The Rules of the Game
“There are no rules of architecture
for a castle in the clouds.”
G. K. Chesterton
As part of the second course in the Find Your Eye series, I have been thinking about rules and how they guide my photographic choices. And pondering the bigger question: Do my internal rules serve me creatively?
By nature, I am a rule-follower. I don’t make waves or rock the boat. I rarely question authority. Rules make me feel safe. They provide structure and context and guidance.
But the problem with rules is that they often morph into laws and, from there, into inviolate truths. They become rigid, inflexible and stiff, doing more harm than good. They keep us trapped in a box of our own making and we no longer even see the walls we have built around us. And so, it is a valuable exercise to consider what rules we hold dear and to question their legitimacy in our creative pursuits.
Here are some internal rules about photography that I have since abandoned:
1. Real photographers use a DSLR
As I explained here, I made the conscious choice NOT to shoot with a DSLR. Equipment doesn’t interest me. In fact, thinking about equipment causes my eyes to glaze over – it’s just too much. I understand that there are shots that I will never be able to get because of the limitations of my equipment versus a DSLR. But I’m okay with that. My Canon G11 suits me.
What does interest me is working within the capabilities of my chosen camera and creating the best images that I can. For me, the eye behind the lens is the critical factor in producing meaningful photographs, NOT the equipment in use.
2. Real photographers shoot only during the “golden hours”
Photography is all about light. And, per common agreement, the best light is at dawn and dusk; the first and last hours of sunlight during the day, when the light is softer, more diffuse and warmer in hue.
And yet, I rarely shoot during these times. Since I retired, I have created a daily routine that works for me and supports the ebb and flow of my creative energy. And this means that I usually head out the door on my photo expeditions between 9 and 10am – well beyond the appointed hour.
So I work with the light available to me, during the time of day when my creative powers are at their peak. For me, these become my magic hours.
3. Real photographers limit their post-processing; SOOC shots are sacrosanct
For me, post-processing is a very important facet of the photographic creative process. I always edit my images. Sometimes a little; sometimes a lot. Like the sun, the computer is my partner in this artistic journey.
And then there are the guidelines that continue to serve me well:
1. Learn how to operate your camera
I have read through my manual numerous times so that I know how my G11 works and can take advantage of its attributes. Understanding my camera is critical to my effectiveness as a photographer.
I do tend to fall back on a set number of favorite features, sometimes failing to take into account other solutions to a particular photographic challenge. I need to commit to refreshing my knowledge on a regular basis until it becomes second nature.
2. The Rule of Thirds and a straight horizon
My camera has an option to display a “rule of thirds” overlay on my LCD screen. Therefore, composing an image following these two compositional rules is extremely easy for me. And when I choose to purposefully break them, I can determine with ease that the result is effective.
What I have to watch out for is that I don’t automatically compose ONLY in this way – that I look for interesting and dynamic alternatives. But in general, I find that these compositional tools help me create better images.
3. Avoid background distractions
This rule comes out of my perfectionistic tendencies – I don’t like photographic clutter. I am very conscious of what I include within my frame. Again, I have to make sure that I don’t take this guideline to the extreme by eliminating all context and interesting imperfections.
As Kat has made clear, this review of our internal rules is an ongoing process that requires much introspection and quiet thought. We often wear blinders regarding the hidden guidelines that we follow; we reach a point where we no longer recognize that we have a choice whether to follow them or not. Sometimes a rule serves us well when we are beginners but becomes restrictive as we grow. Therefore, it is in our best interests as artists to be aware of the rules of our own game.
What rules do you follow that no longer serve you well? What will it take to let them go?