Life is full of rules.
It starts at a young age... listen to your mother... do as you're told... do as I say, not as I do (one of my personal favorites!)... clean your room... make your bed... stay within the lines... raise your hand... speak when spoken to... don't talk back... etc.
You could go on-and-on.
When it comes to photography, there are plenty of rules as well. Some have validity, while many are simply confining (see paragraph #1... Stay within the lines). There should be a footnote in every photography book:
***Conforming to all rules may be hazardous to your creativity***
Studies have shown that children can be incredibly creative before they know anything about do's & don'ts. Their sense of artistic expression has no boundaries at a young age... then Kindergarten comes along and everyone is taught to follow the same guidelines. Exit creativity... enter similarity.
Okay, I'll admit, I'm oversimplifying the process. Knowing the rules is always advantageous; however, knowing when to break them and deviate from the group consensus can produce unique imagery. Some of the most creative photographers I've seen in recent years know little or nothing about the technical elements of photography or composition. They simply have a wanderlust for capturing a moment in time.
Some of the more popular photography rules include;
#1. Fill the frame (no empty space).
#2. Don't cut off limbs (i.e. don't crop at the knees or elbows)
#3. Utilize the Rule of Thirds (think tick-tack-toe grid).
#4. A clean background is desirable (dark or simple).
#5. Balance visual weight (objects should compliment each other).
#6. Foreground interest & depth is desirable (i.e. beginning, middle and end).
#7. Present a unique point of view (high, low, etc).
#8. Use leading lines (s-curves and lines will lead the viewer through the frame).
#9. Frame your subjects with natural objects (i.e. trees, leaves, buildings, etc.).
#10. Incorporate rule of odds... (i.e. 3 birds are better than 4).
Knowing when to follow rules... and when to break them... is part of the photographers artistic expression. Setting up a shoot for commercial or advertisement purposes affords a lot of control. Street photographers, on the other hand, will have to patiently bide their time until a scene comes together. In the end, the creative vision of the individual will dictate the final frame.
Many artists have discussed the topic of rules for centuries. I'll finish with one of my favorite quotes...
"Learn the rules like a pro,
so you can break them like an Artist."