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Street Photography Clichés: Get Over Them

street photography clichés

Images shot with Super-Takumar 28mm f3.5

The list of street photography clichés can be all of the following (and more):

  • long
  • something you should read
  • something you should ignore
  • a guide for your photography
  • ammunition for your detractors
  • a cliché

This post isn’t going to list all the street photography clichés I can think of. It’s more about understanding how and why to get over them – in more ways than one.

That said, let’s take a look at two street photography clichés. Just so we have some context here.

  • people juxtaposed with signs or billboards
  • people using their goddamn phones

So, that header photograph again. He’s walking past a picture of someone using their phone while also using his phone.

I remember seeing the billboard and wondering how long it’d be before someone walked past it using their phone; wondering how long I’d have to wait for the decisive moment (ugh).

In about half a minute, I’d already got more than I’ll ever need. I think that alone says something.

What I wonder now is how many likes that photograph gets on Instagram.

You can go see for yourself here.

Also, have another one.

street photography clichés

The cliché of writing about street photography clichés

Before we go on I should address the inherent problem with writing a post about street photography clichés.

The elephant in the room. The meta issue.

The fact that writing about street (or any) photography clichés is also a cliché now.

It’s worth asking why photography bloggers do it though. I’m sure many have good intentions. Intentions of warning those who shoot clichés to stop and think and at least try to make more original images.

For others, it’s perhaps a way to feel superior. To tell other people what they’re doing is unoriginal. By writing an unoriginal article about it.

For others still, maybe there’s a self-defence mechanism at play. Of calling themselves out before someone else does.

If they include the line “and I’m as guilty of shooting clichés as anyone”, then it might well be this.

The main reason I’m writing this is that I took these pictures and wanted to use them somehow. Better to create something than to delete them, but I couldn’t present them with another topic and pretend to like them.

So here we are. A clichéd post about photography clichés, using clichéd street photography.

street photography clichés

Another street photography cliché (or perhaps it’s just rubbish photography) is of people doing nothing but walking down the street.

However, there is a way to rescue these kind of images.

All you have to do is catch your subjects with their legs open at full stride, because that turns your photograph from one of a person walking down the street into a decisive moment (yep), as I did above.

I joke, of course.

It’s still not a very good photograph.

If there’s a problem here it’s that a lot of what gets called #streetphotography online is equally as uninspiring or clichéd, yet it gets a tonne of likes.

This engagement is attractive, so more people take the same kind of images, and the cycle continues.

In fairness, I think these kind of images are an important step in the development of a street photographer. They bridge the gap between aimless shooting and original thinking.

But there often comes a time where people – both photographers and viewers – decide they want more.

Getting over street photography clichés

What I don’t want to do is talk about a problem without offering solutions.

So, in no particular order, this is what I suggest regarding getting over street photography clichés:

  1. get over it
  2. get over it
  3. get over it

Let’s explain.

Get over it #1 – as a viewer, give your attention to something better

For many people, this whole thing might not even be a problem. They’re happy doing what they’re doing, happy shooting clichés, and will see no need to change.

That’s completely up to them, and enjoying looking at this kind of photography is completely up to the people who do that too.

Whatever your thoughts on other people’s photography, you can’t make them change it, and nor should you be able to. Nor can you change the opinion of a whole community. Not overnight.

So if you see some work that doesn’t move you, it’s really on you to get over it. Don’t give photography your time or your likes if it doesn’t deserve it.

Close that tab, go seek out some street photography you do like, and give that all the credit and promotion it deserves.

Get over it #2 – as a photographer, be the best at street photography clichés

If you ever come to realise your own street photography is clichéd and you don’t want it to be, it’s of course again on you to get over it.

What follows is surely the most ambitious way of doing that.

Half the problem with shooting clichéd street photography is that your work is no better than countless other examples of the same cliché.

It’s not memorable because it just blends into the mass of other, similar images.

So if you want your work to get over this judgement, to stand out, it’s going to have to be special. It’s going to have to be the best.

So raise the bar. Shoot the definitive person walking past a sign shot. Make the greatest ever photograph of people on their phones.

Get over being just another clichéd street photographer by taking those clichés to the next level and becoming the benchmark.

As Steve Martin said, be so good they can’t ignore you.

It’s a dangerous game, of course. You’re going to end up with a collection of clichéd street photography by design.

If you fall short and none transcends what’s already out there, you’ll be left with the very thing you’re trying to avoid.

street photography clichés

Get over it #3 – as a photographer, eliminate clichés from your own work

If you’ve gotten bored with the clichéd street photography you’re shooting, no amount of likes or comments will really make you happy.

Think back to why you started shooting in the first place. Was it for you, or for them?

To me, getting over the clichés in your street photography means two things.

  • eliminating whatever common elements you’ve come to dislike, and finding something original that you do like
  • eliminating the worry about how many likes a photograph will get, and worrying about how much you actually like it

Develop your own style and voice, and become happy again with the photography you’re producing.

It might take a while. It might mean a learning process. It might mean a spell of making photos you’re not really pleased with as you figure out what it is you want to create.

Your Instagram numbers might drop in the meantime.

But who’s going to care when you’re again making photographs you’re proud of?

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Street photography clichés are everywhere, and shooting them can be holding you back creatively. So how can you get over them? Come find out in this post!

 

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