I have addressed the topic of cliches in photography, not to condemn them, but to suggest that certain “visual truisms” never really get old. Plus, recurring themes provide a blueprint for those starting out in any expressive discipline — you look at the work of people who came before you and try to do what they did. Of course, you hope to do it with some semblance of individual thought to avoid being labeled a clone, but the bottom line is that we’re all piggybacking off someone else, even if in just the most basic of ways.
There’s no fault to be found in emulating great work as you grow in your craft, but the ultimate objective is indeed to grow. If you are to ever attain any degree of self-actualization, you can’t accept stagnation. Which means you can’t continue to be satisfied with constantly cranking out cliched photos. You can’t continue to watch what everyone else is doing, follow their lead, and then wonder why your work doesn’t seem to stand out.
This is a scenario I see play out regularly around NYC tourist traps. One person steps up to snap a photo of this building or that statue or some other point of curiosity that may very well be deserving of having its photo taken. But in short order a thicket of humans holding cameras begins to grow out of control as everyone is vying to stand in the same spot for the same shot. There’s nothing wrong with that shot. It will fit right in with the rest of anyone’s “Summer Vacation” photo album and stir up fond memories of the experience.
But you’re reading this because you want to step your game up, right? Here’s the simplest way to start making stand-out photos: don’t do what everyone else is doing. Don’t stand in the same spot, don’t focus on the same point, don’t shoot from the same perspective, don’t, don’t, don’t. I’m not suggesting you should never photograph sunsets or light trails or solitary trees or the Statue of Liberty; neither am I suggesting you abandon the fundamental skills and stylistic inspirations that inform your photography. What I’m saying is that the best shots are quite often the ones that everyone else overlooks, so those are the ones you want to pursue. Even if you decide to photograph the same subject that countless others have photographed, you owe it to yourself to find a different way to do it. I could waste a lot of time and get really meta about all this and blather on about how “different” will mean different things to different people…which is true…but the definition of different isn’t the point.
However you choose to interpret and embody “different” — do that. Whatever other photographers are doing — don’t do that (generally). It’s really that simple. Granted, if you’ve already become ensnared by the tendency to follow the crowd or to copy the style of your favorite photographer there will be some bad habits you need to rid yourself of, which is never easy but it’s worth the trouble.
More creative photography is not dependent upon having a camera stuffed to the brim with tech you will probably never use anyway, nor does it depend on where you live. If you’re truly in pursuit of images that stand apart from all else that you see, you must literally stand apart from what all others are doing. Sometimes it’s better to be where the action isn’t.
A very well-written and encouraging article. The digital world really takes away the sting of film and developing costs so the only expense is failure at not getting what you expected, but that may be the biggest reward. We should try to amaze ourselves.