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What is a fundamental rule?

Discussion in 'Talking Pictures' started by the dingo, Jan 13, 2014.

  1. the dingo

    the dingo Well-Known Member

    I'm sure this topic has been discussed before, but I'm new to this place and this game of forum discussions so indulge me if you will.
    in relation to the monthly competition I was a bit confused by the term 'fundamental rule of photography'. My understanding of this term relates to its meaning within other areas of study and it seems to differ from the consensus here.
    A fundamental rule might imply a basic foundation from which all other aspect are derives, something Unchangeable, fixed, enforceable by rules of law or laws of science. Something as simple and as fundamental as gravity or the speed of light or, in the case of photography, refraction, interference and electronic transfer, or driving on a particular side of the road.
    But here it seems to mean something less defined, almost fashionable, certainly unfounded and even worse, breakable.
    how can that be?
    it has only been in the last few years, since the proliferation of the internet, that I have at all become aware of rule of thirds and the like. Sometimes I wonder how I ever managed to take a photo beforehand.
    i can understand having knowledge of fundamental rules of science which might give the photographer some understanding of the workings of their camera and lenses but isn't the establishment of such restrictions detrimental to individuality and creativity?
    maybe we should call the 'fundamental rules of competition ' or 'do it like everyone else does'.
    the dingo
  2. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Well given that the use of the term is only in terms of brealing the fundamental rules, I think that tells you all you need to know about how fundamental they are...
    However, several of the rules of composition do have their foundations in mathematics. The rule of thirds is an approximation to the golden ratio, and has been in use for centuries to define what's beautiful and what isn't. Try this for more info: http://www.goldennumber.net/golden-section/
    It's one reason why the 3:2 aspect ratio is often considered preferable to 4:3, for example. But exporing the discordance from breaking such a rule is what often leads to great photos.
  3. the dingo

    the dingo Well-Known Member

    You will need to explain your first statement with more clarity. I have no idea what you have written.
    Being a scientist I am aware of what you speak. Approximations might work well in art but do not establish fundamental rules. Repetition and precision is needed. I am also aware of the original study of rule of thirds usage carried out in 1838. The statistics were hardly conclusive, as is the assumption that artists and architects have used this principle just because they appear to come close. I've even seen reference to the famous nautilus from time to time. Close but not close enough to pass the test of a fundamental rule. Guessometry isn't a part of any science I know of.
    as for aesthetics. That's not a subject which has specific boundaries. One wonders why we would need to learn rules for composition only to find out later that the better approach is not to abide by any rules. Seems like a huge waste of time to me.
  4. dangie

    dangie Senior Knobhead

    I just press the shutter and hope for the best.....
  5. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Dear Nick,

    Exactly. I don't think you could explain it a lot more clearly.

    Another way of looking at it is that the "fundamental rules" of photography are the same as those of any other art: whatever works. Can a rule of thumb be fundamental? I'd say yes, if it's widely enough accepted.

    There's a piece on my site about composition: http://www.rogerandfrances.com/subscription/ps quality composition i.html and this is how it begins:

    Perhaps the most important thing to realize about the so-called 'rules of composition' is that they are in many cases a way of restating a negative -- 'this doesn't usually work' -- in terms of a positive, or 'this usually does work'. Unfortunately it is easier to say what doesn't work than to say what does.

    The second thing to understand is that none of these 'rules' is unbreakable. Often, you can see exactly how the various elements in a picture should go together, without any further thought. If the composition breaks the 'rules', but is still successful, fine.




    Last edited: Jan 13, 2014
  6. miked

    miked Well-Known Member

    The fundamental rule for lazy b**gers like me is rarely to bother getting off our fundaments.
  7. Footloose

    Footloose Well-Known Member

    There are a number of 'Fundamental' rules, but within the parameters which are set, there is a fair bit of flexibility relating to how and why they are applied. For instance, the amount of light that is needed to generate an image photographically, is one of these, but again that depends, on the visual effect one wishes to obtain. However, as Benchista and Roger Hicks have already pointed out, these 'rules' are not 'set in stone' and visual disharmony can be quite a striking and attention-grabbing image. If Dingo could be a bit more specific as to what photographically-related area he/she is referring to, this forum could then probably be more helpful.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 13, 2014
  8. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    He's referring to this:

  9. the dingo

    the dingo Well-Known Member

    Thanks Roger. Clear as mud. I had a feeling you'd throw your web site at me - again. Unfortunately, unlike mud, none of it sticks, other than in my throat. It's all to messy and contradictory.
    If you don't mind, I might continue on my merry way without such fundamentality. I like dangie's idea of hoping for the best. Then I'm under no pressure to conform. So we're does it leave dangie and I? Do we demonstrate shear brilliance or are we outcasts in a conformist society? Or both? I think neither. Those who do not know the rules are free to concentrate on the contents of the frame and less on mathematics. Bless their creative hearts.
  10. dangie

    dangie Senior Knobhead

    I do try to follow the basic rules of good composition. Just usually doesn't turn out..

    I think 'dangie' and 'shear brilliance' are words that definitely don't belong in the same sentence.. ;)
  11. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Simply knowing the "rules" doesn't make one slave to them. The key thing is knowing when they help, and when they need to be ignored - that's artistic vision, and that's precisely what the competition rounds are for. It's all very simple. If you're looking through the viewfinder and deciding if the composition is interesting or not, you're applying the rules, including when to break them, if you know it or not.
  12. 0lybacker

    0lybacker In the Stop Bath

    I head out with a healthy measure of confidence and expectation and return with a camera full of self-doubt ..... :eek:
  13. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    There is really only one way to judge that. Let's see your work and we will know if concentrating only on the contents of the frame, but within no framework of "rules" or received wisdom gets a better result.
  14. frank1

    frank1 Well-Known Member

    Rules are meant to be broken. The trick is how well they're broken.
  15. dangie

    dangie Senior Knobhead

    My two fundamental rules are focus and exposure. If either of those are wrong then the rest don't matter.
  16. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Yes, but both are subjective - there's really no such thing as "correct" exposure, and the choice of focus point, or indeed in the extreme to show eveerything out of focus is an artistic one.
  17. dangie

    dangie Senior Knobhead

    Agreed Nick. What I should have said was are they correct as I want them. If not then they're in the bin.
  18. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    My fundamental rule is don't consider the subject matter until it refers to the month we are in! I consider most of the fun in the monthly competition to be the challenge month by month - not a year's exercise to be done in January. In fact, I wish we were not given the subject until the end of the previous month. Still, that's just my perspective.

    I do believe some of us know what is a pleasing composition when framing it. That's fine. Some don't, so a nudge in considering what are accepted rules of 'balance' in a format or composition elements are useful "Take a fundamental rule of photography (the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, leading lines, balancing elements, leading lines, etc). Give us a clear demonstration of that rule."
    but nothing is set in stone, as has already been said and sometimes breaking those rules results in a great image. It's a bit like comedy and the unexpected makes us laugh.
  19. PhilW

    PhilW Well-Known Member

    I think the OP is reading too much into the use of the word "fundamental"

    In general though I do agree with the gist of his thinking, which can probably be described as: I know what i like when I see/shoot it, and don't need any rules to tell be what i like.

    The problem is with calling these 'rules'. This makes some people seem to think that they are i, in fact, rules that MUST be adhered to. Instead of what they actually are. This is a set of shorthand descriptions for a set of observed generalisations about getting a fairly pleasing and harmonious photo.

    So to answer the original post

    Replace the words 'fundamental rule of photography' with 'generally accepted guidelines for harmonious photographs'. And all becomes clear.
  20. the dingo

    the dingo Well-Known Member

    Whats an OP, Phil?
    im still getting the hang of this new age forum stuff. Pleasing and harmonious are not words I would use to describe my photo, yet I seem to be quite content with them. Aggravating, incongruous, displaced, incomplete, disturbing, irritating come to mind, not unlike my own nature according to Christine. She says "what the **** did you take that photo for?" and I grin with pleasure.
    The issue might well be "generally accepted". Who wants to be general? Surely there's enough of them out there already, following those guidelines you mentioned.
    so, what if a bloke has taken photos all his life and didn't know about guidelines? Does that make his photos distasteful or just different?
    And that bullshit about rules are meant to be broken, frank. Where did you hear that? From some dodgy car salesman or ex crim?
    And who is to judge, Rovingmike? You or me? I'm happy to post some shots but I'm not very competitive. Nor do I have any need for verification by participating in a point scoring scenario. Any photo I post here is for the purpose of visual display, story telling, documentation and explanation with a dabble of ethics and theory thrown in. Whether one photo is better than another is as arbitrary as the rules which determine such an outcome.
    the dingo

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