Sometimes You Have To Ignore The Rules

Hummingbird Art Picture by Scott Bourne

Sometimes You Have To Ignore The Rules

If you post a picture on social media, and it doesn’t conform to the traditional rules of art and composition, you can expect to be challenged by the Paul Blart Mall Cops of Art. They can be merciless. But I want to let you know a secret. These people don’t buy pictures. They don’t publish pictures. They just critique pictures. Publishers, editors and art buyers may not care about the rules – if you come up with something that is striking.

Occasionally, I like to bend or even break the rules of art and composition. I’ve been experimenting more often than I did in my youth, especially with unusual crops.

Today’s picture was actually commissioned by a Chinese art collector who loves my hummingbird images. He challenged me to do a series that was less “realistic” and more ethereal. This image I share today is one of those from that series. He loved the work and I felt super happy that I took the chance to create – despite the rules.

It occurred to me that maybe this could be a teachable moment for some of you who are looking for permission to work outside the box so I came up with some tips that I hope you will find helpful.

Hummingbird Art Picture by Scott Bourne

1. You need to know the rules before you can break them – otherwise – it’s just a happy accident if it comes out well. Study art and composition to the point where you could teach it. Then you will have the foundation that you need to color outside the lines.

2. Make the picture YOU see – not the picture everyone else WANTS you to see. In my opinion, this is a crucial step to making art. When you decide to break the rules of art and composition, let your heart be your guide. I often say “Feel your way to a photograph.” Emotion is one of the best tools in your toolbox. Use it. What are you feeling? What do you want to say? Figure that out and go for it.

3. Always have a reason to break the rules. Don’t just do it for the sake of breaking the rules. That usually ends up badly. I see a lot of this in young people. They just rebel for the sake of rebellion. It may seem cool, but it’s counterproductive. Have a good reason and be able to articulate it with specificity, if only for yourself.

4. Start with simple things like odd cropping or framing. Or select certain colors or shapes to add impact to images. Mix media. Study other art forms and riff on those within your own medium. It’s all fair in love and art.

5. Be fearless. If you want to really explore your artistic side, you need to be willing to put yourself out there, come what may. It gets easier as you get older…believe me. At my age, pretty much everyone already discounts me, or figures me for irrelevant – so what have I got to lose? It’s harder when you are young and people have different expectations of you. You need to carry on with your art without concern over the mob’s opinion. Art history is replete with examples of artists who were persecuted when they were alive for dramatic pieces that violated all the accepted norms, only to become famous later for their bravery and vision.


Whether you like my hummingbird picture or not, I hope it illustrates that you can indeed take chances. Let your heart be your guide.

In this case, the picture reminded me of the conflict that actually creates harmony in the unusual world of the hummingbird. The strong colors and tones in this picture are both pleasing, yet bold – and that is how I would describe hummingbirds. The extreme use of negative space came naturally because hummingbirds fly very quickly and traverse long distances in the blink of the eye. I wanted to show where the bird came from as well as his destination. The odd crop is designed to channel the emotional response down a thin corridor so that the payoff – the bird at the flower – is easy to spot.

You may think this is all too ethereal or even artistic malarky. And that’s okay. If that is the case, this post (and perhaps even this picture) isn’t for you. For those I did reach with this message, I hope I helped you see your way clear to feeling your way to your next great image.

I’m rooting for you.

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks again for your posts. I’ve deleted connections to some others and look forward to yours. Off the subject of this post, but yesterday while photographing hairy woodpeckers in a large public park I spotted a young bald eagle which seemed strange since there were many hundreds of people in the park. From what photos I could get it seems to be blind in one eye. Since you frequently work with bald eagles I thought I’d ask, what are that bird’s chances for survival with only one eye? Less than normal I assume. There is a lake in this park with many coots, mallards, herons, and even wood ducks. He may have been in the park looking for a meal. I hope all this doesn’t sound too corny, but I was a game warden in Wyoming for 30 years. As a game warden and now a photographer you develop empathy for any suffering animals.

  2. This is a beautiful image. I love the contrast between soft and vibrant colors. Staying within the confines of the ‘rules of photography’ can be stifling at times. I’m always so worried that no one will like my picture and I always feel so vulnerable when I post them. That being said, the more I learn, the more confidence I have in my choices. I love how you reversed the leading lines by leaving the space behind. It makes perfect sense . Thanks again for a great article.
    ~ Diane

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