No Rules In Art

02Aug17

Comments at a recent art show referring to the ‘rule of thirds’ have me thinking a lot about composition. In my humble opinion the ‘rule of thirds’ is simply one ‘formula’, not deserving of so much attention or strict adherence. After all, there are many other formulas for composition such as the golden ratio, the golden spiral, the triangle and yes … centered. Centered, symmetric compositions can invoke a peaceful, balanced feeling and are sometimes the best solution. A centered subject with an off-centered element often works for me. I like to consider all of the elements in a composition … how are they juxtaposed? Some of my favorite images break the bounds of traditional composition rules. In landscape photography I’m drawn to images with a very low or very high horizon. And I don’t believe we need a foreground element every time. If I don’t find an interesting enough foreground element or think it clutters the scene I won’t include one. Sometimes open ground serves as my foreground. I read an article not too long ago that talked about doing ‘what feels right’ when it comes to composition and I agree. When I’m out in the field I am not thinking about composition formulas but tapping into my artistic sensibilities to frame ‘what feels right’. I am going stick to my belief, that there are ‘no rules in art’! Here are some recent landscapes that may or may not follow composition rules … they just felt right.

‘Adobe Rainbow’ © Denise Bush
click to view larger or order a print

‘Chimney Rock & Stream’ © Denise Bush

‘Fence Post Highlights’ © Denise Bush

‘Lupine Road’ © Denise Bush

‘Little Pond Reflection’ © Denise Bush

‘Indian Paintbrush In The San Juans’ © Denise Bush

‘Favorite View’ © Denise Bush
click to view larger or order a print

‘Evening Gratitude’ © Denise Bush
click to view larger or order a print



61 Responses to “No Rules In Art”

  1. I am running out of ways to describe your awesome work… give me a bit more time… 🙂

  2. Love your blog with the images to back it up. These images as a group are really strong. My favorite -Little Pond Reflection. I also fancy the “Favorite View” as I really like the different composition.

    • Thanks Beth! 🙂 ‘Favorite View’ is a more complicated composition. The tall posts may be centered but it is not a centered composition.

  3. You proved your point that’s for sure. Ultimately creative instincts drive great photography more than stopping to review the rule book.

  4. These are beautiful pictures and they support your “feeling” of what feels right. I completely agreed with you. There are places and times where certain compositions feel right.

  5. Great examples, Denise. Your work always ‘feels just right’ to me!

  6. 11 Deb

    I LOVE “Lupine road” and “Little pond reflection”, and yes they all feel right! The wildflowers are amazing!!

  7. 13 Angela Moyer

    Great post, Denise and incredible examples. Love the rainbow! Some photographers don’t understand the “fine art” part of photography and only shoot technically, following suggested rules. Breaking rules creatively will leave the viewer a lasting impression of your art.

    • I think art history can be a big help in showing how art has no boundaries. Of course there are a lot of times my compositions do fit a formula and I don’t break rules just to break them.

  8. Reblogged this on Travel, Photograph, Experience and commented:
    A short piece by Denise on going beyond Rule of Thirds. And she’s right, the Rule shouldn’t be treated as a rule. It’s one tool in the toolbox, like leading lines, foreground/background or juxtaposition.

    All these tools can be jumping off points. But in art, it’s better if rules aren’t followed earnestly. The tool doesn’t “make” a good photo, the eye does. Put another way, if you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    So I like to stay open before I start hammering. Take in the scene and see what comes out — what are the key visual elements, where’s the light going, what does the location tell you. And even if I’ve started with a simple Rule of Thirds framework, it’s just a choice to capture the moment which may lead me to a fuller concept — like Denise, based more on a feeling or sense of rightness.

    Shop talk. Denise also shared some of her photos and they’re worth a look. There were two in particular that caught my eye.

  9. You go girl! Great philosophy of composition and outstanding photos to prove your point. These images are truly good and some of my favorites of all I have seen on your blogs.

    • Thank you Ken. Those of us who belong to camera clubs know how much emphasis is placed on the rules. I never heard about it in all my four years at Moore College of Art … I was rarely absent if ever. Maybe they knew there are no rules in art.

  10. Trying to pick a favorite is like trying to pick a favorite child…but if I had to, the first one, Adobe Rainbow is a stunning capture of so many changing elements and the most perfect instant and with the most perfect composition! Western skies really scream for that very low horizon that you mention. I think artistry comes from exploring and taking the best advantage of all sorts of different principles and techniques.

  11. Definitely, rules aren’t meant to be followed unthinkingly. For me, one way the rule of thirds and other formulas can be useful is to keep it in mind when I get back home and an image needs to be cropped, or isn’t quite right. As I fiddle with different crops, I might try bringing the main subject a third of the way up, down or over to see how that looks first, rather than randomly moving it all over. But when you get down to it, I agree, it’s all about the feeling that something is right. Isn’t that mysterious, when you think about it?

    That rainbow image is spectacular! The next one puts me right into at beautiful scene, which I love. “Little Pond Reflection” is another perfectly composed and exposed image – gorgeous! What I feel when I see all of these is the sense that you’re high up in a really fine place, and boy, would it be great to spend some time there! One of these days….

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment Lynn! You and I work differently in that I always advocate framing and composing in camera, to take full advantage of all my megapixels! My images are already composed when I bring them into post so most of the time cropping is slight to none. I am capturing what calls to me at the moment. If I want to print them large at some point and for stock photography, bigger is better … you cannot enlarge your images for stock. My B&W I & II teacher would not let us crop … from then on I’ve always composed in camera. I do respect everyone’s methods after all … there are no rules!

  12. Right on, lady. Unfortunately, much of “the rules” is propagated by judges, and newbies soak it up. The issue should be “Is the composition pleasing or effective in its message?’ If not, maybe some composition guideline can help next time. BTW, we all know that some great images defy any attempt to slot them into guidelines.

  13. I totally agree. Follow your intuition and don’t over think visual composition. I will also add that the reason that some things “feel” right is because they actually do adhere to a rule that we’ve subconsciously or innately internalized. One analyzed, you will see that one of the composition “rules” you mentioned will apply to everything that “feels” right. The universe has order, not “rules” per se, but absolute, perfect symmetry and order that we recognize when we see it whether we consciously acknowledge it or not. (That’s also why some things look or seem “wrong”, but that’s a whole other topic.)

  14. A beautiful collection of images Denise!

  15. I love Lupine Road, The Pond with Reflections, and that log fence in that beautiful golden light.

    I think when you’re learning composition having “the rules” as guidelines to help you learn how to “see”, and compose is very helpful. Well, with me on my art journey with art; watercolor, drawing, and photography it was a much needed spring board. Early on I never felt like I had an innate talent for art. After many, many years now, I do what feels right, and sometimes that means breaking those rules. 🙂

    I’m ever so grateful for those lessons in composition that taught me those rules, because I still use them. They were foundation builders and second nature with me now.

    • Those are really great points and as others pointed out, the rules can be of value for beginners. I don’t think I ever thought about the mentioned composition rules when I began my art journey. And I don’t recall any emphasis on them in my classes at Moore College of Art … maybe I was absent that day! In the end, no matter how you craft your compositions, it needs to feel right to the artist within. Thanks so much for your visit, likes and adding to the conversation!

  16. Artists break the “rules” all the time. If it works, it works! Wonderful photos of stunning landscapes.

    • Thank you Emma! There are a lot of photographers who do not have an art background and let the ‘rules’ weigh too heavily on their decision making. I am doing my best to dispel the myth!

  17. These are fine photo artworks! No rules, but beautifully captured. 🙂

  18. I agree with you. I’m married to an engineer who loves symmetry. Therefore, he doesn’t like a lot of my images. It’s all subjective and rules in are are guidelines and meant to be broken.

  19. Wow, rule or no rule, it’s an excellent gallery.

  20. I agree whole heartily with “What feels right” and I think you included stunning examples of it!!

  21. My teacher said “you need to know the rules in order to know how to break them and make you photo better”
    Your shots are stunning! Wonderful and amazing photography!

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts! ‘You need to know the rules to break the rules’ is a popular saying and I agree they are good to know. I advocate doing ‘what feels right’ rather than ‘breaking the rules’. I am learning that creating a pleasing composition comes easier to some than others.

  22. Your “Chimney Rock & Stream” calls out to the viewer to head into that scenery for an adventure.

    • This is an icon and popular spot for photographers here. It is certainly an interesting area … the Cimarrons … a subset of the San Juan Mountains. I got a look at it from the other side while on a hike yesterday. Thank you for your visit and comment!

  23. I love the pond reflection! 🙌🙌

  24. What feels right to you always looks great to me. Excellent points on composition and your landscapes are exquisite, Denise. Little Pond and Adobe Rainbow are fantastic moments in time. 🙂

  25. I like these landscape photos. It’s nice to capture scenery right in its element. The first picture especially stands out to me. It’s the rainbow colors that’s attractive!

  26. It was very interesting to read your thoughts about there being ‘no rules in art’. I sometimes think that photographs which try to obey too many rules end up looking a little too formal and impersonal. It is really nice to see how other people view the world through their photographs and I like to feel free to photograph whatever takes my fancy. Thank you for sharing. I love the pond reflection image in this post, it feels very calm.

  27. Beautiful work as usual! We’re heading west for our 30th…Zion, Grand Canyon, Bryce…so excited! 🙂

  28. Beautiful photos!

  29. 58 Felix Daogas

    Nice works

  30. great mammatus clouds 🙂 beautiful pictures


  1. 1 No Rules In Art — Denise Bush’s Photo Blog – Usunshine.com

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