Help Stamp Out Photo Clichés!

Photo clichés. You know you’re looking at one if you see a picture you’ve never seen before, yet somehow you feel like you’ve already seen it a thousand times.

Shooting a cliché requires little creativity. All you have to do is copy something you saw someone else do.

Examples of photo clichés include:

  • Your bare feet at the end of a lounge chair pointed towards a sunny beach. I’ll forgive this cliché if the feet have a nice pedicure and they’re connected to great looking legs.
  • Food or drinks you’re about to consume in a restaurant. Haven’t we all done this?

    Is a selfie still a cliche if the reflection is a rain-spotted windshield instead of a bathroom mirror?

    Is a selfie still a cliché if the reflection is on a rain-spotted windshield instead of a bathroom mirror?

  • Selfies taken in a bathroom mirror. I guess taking your own picture is better than having a portrait photographer follow you into the bathroom to capture that tender “duck face” moment.
  • Snow accumulations on your back deck or front porch. Okay, I myself posted such pictures on Facebook and Instagram just four months ago, so I’m not claiming to be sinless.
  • Bridal parties outdoors jumping into the air. Knees are usually bent showing their extra loft in that brief, defiant push against gravity. (My daughter proofreads my blog posts and she reminded me how much she likes that photo in her wedding album.)
  • Donor check presentations. These are always published for donor recognition and seldom for reader interest. The good news is that nonprofit newsletters are becoming obsolete so we won’t see these clichés nearly as often.

So what’s the solution? How can we shoot more creatively and avoid taking boring, cliché pictures? Here are a few suggestions for us amateur photographers who want to be more interesting:

  1. Think before clicking. Observe the subject and the surroundings. Look for anything interesting or unusual. Visualize the story that will be told within the frame of your photo.
  2. Shoot from a different angle. Most pictures are taken at eye level, but your photo might be more interesting if taken from a new perspective. What would the subject look like from a low camera angle? Or higher? Would a side view be better than a straight-on shot? How about from a 45-degree angle?
  3. Pay attention to lighting and light patterns. Proper lighting includes much more than ensuring that the subject is well illuminated. Shadows can create interesting patterns. Direct, overhead sunlight is usually not best. Try side lighting coming from a window or from sunlight early or late in the day. By the way, I personally prefer to avoid using a flash, even in darker settings.
  4. Compose creatively. Rather than centering the subject, use the rule of thirds. Basically, you break an image down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Imagine overlaying your picture with a tic-tac-toe grid. Place your points of interest off center at one of the four points where the lines intersect. Then pay attention to everything that is (or is not) included in the picture frame.
  5. Look for the unusual. This is similar to “think before clicking” but restated for emphasis. Keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. Different can be interesting, whether it’s an intriguing facial expression, an unusual weather pattern or the juxtaposition of unrelated items.

Every picture can be a photo cliché. Or it can be an interesting image that captures the attention of the viewer. The choice is yours. Help me stamp out photo clichés. Think before clicking.

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