Rules, are they really made to be broken?


In photography we have rules.
Rules for composition: Rule of thirds, balancing elements, leading lines, symmetry and balance just to name a few
Rules for portraits: Clothing, Eye Direction, Aperture, focal length…etc.
Rules for Black and White: Tonal Contrast, tonal Separation, full zone coverage (0-10), Personal Signature.
Since I photograph architecture and then in post processing turn those into black and white fine art pieces.  I will stick with the last of the rules…black and white.
If you review my portfolio or just go to my home page you will notice I am not much of a rule breaker.  There are 2 rules I strongly believe in and there are 2 rules I have tried to break but my minds eye doesn’t allow it.
Tonal Contrast and Tonal Separation it seems I stick to like glue.
Tonal Contrast:  
Creating contrasts in your image creates intrigue and feeling.  Not enough contrasting elements and your photo falls flat and is easily passed by.  Our monitors create more dynamic contrasts than a photo with the monitor being back lit your darker and lighter grays can look more dynamic than they are which gives you the feel that you have more contrasts than they really do.  The true test is when you print your images, without those contrasts your image will fall flat and you will be left wondering why?   Know your contrasts and how your photo will print. Without printing your photo is just a digital image.
Tonal Separation:  
This falls in line with the contrasts but this gives separation to the elements in your photograph.  Multiple buildings having all the same tonal shades will create a 1 dimensional photograph with no separation from element to element.  In an architecture cityscape each building is not put on the same plain even though in a black and white photograph straight out of the camera it can look that way because of the muted tones. In person, building color, lines, size and architect stylings can separate one from the other and give you that sense of depth and texture.  On a black and white canvas that can be lost without the creation of tonal separation.
How do we do this in post processing?  By creating tonal contrasts from building to building.  For instance:  Where the edge of one building overlaps into the other building in front or behind it, if that edge is white then the other building where it overlaps needs to be darker.  How dark?  As dark as your vision needs to be to create depth and separation but staying within your vision for the entire photograph.  This goes the same way for the opposite with a dark edge and overlapping to a white. I refer to this as the “Ying and Yang” of black and white photography.
Tonal separation with contrast creates your depth, texture, separation and intrigue in your photo and is the 1st step in taking your photo’s to the next level and dimension.  Which leads me to the other 2 rules.
Full Zone Coverage:
I have tried to move away from this or blur the lines in my post processing so many times but at the end of the day I have figured out that it is just not in my nature, then why try you may ask?
I follow many photographers, I use them as mentors in my own work.  Nathan Wirth (Infrared black and white), Joel Tjintjelaar (Black and white Architecture), Dave Kelly (Black and white boudoir and bodyscaping) and many more.  I look for something new, something different, something to put into my own processing to advance my techniques as well as my in camera photography.  I am always looking to grow.
Some of it takes hold, but when it comes to the lighter processing where zone 0-3 is not represented or darker processing where zone 8-10 is not represented I am just not happy with the results.  I need all the zones represented 0-10.  It is never evenly distributed, some are lighter and some are darker, but all zones are represented.  This helps me to create my Tonal Contrast and Separation.  I put no rhyme nor reason to it, each photo has it’s own presence of these zones. But for me there is no getting away from this rule.  I also use Silver Efex Pro 2.0 to check my zones to make sure all are represented.  For me most of the time I am missing zone 10 and I have to lighten small areas to really capture the full contrast of what the photo can be.
Personal Signature:
I have read a few times on different blogs that you have to develop your own personal signature and style.  I used to think I didn’t want to be known for a certain style or signature.  I wanted to be a photographer of many fascists.  I have experimented with many new ideas and techniques in camera and post processing and as I grow in my experience and knowledge my style changes slightly.  A fraction here, a fraction there.  But in order to be unique and stand out amongst others your style needs to be yours and the more you do the more you will get to know what signature and style that is.
I get lots of comments through email and on websites that say “signature Tony Style”.  Which I don’t take that as a fault but rather as a compliment with my work being recognized and related to me as a photographer.  There is many a photographer’s work I can pick out without seeing the name.  I like that and there work stands out from the ordinary and has a unique signature.
Are rules made to be broken?  I think that was just a catchy tag line to get you to read more.  At the end I always say “yes” they are. If your images are going to stay on the computer and be “digital images” that may just work for you. Dark contrasts without lighter zones, gray photos with no 0 or 10 zones, little or no tonal separation.  This may work for you and your family will always tell you how great you are regardless of what Genre you photograph in.  But when it comes to printing and someone buying your work, well rules are there for a reason you can vary from them and experiment with them heck push there limits but those rules have a purpose and are used by many that are far greater artists than I for a reason.


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