Wrong is Sometimes Right…

February 8th, 2013 by Jack Graham

Wrong is Sometimes Right….. And other considerations.

There are a few traps that we photographers fall into at times that hinder our creativity. Perhaps the main trap often encountered is following rules especially when it comes to composition.

The four main rules most often considered are the rule of thirds, reading an image from left to right, avoiding having the horizon centered and finally,  not putting the center of interest in the center of the image. All are valid, however if you disregard these rules and the image in the end, “works”, is not the image a valid one?


Take the famous image by Ansel Adams, “Moonrise over Hernandez” 1941. How many of these rules were broken here? Many, however, this image works and  it is an extremely strong one at that.

What is important to a photography  is to make your image tell a story. Make it meaningful. If it means breaking the rules is necessary, by all means consider doing just that.  I see so many images in areas of immense beauty and natural wonderment that really don’t say anything about the location or tell a story. These snapshots are just that, nothing more than a post card. By just following rules, images are not guaranteed to deliver a message. Images that are made in haste are more often than not, doomed to fail. It is imperative to slow down, consider all aspects and above all strive to make a well thought out image. Knowing the basics of composition, but learning to see and think creatively as well as learning how to to deal with all of the above,  is the bedrock of making good photographs. Knowing how to make a strong image sometimes requires breaking the rules.

Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk. - Edward Weston

Avoiding distractions

Unless you are always thinking about distractions,   we don’t often see things in the image that take away from the story. In order to make the subject primary, we have to be constantly aware of the entire frame and distracting areas that affect the subject. Distractions are weaknesses in your image. Strive to eliminate any and all weakness  in every image. If you need to make a crop in post processing, then do it. Experiment with different size formats for your image. Don’t be afraid to break the rules if it makes your image stronger.


One of the things that I personally dislike in an image is framing the image with another object.  Many folks really love this technique. I really do not care for it. Consider the image on the right.

What is wrong with this image? First, look at the distraction in the lower right hand corner. ( the small green part of a Joshua tree). Why is that even in the frame?   What is the story that is being told here?  Is it about the Joshua tree and where it lives? Perhaps. There is another Joshua tree in the image along with some recognizable rocks in the background trying to tell the viewer about the environment. The bigger problem here is the framing of the background….. using this Joshua tree as the frame. How does the form of this tree relate to the background? It doesn’t, and  if anything  it blocks the background out almost entirely. The tree is very overbearing and detracts from the story of the image. The form of the tree does not relate to the image at all. Also the image itself is cut off by the tree trunk. This is an example is that of just making a photograph without seeing in a photo-graphical way.

At times framing can be used effectively, but rarely.

As another example, please consider the image as well.

A few rules were broken here. The red barn in centered. However I don’t mind that it is in this image. The tree in the upper right is almost, but not quite a frame for the barn. The one aspect that saves this image is that the strong foreground of the blowing green grasses are pulling your eye from bottom right up to the upper left as  These patterns ( right to left are repeated in the form of the tree limb on the top. The framing technique used here adds to the composition and not detract or disrupt it.




I like to feel that all my best photographs had strong personal visions and that a photograph that doesn’t have a personal vision or doesn’t communicate emotion fails.” – Galen Rowell

Slow and Slower

We have to really slow down and consider another variable when making the image. Consider how much of the subject you really can fit in your frame and will the viewer see on your photograph what you viewed in real time. If the subject is too far away, it will become irrelevant. This is a common mistake. When in the field I see other photographers taking many, many, more images than I as if it;s almost as if it’s a compulsion.  I can almost tell that they are not taking the things into account they are primary to making a good photograph.  Strive to tell an interesting story in every image and make an impact full statement in every image. Consider every image on its own merit. You’ll become a better photographer. Sometimes a picture in your mind is better than the one you just tried to take.




You can visit Jack’s blog and learn about his workshops here: Jack Graham Photography



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