Since having my three boys, most notably the twins who are now toddlers, I’ve learned that many rules are meant to be broken.

Rules you’ve heard all of your life: jumping on the bed, staying up past bedtime, wearing pajamas all day. I like to break photography rules, too.

Throw the rule book out the window, grab a cup joe and let’s get started!

1. Slowing down your shutter speed

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I’ve lost my mind. How in the world am I supposed to photograph any moving being, especially a toddler, with a slow shutter speed?! This is where your creativity comes into play. A slower shutter speed shows movement in an image. One of my favorite slow shutter images is one done by panning. When panning, you’ll want to move parallel with your subject. My trick is to hold the camera as close and tight to my face as possible in order to prevent shaking. If you find this too hard, you can always try a monopod or tripod.

black and white panning photo of boy swinging by Heather Stockett

2. Out of focus

As photographers, we are taught “crisp, sharp images always”. Nope. I say focus schmocus! This doesn’t mean that all of your out of focus iPhone photos are suddenly gallery worthy. Intentional blur is gorgeous when done correctly. Look at what you are photographing and ask yourself a couple of questions. Will blur add interest to your image? Am I being intentional about my blur or does it just look like I made a mistake?

out of focus photo of yellow flowers by Heather Stockett

3. The rule of thirds

Ah, the rule of thirds. This is probably one my favorite rules to break. In fact, I break this rule all the time. Don’t be afraid of center composition. Get creative with your angles, break out a different lens and put what’s most valuable in the center of your image.

Learn more about centered compositions here.

picture of two brothers hugging by Heather Stockett

black and white photo of boy looking out a window by Heather Stockett

4. Eye contact

This is a rule that’s hard to break for many people, especially with clients. In the beginning of my career, I was so focused on perfectly posing and getting everyone to look at me. If you have two subjects, encourage them to interact with each other. Capturing genuine, honest emotions between people will not only tug on the heartstrings of your subjects, but it will create a strong connection with your viewers. There is so much more to photographing their love, communication and, let’s face it, not happy moments than straight up cheesing it. Yes, everyone loves a good “everyone looking at the camera” photo. But I say embrace the emotion that can come without eye contact. Even if you only have one subject, it can still work!

Read more about how to avoid eye contact successfully here.

black and white picture of twins playing on a swing set by Heather Stockett

photo of boy and cat hiding behind a curtain by Heather Stockett

5. Grain

Noise reduction. Fahgettaboudit! It is instilled in photographers’ brains to remove grain. In fact, with many of today’s DSLR cameras, you are able to push it’s ISO with very little noise. However, I adore grain. I believe that with the right light, settings and mood, grain adds so much to an image.

natural light picture of boy looking out a window by Heather Stockett

6. Selective focus

Always focusing on the eyes, are we? Let’s change how we see things. Selective focus is just that: carefully choosing where to focus. Be deliberate in your choice so it doesn’t look like you missed focus. This can change the mood of an image, add depth and show textures in a different way.

close up photo of two yellow flowers by Heather Stockett

pic of boy holding leaves in his hands by Heather Stockett

7. Freelensing

Similar to selective focus, but this can be a little tricky. Here, you’re actually going to remove your lens to take the photo (I know, I know…here I go again, losing my marbles). Freelensing is a great creative outlet. The blur adds so much interest to a photo and can really make your subject pop! First, get your settings correct with the lens still connected. Once you have that all set, turn the camera off, remove the lens and turn it back on. While pivoting your lens in the mount, manually focus your lens and click. If you have live view mode on your camera, this helps tremendously!

Learn how to freelens like a pro here.

backlit photo of boy swing a water hose by Heather Stockett

freelensed portrait of boy wearing suspenders by Heather Stockett

8. Pockets of gold

Raise your hand if you love shooting in beautiful, golden backlight? Ah, that’s everyone. Well, our house is like a cave. It is so dark all day long, especially in the winter months. And in winter months, I do a lot of shooting indoors which means I have to get creative. I’ve learned not to be afraid of underexposure. I search for my little pockets of light and shoot from there. Yes, my blacks are so very close to clipping. Again, break the rule. If underexposure work for the mood of your image, go for it.

boy putting on a Star Wars shirt by Heather Stockett

9. Negative space

“Fill the frame!” Toss this phrase out! Space is good! Negative space can make an image striking if done correctly. I like to place my subjects either in the center or on the right and have space all the around them. And the space is usually blank to keep my subject the main focus of the image.

simple portrait of boy with his head in his hands by Heather Stockett

sunset photo by Heather Stockett

10. Lens flare

I remember when I got my first DSLR and I was chatting with an established, older photographer about lens flare. “It’s a big no no,” he said. That went in one ear and right out the other for me. Lens flare can frame your subject and even strengthen the balance of the overall image.

Learn more about how to break the rules of photography here.

backlit photo of twin boys in a field by Heather Stockett