Sea Blue Lens

Following the Rules


I’ve embarked upon a Journey of Recognition. It’s the next e-course in Kat Sloma’s wonderful Find Your Eye series. Our first assignment is to think about the “rules” about photography that we follow (or don’t), and how they might be affecting our artistic expression.

I’m a great one for following rules. I like rules, because then I know exactly what’s expected of me and whether I’m living up to my own perfectionistic, people-pleasing ideals. (Yes, I know, I should take this up with my therapist. I would, if I had one.)

Anyway, here are some of the photographic rules I’ve absorbed over the years [and my current thoughts about them]:

  1. Always use a tripod for sharp photos. [As if.]
  2. Never put the horizon in the center of the photo. [I will if I want to.]
  3. Don’t center your subject. [Ditto.]
  4. Don’t let the sun shine directly into your lens to avoid sunspots and flare. [But I like sunspots and lens flare!]
  5. Look out for background objects “growing” out of someone’s head. [This is actually a good one. I wish I remembered it more often.]
  6. Be careful not to cut off the top of someone’s head. [Oh yeah.]
  7. Hold the camera straight and level. [I try. Hard.]
  8. Digital photography isn’t REAL photography. [I am so over this one.]
  9. A photograph should record reality. Photoshop is evil. [OK, still struggling here.]

The thing is, when I’m shooting, I forget about rules, at least consciously. I’m just trying to capture whatever it is that has caught my attention. Some of them I deliberately ignore, such as that advice about a tripod. Too heavy and cumbersome for my taste: I seldom use one. Depending on the subject, I very well may put the horizon in the middle or center the main point of interest if it feels right. I love sunspots and flares and sometimes seek to create them.

It was through seeing the work of some of my fellow students in the previous course in this series, Starting the Journey, that I first became aware of some of my rules and their restrictive influence. It doesn’t even occur to me to try photos like some of them do, framing only half of a toddler’s face, for example, or just their little feet. Or deliberately tilting the camera to a crazy angle to capture the long shadow of a chair across the floor. But I love those photos when I see them. They are imaginative in a way that I admire. I’d like to break free from unconsciously following arbitrary, conventional rules.

On the other hand . . .

But is it art?

. . . though there’s nothing very unconventional about it, I love this picture. The subject dead center, the brilliant orange in contrast to the soft natural surroundings, and the intensity of his concentration. (And I just realized it also breaks my personal Rule #10: I don’t do people pictures.)

I have long since fallen in love with digital photography and have even come to appreciate the benefits of post-processing with computer and software. However, I still prefer my photographs to look natural, so I seldom do much  except to straighten, crop, or sharpen a bit. And I admit I have been known to carefully remove a distracting element if I could do so without its being obvious. But my conscience still whispers in my ear while I’m doing it!

13 thoughts on “Following the Rules

  1. I just love that photo. I love how it is headless and I love how it is towering in front of the little wooden church. Great implied story telling.

  2. Some good thoughts. It is interesting to look at rules and see whether we want to break them or not. I do love your headless statue, And I like your man photo too, even thought he is in the centre!

  3. Ha! I say to stop listening to that whispered voice in your head – remove all the distracting elements that you want! Repeat after me: Photoshop is NOT evil!

    (But then, the whole point about reviewing our rules is that we don’t have to listen to what other people say – our rules are our rules regardless – and we should choose what works for us, and us alone. So ignore what I just said. Unless you want to listen 🙂

    Great example photographs.

  4. Hey, I like the guy in that photo too! He doesn’t sit still that often! 🙂

  5. I’m with you, I really like some of my objects (people) in the dead center!! With him being in the center and that orange shirt…my eyes go straight to him, which is the reason you took the photo!! I think it’s great that you know the rules yet you know when not to use them!!

  6. I love the photo of the statue – such a fun accompaniment to your post! I like how you’ve recorded your response the rules that you’ve come across. And now that you are aware of them, and how they may be affecting your work, you can decide whether or not to keep them or discard them – some or all of the time. It’s all up to you! Being aware of them is the first step…

  7. the pic of the “hairy guy” playing with his electronics is very nice! the orange shirt really draws you to glance at what he’s doing! Love the contract of orange & green.
    Rule #6 reminds me of something I read… in addition to not cutting off a person’s head, you are supposed to do that with their hands or feet either! have you heard that rule??

  8. Your rules and responses made me smile. I like how comfortable you are with breaking the rules. Re: rule #5: I have to admit that photoshop is very useful for removing stuff that is growing out of people’s heads. So we improve on reality. Both your photos are great illustrations for your post. Well done!

  9. I enjoyed your humorous take on your rules and that you’ve grown comfortable enough with your photography that you can play by the rules (or not) as the subject, your mood, etc., lead you.

    As for post-processing, the only reason more of it wasn’t done pre-digital is that most people didn’t have the luxury of darkroom setups where they could manipulate their images. But those who did have the wherewithal to make corrections or creative enhancements certainly did and, I daresay, without the guilt that is heaped on people who use digital techniques to move their images toward art. As long as a photoshopped image isn’t presented as SOOC, I’m more than OK with digital enhancement. (off my soapbox now)

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