One bit of advice that you hear all the time is ‘avoid cliches’. This advice is repeated so often that it’s become something of a cliche itself.
I’ve never really understood it, myself. You’re standing before a glorious sunset, and you’re moved to take a photograph. You might be moved by the beauty of the scene, or by the unusual nature of the sunset, or by the desire to have a token to help you remember the moment. But, no matter, sunsets are cliches, and thus must be avoided. The world has enough photographs of glorious sunsets. Put down your camera, lest the cliche police take you away.
I think not. The risk of cliches when photographing isn’t so much that you’ll add to the extant collection of sunsets or puppies, or kittens in brandy snifters. The risk of cliches is that, because we’ve all been inundated by these ‘cliche’ images, often (but not always) if you’re making one of those photos, it’s because you’re making a kneejerk response to a scene instead of trying to get a bit deeper. If all of your photos are cliches, it’s probable that’s happening because you’re not getting past the superficial.
That’s not always bad. Sure, the world is supped full with photos of children blowing out the candles on their birthday cakes. You know it. I know it. And yet, the world is NOT suffering from a surfeit of photographs of YOUR CHILD blowing out the candles on his birthday cake on HIS THIRD BIRTHDAY. To anyone else, it’s a cliche. To you, it’s a significant image. If everyone else thinks it’s a cliche, why should you care? Answer: you should most definitely not care at all.
My thinking on cliche photography runs like this: when you catch yourself in the moment where the only image you can see to capture is the cliche, go ahead and take it. Film (or disk storage) is cheap. Take the photo, and then move on to the next one. The easiest way to get the cliche image out of your consciousness is to let the shutter go, and then move on. If you’re like me, if you don’t let the shutter go, that cliche image will just clog your mental pipe and in a weird sort of target fixation sort of way, the only image you’ll be able to contemplate is the one you don’t want to take. Just go ahead, take it, get it out of the way, and then try to move on beyond it. It’s the only thing that works for me