Breaking Rules


We learn about all these rules in photo and video production, which are great advise especially for beginners, but must we follow them religiously? Rules are meant to be broken, but we have to understand the rules before breaking them. In this post, I will demystify the reasons behind these sacred rules and when you might want to break them.

Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds applied to the Brooklyn Bridge

Rule of Thirds applied to the Brooklyn Bridge

Reason: Aligning your subject or horizon to 1/3 of the framing feels more natural and less intrusive. It makes your audience feel like an observer, like a fly on the wall.
Exception: Centering your subject to make it imposing and powerful. Also center your talent if he or she will be speaking directly to your audience.

Centered shot of Queensboro Bridge.

Centered shot of Queensboro Bridge.

Eye Level

Reason: Keeping the camera at eye level makes the audience feel equal with the subject.
Exception: Raising and lowering the camera conveys superiority or inferiority, respectively. Just slightly raising the camera can also hide the chin and bring out jawline.


In this clip, the captor loses power to the hostage and the camera height shifts to emphasize this change.
For the full film, go to  Two Term from PixieDayWalker Films.

Shoot Wide

Reason: Zooming out minimizes any shakiness and out of focus footage.
Exception: Zooming in creates shallower depth of field to separate the subject from the background, which is ideal for portrait so long as your camera is stabilized (i.e. on a tripod).

Light Source Behind You

Reason: Keeping the light source behind you means the light will face the subject.
Exception: Sometimes light can be too harsh (like high noon on a sunny day) in which case you can try bouncing the light or shooting against a diffused background. You should also shoot against the light for silhouettes and confidential shots.

Shooting against the light for anonymity,

Shooting against the light for anonymity,

180 degree rule

Reason: Keeping the camera(s) on one side of the subjects is ideal for cutting back and forth between two shots because the subject will be facing opposite sides like they are talk to each other.

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Typical shot for dialogues and interviews.

Exception: Consider breaking this rule when you want to introduce confusion to the scene. Sometimes, the space simply does not allow for such a setup. In which case you may be able to get away with flopping the shot in post so long as there are no dead giveaways like text.

Which rules do you follow and which ones do you break? Love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.

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