Photography has potential to be both the most equalizing and polarizing art form imaginable. All you really need to get started is a camera — any will do — and an ability to understand what looks good. On the other hand, there are people who swear that you need 50 lenses, a full flash setup and at least a half-dozen SLR bodies before you could even begin to take it seriously as a hobby. Yet somehow, for all the infinite variety that photography should offer us, we see the same things over and over. The same photos, the same tricks, the same clichéd, hackneyed shots. These are the worst offenders.
14. Heart Book Lens
I have no idea what started this trend, which was exceptionally cool for about 14 seconds, and then became such a horrible level of cliché that I can hardly breath. You take a ring or lens, put it in-between the pages of a book, and shine a light around until you make a pretty little heart. The example shot above isn’t too bad, at least it’s not the wedding ring/bible combo that so many people tend to gravitate towards. Even so, it’s been done a million times by a million people, and it’s not romantic any more. It’s not cute. It doesn’t show some wonderful inner message. It’s trite, boring, and does nothing to prove you have an ounce of creativity.
13. Rocking Chair on the Porch
Ah yes, the slightly worn rocking chair, sitting on a porch. Double points if it’s black and white, and you can see some peeling paint somewhere. Doesn’t it remind you of the good old days? Grandpa sitting on the porch, drinking lemonade in the sun, watching the world go by and complaining about the negras moving in down the street? Can you honestly not think of a more original way to invoke the a feeling of nostalgia and yearning, rather than relying on the same image that everyone else has made? Not only that, but it’s a classic situation where newbie photographers really show off their lack of an eye. Vertical lines of the chair and porch railing clashing at odd angles, cluttered composition.
12. Perspective and Monuments
Ahahahaha! Holy shit, perspective! Things far away looks small! I’m crushing the Eiffel Tower! I’m kissing the Sphinx! I’m spitting out a water fountain! Look at me, I’m such a clown! I’m the life of the party! This is so much cooler than actually taking an interesting photo of a monument, right? Everyone wants to see how it looks like I’m stepping on the pyramids! Good for entertaining six year olds and drunken college kids on a bus. Can you really not think of a single way of making an amazing sculpture or building interesting, so you have to fall back on this hackneyed play?
11. Young Me/Now Me
The whole Young Me/Now Me thing first started kicking up around 2008, and people would recreate photos from their childhoods, replicating poses, individuals, and occasionally outfits. Lead by ZeFrank, it was intensely interesting project, showing not only how much we change, but how relationships don’t. But, you know what, it’s 2011. We’ve seen it. We know how cute you were as a six year old with a towel cape, we don’t need to see your slightly squishy college age replica. At this point, you’re not really bringing anything new to the picture. Every possible variant — the missing dead relative, the reconnected loved ones, the horribly maimed — it’s all be done already.
10. Food Porn
Alright, lets run through this checklist. First thing you need is food, artfully placed — some fake randomness thrown in makes things even better. Good light. Fast lens. Tiny depth of field. Slightly over-exposed. Maybe a bit of steam if appropriate. Get super close, and use that shallow depth of field, and make some sexy, sexy food porn. There are whole websites devoted to just sexy shots of food, crispy enormous sugar crystals, oozing eggs, the whole nine yards. At this point its so standard that every time I see a recipe blog that can be bothered doing something different, I’m incredibly happy.
9. Isolated Colors
Part of me wants to blame Sin City for the rise in prominence in this incredibly boring photographic technique, but I don’t even think Frank Miller is entirely to blame for this. The whole process of isolating just a single area of color in an image has always been borderline boring, a cliché attempt to make a certain feature really stand out, but for a long time it required at least a modicum of basic Photoshop knowledge to pull it off. Now ever shitty point-and-shoot camera has the ability to do it, and you see a thousand photos of a woman with only her lipstick in color, or a brightly colored pair of shoes. Wow, how intriguing!
8. Long Exposure Water
This one pisses me off, because professionals do it all the time. Amateurs making these mistakes is one thing, but people who make their living from photographs? That’s a whole different story. Seriously, I can’t count how many mall photography stores have the same fucking photos of waterfalls and waves, taken over long exposure so they look like a soft and gentle mist. Congratulations, Mr. Photographer, you’re a sellout. You’re charging $400 bucks for a long exposure shot of a waterfall, which will hang in the office of a reasonably well off middle-manager. Remember when you came out of Photography school, with great ideas of what you would do? And now you’re stuck doing shitty nature shots and the occasional yearbook? Man, what happened to you?
7. Cute Girl Holding a Flower
I realise that once you get a cute girl to agree to model for you, it’s hard to come up with ideas — especially ones that don’t sound skeezy, even though you really are trying to get into her panties. But surely you can do better than just having her pose with a single flower, and looking cute? She’s a living, breathing human being, try and capture some of her essence rather than stumbling around looking for an appropriate prop for her to hold (that isn’t your dick.)
6. Grunged Anything
Happily, this trend is going the way of the dinosaur, spotted for what it really is, a series of Photoshop filters to make up for uninspired photography and mediocre subjects. Adding fake scratches, a worn concrete sheen, and spray paint splatters do nothing to make your shot actually good, they just cover it with so much shit that it’s unrecognizable. Hell, they could be the greatest photographs ever taken, but we’d never know under all the bullshit you throw on top.
5. Anything Lomo
You wankers, with your Helga cameras picked up from Urban Outfitters, or your Hipstamatic iPhone apps, eschewing actual skills for cookie cutter blown out colors and and heavy vignetting. Look, the reason nobody used toy cameras for decades? They’re crap. It was only after people starting liking the weird crap things they did that they became popular. Look to the modern equivalent of the shitty toy camera, and use that to ride ahead of the curve. Get a really, really crappy point-and-shoot or cellphone camera. Embrace the insane noise levels at high ISO and crappy white balance. Beat up the lens a little. At least it’ll be original.
4. Holding Up The Tower Of Pisa
This is subdivision of #12, but deserves its own entry for just how painfully cliché and tired it really is. If you ever get to Pisa, and find yourself taking a photo of that historically angled piece of architecture, turn around and look behind you. You’ll see literally dozens, if not hundreds, of people, all pretending to support the tower. Every day. All day. Year after year, thousands upon untold thousands of tourists taking exactly the same fucking photo. If that doesn’t tell you why you shouldn’t do it, you’re hopeless. There’s not a single more cliché photo that it’s possible for a tourist to take. Just don’t do it.
3. Long Exposure Traffic
Ah yes, capturing the hustle and bustle of modern life through long exposure. See how those unseemly cars disappear, leaving only glowing trails of light! How much prettier it is this way, softly lit by yellow lamps, streaks of lights tracing curves in the road and intersections. Except its been done so many million times before. As soon as anyone figures out how to do a long exposure on their camera, this is the very first thing they do. Well, this and people writing things with sparklers. We’ve seen it a million times, and it doesn’t say anything new.
2. Photoshopped Tilt Shift
Tilt shift photography offers a unique effect on long distance photography, artificially narrowing the depth of field to a ludicrous degree, and creating the illusion of a world in miniature, photographed in macro. Traditionally, this required a tilt shift lens, which was semi-articulated and gave a large amount of control to where and how the lens worked. Notoriously tricky to user properly, a good tilt shift photographer could make a photo that looker perfectly normal but couldn’t be taken with a standard lens, or could make the world look miniature. Now everyone just does it with a Gaussian blur, and it looks shit. You know why? It’s almost impossible to properly set the depth of field while blurring things like that. The tops of monuments get blurred in with backgrounds. It just looks cheap and underwhelming.
High Dynamic Range. I would give my left foot to see this never, ever be abused again. Once again, it’s an interesting technique which has been bastardized so heavily by easy but shitty versions that it produces nothing but hideous results now. A good HDR photo involves taking multiple shots at different exposure, and artfully blending them so that every part of the image is perfectly exposed. You could use manual tone mapping, or use mask tools in photoshop if you wanted to do it manually. It required a good eye, knowledge of your tools, and most of all, time. Then the process got automated, and people just slapped the images into an automatic combiner, and you get shit like the image above. Objects have an ugly halo like they were photographed by a flea market psychic with an aura cam. Instead of bringing out interesting detail, the whole thing looks airbrushed and hideous. It’s a horrible, horrible abuse of what was once an interesting method.