As a photographer and editor, I’ve recently become distressed by those few photographers who insist on taking photographs that don’t conform to common photographic practice. That is to say, these frondeurs ignore 180 years of tradition and insist on taking shots that are unique, having little or no banality to speak of. I don’t understand it. We’ve have literally hundreds of great photographers whose work can be fairly imitated, obviating the need for we viewers to familiarize ourselves with new images.
Why, I ask, would one spend thousands on new camera gear only to take a photo that others don’t obviously love? It makes no sense to me. If, for example, you are out in the rain, why not wait for the umbrellas to go up and cross the street? Why not ask a gentleman or lady nearby if they would kindly leap over a puddle–preferably with open brolly–and allow you to recreate one of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s lovely contrived masterworks? I can only assume it is because so many new photographers don’t recognize a brilliant cliché when they see one.
With that in mind, we here at RNA have come out of our Autumn-Winter hibernation to give you the beginnings of a Comprehensive Listing of Photographic Clichés. This will serve as Volume One, focused on those shooters who like to share their works on Instagram, 500px, and the like. More will follow, as we discover people ignoring the great paths set by their forebears and attempting to blaze a treasonous path of their own. Please, all you photographers out there, I beseech you! Do not be an apostate. Confine your photo witchdoctory and conform to the standards we present for you here.
Due to photographers’ humility, we have not included their names. But worry not: we’ve found literally hundreds of examples of each. You can find others yourself. We do humbly hope this instructional listing will be of service. Shooters: for bonus points, feel free to include as many clichés on a photo as possible. The more the merrier, we always say.
- “The Stride-By” – Someone is walking by something. They aren’t doing anything interesting, they aren’t interacting with anyone, and I can’t see their face. It’s perfect! I can only pray they were holding a phone or walking by an advert.
- “The Photo Photo” – an insidious corollary of the Stride-By, this is a street photo taken of an advertisement that contains an interesting photo, usually in giant proportions. To ensure that the photo is a cliché, the street photographer makes sure to add nothing meaningful to the shot, creating a boring photo of a great photo. (See “The Painting Photo”) under the heading “Art”.
- “The Puddle Jump” – aka “The Defining Moment” or the “Henri Cartier-Bresson.” Someone is jumping over water. They have feet, legs, and shoes. How wonderful. I have a camera that happens to have a fast shutter. I’m a genius.
- “The Reflection in the Puddle” – preferably, this is done in black and white so as to hide any meaningful detail. To be perfect, the shooter must add at least one building corner and edge, part of a leg, and a bit of sky.
- “The Upside-Down Reflection in the Puddle” – same shot as #3, just turned upside-down. No one has ever seen the world upside-down before.
- “Rainy/Snowy/Misty Window” – this would be an homage to Saul Leiter if any of the photographers acknowledged their were copying Saul’s signature style. Instead, they are simply brightly colored objects or people behind partly obscured windows. Yay for colors.
- “Colorful Umbrellas” – these shots take a few flavors: the “Colorful Umbrella in a Sea of Black and White,” the “Colorful Umbrellas Against a Zebra Crossing,” and the “Colorful Umbrellas in a Group.” Umbrellas are magical, like unicorns.
- “The Over-Saturated Shot” – as everyone knows, boosting the actual color saturation by at least 30% can fix any photo. Go there. Be bold.
- “The Over-Contrasted Shot” – Similarly, turning an otherwise bland composition into black and white and jacking up the contrast makes photographic magic. For expert points, using tonal contrast instead of normal contrast. It’s like, invisible to mortal eyes.
- “The Star Jump” or the “Leap in the Air” – This is a tricky shot in that it requires the cooperation of cliché-aficionado photographers. The shooter waits until the family/friend photographer instructs their subject to leap in the air, and then the street shooter shoots them. It’s hard and certain to go viral, since everyone has one and can relate to it.
- “Long-Exposure Car Lights” – DO NOT add anything distracting to this shot. It must be pure: street, buildings, and car trails.
City & Architecture
- “Up/Down the Spiral Staircase” – if available, spiral staircases can be substituted with squared staircases. The sharp edges make all the difference.
- “Same Shot, Same Place” – Travel to a world-famous city or location. Find the spot with the most tourists. Many will be taking selfies. Ignore them. Instead, find the place with the most people taking serious photos. They will have serious expressions on their faces. Shoot there! Shoot there! You might see a few stragglers in other locations taking photos where no one is going. Ignore them; they’re weird.
- “Feet Over the Edge” — one must leave this to the young photographers, I’m afraid. Here, you find a tall building, one high enough that if you fall from it taking your shot, you will die. Find a way, illegally if possible, to reach the roof. Walk around without safety harnesses, and take selfies. For the coup de grace, sit on the edge of a building, look down, and photograph your feet. The shoes make all the difference. We at RNA encourage the use of stilettos in this endeavor.
- “The Long Vanishing-Point Pier” – this is a shot of a generally centered boat dock or pier, usually looking out into a distant seascape. For bonus points, sunset hues or crystalline blue water should be added.
- “Long-Exposure Water” – a long-exposure water shot, to qualify as an award-winning cliché, must have water running over either rocks or a small waterfall. There should be little else in the photo but a smoothed out body of water and a some rocks and shit.
- “Long-Exposure Clouds” – similar to “Long-Exposure Water,” except that it’s smoothed-out clouds passing over an otherwise nondescript landscape. How can the photographer ensure the landscape is nondescript? Easy. If you need blurred clouds in the shot, its nondescript. If the clouds distract from an otherwise interesting landscape shot, then pack your camera kit away and go look for a less-interesting spot to shoot. Nobody likes an interesting landscape.
- “The Painting Photo” – this is a photograph of a work of art, displayed in a gallery or museum. Now, photographers, this is a tricky one, because photographic curators often take such shots to preserve art images and ensure they aren’t “forgotten.” In order to produce a grand clichéd work of art, the photographer should ensure their painting photo is of a lower quality than would be produced in an art book. Secondly, in order to make the boring art interesting, be sure to add your copyright notice to the image, so that people know that you’ve added something substantial to the painting via your choice not to add anything to the painting.
- “Street Art” – street art, and graffiti are done precisely as above, with painting photos. Here, however, it is almost imperative that the photo be posted, even without the shooter’s copyright notice, since no one ever sees art when it’s out on the street, where people can be so easily distracted. Ensure no one is in the photo unless they are 1) striding-by, 2) your girlfriend/significant other, or 3) in no way interacting with or related to the street art. For instance, if the dominant color of the art is blue, ensure no one is wearing any shade of blue or its complement, orange.