Things They Can Stop Telling And Showing Us

Gary with his camera and tripod hanging over his shoulder.

Before you read this article, place your tongue firmly against the inside of your cheek and hold it there for the duration of the read.

I did a Google search for the phrase “photography clichés” and came up with 5,270,000 search hits. Article after article listing the various types of clichés to avoid in photography. I got to thinking about this, and realized that articles on photography clichés have become a cliché in itself. Photography as a hobby and/or profession has become a cliché.

The most fertile ground to find clichés are the comment sections of any photography website’s public discussions. To add to the deluge, we have countless equipment or software reviews that are beaming clichés at us at every opportunity. When I took my first writing classes in college, one thing they taught me about good writing was to never use clichés. I’m thinking that most of the readers and many writers for the photography websites have never taken a course in creative writing.

I’m going to add to the confusion and write about the clichés used by the photography press that quite simply make me scratch my head in wonder.

Descriptions of photographic gear.

Here’s one you’ll hear with just about any lens review. “The corners aren’t as sharp as the center”, or some derivative thereof. In over 35 years of photography, I’ve never found a lens that is as sharp in the corners of the image as it is in the center of the image. But you can rest easy knowing that “if you stop down, things improve somewhat”  Lets just skip this part of the review and only say something about it if the corners are as sharp as the center. That would be newsworthy.

Another thing about lens reviews. The writer seems to always have to include the qualifier “it can be easily fixed in post processing”, most commonly concerning lens distortions or chromatic aberrations produced by the lens. After 1,000,000 photos edited, I’ve figured out that most photo editing software can fix these things. Heck, if you have been paying attention, a lot of the cameras on the market these days will fix them in camera. We don’t need to be reminded that photo editing software can fix a lot of the common issues caused by almost every lens. We really only need to know when a lens is perfect. That would be newsworthy.

Here’s another overused cliche description of a lens characteristic. “Tack Sharp.” This lens is tack sharp. C’mon, the image is either suitably sharp or it isn’t. If it’s sharp, it’s sharp, if it is blurry it’s not sharp. Show me a photo, anyone with functional eyeballs can determine if an image is sharp or not. If the problem isn’t the photographer, it’s the lens.

There’s a constant refrain concerning large lenses, “It’s hand holdable.” This normally refers to how heavy a lens is and how much strength one must have in their arms and hands to hold the camera and lens up without using a tripod or monopod. Lets face it. If you can grasp the lens, lift the lens and hold it up for a photograph, it’s hand holdable. Just tell us how much it weighs. If it’s too heavy for you, you’ll know right away. What I am willing to hold in my hands isn’t going to be the same thing that someone else is willing to hold. Too ambiguous and too many syllables. It’s heavy. It’s light, Keep it simple.

Other cliché phrases used to describe cameras and lenses. “Consumer Grade”, “Built Like A Tank”, “Budget Friendly.” Lets skip build descriptions. Most lenses are made of plastic and are “Consumer Grade.” There’s nothing wrong with consumer grade, it’s just a less expensive build quality. It’s only a problem if you drop your lens on concrete frequently, and even then, it won’t matter because dropping your lens on concrete will damage it no matter what it costs or how well it’s made. I’ve had more Canon L lenses break than I have “consumer grade” lenses and I’ve never dropped one on concrete. Secondly, tanks are built like tanks. Lenses aren’t built like tanks, they don’t have turrets, 3 inch armor or treads. Lastly, budget friendly is relative. If you only have so much money to spend on a lens and the lens costs more than you have, it isn’t budget friendly. It’s really only relative to how much you have in your budget and that is going to be different for everyone. To me a lens is either “junk” or “good enough.”

One type of article that is more or less useless, “The First Impressions Review.” Just about any website that sells advertising for camera gear and reviews the latest and greatest offerings will post their “First Impression Review” of the most recently released camera or lens. As you delve into their first impressions, you’ll invariably find that the reviewer hasn’t actually used the camera, they’ve only got to hold it in their hands for a few seconds and they aren’t allowed to take or keep any photographs using that camera. These reviews most often boil down to explaining the manufacturers marketing material and published specifications, with plenty of glittering generalities and monologue, but nothing really useful that hasn’t already been published by the manufacturers brochure. First impressions aren’t reviews. It’s just yacking about something that’s already available in a shorter and more direct format. It’s more or less website filler to encourage you to click on a link to buy the gear. But, it sure feels good in their hands and you haven’t got to touch one yet. Aren’t you jealous?

The “What’s In My Bag” article. These are typically written by writers who are suffering from writer’s block. They gaze around their room, lost for ideas and see their photography bag and decide that they’ll tell everyone what they’ve purchased and then describe their current kit as though it’s really relevant to you. Hell, I don’t even use the same bag every day and my gear kit is pretty much designed around what I want to use on that trip, not what they are using. Please, spare us the belly button lint analysis.

Regarding visual content.

One of the most common types of cliché content is the promotional photograph of the photographer wearing a Fedora. I think the Fedora has become the de-facto uniform item for anyone wanting to depict themself as a serious photographer. I’m a man of the world, can you tell? I’m wearing a Fedora. Personally, I don’t own a Fedora. I wear a baseball cap. Usually ripped up, dirty and with something meaningless embroidered on the front. Light, simple, comfortable and inexpensive. You can’t be a serious photographer without your Fedora. To the credit of the ladies, women don’t seem to be as prone to this clothing article as men.

It seems that many different hobbies have their own uniforms. When I was a kid, we rode bicycles without ever wearing a helmet. We’d just wear our sneakers and cut-off shorts and a tee shirt and ride around like the fools we were. There was no uniform. These days, all bicyclers must have on designer pajamas. Actors and other artists have the beret sitting atop their head to denote their artistic proclivity. Photographers have their uniforms too and the Fedora is a major player.

Another amusing cliché is the promotional photo of the photographer posing with a camera. It can be sitting on a tripod with their hand on it, or holding it up in front of them for all to see, or it can be an image of the photographer lugging their huge, expensive lens attached to their expensive camera on an expensive tripod, draped over their shoulder in some remote and rugged terrain, walking as if he/she were on a mission. Wow, there’s a real photographer in action. Most photographers I see lugging their gear over their shoulder are heading back to their car to get something lighter to lug around.

The list is endless. We are all human and we like to show off from time to time. We are proud of what we do and we want to impress others with our seriousness and sometimes our bank account.

To me, the best photographers are the ones who take good photos and tell a good story. The best articles are written by people with something interesting to say. Everything else is just fluff or marketing.

Your mileage may vary.