Rules? What rules? by Neil Alexander

Many of you will have heard me bleat on about the “rules" of composition in the past and why it’s important to learn what they are. Then without breaking stride I go and tell you to break them. 
What is this nonsense??

Well it’s quite simple really. You don’t necessarily need to know how something works in order to use it. Take a car for example. I would hazard a guess that only a fraction of the people who use one actually have the faintest idea what goes on under the bonnet. If for some reason though, you decided you wanted to improve your car somehow, you wouldn’t stand much of a chance unless you understood how a car works. Is that analogy working for you? Nope. Let’s try something else.

You like to read. A great novel can captivate you and keep you glued to the book until the wee small hours. You decide that maybe you could have a go at this writing malarkey yourself. How hard can it be right? You spend hours and hours pouring over your first draft and then give it to your partner to read. They laugh hysterically at the utter drivel you have penned. This is not the reaction that you anticipated or wanted. Devastated, you decide to take a class in creative writing and subsequently churn out another version. Having learnt the basic rules of creating a story, your second version is a major improvement and it’s actually received rather well. But it’s still not a J.K. Rowling. Not disheartened you then go on to take an advanced writing course and the penny finally drops. You suddenly get it. All the rules and pointers that had originally gone over your head suddenly make perfect sense and with renewed vigour you perform a complete rewrite. This time you know exactly what you should be doing and how you should be doing it. In places you take a gamble and knowing full well what you should be doing, you deviate. You mix it up a little and experiment. The result is an outstanding success because not only have you discovered a formula, but you’ve found your formula. You’ve learnt the rules and then bent and twisted them to make something a little different. Something that deviates from the norm but still works. In fact it works better than the standard formula because you completely understand what you're doing. You get the rules and understand the implications of bending and breaking them.

It’s the same with photography. The “rules” are only there as guidelines. There’s no such thing as right or wrong in photography or even in art as a whole. I’m sure that the first time Mondrian came up with the idea of all those lines and boxes, people said he was nuts and they would never sell. The same for Tracy Emin and her bonkers art. The fact that I don’t get her doesn’t mean she’s doing anything wrong.

And finally to the photograph above. The “rules of composition” would state this image does not work. But it does. In fact when I posted it on 500px just the other day, it reached a Pulse of 96.7 so I’m clearly not the only one who thinks this. I’ve placed the three trees in the middle of the frame, and the sun, that the viewers’ eye is instantly drawn to, isn’t far from being drop dead centre. It’s certainly not in any of the “thirds”. 

It was shortly after dawn one February morning 5 years ago when I made this. I experimented with different compositions at the time, but it became apparent very quickly that this format was going to work. Ask me to comment on why exactly it works is a different story. This I can’t do. I just know that it does. I’ve always been dreadful at trying to critique photographs. Putting words together has never been my forté. That’s why I’m a photographer :-)

There's a time and a place for run 'n' gun by Neil Alexander

Trees in the mist in the Derbyshire Dales at dawn

These images I made the other morning up in the High Peaks or the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve as Google Maps refers to it. I’d planned to head up the previous morning and had done all my prep; camera bag readied, coffee pot on the timer, flask out etc etc but one final check of the weather forecast before hitting the sack revealed a startling different picture from the one I’d created my plans around earlier in the day. So after a little deliberation I binned the idea off, popped the lid on a cold one and settled for the following day, for which the forecast would set be altogether a different picture. In fact it was set to go from blanket grey skies one morning to total blue the next, neither of which were ideal for landscape photography but at least I would get some good early light. Often for me, the wee trips themselves up into the solitude and peacefulness of the hills are sufficient to rejuvenate my creative batteries without even hitting the shutter. 
Now there are times when I’m more than happy to yomp up a dale or clamber down the side of a waterfall or whatever is required to get the photograph, however this particular morning I had decided in advance, would be a run ’n’ gun. The roads would be deserted and I’d spend the majority of my time down tiny back lanes so the chance of me causing any kind of obstruction or hindrance to anyone else by abandoning my car in the middle of the road would be somewhere between slim and none. 
And that’s pretty much what I did. I simply chased the light for a couple of hours and it felt great.

Trees in the mist in the Derbyshire Dales at dawn

19th anyone? by Neil Alexander

The other morning, I stumbled out of bed before dawn and ambled over to Ringway Golf Course just behind my house. There are two trees in particular on this course that I'm just in love with. I've probably photographed them 100 times but this is one of my favourites. It's a 9 frame bracketed exposure merged in LRenfuse and then tweeked a little further in Lightroom.

If you'd like to buy a print, this image will be up in my galleries in the next couple fo days. I'll add a link when I've got it up there.