From time to time I have encountered people mentioning "traditional photography rules" without elaborating on what these "rules" might be. Indeed, people often claim to break these rules, or sometimes even boast not to know them. But nobody ever seems to say what they are. Is there such a thing? If so, what are these "traditional photography rules"?

I am aware of guidelines, such as the "rule of thirds" in composition, the "Sunny-16 rule" in exposure, or that I should use a telephoto lens to obtain flattering perspective in portraiture. I am assuming that these aforementioned "traditional photography rules" relate to something else.

This is a terminology question, not seeking photography advice. I am looking for the definition of the phrase "traditional photography rules". The phrase makes no sense to me, yet it is thrown around as if it means something. What does it mean?

To avoid repetition of previous discussion, I would appreciate if answers specifically address "traditional photography rules". Please avoid philosophical argument about what "rules" are and whether there are any rules beyond personal ones.

closed as too broad by Michael C, scottbb, Caleb, Philip Kendall, Stan Sep 18 '18 at 0:34

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    This is pretty clearly a response to Is composition after capture against any traditional photography rules?, in which the OP supposes the existence of some set of rules. Can you point to other references to traditional photography rules? Honestly, this question seems somewhat snarky. – Caleb Sep 17 '18 at 22:16
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    If you believe that there's no such thing, then this question is unanswerable and should be closed. And again, it appears that you're pointing out the ignorance of the author of the other question, and this should be closed and deleted for that reason. – Caleb Sep 17 '18 at 22:23
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    Honestly, your restrictive instructions on the original question were confusing! Why not allow people just answer the question? – osullic Sep 17 '18 at 22:43
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    @osullic The restriction against the meaning of "rules", "no rules", "personal rules" was to avoid the predictable answers of saying rules are only guidelines that don't have to be followed, there are no rules in art/photography, and just follow your own rules. None of those answers address what "traditional photography rules" are. – xiota Sep 17 '18 at 22:49
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    I don't mean to sound like a jerk; but, I don't know what you want to know. Everyone has their own opinion about what is "traditional" and you already have an indication about how "rules" are viewed. That's all I've got. The question is abstruse. – Stan Sep 18 '18 at 1:50

There is no established set of rules called "traditional photography rules". The extent to which people consider the phrase to be opinion-based indicates that it has no established meaning.

People often use the phrase to refer to some vague non-existent collection of rules that they take pride in breaking or lacking knowledge of.

  • Maybe what you seek is collected under a different search term than the one you stipulate so exactly. For example, what happens when you search "photography hacks?" Another way to pull information up from deep searches is to use "million short" responses to remove the popular most-found responses. – Stan Sep 18 '18 at 1:07
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    @Stan This question is about the terminology "traditional photography rules", not seeking photography advice. To the extent that the question has been closed for being too broad, opinion based, or whatever, it seems that the phrase is essentially meaningless. – xiota Sep 18 '18 at 1:17
  • After you define "traditional" the phrase may relate to something meaningful within that specified context. – Stan Sep 18 '18 at 2:03
  • @Stan If I knew what the phrase or words in the phrase meant when combined, there would be no need to ask the question. It's like... if I asked what "Field of View" means and you ask me to define "field" and "view". I have no clue. But if people closed down such a question as "opinion-based", that would be pretty strong evidence that "field of view" didn't have any established meaning. (But since FOV does have meaning, it wouldn't be closed as opinion based.) – xiota Sep 18 '18 at 2:17

I think the first rule of any photographer as artist should be "there are no rules". Most if not all of the things called "rules" are really just suggestions or guidelines that help to achieve certain things, and the use of the term "rule" has led to unnecessarily strict expectations with regard to them. It's ok to break any and all of those rules if it helps you achieve the image you are aiming to capture. Over time, with practice, you'll discover what guidelines and methods yield results that are pleasing to you, and ultimately to your customers (regardless if they're for paying customers or just family vacation shots). If you don't learn, then you end up without an outlet for your artistry, and that tends to motivate either learning, or picking a different hobby/pursuit. So, just get out there and try stuff and learn. Sure, use some of those "rules" to help with starting ideas, but don't stick to them relentlessly.

  • This is the type of answer that I specifically stated I do not want: "No need to ponder the meaning of "rules". No need for discussion of the absence of rules, the existence of only personal rules, or some such." – xiota Sep 17 '18 at 22:05
  • Making the case for "there are no rules" to be a "traditional photography rule". Most of the most notable photographers became that way by doing something different than the norm - i.e. not following the "traditional photography rules". – twalberg Sep 17 '18 at 22:09
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    For that you would need a detailed study of the history of photography - far too much material for a forum like this. You'd want to consider, for every notable photographer that has ever changed things up a bit, 1) what was everyone else doing at the time, 2) what did he/she introduce that was different, and 3) how that/those change(s) impacted the field of photography and replaced some old "rule" with a new one. – twalberg Sep 17 '18 at 22:32
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    Saying I have to know the history of photography is a hand-waving answer. There are pages upon pages of google search results of people using the phrase without any indication they have done a detailed study of the history of photography. What, if anything, are they referring to? – xiota Sep 17 '18 at 22:42
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    For that you would need a detailed study of the history of photography — well, yeah! And then someone with that knowledge can present an expert summary. That's... the whole point. – mattdm Sep 18 '18 at 0:48

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