Avoid Capturing Cliched Photographs

If you want people to take notice of your photographs, you must avoid taking clichéd photographs.

And so, before taking any photograph with your camera, ask yourself: Is the image worth photographing? As well, ask yourself: What does the image communicate? Finally, ask yourself: What sort of emotional response does the image evoke?

A great photograph is interesting, communicates a message, evokes an emotional response, and it is captured correctly from a technical perspective. (Correct shutter, Aperture, ISO, Focal length) If the image doesn’t receive attention, or it doesn’t evoke an emotional response, or it is ignored, you’ve probably taken a clichéd photograph.

There is nothing wrong with taking a clichéd photograph, especially if you are learning to become a photographer. However, if you intend to develop your own style and personal expression, you must move away from taking clichéd photographs.

What is a clichéd photograph?According to Torsten Hoffman who wrote the splendid text “The Art of Black and White Photography”, a clichéd photograph is a reproduction of a popular idea or image; it’s a poor copy , an imitation.” If  you travel, you’ll see tons of clichéd photographs on postcards. These are the images that have been taken by photographers so many times that they have lost their power to evoke awe or interest, accept for those who are visiting the place for the first time. Here in Toronto, a clichéd photograph is the CN tower or the skyline from Center Island. The more often a particular image is captured by photographers, the more it loses its power to impress.

A few Suggestions

You can unchain yourself from the clichéd photograph by following a few simple guidelines:

  1. If you are going to take pictures of images that have been taken countless times before, capture the image from a unique viewpoint, such as a bird’s-eye view or ground level view.
  2. Take photos of images that reveal your inner view of the world, such as your feelings, your values, what you find beautiful, what evokes a sense of awe, what you find revolting or disturbing.
  3. Photograph what interests you and what fascinates you, and then  capture it from an interesting view-point, taking into consideration the aperture, shutter speed, and lighting conditions. The golden hour, one hour before or after sunset and sunrise, is the best time to take memorable photographs, because the light can often reveal something awe-inspiring.
  4. Work with lighting, either ambient or studio, to capture the shadows and highlights, some unique form.
  5. Find  a picture within a picture. Instead of capturing the entire image, take picture of a portion of the image. For instance, instead of snapping a photo of the entire building, take a picture of the geometrical shapes, lines, and forms  of the building.
  6. Find ways to take abstractions instead of representational images. A few simple techniques include blurring, radical cropping, capturing the image as a close-up. Another way is to reduce a complex image of many details to an image that has few details.
  7. Take black and white photographs instead of colour. Shoot the image in RAW, and then convert it to black and white in Lightroom or Photoshop. A black and white photograph requires the viewer to look at the lines, shapes, texture, patterns, forms–and not be distracted by the colour.
  8. 8.       When deciding on the different types  of images to capture with your camera, rely on your “gut feeling”.  If you find it cool or awesome, or it evokes a sense of wonder, it’s probably unique.
  9.  Take pictures of ordinary places, things, people that have not been documented before. There is often “beauty in the mundane.” An unknown place can evoke a sense of awe or shock, more than a photograph of something that’s been recorded with the camera countless times.

To learn how to develop your own personal expression and take photographs that are interesting, unique–and not clichés, I suggest that you read “The Art of Black and White Photography” by  Torsten A Hoffman.

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