Look through your hard drive, and you’ll find them. We all will. They’re images that look beautiful, are perfectly captured, speak volumes… and which turn up as frequently as “hard-working families” pepper election speeches.
Clichés are a part of photography. They’re often the first images new photographers take as they’re learning to use their camera and they provide stepping stones from which talented photographers can leap to the more creative, original stuff.
They might not be exciting or groundbreaking but they can make up a large part of many photographer’s image banks… and with a bit of thought they might even make money too.
Here are some of the most common photographic clichés and how you can make them work for you.
Cats Have More than Nine Lives
Flickr’s Popular Tags cloud gives it away. Hit the “cat” tab and you can browse through 1,932,883 photos of moggies. That’s a lot of cat.
Not all of them are clichés, of course. Many will just be badly taken mementoes of people’s pets asleep on sofas or lying on the grass. A few might bring something new and creative to the party. But far too many depend on a straight shot of a furry face to do all the work, leaving an image that — if you don’t know the cat — looks much the same as any other.
But cats can be expressive. Their eyes, in particular, seem to pack a lot of mystery and they’re easier to find and photograph than a fully-grown lion.
So what can you do to earn from your cat clichés?
Very little, of course, but one option is to use the best animal portraits to market yourself as a pet photographer.
Yes, you’ll probably do better with pictures that show cats in unusual situations or which capture a unique character rather than just another cute kitten, but many pet owners will be happy enough to see that you can take a technically correct picture — especially if they can’t.
You’ll probably find prints of your own cat’s faces a hard sell but try adding your contact details to your best images, give them away to cat-lovers you know as large-format business cards and you might just find that your cat clichés land you a standard commission or two shooting portraits of other people’s feline friends.
The Sun Never Sets on Sunsets
Not everyone owns a cat but everyone gets to see the sun set… and rise. And then gets to photograph it setting again.
That means gazillions of images showing blood-red skies, dappled clouds and glowing orbs melting into orange seas.
As souvenirs of a Hawaiian vacation, they can be great pictures. As examples of great photography though, they’re rarely on show with Annie Leibovitz.
But stock sites offer images of sunsets and while the best stock photographers take a novel approach to the subject, many are no better and no more original than those found on every snap-happy tourist’s memory card.
Again, you’ll always get more sales with something unique but you don’t have to do much to turn a regular sunset into a photo people will buy. The bird in this image, for example, gives a colorful scene a new twist, as do the palm trees in this photo, which has been downloaded a remarkable 731 times.
Add a layer to your sunset photos and you still won’t have a great work of art, but you might just have a sellable image.
A Handful of Flowers
Sunsets make tempting pictures because they’re pretty. Flowers are pretty too and they last all day making them even easier to shoot.
Unfortunately that means everyone does, occasionally beefing up the photo with a bee, a butterfly or a nicely-spotted ladybug.
But flowers aren’t just symmetrical splashes of color. They’re also plant species with scientific names and they could be of use to biology textbook publishers, nurseries and other businesses that work with nature.
PhotoResearchers is one company that specializes in scientific pictures and markets images of flowers. They demand captions that include lots of detail about the flower itself, so you’ll need to know exactly what you’re shooting, but if you’re familiar with plants and especially if your image shows off the inside bits as well, you might be able to sell your flower shots to the natural sciences.
Rings on Fingers
Perhaps the biggest cause of clichés is weddings. What, after all, could be more clichéd than a ceremony with a strict dress code, a set routine and a stack of images that the bride, the groom and the family expect to see in the wedding album?
Unless, of course, you regard the whole wedding process not as a cliché but as a timeless event that despite its repetition still carries plenty of meaning.
Some wedding photographers might be looking for new ways of shooting an old subject but most are happy to photograph the formals, the bouquets and the rings on interlaced fingers because they know that that’s what their clients want, enjoyed in the portfolio and will pay for after the ceremony.
And that’s really the point. It’s never anyone’s goal to create a clichéd image but it does happen and may even be demanded by clients. As long as you can also branch out into photos that do more, the odd common shot isn’t terrible. It might just mean you’re another of those hard-working families.