Copyright Scott Bourne 2005 - All Rights Reserved

Copyright Scott Bourne 2005 - All Rights Reserved

Generationally, photography standards change. The new generation typically breaks away from the old trying to find its place. For example, to some people, good bokeh and the rule of thirds are less important these days than finding a person to photograph who happens to have lots of tattoos and nose rings.

New standards are gradually adopted by the emerging photographers and attitudes gradually change. Younger photographers seem much, much less concerned about the things I was taught to look for. And truth be told, I don’t enjoy looking at much of their work. We all have our bias, even in photography. It’s important to know and recognize your own bias. That said, I do think the change is okay, as long as it has a direction and purpose.

I can only teach what has worked for me. So the best thing to do is figure out what you CAN learn from me, knowing the generational differences, and decide what rules you want to break, and why.

I do want to urge caution. Don’t break rules just to prove you’re cool, or hip, or rad or just to prove you’re different. Some of the things that made “traditional” photography successful go back thousands of years; derived from other art forms like painting and sculpture. Have an artistic reason for change. If you do it just to do it, and don’t know WHY you’re doing it, you’re fooling yourself into thinking you’re an artist when really, you’re just lazy.

Okay – flame on.

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Join the conversation! 43 Comments

  1. Consider yourself flamed…!

    I think there is another word that springs to mind here – it’s ‘experimentation’. Testing new ways and getting reactions is definitely something all (many) artists do.

    Breaking rules just to prove you’re hip may just mean that you stumble on the next big thing. No?

  2. Consider yourself flamed…!

    I think there is another word that springs to mind here – it’s ‘experimentation’. Testing new ways and getting reactions is definitely something all (many) artists do.

    Breaking rules just to prove you’re hip may just mean that you stumble on the next big thing. No?

  3. I think a good photographer knows when to follow the rules, but only a great photographer knows when not to follow the rules. The rules of composition are such because they reflect a visual aesthetic that is common to all humans. Casting them off should not be done casually.

  4. I think a good photographer knows when to follow the rules, but only a great photographer knows when not to follow the rules. The rules of composition are such because they reflect a visual aesthetic that is common to all humans. Casting them off should not be done casually.

  5. I agree and disagree. The need to be cool or hip, or rad or just to prove you’re different has been at times the sole muse for many a successful and meaningful visual artist and musician. Sometimes that is the seed and it can grow being watered by the attention of others, before we even know the why or the how. The flower that blooms can be just as pretty and smell just as sweet. Art for me is communication. Sometimes I have something I need to communicate and other times I do art to have others communicate ideas to me. The later can involve doing it just to do it, an automatic response to stimulus, so while this is not conscious action and I may not be steering the car per se, I wouldn’t call it lazy. This may not be particularly what you were talking about but I would never underestimate the power of being cool. The problem I think is when just being cool is enough, and then over time what you are left with is a soulless creation, to keep with the above metaphor a fake plant that can’t grow. (sorry so long)

  6. I agree and disagree. The need to be cool or hip, or rad or just to prove you’re different has been at times the sole muse for many a successful and meaningful visual artist and musician. Sometimes that is the seed and it can grow being watered by the attention of others, before we even know the why or the how. The flower that blooms can be just as pretty and smell just as sweet. Art for me is communication. Sometimes I have something I need to communicate and other times I do art to have others communicate ideas to me. The later can involve doing it just to do it, an automatic response to stimulus, so while this is not conscious action and I may not be steering the car per se, I wouldn’t call it lazy. This may not be particularly what you were talking about but I would never underestimate the power of being cool. The problem I think is when just being cool is enough, and then over time what you are left with is a soulless creation, to keep with the above metaphor a fake plant that can’t grow. (sorry so long)

  7. I fully agree with you Scott.

  8. I fully agree with you Scott.

  9. To me the big points are to know and recognize personal bias. I photograph for me, I don’t care what anyone else thinks. Well, I care what my wife thinks for prints on the walls, but she tens to like what I like, although I don’t like all of what she likes.

    I just so happens that my tastes are pretty traditional. I use the technique and composition “rules” as guidelines to help me understand why I like what I do and to try to be better at capturing it.

  10. To me the big points are to know and recognize personal bias. I photograph for me, I don’t care what anyone else thinks. Well, I care what my wife thinks for prints on the walls, but she tens to like what I like, although I don’t like all of what she likes.

    I just so happens that my tastes are pretty traditional. I use the technique and composition “rules” as guidelines to help me understand why I like what I do and to try to be better at capturing it.

  11. To be fair, before you start the discussion, there’s a difference between fine art and contemporary art photography and nature stuff, like what you seem to do. The “rules” are much more important in nature, stock, product style photography. Art photography seems to really be whatever the photographer, and the market, make it.

  12. To be fair, before you start the discussion, there’s a difference between fine art and contemporary art photography and nature stuff, like what you seem to do. The “rules” are much more important in nature, stock, product style photography. Art photography seems to really be whatever the photographer, and the market, make it.

  13. I think that part of the reason we see photographers breaking away from the way it “used to be” is it is becoming easier and easier for someone to call themselves a “photographer.” It seems that anyone can pick up a DSLR and snap a picture. It is the discipline that comes with learning new things and remembering the old that makes a photographer truly a photographer.

  14. I think that part of the reason we see photographers breaking away from the way it “used to be” is it is becoming easier and easier for someone to call themselves a “photographer.” It seems that anyone can pick up a DSLR and snap a picture. It is the discipline that comes with learning new things and remembering the old that makes a photographer truly a photographer.

  15. I know most of the rules (many from reading this blog) and I know how to operate a camera, what the settings do, etc, but I’m still not a great photographer. Something gets lost between the art and science of it. Maybe its my eye. But I know a good photograph when I see it. Its just difficult to create my own. Maybe I’m just too critical of my work.

  16. I know most of the rules (many from reading this blog) and I know how to operate a camera, what the settings do, etc, but I’m still not a great photographer. Something gets lost between the art and science of it. Maybe its my eye. But I know a good photograph when I see it. Its just difficult to create my own. Maybe I’m just too critical of my work.

  17. I think that everyone who is interested in photography should only bend the rules and not break the rules. A good book that I have read is Art and Visual Perception (A Psychology of the Creative Eye). Its by Rudolf Arnheim.

  18. I think that everyone who is interested in photography should only bend the rules and not break the rules. A good book that I have read is Art and Visual Perception (A Psychology of the Creative Eye). Its by Rudolf Arnheim.

  19. To quote one of my favorite musicians, Wayne Shorter, “You have to know the rules first before you break them.”

    I’m a musician first and I see a lot of the same parallels. Both arts develop over time and the true innovators not only create new approaches, but they have had to first learn all the “traditional” approaches first before they could truly create something new. Miles Davis is a prime example. He created several different forms of Jazz, but he couldn’t have done it without first knowing Louis Armstrong’s and Charlie Parker’s musics.

    History has shown that time will ultimately weed out all artists who try the “innovate without assimilate” approach. And what’s left will, no doubt, be those works which not only innovate, but also assimilate the past approaches.

  20. To quote one of my favorite musicians, Wayne Shorter, “You have to know the rules first before you break them.”

    I’m a musician first and I see a lot of the same parallels. Both arts develop over time and the true innovators not only create new approaches, but they have had to first learn all the “traditional” approaches first before they could truly create something new. Miles Davis is a prime example. He created several different forms of Jazz, but he couldn’t have done it without first knowing Louis Armstrong’s and Charlie Parker’s musics.

    History has shown that time will ultimately weed out all artists who try the “innovate without assimilate” approach. And what’s left will, no doubt, be those works which not only innovate, but also assimilate the past approaches.

  21. Scott,

    What do you do differently from your predecessors?

  22. Scott,

    What do you do differently from your predecessors?

  23. Think of the “nose-ring” crowd, as you wrote, as Dada-ists, and the traditional bird photographers and the like as Impressionists or Dutch-schoolers.

    These are completely different genres, but now shame in liking both (I do). Some have a little of both, and can turn off one while turning on another, etc. It’s a matter of taste, in the end.

  24. Think of the “nose-ring” crowd, as you wrote, as Dada-ists, and the traditional bird photographers and the like as Impressionists or Dutch-schoolers.

    These are completely different genres, but now shame in liking both (I do). Some have a little of both, and can turn off one while turning on another, etc. It’s a matter of taste, in the end.

  25. As Scott himself once pointed out in a TWIP podcast of past, he and many like him are far better marketers than they are photographers. I think a lot of today’s successful photographers are much more talented in their innovative ways of marketing themselves than they are in breaking new ground (aesthetically). Doesn’t mean their not passionate about photography. I am just implying that even a mediocre photographer can acquire a great deal of fame and fortune just by knowing how to push his goods.

  26. “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” -Ansel Adams

  27. “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” -Ansel Adams

  28. If you are disciplined, and learn the ‘rules’, know your equipment, and study great photography fro many generations.. THEN you’ll be prepared to do something extraordinary and unique.

  29. If you are disciplined, and learn the ‘rules’, know your equipment, and study great photography fro many generations.. THEN you’ll be prepared to do something extraordinary and unique.

  30. I think that most “new” art is thrown away in the next generation and only the exceptional art is kept. When you look at the historical art/photography it looks better than the “current” art scene because it hasn’t been filtered yet.

  31. I think that most “new” art is thrown away in the next generation and only the exceptional art is kept. When you look at the historical art/photography it looks better than the “current” art scene because it hasn’t been filtered yet.

  32. I love your challenge at the end. Do we break rules because we are artists, or because we are lazy? Something that should challenge us all. Great article.

  33. I love your challenge at the end. Do we break rules because we are artists, or because we are lazy? Something that should challenge us all. Great article.

  34. Ah Jon but you see you help prove my point. You DO have a reason – experimentation is a reason. Just rebelling for rebelling’s sake is different. As for breaking the rules just to prove your hip? How would you know if you stumbled onto the next big thing or not? If you’re doing it just to be hip you’re probably too busy looking in the mirror to notice anything else :)

  35. Ah Jon but you see you help prove my point. You DO have a reason – experimentation is a reason. Just rebelling for rebelling’s sake is different. As for breaking the rules just to prove your hip? How would you know if you stumbled onto the next big thing or not? If you’re doing it just to be hip you’re probably too busy looking in the mirror to notice anything else :)

  36. LOL Amelia I didn’t think of that although I should have. I see it all the time. People who come here and ask questions like “What is an aperture” consider themselves an expert because they own a nice DSLR.

  37. Joakim I said that and believe it. But I have no idea whatsoever what its relevance is to the topic. If you could help me see the connection I’d appreciate it. This is about photographic standards – not sales and marketing.

  38. Joakim I said that and believe it. But I have no idea whatsoever what its relevance is to the topic. If you could help me see the connection I’d appreciate it. This is about photographic standards – not sales and marketing.

  39. What I mean is that photographic standards and sales and marketing are forever intertwined in ways that they previously have never been. Pretty sure this has a negative impact on the evolution of photographic standards.

    No, I don’t think there’s much rule breaking being done in today’s photography. Standards don’t change easily – even though technology has allowed more folks to express themselves “creatively”. If you ask me, the driving force of change is usually not financial, technological or even educational. Its just someone thinking, seeing, shooting differently – and not caring about what the rest of the world is thinking, doing or paying for.

    Hope that makes better sense.

    /Joakim

    The standards that have changed, however, are those that define the profession and subsequently how work can be presented to a wider audience and sold in huge volumes.

  40. What I mean is that photographic standards and sales and marketing are forever intertwined in ways that they previously have never been. Pretty sure this has a negative impact on the evolution of photographic standards.

    No, I don’t think there’s much rule breaking being done in today’s photography. Standards don’t change easily – even though technology has allowed more folks to express themselves “creatively”. If you ask me, the driving force of change is usually not financial, technological or even educational. Its just someone thinking, seeing, shooting differently – and not caring about what the rest of the world is thinking, doing or paying for.

    Hope that makes better sense.

    /Joakim

    The standards that have changed, however, are those that define the profession and subsequently how work can be presented to a wider audience and sold in huge volumes.

  41. Excellent question Barry – while I am much more traditional than most of today’s “hot” photographers, I am less so than my teachers. They were mostly typical portrait photographers who did the very conservative studio stuff. I’ve experimented more with light and pose than they would have. And the big difference is how I treat what happens after capture. My teachers didn’t have access to Photoshop or digital cameras so I’ve added to rather than changed from what they taught me.

  42. Excellent question Barry – while I am much more traditional than most of today’s “hot” photographers, I am less so than my teachers. They were mostly typical portrait photographers who did the very conservative studio stuff. I’ve experimented more with light and pose than they would have. And the big difference is how I treat what happens after capture. My teachers didn’t have access to Photoshop or digital cameras so I’ve added to rather than changed from what they taught me.

  43. And yet Adams wrote books like “The Print” which contain 210 pages of rules for making a perfect print.

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About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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