Do the composition rules matter?

Composition rules might make a photo more appealing, and it’s important to know the rules. But, are there times when it’s perfectly acceptable to break the rules? Photography is an art form. You need to be able to find the beauty in the scene before you and present it in your own way.

The Rule: Reflected light should never be brighter than its source.

Why we broke it: Although in reality the reflected light in the pool wasn’t as bright as the light in the sky, I made an artistic choice to let it go a little brighter because I wanted to draw the viewer’s attention toward that area of the image.

The Rules: Never use direct flash, and always place your point of interest off-center.

Why we broke them: Let’s start with the flash. For this shot, I needed bright light inside the cabin in order to match the exposure indoors to the exposure outdoors. I used the flash on my camera to light the interior of the cabin. Then, in post-processing, I reduced the contrast inside the cabin in order to reduce the extreme lighting. I broke the direct flash rule because I didn’t have any other light available. As for the centered point of interest – that came down to personal preference. I felt that a centered composition worked well in this case.

The Rule: Never center the horizon. Use the rule-of-thirds to place it in the top or bottom third of the composition.

Why we broke it: For this particular shot, I wanted to capture both the reflection and the sky. By placing the horizon at the top third or the bottom third, it would have been necessary to sacrifice either part of the reflection or part of the sky.

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Maybe you’ve had other photographs comment on rules that you’ve broken with your photography – but it’s important to remember that the rules are often more important to other artists than they are to potential buyers. So let your eye be your guide. Shoot what feels right to you.

Know the rules… but don’t be afraid to break them.

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.