The Ruling Party…..Rules…..knowing when to hold them and when to fold them

Apologies to Kenny Rogers for today’s title.

When to use the compositional rules of photography, and when to throw them out is a dilemma faced by many photographers. They are usually newer photographers, because veterans, be they successful or not, generally have reached a conclusion to that question.

Camera Clubs:  My personal experience with camera clubs consists of attending (as a non-member) several meetings of two camera clubs, giving talks and slide shows a few times at clubs, and judging a competition.  I do not include my experiences as a non-member (once) attendee and as an art show judge at COPA here in Wisconsin. COPA is a fine art oriented club that is different from your “normal” camera club.  Also one of COPA’s founders is a friend, which could taint my opinion.

Camera clubs are fun and productive groups where photographers can share and learn together.   If a club has 50 members it will have 50 opinions on any given subject, but there still seems to be some continuity within camera clubs.

I have written about the rules of photography many times on this blog.  Camera clubs tend to love rules.  Most clubs seem to go beyond the rules of thirds, leading lines, power points etc., and create their own rules.  I have seen camera club rules that state where you can and cannot have a shadow in an image, what direction a wild animal has to be looking in any given shot, and on and on.  With any image those rules may or may not work, but even the rules I mentioned above, which were created by painters, are there as a standard or way to help struggling photographers, not as gospel.  The wildlife “looking” rule is fairly consistent but if you have followed my work I have shown dozens of examples when I break that rule.

Most camera clubs give assignments that encourage unique subjects or abstracts.  The problem is they have rules for abstracts.  They tend to be just as insistent on those rules as they are with any other photographic style. You can’t give photographers an assignment that is meant to free them up artistically, and then critique those pictures by the same standards that we use for traditional images.   In fact a subject right smack in the middle of a unique “concept” photo may be just what the doctor ordered.

The logical explanation for the need for rules in camera clubs, is all of those competitions that they hold.  It is difficult (it can be done) to decide such contests unless you have a set of rules to go by.  Critiques are also a part of camera club life and you do need some standards to live by or a critique is impossible.

In general the rules of photography suffer from the same afflictions that everything in today’s world does.  There are those who insist the only way is to throw them on the trash heap and do whatever comes to mind first…and there be art.  Photography tried that with the advent of the 35mm camera and we wound up with a lot of self-indulgent and sloppy photographers that we were told that we had to call artists.  Then of course there are those who would use a ruler (that word) to measure the subjects in every picture, to see if they complied with the rules.  A bit upper crust stodgy and inhibiting  to say the least.

We live in a left or right, up or down world, and it should be no surprise that photography experiences the same polarized views that the society at large does. The answer is no answer at all.

Most of the greatest, most successful and popular images ever made spend their time hanging around some or all of those rules of photography.  Using those rules can make you better. They can take you to the next step, or present you with a lifetime of success in photography.  They can also leave you stagnant.

While I am quite sure I have spent more time near those rules than away, I have however never, for one single second felt beholden to use them.  It actually seems logical to me that any photographer can use those rules to their benefit, not only to make powerful pictures, but artistic ones, or they can also throw them aside whenever their creative urges (or instincts) tell them to.  They are rules but they are not laws.  Everything in life does not have to be a decision to go left or right, up or down.

Life needs structure and order, or we have chaos.  Just look at the world around you.  Artistic chaos however, can make our life more beautiful and give us the freedom that the drudgery of daily life robs us of.  As photographers, we will be richer when we learn to celebrate both.

Can you find the rules, or lack of, in the pictures below?1G32WFalls 0623FilmArch2012 0264DSC_00675C6HH Sept 0207AbsractElMorro 0838Grasses 0129A10Copy of KbirdEgret 02611NewSwan 00412SwallowsHawthorn 00713SR 2012 019z14FilmArch2012 035bbb

Most of today’s top workshop/seminars teachers don’t like teaching the Xs and Os of photography.  Composition, light and producing dynamic images tends to be where they prefer to go with their teachings.  I don’t blame them,  as it is more fun and easier to teach a matter of opinion than a fact.  Two of the top teachers are veteran Art Wolfe and newer star Joseph Rossbach.  I am pretty sure that they would not teach the rigid use photography’s rules.  Still when you look at their images, most of them, including Wolfe’s wildlife and abstract work, have pieces of those rules alive inside the imagery.  The point is, that the best in the world know those rules, and use them.  They also never hesitate to break them.  Learning the rules will make you better.  Understanding when to break them will set you free.

I appreciate this chance for you and I to visit.

God Bless,                                                                                                                                               Wayne

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