Photography Composition Rules: Break Them!

Photography Composition Rules: Break Them!

Why Photography Composition Rules?

In fact these photography composition rules help simplify something that was particularly hard to define.  Effectively, how would you instruct new artist to create something that is nice to most peoples? These rules are among the first things that we learn in any kind of art.

As such, we stay on the safe side when following photography composition rules. We then avoid risks and our picture will be nice to most peoples.  Is this what you want?

In fact I would like to think that Photography Composition Rules are there to help us support and enhance our message as a photographer.  As such breaking the rules often create some tension which in turn grab the attention.  When I take a picture I ask myself “How can I grab the attention a little more?”

Breaking the photography compositions rules - An example

Photography composition rules were not followed in this example

Today’s picture is a simple one. A single man is walking on the beach in the setting sun.  As far as photography composition rules are concerned, there are multiple problems with this picture:

  • Subject is not on a third line;
  • There is a lot of dead space, also known as negative space, in front of it;
  • Horizon line is in the middle of the frame.

Why should you break photography composition rules?

It is sometime good to break these rules and more so when you want to convey a message with your picture.  Rules of composition tells us to put our subject according to the rule of third.  The rule of thirds suggest that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines.  As a result, important elements would be positioned on these lines or their intersections.  Doing so make the overall composition more pleasing to the viewer.

By creating a tension in breaking rules, we can potentially enhance our message.

Breaking the composition rules enabled me to enhance the following:

  • The sense of loneliness in the way this man is inclined forward and his head looking down;
  • Additionally this large dead space in front of him helps increase the impression of loneliness of this man;
  • Although the sunset is colorful, we feel that this man is not enjoying the moment;

All these decisions were intentional on my part when I took the picture.  I saw this man coming from far away slowly walking in our direction.  I frame the shot to create this feeling of loneliness that I felt looking at him coming on that beach.  By intentionally breaking these rules my intention was to help the audience understand the loneliness of this man walking alone in the setting sun.

Know the rules in order to break the rules!

In order to break these photography composition rules a good starting point would be to know them.  Varina Patel tells us in her eBook title:”Building an Image from the ground up” how Composition and Perception comes together to create a powerful image.

Now what do you think?

Does this composition help the picture or not?

A few interesting arctiles on the topic:

About Composition Rules and ways to break them : How to break the rules : Rules you can break

About yourself, when do you break the rules of composition?

Negative Space in Photography:  Why and How?

Negative Space in Photography: Why and How?

What is Negative Space?

Negative Space in Photography is the space surrounding the subject.  In most picture, we try to fill the frame.  Therefore, the subject grab most of the attention of the viewer.  In other situation the surrounding space is also part of the story.  However, getting your picture in front of the Eiffel Tower is not taking advantage of negative space though.  Negative space is space without much interest.  As such, the creative use of negative space can help the subject be more intense or more interesting.

Why use Photography Negative Space?

When I came to the Garden of Eden Arboretum on Maui Island, I was not really planning to create a composition leveraging negative space.  From one of the pathway surrounding the garden I came across this view of a waterfall filling in a lovely pond in the middle of the Maui forest.  The pond was far away and down below which created an usual view for a waterfall.

Firstly, using a Tripod and a slow shutter speed of 0,3 second I took a first picture making sure the waterfall was filling the pond on one of the third lines. Then, I zoomed in at 82mm on my 24-105mm zoom lens. As such, the pond is mostly centered on the picture with the bright white waterfall on one third.  A good choice don’t you think?

Subject is filling the frame with the waterfall on one third

Subject is filling the frame with the waterfall on one third

Looking at the resulting picture on my LCD I am disappointed with the end result.  I feel that the landscape in front of me is more appealing.  Did you ever had this feeling when looking back at a picture you have just taken?  In this case, the fact that the oasis is lost in the middle of the jungle make the pond more valuable.

How about using Negative Space in your Pictures?

Using the wide end of the zoom lens I recomposed the picture to have the pond on the intersection of third lines.  By isolating further the pond and the waterfall in the middle of the jungle, this oasis of blue water is gaining much importance.  Both pictures are very nice.  The use of negative space create additional value though.

Efficient use of Negative Space in Photography

Efficient use of Negative Space in Photography

This is a perfect scenario for Negative Space.  Negative space is often used to put the subject off-center.  The negative space is usually just empty space.  This particular scenario do qualify as negative space though.  The jungle is devoid of real interest and accentuate the value of the pond.

This is only one example of negative space composition and you can certainly think about other situation where negative space can create an additional interest.

Examples of Negative Space in Photography

So back to you, did you ever had the feeling that your subject, although being well seen in your picture was missing some appeal?  It might be time for you to test Negative Space on your next shot.

Do you have some examples of yours of Negative Space to show?

Please help other photographers by posting example of Photography Negative Space in picture you took in the comments space.  Better yet, go out and shoot practicing Photography Negative Space! Tell us what you think about the intentional use of Photography Negative Space.