Clichés are fun but can blow your credibility.
Everyone wants to try some well tried ideas in photography. They help you learn the basics with great examples. Beware, some things have been done so often they are clichéd. It is not wrong to do them. It might be right to keep them to yourself in some situations. Here is some advice about cliché in photography.
Caring, sharing websites around the web help you get honest, fun and supportive comments made. They are great places where learners can safely post clichés and enjoy doing it. In fact it is a good thing to do. You learn by doing the photos that other people have done, and by example. You get the obvious shots out of your system then move on to more creative photography.
Developing photographers cultivate observational skill helping them get past the cliché. I think the lifetime challenge for a photographer is to see what everyone else failed to see and were amazed they missed. Work to get past the cliché and publish the inspirational.
Photographs create the beautiful and – over generations of picture-taking – use it up. Certain glories of nature… have been all but abandoned to the indefatigable attentions of amateur camera buffs. The image-surfeited are likely to find sunsets corny; they now look, alas, too much like photographs.
Susan Sontag, “On Photography”, London, 1979
In a competition once I heard a judge say… “Ah, N – A – B – S – S!”. He didn’t say what he meant until he encountered the third sunset that evening. Several audience hands shot up to ask. He recounted the story of a judges seminar. They had seen so many sunsets the acronym stuck for “Not Another Bl..dy Sun Set! Taking a sunsets for the sake of it is not an achievement. It is a disappointment – unless something inspirational is included. Sunsets should set the scene, not be the scene.
If you publish a cliché on some websites, or in a personal gallery, you had better watch out for your credibility ratings. What else should we cut out from our online portfolio?
What are these clichés?
Bathroom mirror selfies: Doing “selfies” is fun. They’re examples of things we need to purge from our system. Lets face it most bathroom selfies are boring – of interest mostly to the person making them. Consider doing a mirror selfie in a truly palatial rest room (try the Palace of Versailles, Paris ).
Selective colour: I happen to enjoy some of these. But really, most of them are out of context. It is fine with a clear artistic point. Quite often there is not.
Black and white (B&W): Making a picture B&W does not make it artsy. A naff picture remains naff when converted to B&W. There are some well documented, excellent reasons to use B&W. It can ruin a shot, or doesn’t add anything. Use the technique. I love a contrasty B&W capture. However, make sure it works before publishing. The long history of B&W photos in street photography make a modern B&W look clichéd if done only for effect. It is NOT a “street photography” shot just because it lacks colour. There should be something else there that justifies that approach.
Flower: Your prize bloom is of extreme interest to you and your family. Most other people have seen stunning photos of blooms in magnificent gardens or with exquisite photography. These are the ones that capture the eye. If you have a truly inspired view of your blooms and a top technique, then publish.
“Perspective shots” in tourist spots: We have all seen them – pinch the Eiffel Tower between two fingers, Kiss the Sphinx, catch the sun between your hands; hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa . These are fun. We should all have one in the home album. Online they are definitely a cliché.
Fake lens flare: Flare is great when used to good artistic effect. Faux flare is just a disaster and easily spotted. Do it right with a proper shot or not at all.
Vintage iPhone apps: They’re not great because everyone else does them. Several years ago they were fun and different. Now, I think “Phone apps” look tired and frankly embarrassing. Over done or what!
Naff borders: Powerful borders filled with character, exotic flushes or effects make strong statements. If your picture needs that then it’s probably lacking in some way. Don’t publish it.
Over-saturated HDR: HDR has been vastly overdone. We are beginning to see HDR photographs that are not super-saturated, heavily rimmed and tonally wrecked. That’s good. HDR is a post-processing technique that is beginning to mature. If you use HDR, try it as it should be used, to enhance contrast depth. If you really notice HDR – it has been over cooked!
Your car on holiday: After 1000 pictures of the Grand Canyon the vista is not improved by the presence of your car in the last shot. Great shot for the hard drive. Not one to publish.
Fake gang signs, peace signs, bunny ears and naughty middle fingers: These have been over done. If you find them funny keep them to yourself. Remember, employers often use social network sites to check on prospective employees. Do you want a potential boss checking out your gangster signs and middle fingers shots!
Duck face: The average snapper gets quite a few of these. The silly poser with the pouting smackeroonie kiss lips! Just not good photography.
Making heart-shaped hands at sunset, weddings, engagements: These are usually just embarrassing. If you feel an occasion is romantic there are a multitude of soft focus, colour casts and posing angles that do the job so much better. There are a few other wedding clichés too…
- Brides garter around the grooms head.
- Posing to cut your partners throat with the cake knife.
- Selective colour on confetti, wedding cakes, brides shoes etc.
- “Bloke shots” – doing silly things in lines, with beer and mock genitals etc.
A few years ago there were thousands of shots of rings standing upright in open books. The ring casts a shadow heart-shape. They are good in the right place – the wedding ring ceremony. Certainly learn about the light/shadow relationship and have a go at a classic. Otherwise it’s an idea with a limited time and place. For examples: Google Image Search = Heart Ring Book .
It is not just the amateur
Professional photographers are guilty of creating cliché in their work too. Take two minutes to enjoy this video poking fun at “Stock” photographers.
The Clichéd Stock Photo Song
Inspirational is good.
Are there any more of these cliché shots? Yes, hundreds… some websites are filled with nothing but these types of shots. So how do you avoid the mistake?
The cliché is something we can all spot – we’ve seen it so often it’s tiresome. Quietly have a go at the techniques – learn – move on. Don’t infest your online gallery with it. Cliché tends to come and go. In 20 or 30 years the retro effect will re-birth today’s cliches! That’s the time to release ones safely stored on the hard drive.
Your time as a photographer is best spent looking for inspirational images and developing a unique communication with your viewers. You will learn more by ignoring the cliché and working on your unique vision of the world.
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