BREAK THE RULES.. but know them first! / News and Notes

WORKSHOPS:: (2011 & 2012 schedules are there)        PODCAST:



OCTOBER 2011—–FALL in NE OHIO & a day with the AMISH —FILLING FAST



             ICELAND 2012—FILLING FAST








News & Notes:

Outdoor Photo Gear recently had a reprint of an article from this blog on their site (they gave an excellent blog area). Today they used one of my photographs on their home page……

thanks guy’s !! if you haven’t visited them (click on the banner below) & check them out. They are a truly 1 stop shop for the coolest photo accessories and more around.

___________________________________________________________ ( also published a new essay of mine “The 10 Commandments of Photography” recently.  Give it a read, as well as the other articles from Guy Tal and Alain Briot. NPN is THE premier online forum for photography.


And don’t forget my friends at HUNT’S PHOTO & VIDEO. ., by far the best in the industry—Call Gary Farber for the best pricing and selection, yes better than NYC!!! (800) 221-1830 x 2332 and tell Gary I said hi!


And finally a new website advertising workshops both in the USA and abroad is up and running. . All Photo Adventures also contains lots of good tips from some excellent photographers.

They were kind enough to post an article from me as well .



Let’ talk about looking at images on the web on your monitor for a minute. I bet a lot of you didn’t know this. Internet Explorer 9 is not color managed. I REPEAT—NOT COLOR MANAGED!!!

FIREFOX and SAFARI is color managed and will ensure sRGB is read correctly. The problem is with Internet Explorer 9. If you are using IE9 often the greens & yellows will have hues significantly different from your original image. Why this is I have NO idea.

Many folks often discuss, and often critique images using IE9. I think you see my point. To do this kind of exercise correctly, use either Firefox or Safari. If everyone is not on a color managed browser such as in FIREFOX or SAFARI (as well as a calibrated monitor) we are all looking at hues & colors that often are drastically different…….Consider this when viewing images on your (hopefully calibrated) monitor.

One way around this if you want to continue to use explorer 7 on up…. is here


New D400 from Nikon? I am hearing lots of rumors about a D400 coming in August. This would make a lot of sense since the D300 line, though extremely successful, has about reached it life cycle. Historically,  Nikon has unveiled follow-up cameras about every 2 years, and this August makes 2 years since the D300s came on the scene.

I would guess the MSRP on the D400 to be around that of the D300s. The “Sweet spot” these days for DSLR’s is $750- $1500.  Competitively, along with Canon & Sony there are many fine cameras in those price points. The D 400 will compete with all of them…………………………..I guess we’ll see in a few weeks!


Break the Rules….but know them first

© Jack Graham all rights reserved

In all of the many books that attempt to teach one how to be a better photographer, I would bet that there is only a handful that actually talks about breaking the rules. We are so entrenched in getting things right, and following the many common rules of photography, we sometimes forget to experiment and let our creative side flourish.

So what are the “rules”? Without going into each specific photographic “rule”  suffice it to say, before going out into the field attempting to make quality images one must have a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t work. It’s hard enough to “See” an image, but then how do want to communicate that through the lens. What mood do you want to project, and what equipment do you use.

I maintain that if you can be adept at the following basic “rules”, use the light to your advantage and slow down and give yourself the ability to see, you’ll come away with more quality images.

If you understand the basic rules, but do not incorporate them into your photography, you are in essence not using the rules at all and in turn, your images will reflect this lack of understanding. In some ways if you don’t adhere to the accepted photographic rules, you’re already breaking them, however by using accepted photographic rules; you’ll be more successful when you attempt to break them. It takes patience and lots of technique when you break one or more of the cardinal rules of photography. One had better study them, know them inside and out and understand these rules are accepted protocol.

I recently was told that a rather well-known nature photographer, when asked about rules, replied that he has no rules. I admire this person’s work and guarantee, he follows the common rules of photography, but at times successfully breaks them and comes away with great images. In this essay, I am doing to discuss a few common rules of photography and how you might successfully break them, let your creative juices flow and be successful in your photography.

Let’s look at a few, certainly not all basic rules of photography. I’ll demonstrate the use of them and how you can break them to a degree, but still come away with a pleasing image.


RULE: Bad light is bad light and good light is good light. Usually, but not always.

I know some excellent nature photographers that only shoot in the “sweet light” Sweet light is defined by the effects of the sun during the time of day when the sun is at a very low angle or when conditions provide for warm and dramatic light. Typically ½ hr before sunrise and ½-3/4 of an hr after sunset is when this sweet light occurs.

You must know and if possible if possible visualize the light under certain atmospheric conditions in order to make your time in the field successful.

Monument Valley in "sweet light"

BREAK the RULE: However, Can you break this rule and make acceptable images? Certainly for macro photography and in areas where you can control your environment, shooting only at certain times of the day are not relevant. In certain circumstances, you can come away with quality images.

The image on Monument Valley was shot at the so called”Golden hour”, in very good light.

Oregon Coast

The second  image was taken about 2PM on the Oregon Coast with a rather bright, but partly cloudy afternoon. First I limited all but a touch of sky and made the movement of the grasses the subject. I shot this 2/3rds under exposed to darken the image a bit. One might see this as being shot on an overcast day, but it was far from completely overcast.









RULE: Always follow the rule of thirds………………….  Well, not always

The rule of thirds is the most important rule of composition. It is intended to place subjects in areas that are aesthetically pleasing. This rule was not invented yesterday. It’s stood the test of time


The “Rule of Thirds” divides each image into three areas both horizontally and vertically.  In turn, a grid with nine squares, similar to a tick-tack–toe board is created.  Each of the individual points of those squares is where your subject could be placed.  The basic idea of this rule is to avoid centering an object.

Following the rule. The male cardinal is  nowhere near the middle of the image. The rule of thirds is followed in this image.

In the two images below, it is easy to se why moving the center of the image just a bit makes for a much more pleasing image

This center of this image is kind of bulleseyed
the center is off center














Hawaiian Church

There are a few special times when centering an object or subject works. Most often is when the leading lines are all moving in concert to the center of the image.

The image of the church on the left is a good example of a centered subject. In this case the subject takes up most of the frame. The  flowers act as a leading line , bring you right up to the stairs and the front door of the church.  Though the subject is in the middle, the image looks just fine.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, California ( image shot on Fuji Velvia--remember film?)

It is important to determine how much negative space you want to have in your image. Negative space is the area around the subject.  For example, if a subject happens to be is long and thin or on the smallish side, having more negative space will make the subject look lost within the image. Conversely, too little negative space might cut off the subject. …. And you may want that! Remember, if it works, break the rule.

Have I ever broken the centering rule, yes, when it works. If I choose to center an object because its shape allows the image to be more pleasing.  Circular objects are a good example.  A photo looking up into a domed ceiling usually works better with some centering

A round flower often needs centering to avoid cutting off portions of the petals. Buy why not cut off the petals, break the rule and get creative.

I never make breaking rules a habit, but sometimes it works.  In the end I usually use the “Rule of Thirds” as my guideline.





The other main decision with composition has to do the deciding if the subject lends itself to a horizontal or vertical image.

RULE: The amount of negative space required to make a pleasing images is a major factor in determining which format is the best….) and then as always, consider the rule of thirds in both formats when making the image)….. And think creativity. If I break the rule, would it improve my image?”

As a photographer when in the field I will typically shoot both formats of a subject if there is any question as to the best format. I then make the decision at a later date which format works for me. Usually, each format conveys a very different feeling.

When I photograph waterfalls, trees or flowers with long stems, I tend use the vertical format. However if the same waterfall, flower or tree is photographed without the long stem or falling water, then the horizontal format might be considered over the vertical so there is more space surrounding the subject.

Both images are of the identical waterfall.

Again, if breaking the rule makes for more pleasing images, then by all means do it.










HORIZON LINES in composition are critical.

RULE: Horizons should generally be low to feature the sky, or high to the foreground.  They should always be level straight and level.

Again, thinking creatively, you may want break this rule. Most often if I do, I exaggerate the horizons, making somewhat of an abstract image. You either want to follow this rule to the tea, or really break it and use your imagination.


The horizon line in the image of Monument Valley is almost right down the center of the image, however in this image I think it works quite well.





Green Heron on the prowl

One area I almost never break the rules is when photographing subjects that are not stationery.  Birds in flight, moving objects like boats, planes or cars should point in a direction they are moving towards.  Without this direction they look like they are running out of the frame and into an invisible dead-end on the end of the image.

Big Horn Ram, Wyoming

But I sais almost.  The ram below is almost dead center. I wanted to show the path from where he came from in the background. Did I break the rule, of course, but purposely to show the environment he lives in and appeared from.












Exposure is basic. One must take Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO into consideration. Each has an effect on the other, though by themselves are separate considerations.

Rule: Smaller apertures will always give more depth of field, and a larger less. and a slower shutter speed will always cause more blurring, and a faster less. A higher ISO ( though modern technology is changing this drastically) will always create more noise in an image  Proper exposure comes from knowing how these three affect each other and thus making the right choice for each scene.

Oregon Coast, underexposed by 2/3 of a stop

Rule: Exposure itself should match whatever the lighting is in that situation.

Moonlit landscape at Death Valley... about a 40 second exposure at F4, ISO 400

For example, a moonlit landscape should look moonlit and not like mid afternoon. The rules for ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, are not debatable.  However, a we can use these rules them to convey a feeling using light. I often try to replicate the scene as I observed it when making the image. However, experiment, and perhaps underexpose your image (usually overexposure will be less advantageous). You may find a totally different feeling being felt. If it’s interesting and pleasing, by all means break the rule!

Even is you have an acceptable composition, a bad exposure will destroy the image. Break the rules of exposure only after you master them. By the end of a workshop, my attendees are usually sick of hearing me preach getting the exposure (and composition for that matter) right in the camera. Editing often can not fix everything.

Photographers use rules, or lack of, and creativity to make pleasing images. We all are different and see in different ways.  This is what makes each image and each photographer unique.  Remember; break the rules only when you have mastered them. Be creative

We are all using creativity when we photograph a subject. Just breaking the rules doesn’t work by itself. One should spend time experimenting with the composition and the light, Using your creativity is the way to make pleasing images while breaking the rules.  If a certain rule of photography blocks out your creativity, then choose to use it or try something different. Creativity along with other parameters is what makes one photographer stand out from another

Our life is filled with rules. We stop at red lights; sports are based on rule books. There are rules that we are not permitted to break. However in the arts and science, though based on rules as well. Many great discoveries were made by someone breaking a rule………………In photography, some rules can be more definitive and some more vague.


Creating Mood, Motion & Emotion with Water / What’s new !!




Coming soon–my evaluation on F-Stop’s photography backpacks— I love them!



This month my essay entitled THE 10 COMMANDMENTS of PHOTOGRAPHY is published on Nature, the preview photography online magazine & discussion site. Check it out

In addition my last essay here on the blog was published on Outdoor Photo Gear’s site. Click on the banner on the left column to see they site.  They offer some great products all in a “One stop shopping” experience. You’ll see accessories found nowhere else in one single site. Cheek them out as well.



As I have written over the years, I can not recommend Bob Hitchman’s PHOTOGRAPH AMERICA NEWSLETTER enough. One issue will be enough to convince you of the value of these wonderful informative publications.

TIP:   Most folks are not converting to receiving the newsletter via download (PDF file).

Photograph America Newsletter strives to make it as easy as possible to receive the PDF files of our newsletters. With the ever-expanding technology of hardware and software, snags sometimes pop up.

A lot of readers are losing back issues of their Photograph America Newsletters.

When you receive an emailed download link to a Photograph America Newsletter, the Best Practice is to open the PDF and save it to your computer as soon as possible. Open each link, and save the PDF files in a labeled folder on your computer. Otherwise, emails with these links can get lost or accidentally deleted. Even if your computer never crashes, “link rot” can occur when servers are disabled or there are changes of URL names.


Oregon Coast

Creating Mood, Motion and Emotion with Water

© Jack Graham / Jack Graham Photography

Sol Duc River, Olympic NP

While driving down from a workshop at Olympic National Park last week, I was thinking about some of the locations we visited. Though there are hundreds of miles of rainforest in the park, much of the park contains some diverse locations that feature water. There are some of the most picturesque rivers, waterfalls, shorelines and small spring fed streams, within the park, all with different dynamics that make for some great photos ops. So I made some notes to include within this essay.

Water is very important to me and my photography. Weather taking an image of a grand landscape, or a macro image I love including water as either a subject or as an accompaniment to the subject itself. In other words, water is often included in many of my favorite images. An ocean scene as well as dew drops on a leaf, both containing a water feature can convey a special feeling, that is unique different from scenes without water.

Water adds mood, reflects light, and depending on the light can be many different hues. Water is an unpredictable feature and therefore can be used to create photographs that transmit varied feelings.

Unlike mountains, canyons, forests, etc, one must be prudent in observing how water interacts within a scene. We need to take the textures, colors, tones, and form into account when including water in our images. Depending on the time of day, the light and shape of the water can change drastically. Knowing an area and the potential can really help when considering an image including water.

Like other aspects of nature photography, we must take the overall visual design into effect when photographing all types of water. Is one area detracting from others? Is the light working for you or against you? Do you need to relocate your position?

Mono Lake, California

Water movement will change the mood of the image as well. Calm water, in great light before sunrise transmits a totally different feeling than moving water in similar locations. Time your trips, pay attention to the weather and do some scouting and return if necessary at the right time if needed. Experiment with different lenses. I love wide-angle lenses on mirrors lakes with great skies.

Often we choose not to shoot when a breeze creates ripples on the water. I would suggest that you experiment with different shutter speeds. You can create impressionistic effects on the water by varying your shutter speed. Today we have access to a ND filter made by Singh-Ray ( ) that can stop down to 8 stops.

Still Creek, Oregon

Select a telephoto lens to move in and capture specific areas like reflections, rocks, plants or even a reflection of the land or even a building. Different times of the year yield more color and different effects as well. I love photographing the reflection of the fall color in water. The lower the camera is to the ground, the more color you’ll pick up. Include some leaves on rocks to add more interest to your photograph.

no polarazer, 200mm lens--look for the dips & colored rocks below the water

If you read many of the books written on general photography, we are told to use a polarizer when photography water to take the glare off the ware. Be careful, sometimes you shouldn’t use one. I rarely use a polarizer when photographing water at sunrise. The polarizer will remove a lot of the reflected light, color and subject matter from the water. I also like to photograph small intimate areas of streams with colored rocks, moss-covered rocks that are under the water. I never use a polarizer when doing this. (TIP: when trying this look for smooth water, not white-water, and look for dips created by rocks to evoke the motion in the water).

Proxy Falls, Oregon

When photographing waterfalls, take into account your shutter speeds. I suggest reading my article on waterfall photography.

I used a fast shutter speed to capture the crashing waves

Varying your shutter speed also creates different and at times surreal looks on moving water. Choose whether you want to freeze the water, or let it go to that silky effect to create the mood you want in your image. Use shutter speeds longer than ¼ second to create the silky effect. Conversely, I love to photographing crashing waves at high shutter speeds to capture the spray, frozen in the image that tells the viewer where I was and the dramatic sense of power in the wave itself. However, the ocean can convey a wonderful feeling using low shutter speeds, especially at low tide. The bottom line is to experiment!

Early morning reflection, Newport Harbor, Oregon
Using a tide pool as the foreground

I really love photographing at the ocean taking all the previously mentioned things into consideration. I especially love the tide pools found here on the Pacific Coast. Use these as foregrounds if at all possible. Watch the tide, it can come in quick. Recently I just made it back on shore and only had to wade knee-deep as the tide came in quicker than I thought.  Always be aware of your surroundings and never turn your back on the ocean!

Experiment with different ISO’S. This will adjust your shutter speeds, while leaving your aperture of choice in place. (And of course remember your tripod and quality head). If you have leaves moving in a pool of water try a 5-10 second, or longer exposure and capture them moving for some interesting abstract images.

A foggy morning at Trillium Lake, Oregon

Be aware of the light. Blue skies can cast a blue effect on water on clear days. While post processing carefully adjust the temperature to compensate for this effect if you wish. Use weather conditions along with water to create moody effects in your images. For instance, fog can create a special dreamy effect. Fog often appears on water when the temperature of the air falls below that of the water. Prior to sunrise the fog can have a bluish cast oto it, but after sunrise, the same fog can become a warm gold, offering a wonderful addition to any image.. Scouting out areas to photograph when the light is too harsh to shoot, then going back in great light, as well as being prepared with weather information is mandatory to capture striking images. I use the Photographers Ephermis(TPE–see too below) to predict the sunrise time and direction in the location I am photographing in.

Tool for INFORMATION ON SUNRISE & SUNSET directions and more

Consider where you have water in your location and how you can use it to create some special photographs. Go back to the same location at different times and use the water along with the subject matter to make some interesting images. Water adds never-ending possibilities to photography.

Sunset, Cannon Beach, Oregon