The Dalai Lama said it best when he said, “Know the rules so you can break them effectively.” This saying applies to SO many rules within photography. You’re the artist, you’re the creative, you’re the one in control and can decide which rules to break and which to follow.
However, there are a few rules I try NOT to break and feel are best followed to create stronger images.
1. Crop with Care
When you’re just beginning your photography journey you probably learned it’s best to never crop body parts (feet, hands, heads, etc). Well this is a rule that I’m a firm believer in breaking. I LOVE limb chops and do it all the time (on purpose!). BUT I do always try and Crop with Care. This means you want to avoid chopping on the joint (i.e. crop in the middle of the forearm rather than on the wrist, otherwise it looks like you’ve lost a hand!).
Sometimes a limb chop isn’t intentional though. We’ve all been there when things are moving quickly and we accidentally chop the tip off someone’s head or just the fingers on a hand. In this case, I make it LOOK intentional. If you crop in tight and hard and cut off a good chunk of the body part, no one will be the wiser and know about your your mistake.
Remember, limb chops are more than acceptable, just do so with care!
2. Stick with Straight Lines
As a general rule, lines that are vertical in real life should be vertical in our images, and lines that are horizontal in real life should really be horizontal. Crooked doorframes and windows, slanted horizon lines, slanted walls and buildings will all look wrong to the viewer. A slanted horizon line can also make it appear that the subject will slide or fall right out of the image.
Unless you are slanting your images on purpose for composition reasons, to add drama or a sense of movement, following the rule to keep things looking as straight as they are in real life is a good one to follow!
Any one else a crooked shooter like me? I can’t seem to hold my camera straight for the life of me, especially when I’m chasing children around! Thankfully, Lightroom introduced the Upright Tool which quickly fixes all of my wonky lines! (If you don’t know how to to use the Upright Tool, read our tutorial on it here).
3. Avoid Foreign Objects Coming out of your Subject
If the main subject of your image is a living being, the last you want to do is have it look like they’ve grown a tree out of the top of their head. Always check your background and your subjects placement.
When shooting it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and only focus on your subject, but your background is just as important! Try to avoid having items in the background coming out of your subject - trees, fences, poles, etc. You don’t want things growing out of the heads, anything cutting off heads (horizon lines through the neck are a big NO!!), or objects coming out of the body to look like a third arm.
Oftentimes a simple adjustment by you left or right, or up or down will be enough to separate the background object from your subject. Trying to remove these items in post production isn’t always easy, so it really is best practice to get this one right in camera. Remember your background is just as important as your subject!
As always, these are MY 3 rules not to break, and as with all rules, they can be broken! Try and think of them more as guidelines than rules. Be creative, be the artist you want to be, experiment, break rules or don’t…the choice is yours!