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Breaking Composition Rules for More Creativity in Your Photographs

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In the previous posts (Part I and Part II) we discussed various composition rules and ideas that can be used as a good starting point for an aspiring photographer. Once you master these rules and your eye is set to easily recognize various composition ideas through the camera lens, you may also realize that these "rules" are only guidelines and can also be broken. This is where the fun begins! Let's have a look at some examples of how to break the rules and unleash your creativity!

1. Tilted Horizon

A crooked horizon is one of the most common issues that beginner photographers struggle with. Most of the times the images look best when properly alined and the subjects do not look like they are "falling". However, sometimes simply tilting the camera may produce surprising and dynamic results. Remember that there is a fine line between a horizon crooked by accident and an intentional camera tilt for a dramatic effect. Therefore, when breaking this rule, make sure you do it with purpose: a slightly tilted horizon will look like a mistake, while a strong diagonal may add a dynamic twist to your image.

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2. "Dead" Center

Remember the famous Rule of Thirds? Well, the good news is that it also can be broken and stretched to extremes according to your needs and ideas for the image. The main reasoning behind the rule of third is to get the subject out of the center for a more dynamic composition. However, you may decide to add a sense of stability and steadiness to your photo or make the subject stand out by centring it completely. Again, it is important to align your image properly: if the subject is placed almost in the center it will look like a mistake, while a meticulously centred one creates a strong impression and attracts the attention.

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3. Taking the Rule of Thirds to Extremes

Similarly, you can take the horizon off one third or two thirds to bring even more attention to your subject, whether it is the gradient of the sunset sky or some interesting reflections in the water. Visual contrasts (for example, a huge sky with just a tiny bit of land) may create additional tension and add more impact to your images.

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4. Embrace the negative space

While beginner photographers are usually encouraged to make better use of the frame and fill it with interesting subjects, sometimes it feels right to leave lots of that negative space on purpose. The image becomes filled with air; it is more simple, or cleaner in a way, and all that "unused space" attracts more attention to your subject. Be careful, however, and leave all the distracting clutter outside your frame!

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5. Ignore the "active space" rule

The general rule prescribes to leave some "active space" for the subject to look in or to move into. As you know, there is no rule without exceptions, and you can create images that really work well even if the subject faces or stares outside the frame of the image instead of the "active space" within the photo. 

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So get your cameras out, master the rules first and then have fun experimenting by breaking them on purpose! We are looking forward to seeing your results!

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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.