Its O.K to Break the Rules (Sometimes)


Rules are made to be broken.

One of the rules of composition that will come up at photography lectures again and again is you always have to have an odd number of elements in your image. The theory being that if there is an odd number of objects in the photo it will be more pleasing to the human eye. I have actually (to my dismay) seen photos tossed out of a photo contest by a judge because this “rule” was not adhered to.

A quick editorial note on contests. Consistency in the judging of photo contests is akin to the consistency these days of calling balls and strikes in Major League Baseball. Its fleeting and rare. Understand that every judge looks at things a little bit differently so if you love a photo and it does not earn a blue ribbon, please do not get frustrated and put your camera equipment up for sale on eBay the next morning.

Believe it or not, there is actually a Wikipedia page on composition that goes into great detail on the number of items in a photo of painting. The post includes the following : “The “rule of odds” suggests that an odd number of subjects in an image is more interesting than an even number. Thus if you have more than one subject in your picture, the suggestion is to choose an arrangement with at least three subjects. An even number of subjects produces symmetries in the image, which can appear less natural for a naturalistic, informal composition.”

In art, I like to think of these rules as being more guidelines than strict orders that must be followed. The beauty of taking a photograph or painting a picture is you have the freedom to do whatever you like. The so called rule of odds is a good guideline to follow most of the time but you know what they say about rules, they are meant to be broken.

Which is taking the long way to today’s photo I shot at a botanical garden in Pennsylvania a couple of years ago. For me, this photo works because there is a certain symmetry to it.
The photo seems to flow from lily to lily. If the lilies were perfectly lined up than the rule of odds would definitely be more of a consideration but they are staggered so in my mind it is not.

That is my story and I am sticking to it.

Perhaps, if one is a real stickler to the odd numbered approach, the bug under the lily at the bottom right would suffice as the fifth (odd numbered) element  and this photo really does follow the rules. You be the judge. I welcome your feedback. I promise I will not break any phones.

The next time you take a photo, just for fun, break a rule! You might be glad you did.

For another rule-breaking photo, please check out my post on the Pittsburgh Flamingoes. 

Thanks for visiting my blog and have a great day.


  1. Cool image and I’m a fan of the composition! I’ll go with something that looks good rather than follow a rule any day. I tend to think more in terms of balance and this image has it. If they were all the same size, then yes a 5th one would’ve been nice.


  2. I never knew this ‘odds’ rule in photography. But I know what you mean. Glad I started following your blog. As an amateur/hobbyist, I have learned something new from you already.

    I think the above photo works well because the even number of flowers, are placed asymmetrically in the frame. If they were the same size bloom and were placed at equal distance from each other in the frame, the composition would look odd (if you know what I mean).

    As to Rules, I take great delight in breaking rules in life (in general), so I’m sure a few photography rules e.g. rule of thirds, isn’t going to hold me back too much.


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