Monday, February 23, 2009

Photographic Rules - Think outside the box - Anne Girard

When you post an image on a photography forum, you immediately open yourself up to a variety of opinions, including to some who feel compelled to express their point of view as to what your and everyone else's image "should look like". They'll tell you to tone down the colors, crop it differently, decrease/increase the contrast etc... The photography "experts" seem to want to make sure we see the world through their eyes, use the same brand of cameras and go along with their philosophical rants on how one should approach photography.

Having benefited of being born in a democratic country, I've always valued freedom and I guess I have issues with suppression, something I also keep in mind when people come waving that flag called "photographic rules". It's interesting to see how people interpret a photo, as some consider the moment or emotional impact an image may have, while others prefer to get into that, fun...stimulating...yaaaawn...technical stuff. But to the techies credit, sometimes they actually have some valid points. After all, it's because of the mix between techies and artists that we have such diverse cameras to shoot with and styles of photography to appreciate.

Now maybe I'll offend a few people here, but to me folks who live and breath by photographic rules in my mind probably don't have much of a sense of humor, will report someone who leaves their car idling longer than 5 minutes in the name of the environment, and never use more than five squares of toilet paper at a time when they wi... You get the idea.
Don't get me wrong, photographic rules CAN guide you and in principle can help you take better pictures, but they can also steer artistic creativity down the toilet right along with those five squares of toilet paper. I mean, where would we be today if Elvis had kept his hips in check, if Alice Cooper and rock groups like KISS held back on their stage makeup, or if comedians stuck to politically correct jokes? In the art world, rules create restrictions and simply dull the senses.

If you want a good example of a rule doing just that, look no further than to a man's business suit. Years have gone by and still today, that look has about as much imagination as an army haircut, and is a prime example of rules created to meet an expectation. Women on the other hand have all kinds of creative avenues in which they can wear their clothes, but it seems if a man isn't an interior designer, a hairdresser or a musician, his clothes are likely identical to the guy standing right next to him.

Expectations often become subconscious rules in our minds and are obviously powerful, as we continue to see these same business people wear these suits to this day. This leads me to wonder how many people in the name of meeting expectations are holding back getting that funky haircut, or closer to the topic, processing some color or intensity in their pictures.

Now I ain't no hippy, or some bra burnin' rebel who wants people to break every rule and "give it to the man". I'm married to a military member and I understand the need for order. I'm also pretty lame when it comes to fashion but, that's a choice I make and not because I follow fashion rules. When it comes to photography, I encourage people to bend, break or ignore rules altogether in the name of artistic freedom.
Unless you're a photo journalist, you can allow yourself to take a deep artistic breath again, free yourself of guilt and let your photo editing software take you outside the box.

I would suggest to anyone who is planning to post their first picture on a forum, to read and learn from fellow photographers. However, consider people's opinions, don't live by them.

Photographic rules are meant as guidelines and not meant to stifle creativity.

Expand your artistic bubble

Open your mind


  1. I'm always open to kind and constructive criticism, but often find, after undergoing a detailed report of what is wrong with an image, that the critic has no public works. It makes me wonder if they even have a camera!
    Just shoot away, and post away, try to make each shot more pleasing than the last, we're supposed to be enjoying this, after all!

  2. I believe the person above has a good point when he says "try to make each shot more pleasing than the last". Coming from a triathlon background I guess I like the feeling of pushing myself to perform better than last time, regardless of the rules.

  3. Hi Anne, I enjoyed reading your article and thank you for sharing your views with us. I tend to fall into the camp of tsiya, just fire away and post and enjoy the hobby. If people are wiling to give you feedback, good/bad, consider it as a blessing and be thankful. Learn from it. If people do not give you feedback, continue to post anyway and you never know what will happen one day ---.
    I enjoy viewing your posting on the Pana Froum.


  4. Anne, I couldn't agree more! It is good to know the rules to make average or a little more than average photographs, but very often for the exceptional and breathtaking photographs, you have to break the rules!


  5. I think the problem is the term "rule". There are NO RULES when it comes to creation and process of photographic material.

    However - there are useful guidelines. For those new to photography who are trying to grapple with an understanding of why their images are cr*p to look at - providing these guidelines as a beginning framework helps them to move forward. If and when the penny drops - they can then choose to ignore or bend these guidelines to achieve something beyond the norm.

    Rules, guidelines, laws - they're all there to help bring order to chaos. But blind adherance to any of them is a dangerous path - understanding is the way forward.