Photography is subjective. There are no hard and fast rules on what makes a good or a bad photo.
As with any art form, there are cliches in photography, which are way overdone and make even the best photographers look like amateurs. Consider avoiding the following cliches in your photography.
Shooting Only a Cloudy Sky
There is a major trend to turn every landscape photo into a moody landscape. While there’s nothing wrong with a moody landscape, the effect is overplayed. Additionally, waiting to photograph a beautiful scene when it’s overcast is limiting. Cloudy skies are gorgeous. So are sunny skies. Challenge yourself to find the beauty in a scene, regardless of the time of day and current weather conditions.
High dynamic range imaging (HDR) is a tried and true photography technique for producing a greater range of luminosity in an image than is possible with a standard photo. When done correctly, you shouldn’t know when a photographer has used the HDR technique. Unfortunately, most photographers way overdo HDR, creating images with such severe contrast that they look fake. There are also a lot of HDR-esque filters that produce similar results, making it easier than ever to use HDR incorrectly.
Overdone Film Grain/Matte Look
On the flip side, when photographers aren’t punching up their images as much as possible with HDR, they’re wiping out the details and colors completely in an attempt to create a film grain or matte aesthetic. Film grain photos are iconic. Using them for inspiration in digital photography is great. However, as with HDR, the technique quickly gets overdone. When you edit photos with a matte aesthetic in mind, take care to keep the details, vibrant colors, and contrast in tact.
Fake Lens Flare
Genuine lens flare is achieved by getting the light to angle into your camera lens just so. You can punch up natural lens flare even more by stopping down your aperture. (You’ll get the best results with f/8 or higher.) Shooting every image with natural lens flare gets old very quickly. Adding fake lens flare to images looks even worse. When the only source of light is behind the camera, the flare clearly doesn’t belong there and will look out of place.
Unnecessary Black and White
Turning a photo black and white doesn’t automatically make an image look better. It also doesn’t automatically make an image more artsy. Taking an obvious photo cliche, such as a man holding a cigarette or a woman sitting in a windowsill, and then turning the image black and white is a poor use of black and white. Consider your use of black and white carefully. Reserve it for images where it will greatly improve poor lighting or add to the overall aesthetic of the image.
Similar to unnecessary black and white, adding selective color to an image is often a weak attempt to make an ordinary image look more artistic. While selective color can draw attention to the most interesting element of a photo, such as a person’s eyes, photographers often choose to highlight elements that aren’t interesting, such as the person’s neck tie. In most cases, you’re better off creating an entirely color or black and white image.
Purposely Tilting the Horizon
Purposely tilting the horizon doesn’t look artsy. It just looks weird. Instead of allowing people to focus on an interesting landscape or portrait, they’re left thinking about how everything seems to be leaning in the photo. Some photographers also fall into the trap of tilting their horizons intentionally to fit more into the frame, which is referred to as a “Dutch tilt.” If you’re struggling to fit everything into the frame, move backward or choose a wider focal length.
Adding borders to your photos on social media or blog posts is a quick way to make your photos look unprofessional and with months, a little dated. As a professional photographer, you should never add borders to client photos. It detracts from the final images and again, instantly dates photos that people will be viewing again and again for years to come. As a hobbyist photographer, it’s still a practice that should be avoided.
The only time you should use a watermark on your photos is when you’re sharing preview images to clients that you want them to purchase. For example, if you share half a dozen images of a wedding with the couple before you release the entire set, watermark these images, so family and friends won’t download these half dozen images and avoid purchasing subsequent images. All other watermarks are unnecessary and distracting. If you really feel called to add a watermark, make it small and professional and position it in one of the bottom corners of the image.
What overdone photography cliches make you roll your eyes?
Are there any cliches you would add to this list?
Rose Clearfield is a freelance writer and hobbyist photographer. She lives in southeast WI with her husband, son, and three cats. She bought her first DSLR in 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. With an education background and a passion for writing, she loves helping people learn how to take better pictures.