The Rule About Rule-breaking in Photography

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Why Should You Break the Rules of Photography?

Photographs can start to look all the same. Look at any great site like 500px for example and you will find a lot of really great photos. But, they’re all about the same in technical quality and composition. Sure, different subjects, but still there is a “sameness” to them.

This is not surprising at all. Everyone in photography strives to get the best shot possible and to follow the rules of good composition. These are the things that make great photos. But it is consistently the rule-breakers that stand out in any crowd, isn’t it?

So you should stand out and you should break the rules at some point in your photography. But, when?

When to Break the Rules of Photography

The Rule of Rule-Breaking: The time to break the rules of photography are only after you thoroughly know them.

If you don’t know the rules well, then you will not know how to deliberately break them and you won’t know the reasons why you are breaking them. You need your own reasons and you need purposeful intent with any photo to make it work well.

In photography, this means learning all of the rules about photography. For example, you must know the rules of composition and be able to compose a photo before you can break those rules and get a great result. You may break them accidentally while learning the rules, but this is not the same. To be most effective, you must first know the rules well. It doesn’t stop with just one thing like composition either. You must know every aspect of the craft.

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

How to Break the Rules of Photography

The formula is very simple.

  1. Learn. Learn all about photography and its many subsets.
  2. Practice. Practice photographing things. Do it deliberately.
  3. Copy. Match the photos of “the masters.” This is a demonstration of your proficiency.
  4. Adjust. Adjust your personal style. You need your own style if you’re going to succeed.
  5. Break. Now break the rules and further enhance your personal style in doing so.

My Experience

I started out learning photography and the basics like composition, color, and light. Then I moved on to replicating the photos of great photographers by duplicating their styles. I learned from that because to duplicate a style means you have to do the things that a great photographer would do. You have to become them in a sense.

Then I expanded into other types of photography. I’m still doing that. I experiment now with night photography, black and white photography, video, texturing photos, architecture, and people. I used to only do landscapes and nature. These are my strengths and what I want to be known for, but I also experiment with the other types of photography because it expands my knowledge and ultimately helps my landscape and nature photos in the long run.

Now that I know the rules well and can take photos nearly effortlessly, now is the time that I have started breaking the rules.

  • I’ve started adding grain to my photos in post processing because this enhances the details and makes the photo seem more like a film-type photo instead of a digital capture. A year ago I wouldn’t have thought about adding more grain. Grain is noise and noise is what the photographer is taught by the rules to avoid.
  • I allow more light and let the lens flare show up in my photos because it is an added artistic benefit and makes the photo seem more realistic. People like this. In photography you’re taught to avoid this at nearly all costs. Now I add it.
  • I take landscape  photos in direct sun and overhead sunlight at midday. All the landscape photography training teaches to shoot at the golden hours near the beginning or end of days when the light is low and magical. True. This is a great time to shoot, but it is a rule that is meant for me to break. Now I allow that sunlight haze into the frame and it enhances my photos by making them more real to my viewers. It is an effect that is rarely seen and people like it.

Throughout this I’ve said that people like certain things when I break the rules. How do I know? I put photos out there with these different effects and broken rules included and I see what gets the best response. I am continually shocked by what people actually like. They like the photos where I break the rules.


There’s a time when breaking the rules of photography will assist any photographer. It not only gives fans and viewers a different photo than all the others that are out there, but it helps develop a photographer’s own style. In order to do it effectively though, you have to know all the rules before breaking even one of them.

Thank you for reading what I wrote — I hope you enjoyed it!