Photography Cliches

Photography has fashion trends, just like any other creative industry. Some enterprising soul will be playing around and come up with a new look that catches on, and before long, the world is awash in copycat photos. Some of these techniques will continue on long after the novelty has worn off and become almost a visual cliché.

Sometimes that’s okay. It’s good to be aware of the over-done photography trends—even try a couple shots of your own just to see how it works for you. Do be cautious not to let them turn into a staple of your portfolio, though. If you want to stand out as a photographer, you have to develop your own unique style.

Here are some techniques to try but be careful including in your portfolio.

Color Isolation

Selecting one element in a photograph to leave colored and gray scale the rest of the picture. This is a post-processing technique that works sometimes but tops the list of overdone visual tricks.

color isolation photo

Color Isolation

Instead, try a variation of this technique that’s a little less cliché. Isolate one color instead of one colored object. A picture where the greens stay vibrant and everything else is gray scaled. It’s a lot harder to do but can yield some very interesting results.

The Dutch Angle

Also called the Batman Angle or Dutch Tilt, this is when you hold your camera at angles between portrait and landscape in order to get more of a subject in the frame. Sometimes it works if you’re trying to challenge visual perceptions of your viewers; more often it creates a general sense of unease that’s overall unflattering.

dutch angle

The Dutch Angle

Change lenses, shift your perspective, try a lot of things before employing this technique, which was used extensively in the old Batman TV show (hence the name). It’s old, it’s over-used, and there are usually better options.

Garish Watermarks

The height of vanity combined with a healthy dose of paranoia. In these days of metadata, digital watermarks and search engines like TinEye, keeping track of image use on the Internet, it’s not all that difficult.

photo watermarks

Photo Watermarks

You don’t need to plaster your images with obscene watermarks in an attempt to get your name out. It detracts from the picture and makes you look insecure and loutish.

Over-Saturated HDR

High Dynamic Range photography is an interesting technique, but sometimes the pictures come out looking over-saturated. It’s also one of those techniques that’s been done to death. Yes, absolutely learn how it’s done. It’s a good study in controlling contrast and color depth, but don’t necessarily rely on it as a staple.

over saturated hdr

Over-Saturated HDR

If you want to be a freak about anything color related, be a freak about flesh tones. For natural looking portraits nothing beats quality natural skin tones.

Heavy Vignetting

Nothing screams “amateur hour” quite like heavy vignetting, whether it’s a genuine artifact or done in post processing (an even greater sin).

heavy photo vignette

Heavy Vignetting

Crop tighter or buy a frame. Good photography doesn’t need this type of trick to get people to focus on the subject.

Writing on Pictures

This is another distracting amateur move that not only adds little to a photograph, it robs the viewer of their ability to interpret the meaning for themselves. Instead of encouraging people to think, you’re telling them what to think.

writing on pictures

Writing on Pictures

Quality photography stands on its own and doesn’t need any help eliciting emotion from the viewer. Avoid the temptation to grab them by the nose and drag them where you want them to go.

About the Author:
Peter Timko writes for Proud Photography, an online photography school.

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20 responses to “Photography Cliches”

  1. Dee says:

    A pet peeve of mine is photographers putting beveled edges on their photos…that’s beginning photoshop and makes their work look so amateurish.

  2. Len says:

    Amen! And you might also add attempts to show water in motion by using long exposures. Moving water does not look like milk.

  3. Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead says:

    Peter – aS a two-year DSLR beginner, I am not too sure I agree with your observation on that shot under Heavy Vignetting – or rather I personally like the shot with the central pool of light – call the darker area vignetting or whatever.
    Perhaps we could understand your message if you could put up the same shot minus the vignette.

  4. How can I say AMEN!!!!! any louder, especially on the isolated color. When we worked with film it was difficult to do. Now it’s easy and soooooo boring.

  5. @Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead In the case cited above it isn’t that the photograph was vignetted, it is that the vignette is very much stronger than it needs to be. We have seen so much of this type of thing over the years I’ve been in photography. When it was trendy, fifteen years ago, I thought it was ugly. Still do.

  6. Monica T says:

    About vignetting style, we need something different. Everything looks boring when it was introduced for awhile now

  7. I LOVE the fact that the image in the advert in the top right corner advert is a Over-Saturated HDR image! lol. Fail.

  8. Tracy says:

    I do not understand why HDR gets such a bad rap for being over-saturated, because you can choose how much saturation to add when you’re processing it. So it’s not the fault of the HDR process, but rather the fault of the person doing it.
    I agree that some HDR photos look pretty icky, but don’t immediately write off the whole thing because some nuts used bad judgment.

  9. Gnolf says:

    Agree to most of them except vignetting. This looks rather cool compared to a frame. Frames are for accountants and librarians and other people who think an look in square dimensions.

  10. Dave parker says:

    You know what is really annoying? Lists of techniques consider boorish to the seasoned photographer! Ignore this friends, experiment and don’t give a damn what others might think! Haha

    • You know what else is old? Using film. Pretty soon digital photography will be old as well. It’s silly saying some things are outdated and some things aren’t. All of the things this article points out will continue to be done, and as per the nature of photography itself, potentially thousands, if not tens of thousands, of images will be produced using these things before one totally brilliant one is produced. I have no problem seeing lots of failures to get to see the few successful ones.

  11. flashfs says:

    I have to agree with @Dave parker on that one. I would prefer seeing photos that worked and didn’t, within the same topic, not just ‘dont do this because many people do’.

  12. Silverbackimagery says:

    Photography is an expression of one persons perspective. Not set by the rules of others. Experiment, go crazy, do unorthodox things and please yourself. Art is just that ART!!
    All else is drivel !!!

  13. Silverbackimagery says:

    Photography is an expression of one persons perspective. Not set by the rules of others. Experiment, go crazy, do unorthodox things and please yourself. Art is just that ART!!
    All else is drivel !!!
    Most of the greats of any mediums were the nuthatches, the ones others whispered about, the outsiders etc..
    Do your own thing and enjoy!!!

  14. Nick says:

    Great and valid comment Silverbackimagery and I agree totally. Yes, we should all do our own thing and present our work as we see fit but is it our own work if we simply imitate the techniques of others? I think not.

  15. Nick says:

    p.s. I’ve just installed the Lightroom 5 update and love the radial filter! Forget heavy vignetting, I can highlight just the parts of the pic I want to – combined with large aperture selective focus…………….still playing and what fun to experiment!

  16. Tom Haines says:

    Now I can’t wait to use more Dutch Angles!! Thanks!

  17. Jeff Koelpien says:

    Watermarks like that are not used for promotion, but protection. This is often used by portrait studios on their proof packs to “promote” the proper purchase of their work. You all seen photographers complain about their subtle, edge watermarks being cropped out and their work being taken into a different direction.

  18. Kitty says:

    Amazing how photography is considered art by many, and yet opinions are stated as facts as to what is or is not ok to do. If you like it, if your clients like it, go for it as it is all a preference. So stop being snobby about how your way is THE way. It is not, just a tiny opinion in a see of millions of opinions. And there is no way all of us will ever agree on only one way. What a boring world it would be.

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