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To Get the Shot, Ya Gotta Break the Rules

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Veteran photographer Joe McNally—whose work has appeared in Time, Life, and Sports Illustrated magazines—shares a few of his favorite tricks from his runaway bestseller The Moment It Clicks, in which Joe shares how he got some of his best shots.

Photographers learn plenty of rules for capturing great images. But sometimes you get better pictures by breaking the rules and experimenting with new ideas. Here are a few tips that have made for some spectacular photos.

Ignore the Rule of Thirds

Some rules are good ones, like the rule of thirds. It works. But, as with all rules, ya gotta break it every once in a while (see Figure 1).

Simplicity is best here. I put the minister right in the middle of the frame, where he would radiate authority. I lit him with one softbox overhead, just out of frame. The key to the picture is his hands holding the cross. I took a hot shoe flash, a Nikon SB-800 speedlight, and popped it into a small gold reflector, handheld by my assistant. It was just a tiny bit of warm light, but it made the cross glow.

By the way, the halo-like fixture in the ceiling just over his head is not an accident.

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