You Have to Know the Rules Before You Can Break Them


PictureOur author’s shot by Bambi Cantrell, from our book “Don Blair’s Guide to Posing and Lighting Body Parts”.

I’ve written a lot about Don Blair over the years, almost always about something I learned from him during our incredible friendship. “Big Daddy” pretty much became the older brother I never had. I remember him telling me about the first wedding he ever photographed. 

He wasn’t old enough to drive and had to take the bus. But, picture this. He got on the bus with his 8×10 view camera, tripod and the rest of his gear. With roots in photography like that, it’s no wonder he had so much fun with the ever-changing technology of imaging. It kept him challenged and so passionate about the craft. 

He believed in all the “rules” of photography, but he broke them all the time. He was always looking for a different way to take everything he learned and create something new, but he never compromised at the client’s expense. 

Once criticized for always having beautiful models in his programs, he was asked by one smart-ass in the audience at a workshop, 

“It’s easy for you to create gorgeous portraits. Look at your models. What do you do when you have a bride that isn’t beautiful?”

There wasn’t a second of hesitation as he responded, “There’s no such thing!”


Well, it’s Friday and the weekend is coming and it’s always a good time to plant a seed to get you thinking about your skill set. I found this quote by musician, Charlie Parker that I love:

“You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”

The image on the right is a prime example of Don “just wailing”. (My apologies for the quality of the scan.) What do you do with a tall groom and short bride? He was a 6′ 4″ Algerian boxer and she was the All-American cheerleader type, at best 5′ 1″. Just about every photographer at the time would have him hunched over her or put them on some stairs to balance things out. Don sat them down on the floor and created one of my most favorite bridal portraits.

There are no shortcuts to becoming a great photographer. Make it a point to know every aspect of your camera and especially the different focal lengths of your lenses. Stop being a “natural light specialist” and get to know studio lighting as well. Spend time experimenting with various techniques and learn every rule in photography. Attend every hands-on workshop you can; watch every video and read every book!

Once you’ve learned the rules and understand them, you’ve earned the right to push the envelope and be a true artist. Throw away the rule book and like Charlie Parker suggests, just wail!  You can break any rule you want, with one exception…NEVER disappoint a client.


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