The Rules of Photography

Often one will read about the rules of photography,  the rule of thirds, triangles, leading lines etc.  But why are they considered “rules”.  Well if one reads the book  “Art and Visual Perception” by Rudolph Arnheim it quickly becomes obvious that placement of objects with in a frame leads to visual tension.  So while placing objects of interest at one of the thirds line will produce a photograph that is accepted as good the photographer must go beyond simple placement at thirds.

It is fundamental that the photographer consider what impact and tension that they wish to create.  After all it is the artists visual creation using light and therefore their responsibility to consider what impact they wish to impart to their art.

So where do things placed in a photo create tension?  The centre has minimal tension whereas an object placed slightly off centre can be intense with its tension,  with the caveat that there is not much else in the photograph to distract the viewer from the tension.  An object placed well to one side with a large amount of negative space can create very strong tension as the viewer tries to resolve the argument between the object and the centre.  Arnhiem discusses this intensly in chapter 1 “Balance” in his work.

Bruce Barnbaum in his book “The Art of Photography”,  which in my opinion is a must read for any photographer, clearly does not support the rule of thirds.  Barnbaum argues that the rule of thirds is a construct from faulty statistical analysis of art and placement of objects in the art.  Barnbaum goes further and argues that composition,  the primary object of the thirds rule is all about the best viewing.  This is in my opinion a sub-concious use of visual tension to create an impact.  If a photograph is to convey peace and serenity why would the artist by blind misuse of a rule create excessive tension within the viewers mind.

It has been my experience in various groups that I have encountered that very few think about what impact they are trying to convey with their photography.  To enhance ones work it is important that consideration of the tension that one wants to create is considered in every image.  Then and only then is the photographer conveying their emotion to the viewer.  To blindly follow the compositional rules  significantly limits the communication channels available to the artists.


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