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Are You Still Making These 10 Photography Clichés?

Very Important Introduction: Please Read First

Photography is subjective, and people’s opinions on what’s cliché and what’s not is entirely up to them. Everything in moderation is the key to avoiding cliche photos, as you can get away with doing certain things a few times before it becomes boring and repetitive. If you’re new to photography, than avoiding the list of cliches below will help you to avoid taking photos that may well be dismissed as amateur.

A good photo will stand up to criticism, without the need for clichés or post processing.

Flowers, Pets & Sunsets

Almost all of us have been guilty of it at some point in our lives; you’ve got a new camera and nothing to take a photo of, so you venture into the garden, with your pet, in the evening. I’m not saying that these sorts of photos can’t be taken without, being a cliché, i’m just saying that the majority of them are very poorly taken, and they’re widely associated with amateurs. Flowers, pets and sunsets are typically quite nice things to look at, and the majority of people starting out think that taking a photo of something pretty is half the battle, when in reality, if you can take a photo of something ugly or boring, and make it interesting, you’ve got a much better photo. My top tip is to stop shooting these things altogether, and because you’ll still want to use your shiney new camera, you’re forced to take photos of something more interesting.

Fake Lens Flare

I’m my opinion, there’s no substitute for the real thing, and if you can’t produce lens flare in your photo naturally, then it clearly doesn’t belong there – it just looks out of place. Natural lens flare comes from light shining into your lens at an angle, so when you see a photo with fake lens flare, and the only light source behind the camera, it stands out like a sore thumb. Real lens flare can look really good in photos and the best way to get this is to shoot into the sun in the late evening, when the sun is going down. Click on that post to read more and to see some really cool photos.

Vintage iPhone Apps

I resented paying the £1.19 for Hipstamatic, just so that I could take the photo below, but I feel it serves as an example to an important point. I have no problem with using iPhones for photography, what I do have a problem with is the needless post processing and effects used to create a ‘cool’ photo. An edgy border, some funny colouring and a weird angle, does not a photo make. These tricks may get a small wow factor, but if you really want to start taking good photos, you need to strip back all the unnecessary effects and work on your exposure and composition – you can’t rely on an iPhone to do the work for you.

Unnecessary Black & White

There are plenty of reasons to shoot in black and white, like wanting to emphasise form or contrast, but there’s even more reasons to not shoot in black and white. Colour is a wonderful thing in photography, as different colours evoke different feelings or thoughts, and when you desaturate them to black and white, you lose all of this. Black and White for the purpose of looking artsy has no place in photography, and if you’re new to photography, you should really try to get a better grasp of it before you mindlessly turn all your photos black and white.

Selective Colour

Worse than mindless black and white is selective colouring; it’s taking a usually uninteresting photo, turning it black and white, and then bringing back the colour onto only a certain part of the photo. You’ve probably seen this before, in dodgy prom photos where only a tie or a handkerchief will be in colour and the rest is in black and white. All this is doing is drawing the attention to a tie or a handkerchief, which is an unusual focus for a photo. It’s often perceived as a pretty effect, but you shouldn’t rely on this sort of post processing to produce a good photo, if you use it too much, it’ll hold you back from learning composition techniques that will make a real difference. My example below is of a flower that I used in ISO vs exposure demonstration.

Naff Borders and Garish Watermarks

They’re distracting, unprofessional and will not make your photos look any better. I have no problems with a carefully thought out border when you’re mounting a photo, or a watermark when you feel that a photo is going to be of particular interest to people, but they have no place in professional or commercial photography. I’ve even seen watermarks on wedding photos, and it shocks me that anyone would ever allow that. It’s important to share your work without it getting stolen, so try to come up with a simple watermark for the corner of your photo so that it doesn’t distract from your photo. If you’re worried about people stealing your work and passing it off as their own, use TinEye to find where your photos have been used on the internet.

Over Saturated HDR

If you’ve been following this site for long, you’ll know by now that i’m not really a bit fan of post processing for the sake of it. In my opinion, HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range, can be done well and has it’s uses, but the majority of the time, it’s overdone and over saturated. When you process a photo into HDR, you’re effectively removing a lot of the contrast which flattens the image. My friend Richard kindly allowed me to use one of his early HDR photos below to demonstrate how HDR photos are often over saturated. As you can see, the photo was taken on a fairly overcast day, and yet the blues and greens shine brighter than they would have in the sun. The attraction to this photo heavily relies on HDR, rather than photographic technique.

The ‘Dutch Tilt’

The Dutch tilt is when you hold your camera somewhere between landscape and portrait, usually so that you can get more key features into the frame. It’s easy to find yourself doing this because your eyes don’t see a rotated image, they see the same image with more details in the frame, so you may find yourself doing this more often than you should. The trouble is that the end result is at an unusual angle and hard to look at. Try taking a step back and reframing to include more of a subject in a photo, or use a shorter focal length for a wider viewing angle. 

Heavy Vignetting

A small amount of vignetting is a good way of helping the viewers eyes to focus on the center of the photo, but once you can tell it’s being done, it’s become a part of the photo, rather than a feature used to improve a certain part of the photo. It distracts heavily for the main features of the photo, and is largely used to make the photo look more artistic. Good photography will stand up to critics, without the need for excessive post processing like this. Try avoiding these techniques all together if you want to try and improve your photography.

Writing On Photos

There’s subtle post processing and there’s obvious processing; this is painfully obvious, and you see it a lot from amateur photographers. I’m not a big fan of titling photos, as it’s hard to think of a name that doesn’t evoke a thought or a feeling, which influences the viewers perception of it. I like to leave the photo bare so that the viewer can make up their own mind on the photo and decide what they like or dislike about it. When you add writing to a photo, you firstly ruin the photo by taking a chunk of the photo away and coving it up with writing, and then you distract the viewer from the part of the photo that they’re supposed to be looking at.

— — —

Are You Still Making These 10 Photography Clichés?Thank you for reading my post, if you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

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    • Over 300 presets to instantly transform your photography
    • Simple video tutorials to make amazing adjustments easy
    • Get that 'professionally processed look' in seconds

Enter 'expertphotog' at the checkout to save $15!

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43 thoughts on “Are You Still Making These 10 Photography Clichés?

  1. Cathy

    wow! interesting article..seems like almost everything you touched on is WAY over used these days! I’m just starting out, and have actually felt pressured to produce these very type of photos.. because that’s what the majority seem to be doing. Thanks for making my think and rethink who I am as a photographer,and to keep doing what I do best!!

  2. basti

    Well, the problem is, that sunsets, dutch tilts and overdone HDRs are selling like crazy :) Look at any microstock agency and search best selling pictures.

    Everyone is saying no sunsets. I sold every single sunset accepted at agencies and Ive got dozens of creative shots rejected due the “low commercial value” or if they pass, they rarely sell. So if you label yourself as “artist” then shoot different things. But if you want to sell photos, cliches are not to be omitted.

  3. notaprofessional

    While I agree with nearly all of your comments, I do enjoy taking sunset and flower photos. That said, I don’t take them just for the sake of pretty. Especially with flower photos I try to do something different, either with macro, composition, lighting, angles, etc. to make them my own.

  4. Linda Melendez

    Very helpful. I am guilty of several of these and I have thought myself I should start avoiding several of these. My problem is that what is now “cliche” in the First World is what people even ask for in the Third World. I am a photographer in Honduras, but continue to aspire to offer First World quality to my clients! I will keep your points in mind!

  5. Lou Bricano

    I couldn’t agree more about avoiding the clichés, but none more than the infuriating “Dutch tilt”. I didn’t even know what the term was until I started looking around for it. It seems most people’s Facebook pages are just flooded with it. It is SOOOOOO overused – bleagh.

    1. Josh Post author

      Please elaborate? My opinion is that good photography stands up on it’s own and doesn’t need any extra editing to look good. Everyone should learn the basics of exposure and composition before learning photoshop.

      1. Alan Gurling

        I implore you to read up on Ansel Adams and how important his workflow was in producing images. One might even say that he was using his “photoshop” to make better images.

        Exposure and composition is very important, but dismissing post production as second to the previous two is something only beginners would do.

  6. Aubrey Rice

    Very insightful and helpful, I too am just starting out and actually haven’t yet purchased software to edit photos yet for fear of making some of these mistakes. And yet i do still make a few anyway. So thank you for this article!

  7. Michelle

    A friend and I took a couple of photography classes, and she exploded on to the scene doing shoots for everyone we know. She uses EVERY ONE of these techniques, especially the black and white. I happen to agree with you. I want to take shots that don’t need to be edited…I have a long way to go. The problem is that these types of techniques are what the customer wants. When I edit photos, I edit them to my taste, what I would want to buy if I were in the market. Once in a great while I will do a B&W or over-saturate, slightly, but I guess it is because I don’t really KNOW enough about what really makes photography “art”. I am so hung up on it, I am seriously considering taking real photography classes at a college near me and getting a photography degree. Thanks for the article.

    1. Josh Post author

      Please send your friend a link to this post. 8/10 items on this list involve some sort of processing and that’s not photography. I wouldn’t worry about making art just yet if I were you, you’d be better off searching composition on this site and reading through that. It tough if that’s the sort of thing that your clients want, but in my experience it’s usually low paying clients that want these sorts of photos, with people who can clearly spot quality happy to pay a lot more. Study composition before you study post processing and you’ll learn a lot. Thanks for the comment – Josh

      1. Jim Stiles

        Photography is simply processing light in a multitude of ways. Your decision on what the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc., of a picture is…processing, there on the spot. So what if it needs to be enhanced further. The one issue that most photographers forget is that digital photography is clearly common place for monitors, not prints. Your LCD screen maybe better or worse than mine and that comes into play when you decide to “release” your photo to your audience. My ThinkPad seated next to my iPad, clearly shows the difference between backlit LCD and LED lit LCD and the difference is incredible. That itself requires processing to even out. In fact, I use a CRT monitor to proof my pictures before I print because you can’t beat a CRT’s color spectrum with LCD, Plasma, etc.. So you shouldn’t knock post-processing at all. In the world of digital photography, this is simply the norm and you are doing it yourself anyways…

        1. JoshDunlop

          My point was that good photography will shine through, and although post production is an important element to finalising the photo, it’s the composition that makes it what it is. You shouldn’t use post production as a way to fix a bad photo, because in my opinion, it can’t be done. You seem to mostly be talking about calibration, which I consider to be separate.

          1. Jim Stiles

            I get what you are trying to relay now. The best piece of advice that pros tend to push regarding composition is to look at your viewfinder, not through your viewfinder. Looking at it is essentially looking at your photo before you even take it, to avoid crap like power lines or some dumb fool bombing your shot to the left… Amateur photographers tend to center their subjects and all you get is FaceBook type photos that are mostly annoying and done to death.

  8. Pat Dugan

    All I can say is that, you, Josh, are right on. I am new, kinda, and OLD, but, YOU are there!!!!!! You have an ,eye, and ,feel, for what is lovely, seeable, and interesting . Thank you and keep it up, please.

  9. James

    I’m guilty of the over saturating. I like the colors popping, but I try not to overdo it. I also have a lot of pet pics, but that’s mainly for me anyway.

    I agree with everything you posted here. The rub is, a lot of people like these gimmicks. For example, I took some elegant wedding photos and the clients asked me to change them all to black and white even though the bridesmaids’ dresses were all quite colorful. Then, they asked me to colorize a specific article in each of the pictures. THEN, to much protest, they wanted me to put a little saying on each of the pictures. To add to the humiliation, they then wanted the frayed border look (which I had to learn how to do). So, four of your no-nos were specifically asked…no, demanded of me. Good thing I didn’t ever tell them about vignettes. But, while I was upset over all of this, my wife said that ultimately it’s up to the viewer to decide what’s good or bad, not other photographers and not me. So, is it any wonder that when I post a pet or flower pic on DeviantArt, Facebook, or Flickr that they get far more attention than my abstract or other “interesting” art? I may try to use all 10 of your don’ts in a pic and see what happens.

  10. Adriann

    Great article, Josh. Wonderful information. I’m not a photographer by focus, but as a by-product of needing to photograph my art. Its been really interesting learning to take good photos. Much harder than it looks!

  11. Michael Martinell

    Just wanted to say that this is a good article, but I do think that everybody needs to learn some way. If you really like your dog, then why not shoot 500 shots of him. You might actually learn a thing or two along the way. The great thing about DSLR is that you can delete the pictures that suck, and it doesn’t cost a penny.

    Photography is shooting what you are passionate about, after all.

  12. Rik

    Great post. I’m guilty of some of these and as I read through I couldn’t help but keep thinking of Flickr and how it’d be a barren place without endless shots of the above cliches.

  13. Derek

    have to say, whilst I agree there are cliches to be avoided, I think your list is a bit mob-handedly presented. Some things, like spot colour, heavy vignetting and fake lens flare, are indeed most oft the sign of an amateur, but it’s not the cliche that proves it, it’s the photograph. A poor photograph without cliche is still a poor photograph, but a great cliche shot can still be a photograph to be proud of – and amateurs quite often need the positive feedback that ‘popular’ photography can bring to urge them on. ‘Dutch tilt’ is an extremely useful tool in the right hands – again, it’s not the method that is the problem, it’s the application. Don’t avoid it, learn how to use it to your advantage!

    (ps… iphone hipstamatic images by Damon Winter achieved 3rd place in the Picture of the Year International competition…)

  14. wnstn

    The above comments show there are clearly two different schools of thought: Photographers and “Photoshoppers”! While I would prefer to master the capabilities of my camera, others produce stunning “artistic” images with post editing. Both tecniques will continue to co-exist. As for post edited photos having more mass appeal,I don’t see the appeal in producing what everyone else produces. But thats just me!

  15. Dan Carroll

    I am guilty of some of these, especially vignetting in portraits. At times, I will use some (white) vignetting in black and white landscapes I don’t like overly saturated photographs and often I reduce the saturation, especially in portraits. I do like black and white for portraits and some landscapes. I tried HDR and decided I didn’t like it. But as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; the beholder of the money :-)

    I enjoy your articles Josh; keep them coming.

  16. mark3960

    LOL I just did one, (selective color) uploaded it to my flickr and called it Lost Wagon Cliché. But it’s soooo true. I joked with a pro buddy that my next shot would be a black and white scene with a child in a yellow raincoat playing in a puddle.

  17. Paul

    I enjoyed the article and agree with every point made. But I cannot get over the misuse of the word “then” repeated several times in the article. For example, the paragraph starting “Worse then mindless black and white…” Clearly you meant to say “than” so I ignored it. But the same mistake is repeated throughout.

    Once again, thank you for sharing this. Please work on grammar to avoid this sort of irritation in the future.

  18. Aron

    The author makes many good points. Personally, I think shooting flowers, sunsets and using HDR is fine as long as you’re not just being lazy. All subjects and technics are OK as long as goal of the image is understood and one is being deliberate in how they capture it. If extreme HDR captures a scene as you really wish to render it, that is great. However, if you’re using such a technic simply because you don’t have an artistic opinion or a grasp of the fundamentals then it’s time to think again and study some more.

    IMO one of the biggest mistakes one can make is to believe the feedback they receive via social media.

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