There are a number of clichés that are common in the photo community or among the hobbyists in particular. In many cases, I feel it detracts from an otherwise great photograph, and these clichés lessen the value of the photograph. But I will admit that such clichés have their place. I will also admit that many clichés never seem to go out of style. I’m not saying that everyone and anyone should be shooting in these ways. But many of these clichés teach us valuable lessons in the world of photography. And so love them or hate them, you must admit the purpose of their existence. As is always the case, everything should be taken in moderation. And if some of these techniques or styles are done with reserve, they can be fun to do. Bonus to anyone who’s shot any of these styles in a new and unique way:
- The Vanishing Point Railroad (or Road) – At the top of this list is the Railroad (or roadway) shot. I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of these type of shots. Yet I still find myself clicking on the thumbnail of each one. There’s something intriguing about such a shot, it pulls you in and it’s a slice right out of the heartland. Such a shot could be the subject unto itself, but it also serves as a nice setting or backdrop for portraiture (see our article about Rachel Melton’s photograph).
- The Camera-in-hand Self Portrait (Mirror Shot) – Admit it, you all have done such a shot. I have, and I’m not ashamed. As viewed by another photographer, the shot is way overdone. But somehow, the general public seems to love these shots. Many photographers – regardless of their skill level – have such a shot for the bio pic on their website or in their portfolio. Any shot with your camera immediately identifies you as a photographer, and that’s the whole reason such a cliché exists.
- Vignetting – I have a love and hate relationship with Vignetting – the darkening of the corners of the shot. It’s supposed to mimic the effect caused by the clipping of the frame from an oversized lens filter. But many people add the effect in post-processing, and I often think it’s overdone. But that doesn’t mean that vignetting isn’t a great aspect to have. The darkened corners help to focus the viewer’s attention on the subject. It also adds a dreamy effect to the shot, a symbolic gesture that we’re looking at a memory (especially if you’re doing reverse vignetting). So I recognize and love the use of vignetting. Just don’t overdo it.
- Super-Saturation and Under-Saturation – With the popularity of retro camera styling and plastic lens film cameras (Lomography), we’ve seen an influx of processing techniques that mimic the style even with digital formats and high-end equipment. It’s a nod to the true art of photography: Despite all the technology that enables us to reproduce exact colors, many prefer the warmer or dream like feel of super-saturation or under-saturation. Even many phone apps seem to follow suit. It’s everywhere. But it’s going to stand the test of time – again simply because it’s all about the art. There’s absolutely no question that a lomo-style photograph, despite the quality of the equipment used, was created for art purposes first and foremost. The style almost turns a normal snapshot into art instantly. And so it has it’s place and it will be welcomed with open arms for many years to come.
- Isolated Color – Isolated color is a cliché almost as old as photography itself. It started as a hand-coloring technique back in the days when monochromatic film was the only kind of film. Those who learned photography formally may have had an assignment to hand-color a black and white photo. Isolation of color on a single aspect of the photo – perhaps the primary subject – is the natural course of action. Nothing gets you to focus on that single subject more readily than making everything else devoid of color. These days, the techniques are done in post, and most often the photo starts in color and we mask and desaturate to get rich and vibrant colors in only one area. Personally, I refer to the technique as the “Greeting Card Style”, but I’m only poking fun in a loving way. Truth be told, there are many applications where Isolated Color is an effective way to communicate with the viewer.
What clichés do you like to see?