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hotography has plenty of rules. There’s the Rule of Thirds; always use a tripod; check your histogram. And most of the time, following the rules will ensure your shots are well composed, pin-sharp, and have a decent exposure. But the problem with following the rules all the time is that two photographers at the same location are likely to come back with the same shot. By bending the rules, or
breaking them entirely, you can end up with far more creative results. The trick is knowing when to break them. So this issue we go through some of the best-known rules of photography – and toss them aside! Over the following pages we’ll look at 34 longestablished rules, and explain the circumstances of when going against the convention is not only acceptable, but will make for a better shot!
34 RULES B R O K EN for creative
Forget everything you thought you knew about setting up your camera…
ALWAYS USE AWB
The Auto white balance setting is pretty accurate most of the time, so use that and you’ve got one less thing to worry about, right? Well AWB can get things wrong, especially when shooting under mixed lighting, so take the time to set the right white balance for the conditions – or deliberately to the wrong white balance for creative effect; set a Cloudy white balance e at sunset to exaggerate an orange sky, for example.
0 Exposure: 2 secs at f/22; ISO10 5.6 IS USM Lens: Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-
Shoot close with a wide-angle lens and you’ll distort your subject, with the part closest to the lens looking huge while anything further away looks tiny. But while it’s a bad idea for portraits, it can give the right subject a dynamic look, as our car shot shows!
AVOID THE SCENE MODES
We’re keen to get you away from the Auto modes to really take creative control of your Canon. However, there are times when capturing the moment is more important – which you might miss when taking the time to carefully set up your camera. Quickly turning the Mode dial to the Portrait or Sports icon all but guarantees a passable shot.
You’ll need a fast shutter speed for fast subjects to freeze the action, otherwise they’ll appear blurred, but the downside is that a completely frozen subject can look as if it’s stationary. So slow the shutter speed right down and follow your subject as you fire the shutter to convey a sense of movement, even everything isn’t pin-sharp.
USE A FAST SHUTTER SPEED FOR ACTION
USE TV MODE FOR SHOOTING SPORTS
SHOOT IN RAW
For fast-moving subjects a fast shutter speed is vital, so the conventional wisdom is to use Tv mode and dial in a fast speed, such as 1/1000 sec. But it’s often simpler to use Av mode instead and dial in a wide aperture – as this means faster shutter speeds anyway.
We’re always banging on about the importance of shooting Raw in PhotoPlus; after all, it gives you so much more flexibility to salvage a so-so shot at the editing stage. But there are times when only shooting JPEGs will do. If you’re taking hundreds of images in a shoot, processing such a vast quantity of Raw files is impractical, and many sports and news photographers only ever shoot JPEGs as it’s important to get the shots to their clients quickly. And JPEGs can look great straight out of the camera – which is handy when snapping the family and getting your shots up on Facebook!
We tell you time and time again to keep your eye on the histogram to ensure that your highlights aren’t clipped – as it’s impossible to recover lost detail. But shoot a high-key portrait and you’ll want to overexpose the background. Similarly, if you’ve got a boring, grey featureless sky, then deliberately blow it away and convert to high-contrast mono!
DON’T BLOW THE HIGHLIGHTS
USE AI SERVO FOR ACTION
When shooting motorsports – or anything that moves quickly – then the rule is to use AI Servo to accurately focus on your fast-moving subject, but this can be a hit-and-miss affair. If shooting something that follows a predictable path, such as cars around a racetrack, then you’ll get better results by prefocusing on the section of track you know that cars will pass through, and simply firing the shutter when your subject reaches the spot.
Bust the rules of framing g and focusing… g
THE RULE OF THIRDS
We all know the Rule of Thirds: split your frame with a pair of imaginary horizontal and vertical lines and place important elements, such as horizons or the main subject, along them or at the intersections. But while this works well 95% of the time, there are shots where placing your subject symmetrically in the centre, or occupying just a slither of the frame, can have even greater impact. So while it pays to have the Rule of Thirds in the back of you mind, vary your compositions too!
Having something in the foreground can help to give your shots a sense of place or fill unwanted dead space – but instead of searching for a great big rock to stick in the front of every single shot, try zooming in on distant subjects instead to bring them closer and forget the foreground interest entirely.
BE SURE TO INCLUDE FOREGROUND INTEREST
Exposure: 4 secs at f/8; ISO800 Lens: Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
Vignetting is the darkening of the corners in an image, due to less light reaching the edges of the frame. It’s usually caused by shooting at wide angles or stacking too many filters, and many photographers take pains to avoid the phenomenon – but in the golden olden days of photography a vignette was the norm, and keeping (or exaggerating) a vignette can give your images a cool retro look, plus it helps keep the viewer’s eye from straying away from the main subject.
TELEPHOTO LENSES ARE FOR SPORTS
While you’d be unwise to stray onto the track of a live motorsports event, you’ll get really dramatic shots if you get close to the fence and shoot with a wide-angle lens for an action portrait – just make sure your subject steers clear!
Break the rules of composition
Nothing spoils a shot as much as a slightly off-kilter horizon, but shoot at a deliberately extreme angle for a dynamic effect – this can look particularly good in motorsports or edgy portrait shots, where the technique is known as ‘Dutch tilt’, but can give a so-so landscape shot an added sense of energy too – make sure the angle is exaggerated enough so that it doesn’t look accidental!
HORIZONS NEED TO BE 100% LEVEL
ENSURE THE FOREGROUND IS IN FOCUS
Try to focus on the background instead, so the foreground subject becomes a blurry bystander in a Martin Parr-style documentary image.
Shooting with the light behind you (or off to one side) ensures your subject is well lit – but with certain subjects shooting into the light, with the sun fringing the edges in ‘rim light’ looks far more dramatic – particularly close-ups of plants. Silhouettes against the late evening sun can look great too.
SHOOT WITH YOUR BACK TO THE SUN
When shooting up close with a macro lens, depth of field is severely reduced, so the conventional wisdom is to stop down the aperture to get more of the subject in focus, but shallow apertures can look great too – as long as you focus on the right bits! In our sample image shot at f/3.5, our depth of field is only a matter of millimetres, but as we’ve got the near-most eye in focus, it’s more striking than if the whole of the snake was sharp.
USE NARROW APERTURES FOR MACRO SHOTS
An alternative take on people pictures
Fine-art nude photography is all about suggestion, and often shot in moody monochrome, with plenty of strategically placed shadow and unsmiling, serious-looking subjects. But being naked is fun, right? So get ’em smiling for a cheeky and playful – and slightly more risqué – take on the classic fine-art nude.
NUDE SUBJECTS LOOK MOODY
DON’T CHOP PEOPLE’S HEADS OFF
Many photographers go to great pains to ensure they don’t slice the top of people’s heads off, but while it’s often desirable to show a whole person’s face, going in for a tighter composition, where you crop them from the hairline down, can actually show off their facial features more prominently and make for a more intimate portrait.
It’s true that a person looking slightly off to one side rarely makes for a good shot, however, having your subject looking wistfully into the distance, as if lost in thought, can tell more of a story and make for a much more interesting image.
SUBJECTS NEED TO LOOK AT THE CAMERA
SHOOT PORTRAITS USING A SOFT EVEN LIGHT
It’s usually better to shoot outdoor portraits on an overcast day, rather than a sunny one. But why not use the hard shadows on the face to create an intense, gritty look?
The classic ‘portrait’ focal length is widely considered to be around 85mm as this flatters faces; get too close and you’ll distort them with sharp, angular and out-of-proportion features. But for character portraits, this can look great. Eyes closed – and smoking! – are normally no-nos too, but here it adds to the documentary feel.
SHOOT PORTRAITS WITH LONG FOCAL LENGTHS
YOU’LL NEED FLASH FOR INDOOR PORTRAITS
Shooting indoor portraits will have many photographers reaching straight for their flashgun, but you can get much more atmospheric (and less starkly lit) shots by increasing the ISO or placing your subject next to a window to take advantage of the natural daylight streaming through – and using a reflector to bounce light back at them.
Exposure: 1/200 sec at f/8; ISO4 00 Lens: Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
When shooting on auto modes, your flash popping up in low-light conditions can lead to the impression that flash is best used in the dark. However, the reverse is often true: the harsh light of the flash can ruin the atmosphere and subtle lighting of a night shot, and often the best flash shots are taken on bright, sunny days, where a burst of fill flash counteracts the bright sunlight to soften shadows for a well-balanced portrait.
ONLY USE FLASH WHEN IT’S DARK
USE WIDE APERTURES TO SHOOT PORTRAITS
A shallow depth of field isolates your subject from their surroundings, but try using a narrow aperture, and greater depth of field, to place your subject in context; this works particularly well in the case of a workplace portrait, for example. Even so, it’s still preferable to lift your subject from the clutter a little, so shoot at f/8 rather than f/22 in this situation.
It’s called the portrait orientation for a reason – because the shorter top and longer sides match the proportions of a human face better. But try shooting portraits landscape instead, giving your subject breathing space to ‘look into’ for a more dramatic and interesting composition.
PORTRAITS IN PORTRAIT FORMAT
Who needs to obey the laws of the land?
For landscapes you want as much depth of field as possible, so use a narrow aperture to ensure that everything from the rock in the foreground to the horizon is pin-sharp – but you’ll also end up with the same shot as every other landscape photographer. So get creative – a selectively focused landscape shot can have more impact than the same-old view, as we show with our cool creative landscape shot, in which only the windmill is in focus.
USE NARROW APERTURES FOR LANDSCAPES
Exposure: 1/3200 sec at f/4; ISO1 00 Lens: Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
Image stabilisation can give you shake-free shots when shooting at slow shutter speeds. However, if you’re shooting at a fast shutter speed (such as 1/1000 sec) then there’s no need to use IS as your shot will be shake free anyway; IS will drain your camera’s battery needlessly (however it won’t slow autofocus, contrary to what some people may tell you). And if you’re using a tripod, some AF systems can actually introduce shake as they compensate for nonexistent movement.
IF YOUR LENS HAS STABILISATION, USE IT
ALWAYS USE AF
Autofocus systems have become so prevalent that we often forget that lenses can be focused manually. It’s true that manual focusing through the viewfinder isn’t easy (in the old days, viewfinders had a ‘split-prism’ aid, where two halves of an image lined up when in focus). But with the advent of Live View, manual focus has become a lot more practical. Zoom in to areas of interest and press the DoF Preview button to check exactly what’s in focus.
Okay, you really should carry a tripod when out and about, but this is one we all break! But don’t let no tripod prevent you from attempting the shot. Whack up the ISO, brace yourself against a handy tree to reduce the risk of shake, or rest your camera on a wall. If you shoot at f/11 and use a wide-angle lens, you’ll still be able to achieve a good depth of field.
ALWAYS USE A TRIPOD!
WIDE-ANGLE LENSES ARE FOR LANDSCAPES
When you’re confronted with a breathtaking vista or stunning sunset, the temptation is often to try and fit it all in with a wide-angle lens, but often you’ll find this results in a boring and empty shot. Reach for a telephoto lens instead to get a tighter composition of the most interesting part of the scene.
ND GRADS ARE ONLY FOR LANDSCAPES
While ND grads are an invaluable part of a landscape photographer’s armoury, they can be used creatively for other types of photography, where the landscape isn’t the main focus of the shot. Take our Top Gear-style shot – we panned horizontally to get a great actionpacked motorsports image, but the use of an ND grad has darkened the sky to further focus the viewer’s attention on the car.
CALCULATE THE HYPERFOCAL DISTANCE FOR TOTAL SHARPNESS
Calculating the hyperfocal distance, to maximise the amount of a scene that’s in acceptable sharpness, involves a complicated formula that takes into account the focal length, f-number and ‘circle of confusion’ limit. But forget all those confusing calculations and tricky tables – simply focus on something around a ‘third into’ your scene; if you’re using a narrow aperture and wide focal length (eg f/16 at 18mm) then this will be roughly the right place to get the correct hyperfocal distance – without the accompanying headache!
Converting to mono is often seen as a last-ditch attempt to save a shot ruined by distracting colour. So when you’ve taken a stunning vista with a deep blue sky and punchy white clouds, your instinct is that losing the colour is the last thing you want to do. But such shots can look even better if you convert to black and white. So don’t be afraid to try it in mono, even when there’s nothing wrong with the colour version.
BLUE SKIES LOOK GREAT IN LANDSCAPES
SHOOT AT 1/FOCAL LENGTH
The rule of thumb is to shoot at ‘1 over’ the effective focal length, so at least 1/100 sec when shooting at 100mm (if using an ‘APS-C-sensor’ camera, such as a 700D, 70D or 7D, then this increases to 1/160 sec to take into account the 1.6x crop-factor). But shoot slow and pan the camera for deliberate creative blur. This not only injects motorsports shots with a sense of speed (see above) but can also look great in abstract landscape photos, where you pan vertically to follow a line of tree trunks. Q
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