Rules To Hell With Rules

Taking a small break from gushing about the X100S and my victory over 50mm lens bias (to some degree), I wanted to chat about something else on my mind during the little DC trip. I mentioned shooting things in a way that I never do, seeing if it could be made to work for me. Nothing complicated just baggage that has accumulated over the years. I wanted to see just how useful or detrimental it was carrying it around forever.

Rules, you know the kind of general rules of thumb that get propagated about how not to do something or how things should be done. Even for those of you that are more towards my mentality - challenging those well defined rules - one way or another you tend to develop your own set of rules. Even if not defined as such. Hell I break common rules all the time to benefit the image in a way that I see fit. Here's the rub - it's not just other people's rules. It's your own self-imposed stuff that creeps in over time that may be of value but not all the time - sometimes they are just hangups that need to be re-evaluated.

This was on my mind because I happened to stumble across a picture that I thought was fantastic. Don't remember where - doesn't matter. It didn't violate any well known - you cannot do that type of rules. It wasn't anti-rule nonsense. Just a great image. One that really blew me away. Here's the interesting part, it did something with the way it was framed/cropped that I have developed such an aversion to somewhere along the line that it shocked me I liked it so much. Specifically it cropped someone at the ankles. For this image it didn't matter.

In saying it didn't matter, it wasn't some sort of iconic image with historical significance. It was a commercial image that won't be remembered by anyone a year from now. It wasn't some sort of moment that will never happen again where the content was so compelling that everything else be damned. It was a very well done commercial image meant to sell a product that could be reproduced at will. It could have been done again and again and again if that crop was a mistake. It wasn't a mistake, in fact it was beautiful and the ankle crop that I just will not do was the right decision. Perfect. Eliminating the foreground completely. If it wasn't framed that way it would be a completely different image and worse for it.

This is what I mean by the hell with the rules in the title. Since I didn't need to actually accomplish anything on my trip I thought I would take a look at a couple of things I just won't do and shoot them on purpose. A bit contrived for sure and not meant to be the best possible decision for any particular shot - it might not be for the scenes I was shooting. I did it just to see if I could make it work for me. Let's call it an exercise in freedom of thought that may come into play down the road when it is the best way to frame/compose/whatever.

Since I used the ankle crop hang-up of mine you can obviously guess the image at the top was one of those. Here are a few more that I don't hate.

The point is that I made them in such a way that I would not reject them due to the ankle crop. I learned a bit by doing this. Reexamining little hang-ups or no-go things you have, habits if you will, is always illuminating in some way. Sure they are useful in various contexts. The trick is letting go of these if they have become ingrained when it makes sense to.

Not exactly an ankle crop but close enough and more to the point another thing I never do - eliminating foreground this low on the main subject.

While I was at it let's frame so we have a crop at the knees an old no-go thing from way back of mine. Can this work at all where it doesn't make me hate the image? Possibly. Sometimes it could possibly be the best way…

maybe another…

and another…

Notice another thing here - a rule of mine. I never center subjects. Well I never do it unless there is a lot of symmetry. A few of these combine crops/framing that I just won't do with that other thing - asymmetric background with center subject… I don't hate them even with two of my rules violated.

How about really centering something right in the middle both ways. Can I do something I don't hate… possibly?

This is kinda symmetrical but nothing that would cross my mind if I was not unloading some of my personal no-go baggage on purpose. Do I hate this due to violation of a hang up I have? No. Even if contrived and done on purpose just to do it I did find a use. I wanted those flowers and didn't want the cars - that's kind of a reason. I can definitely see that I should consider throwing some of this absolutely will not do stuff away.

Getting back on point - can I make central subjects work with a non-symmetric composition over all? Here's a couple that I don't hate.

That was cheating a bit with the similarity in color and on how much contrast the verticals have here - it may as well be symmetric. So let's go a bit farther.

Okay a little more daring but still not asymmetric really really… Farther still.

Now we are cooking with gas. Completely asymmetric we have shit loads of horizontals and a strong vertical but still a bit of a cheat since those elements are so dark. Further still.

Okay now we are venturing into the complete unknown. All of those asymmetric elements now have a boatload of contrast. One more to take that all the way…

No cheats there completely asymmetric with central subject. Did I learn something about myself here and about my habits and self-imposed no-go territory. I sure did. I actually like the last one a lot. I would never shoot this composition unless I consciously was trying to violate my own hang-ups and rules. Forget other people's rules. Make sure you are re-examining your own as well.

I talk a lot about subconscious fluidity and how valuable that can be. It is. Like everything it has a dark side. Habits and constraints that build up. It can be useful to re-examine some of those things every once in a while and break out of them. As usual balance is everything. That's really what this post is about. Putting some effort in to achieve that balance. Making sure that you are not going too far one way or the other. Looking hard at your approaches and biases. Not mine but yours.

More on this later specifically one I struggle with - planning - just from the opposite side of where you might struggle with it. Specifically achieving an appropriate balance of planning and openness to opportunity, also the difference between preparedness and planning. Huge.


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