Our craft is resplendent with so-called “rules” or “laws” of photography that you’ve no doubt heard repeated time and time again. Many of these pertain composition, like the Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, the Golden Ratio, and others that sometimes are useful and in certain situations are meant to be ignored.
Today’s tutorial from the Hoffman Photography YouTube channel is a bit different, for a couple of reasons: First, these “universal” rules are useful for all genres of photography. And, secondly, what makes them so interesting is that you likely haven’t come across this advice in the past.
German Instructor Rainer Hoffman is a long-time professional photographer, educator and author. What often makes his tutorials unique, is that he often marches to a different drummer. Therefore, his lessons can be controversial, with plenty of room for you to disagree. Nonetheless, he says he formulated “Hoffman’s Three Laws of Photography “after many years of research and experience” and they’re being revealed for the first time today.
Hoffmann describes his laws in reverse order of importance, and #3 is sure to raise some eyebrows—particularly among mirrorless shooters who bought into the format (at least in part) for the convenience of small and lightweight cameras. But here it is: “The smaller the camera, the more cumbersome the handling.”
There are several reasons Hoffman make this claim, but he summarizes them like this: “As cameras get smaller, while the LCDs on the back get bigger, there’s less and less room for all the dials, knobs, and switches.” Therefore, all these physical controls get smaller as well, and often have multiple functions. In Hoffman’s experience this is hardly a recipe for great handling. He adds that many students in his workshops agree.
Hoffmann’s second Law of Photography is far less controversial, as he emphatically insists, “Your Camera has a viewfinder. Use it.” After a sigh of despair, he says this: “Don’t get me started. I keep shaking my head when I see people hold a camera with outstretched arms” while framing and capturing a shot using the rear LCD. As you’ll see, his disdain for this approach involves more than just the lack of stability that this style of shooting provides.
The tutorial concludes with Hoffman’s First Law of Photography, that he says is by far his favorite. Put bluntly, “Anyone who has understood the basics of photography will only need the Manual mode in rare, exceptional cases.” After listening to his reasoning, you might ignore purists who claim that you’re not a real photographer unless you shoot in Manual.
Put another way, Hoffman insists that “the Manual mode is way overrated.” And he has plenty of experience shooting with old manual cameras to back up this claim. Whether you agree or disagree with Hoffman’s “Laws,” this thought-provoking discussion is really interesting. So, hears him out before sighing and shaking your head.
There’s much more to learn on Hoffman’s popular YouTube channel, and in a tutorial we posted earlier with seven time-tested composition tips from a notable French pro.