Composition: Breaking the Rules

By Geoff Harris

Rothschild giraffe head, composition, Breaking the rules, photography, Bulls eye, Horizon,

You have to know and understand the so called ‘rules of photography ’ before you can break them, but once you have mastered them, you can commit them to your subconscious and start to follow your own inner creativity.

By following your instincts, you will often achieve a better image by breaking the rules, because you will make images that are more challenging and interesting to look at.

Bulls eye Shots & central Horizons

composition, Breaking the rules, photography, Bulls eye, Horizon,

One of the first rules a beginner will learn, is not to place the subject slap-bang in the middle of the picture, as it creates compositions that are static and boring!  The same applies to horizons! Don’t place them in the middle of the frame. However in some circumstances the middle of the frame is exactly the right place. Both for your subject and the horizon, so don’t be afraid to do this if you think this  works for you.

As the photographer; you can listen to all the good advice and well meaning critique in the world, but as the artist and the person creating the work, you have the final say as you know  how and why you compose your shot!

When shooting near water a central horizon can work well, especially when the scene is mirrored and the bottom half of the composition is a reflection of the scene above the waterline.  Its this central symmetry that makes the picture work creating a sense of balance and calm.

We are told not to put a subject in the centre of the frame, as it creates a sense if lifelessness and isolation.  But in some circumstances that’s exactly the feel we want to create. A dead tree in a snowy landscape looks alone and uncared for and by placing in the centre, we emphasis these feelings which in turn enhance the image.

Missing Information

composition, Breaking the rules, photography, Bulls eye, Horizon,

A picture speaks and thousand words, but what if that picture leaves you asking more questions than it answers?  By excluding information that would normally be included, a photograph can leave the viewer wanting more.  In portraiture, you can cut off a persons head, exclude what they are looking at, or cover or hide their face in some way, perhaps with their own hand, a book or newspaper.

Photographing a person from behind is another trick that works well, because we only see the back of their head and can only imagine what their face looks like.

By excluding the face, especially the eyes, we are also denied any information about their emotional state, facial expressions or physical appearance.  Are they happy or sad, young or old,  ugly or beautiful? Because we neglected to include this information,the view is left asking questions and we will often spend longer looking at the picture,searching for clues to these questions.

You will see this used in all sorts of magazines  especially fashion and consumer  publications where advertisers want you to focus on the product and not the model or people in the image.

Crazy Angles

composition, Breaking the rules, photography, Bulls eye, Horizon,

Finally try shooting from an unusual viewpoint. We have all heard of a birds eye view, but what about a worms eye view? By capturing the world in a way we are not used to seeing you create a visual surprise and excitement. Experiment with tilting the camera while shooting, so everything in the image is titling to one side.  Use the corners of the frame to create lead-in lines to your images.  Shoot from low down by lying on the ground or on your back and crop the picture in unusual ways to highlight the focal point.

If  you create this type of image by accident it can often look like a mistake but if you go out deliberately to  explore your inner creativity you can often walk away with some outstanding images so never be afraid to break the rules.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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