The internet is absolutely full of guides about things you should and shouldn’t do to take ‘good photos’. Don’t over-expose. Remember the rule of thirds. Don’t cut people’s heads off. Watch your background. Use a shallow DOF in portraits to throw the backgrounds out of focus. 3-point lighting for portraiture, etc.
A lot of us just take all these rules for given, as if they are hard-and-fast rules that you have to stick to, because if you don’t, you’ll fail as a photographer. Break these rules, and you won’t take a good photo in your life. Your cat will die, your children will hate you, and your significant other will divorce you.
Truth, as you might expect, is slightly different. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time the ‘rules’ (which in any case should be seen as mere guidelines) make a lot of sense. Of course it looks silly if you cut people’s heads off. Of course your photos won’t look conventional if they are harshly over- or under-exposed.
Rules aren’t laws. You can break them unpunished
Grossly over-exposing a photo doesn't have to mean it won't look good. (click for bigger on Flickr)
Read the sentence above. That’s all I really wanted to say with this article. So if you’re in a rush, or you think I use too many words to say something simple, then read that sentence a few times, and go check out XKCD for a while.
What I’m trying to say is that while the guidelines are there to help you, there’s no point in following any rules or guidelines unless you fully understand (or grok, if you’re geeky and/or well-read enough to be familiar with that concept) why.
The best reason to understand why a rule is there, is to break it. Some times, you might find that your photos actually come out more interesting – better, even, perhaps – when you break the rules. Other times, you’ll try to take the same photo twice; once whilst following the rule, and once whilst breaking it, and you’ll realise why it’s a good idea.
Just remember: Never follow a rule just because you’ve read somewhere that it’s the ‘right’ thing to do. Follow it because you understand it, and because you know what happens when you don’t.
Break these rules
Contrary to popular belief, your foreground doesn't have to be in focus (clicky for bigger)
A couple of examples
DO cut their heads off at the top if it makes for more interesting and intimate photos (click for bigger on Flickr)
The Carlsberg Express: Of course your horizon doesn't have to be straight, if a non-straight horizon gives you better results! (click for bigger on Flickr)
Sometimes, getting in closer makes a photo more intimate. Don't be afraid to crop into people's faces.
The horizontals aren't horizontal. The verticals aren't vertical. The background is a mess. How could this photo ever be any good? But it is... (click for bigger on Flickr)
White balance? Hah? I spit on your white balance. (click for bigger)
Some times, the background adds to a photo - don't throw it out of focus on principle just because you have a nice, fast lens.
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