Dec 282012

Talking about Rules and Revisiting Your Camera

by Alexander Hessentswey

If someone states – “you can’t shoot a street photo without asking the person’s permission”, or “you can’t do a street photo with a tele lens or with SLR”, there is always someone who appears and says “I do”.

 Railroad Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Panasonic G1 with Panasonic 25mm f:1.4 Leica-labeled, 50mm in equivalent)


You should be more or less in harmony with your own moral principles when shooting. The camera can’t shoot itself — at first, you have to “see”. The photography doesn’t have “should I or should I not” in itself. Only when we talk about moral decisions, laws, physics or the camera options – such as speed or the focal length of the lens, or sometimes when we talk about styles. You can’t call it a photo if it was actually painted and not shot. You can’t shoot someone undressing in his private house of course but there are plenty of great shots made with wrong equipment in incorrect ways.

 Sedov the Sailboat, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Panasonic G1 with Panasonic 25mm f:1.4 Leica-labeled, 50mm in equivalent)


No person can disallow you to shoot in colour instead of black and white or to use zoom when all others tend to use fixed lens. On one hand, Just common sense and chances can get you a good shot. On the other, you use what you have to use, and if it helps you, and if it works, it’s your way.

But, talking on genres, you may risk to get out of a particular genre. Don’t listen to those doubtful phrases like “a portrait is when the person knows you photograph him/her” (somehow, in paintings it is not so). But, yes, every genre has it rules. To worry about it or not is your decision.

 Vasilyevsky island, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Kodakchrome E100G through Leica Summicron R II 50mm)


 Vasilyevsky island, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Panasonic G1 with Tair 11A f:2.8 135mm for M42)


There are two exclusions. It is all about style and the rules of composition. You can’t do things that lead to a bad style and get a lot of good styled photos and if you go against the rules of composition you’d better know what you are doing because it can lead to the uncomfortable results, expressing not the same thing that you see in a photograph yourself. But if you follow all the rules it’s a risk to end up with a static and totally common shots without any expression or thought or meaning.

 Sedov the Sailboat, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Panasonic G1 with Yashinon DS f:1.7 50mm for M42)


Sometimes it’s better to be a part of the story. And the other thing is if you can feel the story. Personally I know some people feel uncomfortable when someone with a 35mm lens come close to one’s nose and shoots so I use 135mm or longer. It’s so silly and unprofessional (and you still can insist it’s not street photo), I know, but less rudely and obtrusive also. So you decide.

Floating Lights Party, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Panasonic G1 with Panasonic 25mm f:1.4 Leica-labeled, 50mm in equivalent)


There is one thing though that you should try. Think if is something your camera needs or wants – not only lens cleaning, but… new lenses with more pleasant bokeh or more detailed? Antique lens? An effect filter, as soft focus, yellow filter, circular polariser? Go through settings and try to do something you didn’t do before, be different. Surreal white balance, film emulation modes with dynamic black and white or vibrant colours or nostalgic look, underexpose for 2 stops, use the lens you’ve used many months ago or the one with unusual characteristics for you – too soft, too long, too wide. Try to experiment and you’ll be surprised how great your old camera can perform.

 Saint Petersburg, Russia (Panasonic G1 with Panasonic 25mm f:1.4 Leica-labeled, 50mm in equivalent)


Sincerely yours,
Alexander Hessentswey from Saint Petersburg, Russia. His TWITTER is HERE.


Feb 162010

Hellooooooo Everyone! It’s just about midnight and it’s just about to turn into Tuesday! I am sitting at my stoop with my wife in bed behind me sleeping away. I was about to go to bed myself but had a burst of energy all of the sudden as I am expecting something in my inbox in the next hour that (for me) is pretty exciting! Can’t say what it is just yet but I will when I can. So instead of going to bed I decided to write a short article on one of the most (if not the most) preached rules of photography. The rule of thirds! It’s a great rule  to follow and I use it quite often because it is a simple rule that can really make your images more visually pleasing and exciting. It is OK to break this rule sometimes though. In other words, it’s not against the law :)

Yes, rules can be broken. Just ask my wife because I broke my “no more lens buying rule” about 24 times. But I am talking about the rules of photography here and you should not be afraid to break them from time to time as the results can be equally as pleasing (they can also be not so pleasing). But before you can run out and break this rule you should know what it is. Most of you reading this already do but some of you may not so let me give you my simple and easy to understand definition.

RULE OF THIRDS definition: Basically, do not frame your subject in the center of the frame. Move it over! Left or right or up and down a little.

This rule came about due to the fact that your eyeball is naturally drawn to the off center areas of a photograph and not the center. When you spot that amazing scene and you want to get that perfect shot of it, then the rule of thirds may help you do just that. You may notice that I use the rule of thirds quite often in my photos and you also may be wondering why I am telling you it is to break that rule if I always use it! Well, I do not ALWAYS use it and sometimes I frame my subjects smack dab in the middle of my frame. But I admit, most of the time I do indeedy use this rule. After all, as someone once told me the best way to see how these rules affect a photo is to go ahead and break them :)

Here is an example of an image where I used  the rule of thirds:

Yep, for this image I was a good boy and I followed the rule of thirds. The image worked fine here but what if f I did NOT follow the most famous composition rule of photography? Well, this next image is lousy and I wonder…Hmm, is it because I put this guy right in the center or is it due to that pissed off look he is giving me?

I remember being in a photo class years ago and the teacher, who was an awesome easy going kind of gal, well, she was discussing the rule of thirds. She said to follow the rules but to also experiment and not to really get stuck on it. Hmmm, there’s a thought. She was 100% right. Photography, when done as a hobby (which the majority of us do) should be fun, exciting, and we should not have to stress over it. Experimentation is actually one of the most powerful learning tools when it comes to photography. How can we know what what works and what doesn’t if we do not try everything?

When I attended that photo class I had a blast. I think it was mainly due to the teacher who was not all uptight, not all crabby,  and a not a “stick to the rules” kind of teacher. She knew that experimenting would help us to learn why these rules were made, and eventually we would know when it may be better to break them.

So I went out and started breaking those rules! Many images were garbage but some were not too shabby! Here is one shot on my old M7 with Fuji Reala. Was out with the family at Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, AZ. My son and his cousin did not seem to happy when I asked them to let me get their pic. BTW, the lens was a 50 cron.

So what would this have looked like if I followed the rules? Thanks to photoshop and the crop tool, I can find out! Notice how I moved the subjects over to the right side? Our eyes are drawn from left to right naturally, and they really do not like getting stuck in the middle :)

This crop also works and to some may be more interesting but I like them both. These days my brain is programmed to be able to see like this when I go out and shoot. I admit, the rule of thirds is something that just comes natural to me. I use it quite often but there are also times when I feel that this rule is better left in the rule books. Sometimes I over use it, sometimes I screw it up and sometimes it can REALLY make an image stand out and turn it in to a masterpiece!

Basically, all I am saying here is what many of you already know  but the bottom line is experiment with framing your images. Next time you go out shooting here is something to try. Find a nice landscape scene and shoot it using the rule of thirds, and  then break the rule. Do the same with a portrait. You will usually get the more pleasing image when following this rule, but other times you may prefer one of those centered subject images. I know the “smack dab center” rule has worked for me in the past on a few occasions.

The key word in this article? EXPERIMENT!

Anyway it is now nearly 3AM and I am once again tired. My inbox now has my goodie in it and I am off to bed. Come back later today for a great guest article on film shooting. It’s not dead! I will leave you with an image or two where I did NOT follow the rule of thirds! Maybe I should break it more often? Thanks for reading!



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