If we see the rule of thirds as the default, “bread and butter” sort of composition guide, I can think of at least two ways to break that rule and distance your work from it. The first one is to use, against the advice of many photographers, central composition. It is a very natural, simple way of composing an image and generally results in a very “open”, peaceful, calm photograph. You could say it is classic. As I mentioned before, it is also one we instinctively learn first. The second way is completely opposite and perhaps much less “natural” to our eyes, yet one I adore at least as much as central composition. You see, if one naturally expects to find something of importance at the very center of a frame, the very edges of it might be the last place they’d look. And that sense of unexpectedness is perhaps the best part about it.
Hold On… Why?
There are so many proven ways to compose an image well. The rule of thirds and golden mean are probably the safest and work in just about any situation. Why go to such extremes and place elements at the very edges of the frame? Shouldn’t one attempt to divert the viewer away from the edges instead, so as to keep the gaze from moving on to the next work? Valid questions, of course, and the answer to the latter is, more often than not, positive. But not always.
You see, if a main element of interest is placed somewhere near the border of an image, it inherently becomes intriguing. Why is it there? Photography isn’t math, of course, and you don’t always need a specific reason. For me, it just feels right. It allows me to include more environment in my portraits, and environment often compliments the feelings, mood, emotion I am trying to show. If not the environment itself, then at least the space and how much or little there is of it. It helps create, emphasize mood. Place your subject at the bottom of the frame and you will create an airy impression. Perhaps a reference of sky, and thus dreams. Place your subject at the top and and you will, on the contrary, contract the space around him, close him in, make the photograph visually heavier.
And, if it’s somewhere at the edge, what is all that other (hint, negative) space for? Well, two reasons. The first one is rather simple – to put more emphasis on the subject. Remember my example with a sheet of paper and an ink spot on it? If not, read my article on negative space again, it’s that important. The second reason is a bit more subtle – to strengthen the emotion, mood of the image by emphasizing the, say, vastness of the surroundings.
It may be that I am simply weird this way and placing subjects at the borders of the frame is just silly. Perhaps it does not work at all and only seems to be natural in my head. Perhaps this whole article makes no sense. So? One of my biggest fears in photography as much as in life is to become boring. And so I try different things, attempt to learn them, master them. Whether this is a mistake or not I do not know. What I do know is that it works for me right now. It resonates with me, with how I see the world, which things I consider important. It adds intrigue. I like that. No, no. I adore that.
Try it. You might hate it and that is fine. But you might also find it to be a breath of fresh air. After all, art is often an experiment, is it not? So experiment. Overdo it, even. Try everything you can to find that which works for you and shows you in your work. Otherwise, if there is no you in your work, how can you say it is yours?