According to Fowler’s Modern English Usage, a cliché in the literary sense is a word or phrase whose popularity means its use is often unsuitable and indiscriminate. This relates to photography with the indiscriminate use of certain themes with little thought given to composition. Frequently photographed scenes lose their impact due to their repetition.
This list, far from complete by some people’s definitions, is dependent on the opinion of the viewer. Photographers need to be aware that while a subject may seem fresh and new to them, others may have suffered endless, boring repetitions of sometimes technically perfect, but unimaginative renditions of these subjects. There are many good photographs using these subjects or compositional devices but here they only part of the overall image. Good photographers include a combination of other elements, producing a stunning image not just another photographic cliché.
The failure of many photographers is they rely too much on the natural beauty without considering the compositional implications and possibilities. While some elements are truly outstanding, they are only part of the overall composition. Classic examples are sunsets, – they can be magnificent, breathtaking, and novice photographers strive to capture their glory. Very few sunsets are different enough to stand alone in an image. They do make spectacular backgrounds and provide a lift for a lackluster foreground.
Silhouettes are one option for sunset compositions, providing the resulting shapes are interesting. Another option is to get in early so the foreground is lit by the sunset and objects reflect the reddish light.
Sunrises are rarer as it takes more photographic commitment to rise early while many sunsets are opportunistic snapshots rather than planned photographs.
Dinghy on the Beach
Wooden dinghies on a beach are a foreground favorite to capture sweeping natural vistas and landscape photographers use wide-angle lenses or short focal length. One characteristic of wide-angle lenses is objects appear smaller or further away. This emphasises the foreground leaving it looking bare and empty pushing the large objects of interest into the background in landscape photography. Landscape photographers seek a compositional device of placing an interesting object to fill this space. This is where on beach and water views often it is the old wooden rowing boat near the water’s edge. Then there is the close cousin, the rocks in the sand with water or waves moving around the rocks. The secret is balancing the composition so the foreground objects do not overpower the scene.
The Lonely Tree
This is another overused compositional device where a single tree adds detail to plain landscape. The trees are often the remnant of forest and are therefore old with interesting structure, but not enough to carry the whole image.
Jetty to No Where
This is an attempt to use the leading line technique to add drama and direct the viewer’s eyes through the image. The trap is there is no visual reward for the viewer when they get to the end of the jetty. Another close relation are white picket fences and also gates, porticos, doorways, arched entrances used as framing or leading lines in an image. Leading lines are great way to direct the viewer’s attention in photographic composition, but as with all techniques of photographic composition indiscriminate usage creates a cliché.
What Can We Photograph?
Having demonized just a range of popular subjects just what is the point of taking any more photographs if just about everything is on the cliché list. Of course, these things can still be photographed so long as the photographer finds suitable composition and does not shoot indiscriminately. This
One failure is that photographers use techniques or subjects as crutch thinking that if a great photo uses that same technique then all they have to do is repeat the technique or subject to produce a good photograph. Wrong! Because of the danger of producing yet another photographic cliché even greater care should be taken in thinking through the creation of the image.