Here are some golden rules of photography that I’ve come across over the years. You don’t have to agree with all of them. I don’t. But each rule should make you stop and think whether you are deviating from the norm on purpose, or whether you are unsure of what you are doing.
Rule 1: The worst photograph is the one you didn’t make
Have you ever found yourself staring at a magical scene without a camera? Or missed a great photo opportunity while switching lenses? This rule is related to “f8, and be there” (which simply instructs to set your aperture to f8, but most importantly BE THERE).
Rule 2: Minimum shutter speed should be roughly equivalent to the focal length.
This rule is simple. To shoot sharp images with the camera hand held, you should use a shutter speed that corresponds to the focal length that you are shooting at. A 50mm focal length would require roughly 1/50th shutter speed to prevent hand shake blur. A 125mm would require 1/125 and so on. Mileage will vary, depending on just how steady your hands are, as well as the form factor of your camera (A point & shoot camera held in two hands, is a lot less stable then a heavy DSLR that is held with both hands and which has a third stabilizing point at the eye piece that rests against the photographers forehead).
Rule 3: The minimal focal length should never be lower then the weight in pounds of the model.
This one may sound a little harsh, but it works like this: The more of a wide angle lens you use, the bigger the items in the middle will look. Just picture a self portrait with a fish-eye lens where your nose looks three times its normal size. Truth is, using a telephoto lens will have a slimming effect on your models, compared to using a wide angle lens.
Rule 4: Always keep the sun behind you.
Shooting against the sun will cause lens flare, and produce unnaturally bright backgrounds that overpower your model. You can correct some of this with lens caps, expensive lenses with hi-tech anti flare coatings, fill flash or reflectors, etc. Or just set the scene in such a way that the sun is behind you. Is the light so bright that the subject of the photo keeps squinting their eyes? Try to find a shady spot for them to stand at. Usually the shade will provide a pleasing softbox like lightning, and a balanced background.
Rule 5: Never take pictures in the afternoon
In photography, the morning and evening are sometimes referred to as magic hours. At these hours the world is a quieter place then in mid day. Light scatters in a softer and more colorful way, and creates long and dramatic shadows. In the afternoon, the streets are crowded and the little shadow you will see is so sharp that it almost always causes underexposed or overexposed pictures.
Rule 6: Shoot away from where your subject is looking at
This rule states that if the person in the picture looks towards the left, then they should be positioned in the right side of the photograph, and vice versa. This clears up space on that side, and gives the viewer the impression to be looking along with the model towards whatever it is that they see.
Check out some other golden rules in this DPReview article on Composition rules.