On Knowing the Rules of Photography (and How to Break Them)

March 1, 2013

Photography is a peculiar and particular art form. There are things about photography that make it this way. Stephen Shore talks about these topics in his book “The Nature of Photographs.” According to Shore, three types of time can be depicted in photography: still time, frozen time and extruded time.

Every photographer uses these depictions in every single photograph, but as photographers we don’t even think about it most of the time. It just happens sometimes, and other times we plan for it. But like it or not, one of these styles of time will be depicted in your photograph.

For example, a still-time depiction could be a portrait of a person sitting in a chair or a scenic shot of the mountains.

©Eliot Crowley

Frozen time could best be illustrated by the drop of water bouncing up after it has hit the puddle, forming that crown shape we have all seen, or anything else that we know is moving but appears to be frozen in time.

©Eliot Crowley

Extruded time speaks to that which depicts any blur from movement or the passage of time.

©Eliot Crowley
But that is the easy example of something particular and peculiar about photography.

Curiously, those things that are particular and peculiar are things we work with in every photograph, whether we are thinking about them or not. But what if a photographer did think about them, deliberately?

Let’s look at flatness. What is truly amazing about photography is its capability to take a three-dimensional world and turn it into a two-dimensional print. That’s one of the reasons I smile at people who ask, “Did it look like that when you made the photo?” Of course it didn’t!

But I digress, back to flatness. Flatness is one of the first things any young, aspiring photographer begins to recognize and deal with in the composition of images. Usually this is done by isolating the subject into a simple, uncomplicated portion of the background, therefore drawing the viewer’s attention to the subject.

©Eliot Crowley

So if we know this about photography, why not exploit it? Use this particular and peculiar thing about photography to make the picture. Create an image that exploits this phenomenon about photography.

©Eliot Crowley

Remember the saying about art? First you must know the rules in order to know how and when to break them.

I like breaking the rules. I like using that which is inherent to my art form and exploiting it to make a more interesting, compelling and provocative image.  

Eliot Crowley is a faculty member in the Professional Photography program at Brooks Institute. See more of his work at www.eliotcrowley.com.