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The rules of photography are meant to be broken

Years ago, my boss dubbed me an “in-your-face photographer” because of my interest in macro photography. No matter what it was - a sleeping child, an insect, water droplet or a flower - I had to capture the incredibly small details and make them bigger than life.

When I first became serious about my photography, I read everything I could about the rules pertaining to photography.

These rules can be very useful, especially for beginners. However, as the saying goes, rules are made to be broken. And, by stepping away from the rules and doing something more creative, I have captured more unique images.

As I became a little more advanced and developed my style as a photographer, I wanted to break the rules. Just to see what would happen.

I thought, “What if the photography police showed up on my doorstep at 3 a.m. and take my camera because I wasn’t following the rules?”

Knowing that that wasn’t going to happen, I photographed an image during the day using the nighttime mode of my point-and-shoot and something very cool happened.

My best friend, Renee, saw this photo and wanted to know what I did. My best explanation was, “I didn’t do anything.”

After having broken that rule, and nothing horrible had happened, I was free to go and break all the other rules I had learned.

The rule of thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a well-known rule in photography, including macro photography.

The rule is pretty simple. By using the grid in my viewfinder, I could easily line up my subject along the intersecting lines on this grid. The main elements of my composition were near or at one of the intersecting lines. It has been used for centuries and generally results in very pleasing compositions. But sometimes it’s best to break this rule and get something a bit more unique.

This is where my style of photography comes into play.

I typically forget about the rule of thirds if I have an object that I am photographing that is symmetrical. Symmetry is usually best emphasized by putting the point of symmetry (the place around which the image is symmetrical) in the dead center of the image.

I choose to break this rule when I want to have a more spacious, off-balance image. I like to place my main subject at the very top or bottom of the image and leave tons of negative space in the center and at the top. This can produce a minimalist feeling, and one that I really find interesting.

Keep it simple

I like to keep my compositions as simple as possible.

A cluttered room or a cluttered image just put me in the wrong frame of mind. See what I did there? My goal is to have one point of focus, with no distractions.

Clutter takes away from the subject and causes the viewer to become confused. I want my viewers to know exactly what my subject is without having to really think about it.

However, while there is a time and a place for this rule, there are also times when it should be broken.

For instance, when faced with a noticeable pattern among leaves or flowers or ferns, it is sometimes better to think less in terms of a point of focus, and more in terms of the image as a whole.

Try to emphasize the pattern, and let the eye follow it through the image.


For me, uniform backgrounds are important in my macro photography. I will deliberately set my subject on a gray, white or black background to really make my subject “pop.”

Sometimes if I am feeling a little quirky, I will use a reflective surface.

The rule makes sense - the more uniform the background, the less distracting it is. I admit I have picked a flower and moved it to a neutral background simply because I had to.

By using a shallow depth of field, busy backgrounds become blurred and are rather pleasing with soft colors and deeper shadows. I try to change what I do in photography so I do not get into a rut and because truthfully, it’s just fun.

Uniform backgrounds can be boring if every photo is using that technique. Colorful backgrounds are better for some subjects and do not work for others.

Focal points

The last thing really isn’t a rule and I think it is obvious that I make sure that my subject is completely sharp.

Whatever my image is I try my best to make sure that it is sharp from every angle.

If I cannot get the entire subject sharp, I try to get as much in focus as possible. This is done by narrowing the aperture. And then as far as that rule goes, sometimes having one aspect of my subject in focus is what I want.

Sometimes I just want to focus on a recognizable part of my subject like an edge of a petal or the proboscis of a butterfly. I spend time shooting … planning as I shoot, and I end up with an image that is barely sharp, but sometimes it is very pleasing. At least, to me.

By the way, the photography police have not caught up to my antics just yet.

Let the fun begin!

(Yellow flower) Using the 'wrong' setting sometimes gets some pretty interesting results. I shot this during the day using the night feature on my point and shoot.
Normally, my subject should be in focus but sometimes I like to zero in on those interesting parts of the whole subject.
Sometimes, I just want to play. Using a reflective surface can give me images I wouldn't get any other way.
(Mountain laurel) If I don't have a background to put behind my subject, I use the flash. Basically, the flash tells camera to capture no light other than the light from the flash. I don't want the camera to pick up any of the natural light at all.
(Leaf) Playing with light is what photography is all about. This photo is all about shadows. Obviously, my subject is the leaf but I was intrigued by the shadows on my backdrop as the light filtered through the leaves overhead.