Week 39: Break the Rules

“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”

– Katharine Hepburn

Rules are established by experience. After time, we learn what works and what doesn’t – for a community, for a society, for a craft – and turn these lessons into rules to help keep us on the right path.

This week, we’re stepping off that path.

Rule of thirds? Looking into the frame? Proper exposure? Non-Blurred image? Ya know, all those things we keep yelling about? Fuhgedaboudit! Not this week.! Let’s enter the Forest of Lawlessness, and see what bizarre, creative, thought-provoking works we can create when we abandon the conventions of photography and take the law into our own hands.

Things may get uncomfortable. We’ve been “programmed” to instinctively appreciate certain rules – about exposure, composition, color – and this week we’re stepping outside the comfort zone. We are unsettled by randomness, skewed horizons, or photos that are unbalanced. (This is not just true for visual arts but also for all types of art…just think how irritating music is to our ears when there is no discernable rhythm!)

Embrace your art. You can achieve wonderfully abstract shots with intentional blur, overexposed shots, and extreme crops. Go crazy.

Tips and Tuts for this week:

  • We often hear that to break the rules, you first have to know the rules. But what are the rules of photography? For example, take a look at this informative video, in which we learn about the basic rules of composition, understanding why certain photos, or any other piece of art, look inherently more beautiful to us. Here are some more composition tips.
  • Photos with broken rules may generate a sense of conflict, or unease. Embrace the sentiment by matching the discord with the subject of your photograph. As always, consider how your technique matches the content of your shot.
  • This week is not just about not-adhering to the rules, but about actively breaking them. Make conscious decisions about what established convention you want to challenge, and what you hope to accomplish in doing so. 

Looking for more inspiration? Check out this Natural Geographic album and this Break the Rules album from 2013.

Extra Credit: Low Key

Low-key photography is intentionally underexposed, making use of very dark tones. Far less light is used in low-key photographs than is normally recommended. A subject may be ensconced in shadow, with only selected details illuminated. This style often creates very dramatic shots, so make sure your subject matches the mood. Here’s an excellent primer on low-key photographyto get you started.

Remember: Low-Key doesn’t necessarily mean “under-exposed”, but rather it is an image with predominantly darker tones. Embrace the bright spots in your low-key shot, and make sure they are shining with intention, according to your tastes.


Remember, it is not necessary to work in this Extra Credit piece. It’s extra credit!

Have a challenge idea for 2016?