How to Avoid Photographic Clichés

July 26, 2010 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 14 Comments | |
How to Avoid Photographic Clichés Image

So what steps can we take to try and resist the obvious, to avoid being caught in the "cliché" trap? Here are some tips that I hope will help you to find images that speak with your personal voice.


One of the key elements in a memorable photograph may well be the quality of light. Special light doesn't occur every day and as such it is more likely that when it does you will be at home rather than in some exotic location. So rather than chase the dream at some far flung place why not make the most of your local area? Here you have the upper hand because you can respond to conditions and already have a working knowledge of likely subjects, places and viewpoints.


If you do find yourself at an iconic location, one that you have seen amazing images of before, don't be tempted to charge in and repeat what you have seen. Instead, try leaving the camera in the bag, spend some time absorbing your surroundings and wait for something unique that speaks to you.

How to Avoid Photographic Clichés

Most photographers who visit Rannoch Moor in Scotland for a winter's dawn rush to grab the "best" spots nearest to a small tree on an island that has become a classic cliché view. My alternative option was to photograph this small detail a few hundred yards away in the car park (it was actually about 5 yards from our van).


Don't always assume that photographs should be taken from eye level. Investigate all possible viewpoints and be prepared to get up high or down low to make your image. This also applies to perspective. Consider all the focal lengths you possess and the way they might offer a different feel to your image.

Be Open

Just because you haven't seen a great image of a location doesn't mean it isn't there. Learn to look very hard at your subject, become absorbed in it and try and discover something extraordinary for yourself.

In time you will learn to find your own style of image. Who knows, perhaps the next time you venture out with your camera you might introduce us all to a new icon that will suffer the ultimate fate of becoming a cliché of the future.

How to Avoid Photographic Clichés

When visiting New England it is obvious that you will want to photograph the fantastic fall colour. But rather than straight shots of the leaves themselves, I tried photographing just their reflections in this small tarn in Acadia National Park.


Phil Malpas is a freelance photographer and writer based in Swindon, Wiltshire. He was previously a director of Photofolio a commercial gallery in the north of England, and is a regular contributor to a variety of magazines and journals.

Working with both large-format and digital cameras, Phil is a tour leader with Light & Land - which specialises in photographic tours and training both in the UK and all over the world. Phil has lead more than 40 tours to many locations including Cuba, Tuscany, the English Lake District and many locations across the USA. Phil also runs the highly successful "Introduction to Digital Photography" workshops on behalf of Light and Land. For full details visit

In November 2007 Phil's first book, Capturing Colour was published (ISBN 978-2940373062). The book was well received and translated into a number of languages to benefit photography students around the world. In the autumn of 2009 a second commissioned publication entitled Finding the Picture (ISBN 978-1902538587) was co-written with Phil's good friend a co-leader Clive Minnitt. This successful book is the third to be produced in the Light & Land master class series, following Working with Light and Developing Vision & Style. In recent weeks the fourth book in the series was published, "Travel Photography Masterclass" (ISBN 978-1902538594) to which Phil was one of 8 main contributors.

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photos, photo, photography, how to, technique, photographic, avoid, icons, personal, difference, vision, different, open, cliches, viewpoint, cliche, locality

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14 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Peter Ogilvie

An interesting read.  Could we compare music to photography.  In the 1960s along came something new (well new to most people) - The Beatles - they had a sound - that was like no other.  The result - many bands copied them - some well - some not so well.  For the Beatles to keep up the standard - they had to evolve their sound - just like Photographers have to do today.

And yet it was the Beatles - would themselves copied from 1950’s American rock n roll and a few ‘swooners’.

Photography is like music - once you know the rules - start to bend or break them - and you never where you may end up.

We see lots of prints and paintings every week at Cadremont - and the old sayings are the same - dare to be different, immitate is good but innovate is better.

Great article by the way.

11:43 pm - Monday, July 26, 2010

#2 Peter Ogilvie

Sorry - I forgot to add my blog to my previous comment

11:46 pm - Monday, July 26, 2010

#3 James G

One of the current clichés in photography which I’m becoming increasingly tired of is the high-contrast, low colour saturation images which seem to dominate so much of flickr. Too often it seems to be used as a shorthand for creating a ‘moody’ image.

That said, I can’t exactly criticise others for cliché. While I do try and put my own spin on images, I’m still prone to taking the more obvious shots.

1:09 pm - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

#4 John Pryere

Great article, thank you.

2:28 pm - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

#5 Willoughbys

There’s a lot of photography cliches.We are speaking here of overused images in photography. Whatever is the topic of your photos, what’s best is that you captured it perfectly and though its a cliche, what counts is that it is what you want to get a picture of and you are happy with the outcome.

7:34 am - Wednesday, July 28, 2010

#6 hagen

All very excellent comments. Cliches can also extend to trends as James G mentioned, that have been “over used”.

It is hard to differentiate and find your own style: to me that is a journey worth taking. While on it, I’ll hop of and thrill in the excitement of a good image even if it’s derivative or cliched.

Happy shooting.

11:14 pm - Monday, August 16, 2010

#7 ivane Beoulve

this is interesting indeed

11:07 pm - Monday, August 30, 2010

#8 Whitey

As a relative new comer to photography I’m constantly looking for ways to really open my eyes and see what’s around me, but then when I visit the myriad of “critique” sections on photography forums I come across the same remarks of how people do not conform to the rules of photography, and wonder how people can be creative and yet stick to such rigid unwritten rules.  Is there only one way to shoot any subject? Does it have to be either right or wrong?

11:53 am - Saturday, October 9, 2010

#9 Bryan

thank you   a much needed article if i see another picture like the original antelope pic i might puke

7:35 pm - Monday, November 1, 2010

#10 wa

this picture is soooo cliched

3:22 am - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

#11 TillyBee

There is nothing new that hasn’t been done before. That being said, my pet peeve’s are photography cliche`s such as selective saturation/desaturation (particularly wedding bouquets and baby blue eyes), overuse of the “draganizer” effect (high contrast, grungey images with low saturation), photos of sunsets that are less than spectacular, photos of family pets that are just gratuitous (haha taking photos of your mums dog doesn’t make you a professional photographer, lol).
People need to take a fresh approach and try and find their own unique style, that will eventually be their selling point.

10:31 am - Tuesday, August 2, 2011

#12 Sourav Chakraborty

Trying out different view points is actually the best advice a novice photographer can get. We see everything from normal eye-height- there is not much novelty to that. Trying out different angles and positions can give some truly unique photographs.

2:43 pm - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#13 daniel

Very good article thanks. However, in my humble opinion, I believe that if everybody start laying down on back or belly and shoot, those images would be worse then present day eye level cliches.

5:58 pm - Monday, March 5, 2012

#14 Clipping Path

Hi,really good information to the photographers.Thank you.

5:32 pm - Friday, November 6, 2015