Finding Your Own Style: Avoiding Clichés

By Geoff Harris

Fashion is a fickle thing. You can be at the crest of a sartorial wave one moment and the next be seen wearing last year's colours. Photography, like clothing, is also subject to fashions. It's all too easy to be suddenly shooting in a way that's a touch passé.

Evening image of the Egger plant in front of Hexham in the Tyne Valley, Northumberland, England, Photographic Style, clichés, Star burst, filter, HDR, tobacco filter, retro, fisheye,

You can still buy tobacco and starburst filters. Personally, I think starburst filters should make a comeback. Only joking.

If you don't believe me it's well worth popping down to your local library or second-hand bookshop to see if you can find any old books on photography. Books from the 1980s are a good bet. This was a time when filters such as starburst and tobacco graduates roamed the land. The results to our more refined, twenty-first century eyes are truly gruesome.

And yet heavy filtration was a style that was once very, very popular (and, who knows, may well come back again – stranger things have happened).

Interactive displays about the life of St. Patrick in the St. Patrick Centure, Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland, Photographic Style, clichés, Star burst, filter, HDR, tobacco filter, retro, fisheye,

Could HDR be a style that we'll look back on in horror in a few years' time?

Actually, I had my tongue slightly in cheek when I mentioned our more refined, twenty-first century eyes above. Because, today there are photographic styles being practised that may well the starburst filter effect of the future. I'm not going to be cruel and mention names, but these styles of shooting and processing images are (like the tobacco filter in the 80s) very, very popular right now.

Photographic Style, clichés, Star burst, filter, HDR, tobacco filter, retro, fisheye,

Tweaking an image's colours so that it looks 'retro'. We'll all done it. Perhaps we should stop.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently bad with something being popular. Popular means that something's captured people's imaginations. Think of how ubiquitous the phrase 'Keep Calm and Carry On' was just a year or so ago. Popular is generally good.

However, popular is a double-edged sword. Popular becomes tired very quickly. Popular is living on candy floss three times a day, seven days a week. Eventually you'll kill for a carrot. Eventually you'll want to stop seeing variations of 'Keep Calm and Carry On' everywhere you look.

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery shot using fish-eye mode on a Canon G1 X, Photographic Style, clichés, Star burst, filter, HDR, tobacco filter, retro, fisheye,

Many cameras have effects modes such as fisheye. They're fun to try, but exhaustive use of these modes is just well, exhausting.

As creative people we should all of course be striving to shoot in a unique way. Unfortunately, that's difficult, if not impossible. We're not born and raised in isolation. We live in a society that surrounds us with images from an early age. The images that we see influence our way of thinking in subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, ways.

Being influenced is nothing to be ashamed about. Name your favourite photographer and I can guarantee that they'll be able to name other photographers or visual artists who were an influence on their photographic development.

What we can try and avoid however is jumping onto bandwagons. Just because a particular photographic style is ubiquitous doesn't mean that we have to add our own contribution. If that seems like a lonely furrow to plough, then think of it as being good for soul.

However, better that than creating images that make you wonder what on earth you were playing at when you shot them. As to your dress sense. I'm afraid I can't help you there. I'm more baffled by clothing than I've ever been of apertures and shutter speeds.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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