There are classic images, there are signature styles, genres and themes. And then there are clichés. The ‘Oh, please, not another sunset’ kind of shot. Andrew Fildes counts down his Top 10 photography clichés.

Now I don’t want to be totally dismissive here – clichés are overdone because many people actually like them, the poor deluded fools. It’s even possible to take a cliché and do something different and new with it. But that's rare.

Most are just a dreary repeat of something that was once fresh, clever and/or challenging. I’ve heard that the key points from where Ansel Adams took some of his classic landscapes are regularly infested by snappers with low-grade SLRs, hoping to repeat his triumphs. Geeks looking for his tripod holes. Er, he used a large format camera on the roof of his car guys – do you really think you’re going to do it better or reinterpret in some way? As if!

So what are the top ten clichés, the hackneyed themes that should be avoided at all costs unless you think you can do it in some fresh and clever way? These are my pick – some are obvious. Some are just what people do with a camera, others are sins committed by actual enthusiasts.

If your little point-and-shoot has a scene mode for it, it’s probably a cliché. And yes, I have committed all these crimes and sometimes tried to transcend them. Mea culpa.

By the way, it's not lost on us that doing a ‘Top 10' list of clichés is in itself a cliché! Oh well, sometimes you just have to push on and hope not too many people noticed!


I once stood on a beach and wept at the sight of a sunset, I was so moved by it. (Very embarrassing – small children laughed at me). But I didn’t try and shoot it. They rarely look good as a photograph – there is too little detail and the colour is too raw. And there are nineteen squillion bad sunset shots out there. Think yours will be any better? No hope.  Sure, shoot in the golden hours, but don’t be tempted to photograph the sun!

10. sunse cliche
Photo: Thinkstock


Ah, selective colour. You know the shot. All black-and-white except for a single red rose, or a pair of red lips, or a blue tricycle. No, no, no!  It’s been done over and over and more often than not the aim is to hide the fact that the photo wasn’t very good in the first place. Unless you have a compelling reason for doing it, don’t! Choose colour, or black-and-white – not both.

9. Selective Colour cliche
Photo: Andrew Fildes.


Yes it can look great but it’s been done to death. I’m not talking about the long exposure landscape shot where the creek happens to have gone soft but one where the misty water is the whole reason for the shot and takes centre stage. If you insist on doing it, do a night shot or an infra-red or anything else that’s a bit different or new.

8. blurry water cliche.
Photo: Thinkstock.


It’s your child so you think it’s cute. The rest of us think it’s a gormless, boring and slightly repulsive cliché. We won’t say so because we’re polite and you’ll get upset/violent. But that’s what we are thinking.

7. Messy child cliche
Photo: Thinkstock.


Persuading your girlfriend to strip off for the camera on the grounds that she won’t be identifiable is one of the oldest forms of nude photography – practicised by cheapskates who won’t hire a proper model. It can be done well – it usually is not.

6. Headless nude cliche
Photo: Andrew Fildes.


Yup, some poor homeless guy in a shop doorway or rummaging through a bin. If possible, clutching a bottle in a brown paper bag. Even better if he’s asleep on a bench because there’s no chance of him getting upset with you. No, it’s exploitative. Don’t do it unless you’re planning an extended essay on the plight of the homeless and actually sit down and talk with the guys, get to know them.

5. homeless cliche
Photo: Andrew Fildes.


Not such a problem here in Australia apart from well worn shearing sheds and rusting, collapsing corrugated iron structures (look at the texture!). Almost a fetish in the US where you can hang around whole cities of empty decaying factories. Sub-genre – fashion or nudes amid the decay. No, no, no!

4. The Decay Cliche
Photo: Andrew Fildes.


Applying fifteen filters to an iPhone shot and calling it art? Oh, come on. The filters are there to disguise that it’s a low res shot, badly taken. Get a Holga and do it properly, badly.

3. iphone apps cliche
Photo: James Ostinga.


Shove the clarity and resolution sliders up, bring in a little black and hey presto, a grungy look. Or lets grab the cross-process pre-set and saturate the colours even more! Too much is never enough.

2. Overmanipulation cliche
Photo: Andrew Fildes.


Last, and defiitely worst, the dominant Facebook style of the moment. “Hey look at us! I just thought I’d hold the camera at arms length and we’ll all scream at it to prove that we’re having FUN right?” Shudder. This isn’t actually photography – it’s some kind of existential snapshot process – “We were soooo wasted!” Well, you look blown out and harshly lit. I’m waiting for someone in the art world to redefine these as art.

1. Arms length cliche
Photo: Thinkstock.

Got a cliché that we haven't mentioned? Add it in the comments box below.

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