Blog #67 Risks, Rules, & Restrictions
A formal education in art and design that includes image making will expose one to "rules" that one should master. Mastery of these rules should result in pleasing image making compared to one that is ignorant of such rules. This is the prevailing logic. These rules are derived from an analysis or critique of many great images usually from paintings from hundreds of years ago.
The term "rule" is a bit of misnomer. Guidelines might be a more appropriate term. Most of these rules or guidelines pertain to establishing the subject of the image and placing that subject in the frame (compositionally) in an interesting manner. Images that "work" could be described as having consistency with (or nearly so) the guidelines for what makes a good image.
The counter point to this approach was best stated by the great Ansel Adams.
"The are no rules for good pictures,
only good pictures”.
So where does that leave us? Learn the rules or throw them all out of the window, screw the rules and the text books that wrote them and find your own path as an artist? Well, in short, yes and no.
A formal or informal study of art and what makes good art (critique) is like learning to cook. There are underlying practices and combinations of ingredients that are generally pleasing to most pallets. These are accepted "norms" and found to be present in most dishes that most people appreciate. These ingredients or combinations and cooking techniques have been distilled and extracted from some of the worlds most popular dishes.
For example, spaghetti and tomato sauce can be viewed as a staple dish. It works. It's delicious, and most people would agree. Spaghetti is also one of the first dishes that children learning to prepare their own meals might learn to make and for good reason. It's not that complex and many variations can be derived from its basic components.
However, the world would be pretty boring if we had to eat spaghetti all of the time. Mastery of basic skills and ingredients of cooking or photography is not only a good place to start, it might even a necessary place to start in order to develop a more elaborate repertoire of either creative pursuit. This is true of many creative fields such as music or acting.
More elaborate images including complex compositional layers and control of depth of field, for example, are likely the result of mastery of the basics and the photographers continued application of those guidelines although in more complex and novel ways. There is more than one road to success or improvement for that matter but I have found this road works for me.
In conclusion, learn the basics and practice practice practice them to mastery. Then, intentionally break the rules, blaze a new trail, carve your own niche, and solve the climate change problem while you’re at it.
Take risks. Experiment. Impose limits on you're self like using one focal length only for the day, month, or year. Shoot film. Shoot in black and white only. Only shoot people. Make a plan and most of all have fun and for the love of photography share your work. Give it away for free.
Remember, the light is always right.
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