Breaking the rules?
For example, a friend of mine, who is also into four wheeling like I am, is a mechanic. He has been turning wrenches for so long I swear he teethed on them as an infant. When we talk about Jeep modifications he rambles on explaining how you can do this or you can do that while the whole time I'm nodding my head in polite agreement. My understanding of engines and suspension systems is basic at most so I can follow some of what he is saying, but if I had to do anything he describes on my own--let's just say it would be a series of very expensive experiments.
The reason I mention this is because learning photography is much like learning to modify a Jeep. You have to know the fundamentals before you can advance to the bigger stuff. That is why I shake my head whenever I read a photographer's blog or watch a YouTube tutorial and the presenter comes out with. "you can do this, or you can do that, there are no real rules here." Another one I shake my head at is, "If you want to stand out from the rest you have to break the rules."
Really? No rules? Break the rules? I can rattle off half a dozen rules they have applied to their "no rules" image they showcase. When you think about it, every time they break a rule they are actually applying another rule. But, to steal a line form Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, "They aren't so much as rules, per se. More like guidelines."
Fundamental rules serve a purpose, to give you an understanding of the basic laws governing photography. While some of these instructors promote ignoring or breaking rules you have to know that there are some rules that are unbreakable. For example; film or sensor exposure to light is quantitative. Not enough light hits the sensor and you don't get a decent exposure. Too much light and you've blown out the image. Can't really break that one but you need to understand it to be able to manipulate it to your own needs. Choosing to overexpose or underexpose an image is not breaking any rules, it is making a conscious decision about the creation of an image. That or just a rookie error that becomes a learning experience. Either way it is one that gets refined as you advance with experience.
Another instructional video had the photographer talking about "breaking the rule of thirds". Technically the rule of thirds is not a rule but a guideline to help beginning students understand the effects of composition. Advanced photographers are not breaking any rules here, they've just advanced and refined their compositional style beyond those of a beginner. They have mastered the nuances and subtleties to capture a moment with such finesse that the viewer does not have to guess what the image is all about. They are still using compositional rules, just not that particular one. It's like saying a driver that turns left at a green light is breaking the "right turn on red" rule.
I hope this article makes you see things a little differently when you watch videos or read blogs. So now when you pick up your camera I want you to remember; there are no rules so go out there and break them!