I often see Instagram criticised for being saturated with the same old clichés. I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories of people lined up in the street to take a picture of a certain blossom tree or a house with wisteria. People can be quite scathing of this, and undoubtedly when you see that blossom tree for the 10th time in one morning on your feed it can get a little much! Especially when there is no new “take” on it, no more interesting angles to work with. The money shot is always the same – the nice, straight, squared up, pink tree and house with the pink door.
Why do we do this I wonder? Why do we flock to take the exact same photos as each other? Well the way I see it is there is probably nothing new going on here, the Instagram culture has simply exposed us to “new” landmarks. Surely when visiting the Taj Mahal everyone tries to get that spot at the end of the reflection pool to take a selfie or a picture of their loved ones? It’s the most impressive angle and was designed to be so – it’s the infamous shot that we would automatically want to take. That view may be centuries old, but these days we all get to see the world through the eyes of our favourite Instagram photographers. We have become as familiar with the blossom tree on Portobello Road, as we have with one of the seven wonders of the world.
If I said to you “that pink cafe in Paris”, “that flower arch in Dubai” or “that row of gingerbread houses in Amsterdam”, you would probably all know what I’m talking about wouldn’t you? Well in my experience when you are in one of these places and you see a scene in the flesh that is so familiar, you feel all excited like you’ve just stumbled across a famous monument. It’s almost impossible not to reach for your phone and take that picture for yourself.
So where do I stand on photographing the cliches? Well I love a good cliche, and I am guilty of scattering them through my feed as much as the next person. There’s a reason why these shots have become “instafamous” – because they are good! There is a certain pink cake shop in London which is popular on Instagram at the moment, but you know what I flipping love it! And when done well it is simply the prettiest picture there is. The cliches of course extend beyond these modern “landmarks”, to styled images too. Like there is something undeniably charming about these spots, there is also something inescapably lovely about peonies, and something that just feels right about coffee with flowers.
I think through emulating these shots is how we all learn. By all means, take the picture of the blossom tree, and then compare it to your favourite image of it by another photographer and see what they did right and you did wrong! The best images usually were taken in good natural light, but soft light not harsh light. The perspective is usually bang on meaning there is no distractions to the eye. The editing will also be very good. Did the photographer alter the colours, lighten or deepen the shadows, or change the temperature of the image? A direct comparison like this can provide a very useful critique of our own work. Often you will realise just how good these photographers are, and that what they do is not easy at all 🙂
The same goes with styled photos. Marble tables, pretty lattes, a bunch of flowers casually strewn to the side. We are all inspired by the same images that we see over and over, and there are certain things that just work well in photography and on Instagram. Figuring out what these factors are is a skill in itself, and the very best photographers are not under any threat from other people who emulate their work.
When I think back to my art classes at school, we would be asked to paint “in the style of” a certain great master. It may have encouraged us to think about how they used composition, their use of colour, their technique and materials. It was an “exercise” which has always been used by artists, and many great masters themselves started off in the studios of other painters reproducing their work.
I think this is the most important point though – in order to become the great master, you have to break new ground. There is of course no harm in taking the cliched images. They are beautiful, we all enjoy them, and when done well they are really something else, but don’t get stuck with them. Practise with them, try to interpret them a new and different way, try to make them the very best they can be, and enjoy them for what they are. And then try and push yourself beyond the cliche – apply what you have learned to a different scene or still life.
My point is there is absolutely nothing wrong with photographing the cliches and being inspired by the work of others to go and take the same shot. We all start somewhere and the cliches are sometimes a welcoming and familiar sight for us all. However, learn the rules and then begin to break them. Push your compositions further, find unusual light conditions to work in, try and step outside of the box. This is when we truly find our own style and begin creating the work that other people will want to start emulating.
By the way, you can see my post of the infamous blossom tree of Portobello Road here. My no means the best shot of it, but my first picture ever to get over 10k likes! I’ve gone off it.. which is why I left it out of this post.
I’d love to know your thoughts on our well loved clichés! Thanks for reading! x
NB – all images in this post were taken on iPhone