimes?
Ruhi Rajput, Rajkot

This article was originally published in April 2015.

It may be true that your picture could have been improved by adhering to the Rule of Thirds, but it is not necessary. Photography is both an art and a science. The science of photography includes the understanding of basic principles and technical aspects. The art side, on the other hand, comes into play when the photographer is trying to create something from his vision or shoot something from an innovative perspective.

Just like with every other art form, a number of people have studied the subject to understand what kind of photographs tend to work better, and thus established a number of guidelines. Depending on the manner in which the human eye tends to interpret visuals, you have visual aids like the Rule of Thirds that help people make better compositions.

But then, though it is called the ‘Rule of Thirds’, we would specifically wish to say that it is not a rule—only a guideline. There are situations in which it would make sense to not follow these guidelines at all.

For instance, conventional wisdom states that pictures that have the subject in the centre tend to be weak and boring. However, for a picture where you are trying to establish a person with respect to his surroundings, a centralised placement may actually work wonders! The same logic applies to other compositional rules too.

In addition to guidelines, great photography is also about ideation and seeing the world in a new, personal way. Our recommendation would be to study the guidelines, practise them, but then also understand which situations need you to break them.

Tags: Question of the Month, rule of thirds, April 2015, compositional rules, break conventions