break the rules of photography

Break the rules – but know what they are first

Photography is often defined by certain rules and regulations, however since it’s a combination of technical and creative disciplines one of the keys is knowing the rules AND knowing when to break the rules.

Some rules are more ingrained than others; the rule of thirds does cause many photographers to compose off-centre, more just put the centre AF point over their subjects though. They often don’t know the rule of thirds and so to them, they are following the rule that the key subject is in the centre of the frame.

Break the rules – but not the laws

One of the rules that photographers have a love-hate relationship with is the inverse square law which means that light gets 1/4 as powerful as it travels twice as far. As far as laws go this is one from the physicists and is hard (ok impossible) to break, or for many comprehend.

Compatibility is it a rule to be broken, or merely guidance?

break the rules a TS-E 90mm with EF Extender 1.4x

Break the rules – TS-E 90mm with EF Extender 1.4x

I checked through the Canon Lens Work book to discover that the TS-E 90mm f/2.8 lens is not listed as being compatible with an EF Extender, but closer inspection of the two suggested that indeed they would fit. I think the inspiration for this mis-alignment with the Canon lens book was inspired by the Strobist blog post on Gregory Heisler’s behind the scenes video of his cover shoot with Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono. In the video he mentioned a 2x extender on a 90mm tilt shift. The seed was sown, it was time to break the rules of compatibility.

 A stand in for Bill, Melinda and Bono…

Not having the portrait subjects that Heisler photographed available in my dining room, I decided something smaller in scale would be needed.

Time for wine 🙂

Soon I had a little table top setup to photograph a bottle of wine using the TS-E 90mm and EF 1.4x Extender combination. I know the lens itself is supremely sharp but often I end up a bit too close to the subjects. A bit more distance makes it easier to get the camera back parallel to the bottle, even without using the shift on the lens.

The lens and extender combination worked out fine, shift and tilt were both working though most likely at big amounts of tilt or shift there will be some vignetting or other problems.

wine bottle photography behind the scenes setup

Pull-back picture of the wine bottle photography set-up, lit with three Speedlite 600EX-RT

I used three Speedlite 600Ex-RT flashes:

  • The first is in a large Lastolite 60cm x 90cm softbox behind the bottle. Then I put a sheet of black mount board in front of the middle of the soft box. This creates the white edge to the sides of the glass bottle.
  • On a short boom arm, a second Speedlite 600EX-RT fitted with a red gel and a Honl 1/4″ grid. That creates the red-spot of light behind the bottle on the mount board. As the light is above the bottle and not in front of it then no red light spills on the bottle.
  • The last one is in an old chimera maxi soft box about 50cm x 40cm and then passes through the big 1.2m x 0.8m diffuser panel.
  • The bottle is stood on a piece of black perspex that gives the reflection of the background and the bottle. I originally stood the perspex on some old hard drive boxes with the intention of lighting the background from under the perspex, but the overhead gridded & gelled light was better.
  • The white diffuser panel to the left of the camera caused a lot of flare, so I had to flag the side of the lens with another bit of black mount card, but not in the pull back shot above.
  • I used the remote release over the radio flash system from the flash to the front left side then I could also hold the black mount card that was flagging the lens.

All the Speedlites are in manual and power levels are set / controlled from the ST-E3-RT on the camera using group mode. Though for three manual groups like this it could have been in regular manual and ratio control too. (If i’d used an older pre-2012 camera I would have had to do this)

Wine bottle photography on the table top with a TS-E 90mm f/2.8 and EF 1.4x Extender Mk II done…

wine bottle photo lit with three Speedlites

Wine bottle photography with Speedlites – click for bigger image

Don’t break this rule – always looks to improve the results

  • lower logo / gold circle needs more light – i’d run out of speedlites
  • adding the  fill card opposite the big diffuser added light on the right of the bottle but gave an unwanted strip of darkness down the centre
  • possibly the white accents down the side of the bottle are too hot, and fade as the bottle narrows to the neck


Any more compatibility rules you know of that are flexible, put them in the comments below…