Tag Archives: rules

Rule of thirds or rule of thumb?

The great photographer Edward Weston suggested that “following the rules of composition can only lead to a tedious repetition of pictorial cliches”.  Read any book or magazine article about composition and you will be presented with a selection of accepted ideas which are claimed to improve your composition; the rule of thirds, the golden section, using leading lines, diagonal lines, balancing the image, symmetry, using patterns and frames…the list continues!

They are all intended to help you to compose the image in a way that is appealing to the eye and indeed, they do have a proven track record.  For example, the Golden Section is based on Leonardo da Vinci’s investigation of our ideas about beauty and harmony and uses principles that can be seen in art from ancient civilisations.  Using these tried and tested formulas is inevitably mechanical to start with, rather like learning to drive a car.

But with time and practice it becomes more instinctive, and my question is, how do we then distinguish between photographing what we see and photographing what is attractive as a result of our subconscious application of one or more of these principles? Or indeed the deliberate misuse of one, such as the deliberate placement of a subject too close to the edge of the frame to create tension?  Once learned, are these ‘rules’ inevitably leading us into pictorial cliches and hampering our creativity?  Suggestions welcome…