Photography rules and when to break ’em

My first memory of photography dates back to being about 4 and helping my granddad in the bath room that he converted to a temporary dark room. Over the years, I have studied everything from black and white dark room processing, to street fashion photography, studio photography, and used everything from a 1950s Zenith, to SLRs, polaroids, and phones. When learning to take photos a world of useful resources exists on just about any topic. I think learning the theory is critical to taking good pics but there are times to just break the rules.

I recently borrowed Lonely Planet’s Travel Photography book – this is an amazing reference on anything you might come across whilst adventuring and packs thousands of tips surrounded by awesome images. This post is my answer to some of the less practical suggestions – e.g. I don’t want to lug several SLR bodies – for my hobby purposes just the one is plenty!

Adventure in your city

Anthropologie window – 2017 – Phone

Not all of us are lucky enough to travel around the world to take photos, but inspiration can be found anywhere you look. Larger cities offer great opportunities for architecture, art, street life, food, music and sports photography. Smaller or more remote villages can provide a lot of rustic charm. The local park can be used to practise macro photography – especially in the spring and summer when plenty of flowers and insects are around.


Squamish – 2017 – Phone

Composition is key to taking a great shot. Whilst an image can be cropped or adjusted later changing the fundamental details of a picture is next to impossible.

For publication worthy photos, some key rules apply such as avoid the ‘leaning building’, avoid wires in the shot, when to use wide angle lenses etc.

All of these rules are subject to being broken for instance when you want to highlight the triumph of an amazing building towering over you, or when wires are used creatively to draw the eye’s attention to the main aspect of your image.

The main thing to bear in mind, is to consider what your subject or objective is in taking the shot.

Lens flare, reflections and polarizing lenses

Paris – 2004 – Olympus Digital

My obsession with reflections started years ago, when I was in Paris for a few months. The daily light was amazing, and sun shining off ancient buildings provided plenty of creative opportunities.

It continues to the day as I enjoy the effect of blending several images together in one take. This can be achieved easily by using layers in Photoshop or even in the dark room, but that would mean taking multiple shots and hoping they can come together later. Nothing to say that you can’t do both though as digital storage is almost infinite when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

Traditional advice suggests using a polarizing filter to avoid reflections on glass, and there’s definitely times to do that, as well as cleaning off smudges if you’re not going for a reflection effect.

Lens flare is on the ‘to avoid’ list – but what if that ray of sun comes out adding more vibrant colour to your image?

3 Reflections – Aritizia window – 2017 – Phone

Shooting in low light conditions and digital noise

Happy Valley, Big White – 2017 – Phone

The smaller the lens the less light – which means more digital noise at night or dusk. There’s a tradeoff between how much I’m willing to carry and what I can edit out of an image later. Noise can also lend a nostalgic effect reminiscent of film grain especially when used with a carefully applied sepia or black and white filter.

When to take an SLR and lens kit

A small lens on a phone can only do so much however, and SLRs offer much finer grained control over all aspects of your image. Pack the SLR any time you go on a true one off adventure somewhere you have never been and aren’t likely to come back to. I still regret not taking an SLR for my first trip to Africa, as both the landscapes and the wildlife were amazing and my 5MP digital couldn’t do the scenes justice. For wildlife photography a telephoto lens is a great investment!

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Cheetahs in South Africa – 2014 –  Sony Alpha DSLR / telephoto lens

Rules not to break

Dirty lenses can mean tons of editing later – clean before you go

People – get permission to take pics of strangers and send them the photo if you can – posting portraits or close ups on social media without permission can make people uncomfortable

Buildings – when taking pictures on commercial premises such as an office be mindful that the company may not want you to share, particular if the image could contain original unpublished IP. If in doubt ask!

Vancouver – 2016 – Phone

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