5 Photography Clichés :: Digital Photo Secrets

5 Photography Clichés

by David Peterson 2 comments

Let me start by saying something I think we can all agree with. Clichés are victims of their own success. Something only becomes a cliché because it looks good and people like it. The only problem is that the theme gets overdone, and it loses its originality. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You should always go out and take whatever looks good, regardless of its originality. I am merely pointing out these clichés so none of us gets a big head. So many things have been done in photography that I often struggle to create anything “original” anymore. I think a lot of professional photographers would agree.

Whenever I think of common clichés, I think of women laughing alone eating salad. I see multi-racial pictures of businessmen and women, all collaborating on some project or another. I see babies covered in flowers, sitting in terra cotta pots. All of these have been done to death. Here are a few more clichés you’re bound to run into.

5) The pregnant wife with her husband’s hands around her belly in a heart shape

You might not be able to avoid this one if you’re just getting into wedding photography. It seems that a lot of couples specifically ask their photographer to take this photo. I know I’ve been asked to take it too, and I always go with it because I’d much rather please the client than please my own artistic sensibilities. Either way, it is so common it can hardly be considered an original idea anymore.

I think this photo is so successful because it communicates a certain kind of intimacy that only a husband and wife could share. I like to use it as a springboard to think of more creative ideas that retain the same level of intimacy (without going too far, of course). Clichés can be useful if you learn how to take them to new places.

4) Long winding roads and train tracks going nowhere

There are a lot of roads out there. A lot of them go far off into the distance. A lot of photographers stop and look at the road, thinking they’ve got an original idea. The long winding road concept has been a staple in photography for as long as I can remember. I’ve done it too, and it’s okay. It’s just not the most unique idea.

If you’re going to do the long winding road photo, try to spice it up with an interesting subject. I’ve seen variations of this theme using selective focus on a moving element (perhaps a speeding car). Just do something, anything, to stay away from the typical path. Use the cliché as a springboard.

Here's a slight variation on the cliché.
The camera is down low beside the car, and there's motion blur
to help convey the sense of speed.

3) Success is a silhouette of man with his arms raised against a colorful sunset

There are so many other ways to communicate success, and this one is definitely played out. The world does not need another picture of a person with his or her arms raised at sunset. I personally like a more contemplative sunset image. Success can mean so many things. Excitement is just one of them.

Please, no more of this.

Try to go for a more candid approach when you’re trying to communicate success. Just allow your subject to be herself. For some people, joy is a quick smile. For others, it’s something more exuberant. I personally don’t care what it is as long as it isn’t this.

2) Unnecessary post processing

I’m as much of a fan of post processing as anyone. I think it’s an essential tool if you want to give your photos a truly professional look. Having said that, most post processing software has far too many bells and whistles. There are only a few things you need to do, but you’re presented with tons of options. Fake lens flares, color correction taken to the extreme, text on the image (aside from a watermark), and distortion effects are perceived as cliché.

This is a good looking example of a fake lens flare. Most fake lens flares only aspire to this level.

Only two things are truly necessary in post processing: sharpening and color correction. Everything else is secondary. It’s fun to create images with interesting effects, but you’ve got to ask yourself if the image can stand on its own first. I know I’m guilty of falling in love with effects. Before you know it, everything I’m producing has a certain clichéd look. Don’t fall into the same trap.

1) Landmarks

Okay, this is one I just don’t like, and I’m not going to beat around the bush. Because everyone sees landmarks, they’re already a cliché before you press the shutter button down. Some photos of landmarks are interesting and unique, but it’s going to take a lot of extra work to get there. Millions of people photograph landmarks every day. That’s a lot of competition.

I think the photo that bothers me the most is the “here is proof that I made it to the Eiffel Tower” photo. We get it. You went to Paris. But that’s not the worst of it. I’ve seen people taking pictures of commemorative plaques and not even bothering to stand in front of them. How does that do anything for anyone? It’s just some random plaque at some famous place. Millions of people photograph that plaque every day.

And here's why these shots don't work: Years later, all you have in your photo album is shots of landmarks and plaques but none of the relatives or friends you took the holiday with. Your companions are more important than the landmark, so make sure they are prominent in every shot.

Either way, I’m not going to bore you further with my opinions. Like I said, clichés are victims of their own success. People like to take pictures of landmarks, and I can't stop them. They enjoy the dad’s-arms-around-the-mom’s-belly-in-a-heart-shape photo because it looks good. It’s simply overdone, that’s all. You don’t have to avoid photography clichés, but it certainly helps to know what they look like. True originality is very hard to come by.

Do you have any examples of clichés in your album? Upload it to my special Cliché Gallery.

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  1. Dianne McDermand says:

    Good article. If you are photographing a cliche', makes you think about finding a unique approach. Speaking of cliche's, the photo of you taking a photo on the banner of your eNewsletter is a perfect example of a cliche'. How about replacing it with something different and more unusual. I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

    P.S. I agree with Mr. Coleman's remarks about the plaques.

  2. Larry Coleman says:

    David, I like your tips but have to disagree with the one about not taking pics of "plaques and not even bothering to stand in front of them." I do this for a couple of reasons. First, I take the photo in lieu of writing notes about whatever the plaque is commemorating. Fair enough, I think. Second, I don't have someone stand beside the plaque because it is unnecessary, given my reason above, but also because I think it looks pretty sad: "Here is Aunt Mildred beside another dumb plaque. Why is she standing there? Don't ask me."
    Bottom line: Not all photos are for showing others.

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.