Doing it Wrong

Kim Beil, author of Good Pictures developed this assignment for us based on her research into the history of popular photography:

How-to books and blogs often teach the practice of photography in terms of simple rules: do’s and don’ts. Do follow the rule of thirds; don’t place your subject in the center of the picture. Do position your subject in front of the sun, but don’t get the sun in the frame or you’ll end up with lens flare.

These rules sometimes seem incontrovertible. However, many of them have changed over the decades. For example, a good portrait in the 1840s was one without shadows on the face. But, by the late 1850s, the adoption of Rembrandt-style lighting made shadows de rigueur. More recently high-angles were favored for selfies in the 2010s, but they’re passing out of fashion today.


John Baldessari

John Baldessari, Wrong, 1966-68

Rinko Kawauchi


André Kertész

André Kertész, Distortion #51, 1933

Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander, Shadow-New York City, 1966/1973

Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Paul Mpagi Sepuya is a Los Angeles-based artist working in photography. He is speaking as part of RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences’ Charles Arnold Lecture Series at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 31. Register for the Zoom event here.

The Rules are Broken: A Year in Imagemaking is a weeklong series dedicated to exploring critical issues and their impact on imagemaking. This event focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic, photography and social movements, the reckoning of a year lived through screens, photobooks and place-making, and the impact of 2020 on the future of imagemaking.


Read about rules and photographic trends from Kim Beil’s book:

No Longer Trending: On How We Name Photographic Fads

Read an interview with Kim Beil about her book, Good Pictures: A History of Popular Photography, here:

Here are some historic how-to books:

Kodak, How to Make Good Pictures, 1921

Kodak, How to Make Good Pictures, 1936

Charles M. Taylor, Why My Photographs Are Bad, 1902

The Racial Bias Built Into Photography, Sarah Lewis explores the relationship between racism and the camera.

How Kodak’s Shirley Cards Set Photography’s Skin-Tone Standard – November 13 – NPR Morning Edition


Weekly Assignment

Good Pictures Break the Rules

This project asks you to break the rules. Identify a rule, either in a vintage how-to book or in a contemporary blog. Take a picture that follows the rule. Then, in a second picture of the same subject, break the rule. Make sure you break the rule with intention and for creative effect. Think about how breaking the rules can change the meaning of your pictures.

The Instagram hashtag for this assignment is #goodpicturesbreaktherules

#goodpicturesbreaktherules Photos