I'm Guilty of Shooting Subjects That Photographers Have Shot To Death
Thank you for listening to episode 27 of The Photo Flunky Show. I really appreciate your time.
For this episode, I'm not pointing any fingers without admitting that I've done it, too. There are some subjects that photographers have shot to death and it's time to move along.
Lee and I discuss a handful of photo subjects that we tend to shoot too much because, well, everyone else is shooting them, too. The problem is that these subjects aren't really all that interesting, or being photographed in interesting ways.
Maybe you're doing this without realizing it, so we're giving you permission to either change your subject or challenge us on the list. Please let us know what you think in the comments. Are we wrong, or do we need to add more subjects that photographers have shot to death?
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THE PHOTO FLUNKY SHOW: Episode 27
Hi, welcome to the Photo Flunky Show, Episode number twenty-seven.
Today we’re going to be talking about subjects that photographers have shot to death. Take a listen and see if you’ve found a few of them in your catalog.
William: Thank you so much for joining us on the Photo Flunky Show. My name is William Beem.
Lee: Hi, I’m Lee.
William: And today we’re going to be talking about subjects that photographers have shot over and over and over again.
But before we get to that, I want to let you know I’ve got a coupon code for OnOne Software. It’s good for twenty per cent off and you can get there by going to williambeem.com/on1 and when you check out use the code WBEEM16. That will give me a little bit of affiliate income, but it will also save you twenty per cent, which is a good chunk of change.
We’ve got a list of things that are done to death. I guess there is nothing else to do, but these are photos that we’ve seen over and over and over again. Maybe it’s because they are easy to do? Or because everybody else is doing them that photographers are shooting the same subjects.
Lee: I think it’s because everybody else is doing them. People like to copy because it’s safe to walk in the path already traveled, isn’t it?
William: I suppose it is and it’s not that the subjects themselves are bad. It’s just they’ve been overdone. They have been shot to death. Not necessarily in a unique or creative way. In other words we are seeing a lot of photos that aren’t adding something new to the community.
Lee: Yes, it becomes repetitive. Almost the kind of stuff that you just skip over and scroll through, eventually.
William: Yeah, you see the same thing so many times you don’t even bother to take a look at it anymore.
So we’re going to start it off with everybody’s favorite: flowers.
William: I know. It’s like, what a pretty flower! OK, you know what, I live in Florida. The name literally translates to ‘flower’. There are flowers all over the place here. I don’t really pay much attention to them here.
Lovely flowers are nice when they are for an occasion; when they are special, or when they mean something to you, but in photography they are kind of just easy pickings I guess. Because if you can’t go out and find something interesting to shoot, you can always go pick up some flowers and then shoot those. But what have you really accomplished?
Lee: Well I’ve shot flowers before. My dad is a very keen gardener. He likes to create beautiful flower beds and he is very creative and he is very good at it. I have got no knowledge in that field, but I did like to take photos for him of his flowers. So I have shot flowers. I tended not to share them anywhere because I didn’t know anybody who was interested in flowers.
William: I’ve shot flowers too and honestly I don’t show them to anybody because they are not interesting. There are ways to shoot flowers that can be a bit more interesting, and it’s not just going off and staring down at your garden or looking at some flowers there and snapping some shots. I think if you are going to shoot flowers you need to get close and detailed shots. You are talking about macro shots.
Lee: Yeah, I was just thinking macro.
William: I mean it’s a combination of macro shots so you can get the detail inside and also interesting lighting and interesting flowers.
Lee: Or interesting times of the day as well. Daybreak, when there is some dew on at the right time of the year in the morning – you can get some good shots. Again it would have to be really close up and super sharp image. It’s not that I don’t like flowers or that I don’t appreciate the quality of the shots, but it seems to be something that wherever you go, you scroll through so many of them and so many are the same.
William: They are and if I see one of the detail shots we were talking about with the macro lens, I immediately think of one of those inspirational posters.
William: You know, it’s got some kind of saying that’s supposed to inspire you to make you do more. It’s overdone.
And that’s not to say that flowers cannot be part of a photograph or shouldn’t be part of a photograph. I think they are really great for accentuating a photo, but I don’t know that I really trust them as the main subject of the photo anymore.
Lee: I think there are people who enjoy looking at flowers. We may not, but there are people who really appreciate them, but your viewers are sometimes going to have different tastes in subjects and styles to what you do and you need to take that into account and not be offended when they are really not interested.
William: And we’ve certainly shot flowers. I mean when you did the Epcot Flower and Garden Show there were flowers all over the place, but most of what you were shooting really wasn’t about the flowers themselves, as the subject.
Lee: It wasn’t. It was documentary style to show what they had done with the grounds and I don’t even know how to take photos of flowers because I’m not a flower person.
William: And that’s the thing. Taking photos of flowers just to have a subject that you can do a still life with – I think still life photos themselves are really kind of not going to grab you unless it is a great shot of a flower and in most cases, I don’t think most people are really getting a great shot of a flower. I think they are shooting flowers because they think it’s pretty and they don’t know what else to do.
So I’m giving you permission that you don’t have to shoot flowers anymore. You can find something else, even if it’s not pretty, so long as it’s interesting.
Lee: Interesting is the word.
William: Exactly. And as long as we are talking about interesting, let’s move on to our next subject that seems to be overdone, and that is a sunset for the sake of having a sunset.
Lee: Well, you have to have a subject with the sunset. And the sun that’s already disappeared is not the subject!
William: No it’s not. And there are beautiful sunsets all around the world and everybody appreciates it. There are a lot of things that you can shoot at sunset or sunrise where you have a lovely subject and the light is beautiful, so it is a wonderful time to shoot, but it should not necessarily be the subject itself that says, “Oh, the sun is no longer with us today!”
I think it’s a lighting quality that makes something else more interesting; not necessarily that the sunset itself is interesting.
Lee: That’s exactly it! You still need a subject. It doesn’t give you license to go and shoot whatever is there. Some black looking silhouette hill and the golden orange sky is great, but what have you got there?
William: Well, we were just on Flickr. We were looking at examples of things like that and that’s exactly what we saw. There was a silhouette of the hills and then there was a sunset behind it or mostly on top of it and what it really lacked was depth and dimension.
I mean, a good and interesting photo is going to have a foreground, a middle and a background, as well as an identifiable subject. These sunset photos had none of those things.
Lee: It was completely flat. Well, the ones that we were looking at.
And I love sunsets! That’s one of my favorite times of day. I absolutely love the colors of the sunset.
William: But that’s the problem with shooting a sunset for its own sake. It lacks dimension and it lacks something interesting. It’s a great enhancement to another subject. It’s a beautiful time of day to shoot something else, but the sunset itself is just really not grabbing me.
Lee: It’s a nice background, it’s a nice source of lighting.
William: Also done to death. Sunsets!
William: The next one could probably be a bit more sensitive, but I see an awful lot of this. Particularly when I go on Flickr and look around, and that is photographs of homeless people. If you’re going out doing street photography, particularly in some of the urban environments, there are always going to be homeless people around and they are kind of interesting to look at. You see them as different to the rest of us by the way they are dressed, by the way they are a little unkempt, they’ve got different expressions, they’ve got wrinkles, depending how old someone is. But leave the people alone!
Lee: Yeah, I think that’s a bit of a sensitive and tricky one. If you are doing street photography the idea is to try and engage with the subject and often you see these people who are actually ashamed. They are sort of trying not to be noticed. They are asking for help or whatever they are doing, if they have got their little can out there or their hat, asking for some cash or change. But they usually look down. It’s almost like they are too ashamed to look anyone in the eye so if you are not going to go and engage with them and give something to them, I think it’s kind of …..
William: I know there are some photographers who will give them a couple of bucks so they can take some photos, but I think if you’re looking for interesting portrait subjects, they are only part of the environment around when you are doing street photography.
Lee: I am not saying it never works. I actually think it can work, but how you approach it … I don’t think people are always as sensitive as they could be. And as respectful, because these people deserve some respect.
William: Absolutely! Everybody deserves respect, but I guess what I’m saying is this is something else that is done to death. There are a ton of street photos out there of homeless people and I think, well where are the people going to work? Where are the people who have a job at a store along the street where you’re at? Or where is the dog in the street?
Lee: Those working people are probably getting ready to sue someone for taking a photo of them.
William: Well, that goes back to what you said. If you’re going to do street photography, you need to engage with folks. You don’t want to be sniping shots from a distance.
Lee: Well, you don’t. I mean there are times that you do, but that’s a different kind of photo and that comes under a different topic altogether.
William: It is, really. But as far as doing shots of homeless people, perhaps there is a place for it. If they are doing something documentary about their lives, I understand the photograph. If you are doing this, it’s kind of like flowers, and you don’t know what else to shoot; I’ll go out and shoot a homeless person! That sounds horrible the way I just said that too. Please don’t take that the wrong way. We are talking about photographing people, not shooting people!
Lee: Or see if they would like a picture of themselves, you know. Go and get it printed and take it back to them. Give them a print.
William: You know there was one time that I actually shot someone who was homeless and I didn’t really want his photo. He came up to me and I knew what it was. He was looking for a couple of bucks handout for it. But I figured what the hell. I’ve got a couple of bucks, I shot his photo, gave him a couple of bucks and asked him if he wanted to see it and he said yes. He looked at it and his face immediately changed. He said, “Oh my God, I look awful!”
He was genuinely hurt with the way he looked. And I thought I really didn’t know what else to say.
For one, it wasn’t a bad photo of him. It was a photo of him. And the realization of how he appeared outwardly just really stunned him and I thought, this is not a good thing for either of us here. I gave him a few bucks because he was there, he engaged with me and I thought, alright. I had something to give.
As far as the photograph of him, he really didn’t like it and it made me wonder how other people feel if they are out on the streets. They have got hard enough times as it is and you’re catching someone at their lowest.
Lee: That’s true. I guess we’ve all been in that situation where we’ve looked and said, “Don’t take a photo now. I’m not dressed; I haven’t done my hair or haven’t ….”
William: And I’m horrible about being on the other side of the camera. I just see photos of me and I am immediately self critical of how I look. So imagine if I was really at my lowest. That’s not something that I was going to appreciate.
Lee: Well I guess if you wanted to make it a project and take some time it would possibly be a nice thing to go and take some stuff and help the person clean up so they looked and felt a bit better if they wanted a photo done.
William: I guess it depends upon your objective, but in this case I’m talking about things that people are just going out to shoot, just for the sake of shooting, and they are kind of overdoing it. Leave the homeless people alone. They’ve got enough going on as it is.
If you want to help them and you want to get to know them, I think that’s perfectly fine. I think that’s a wonderful thing to do if you are actually out with the interest of helping somebody. But if you’re just doing it for selfish reasons because you need something to shoot, it’s time to move on and find another subject.
Lee: Yeah, be nice about it or find somewhere else to be nice to yourself.
William: I think so.
Alright, the next one is one of my favorites and this is kind of the opposite end of shooting homeless people. This is about doing portrait photography with models. And one thing that just really, I see it over and over again, is a posing problem, but I am so tired of seeing armpits!
Lee: This is your favorite!
William: It really is!
Lee: I never saw armpits until we started talking photos.
William: I look at all these model photos. I go out on Facebook and other sites where there are models out there and they always have their arms up like on their head, touching it at an awkward angle and they are just showing off their armpits. I’m thinking, who really stands like that? It is an unnatural kind of pose and it looks awkward when you see it.
Lee: And usually a square elbow as well.
William: It’s always a square elbow. There are always some kind of awkward hand on the head somewhere or on their face and sometimes they’ll use both arms and they’ll show you both armpits.
This is something that I am thinking, “This needs to stop!” If you are a photographer and you are taking photos of models and they are showing you their armpits, please find a nice way to say, “Go ahead and lower your arms. I want a different pose. I want a different look. I want something more natural.” Showing off armpits when you are doing model photography is just not doing either the model or the photographer any good and it’s not any good for the photo that you’re creating.
Lee: I think that’s another thing. We are going back a couple of decades at least, where you would see posters and billboards and places where models were and that seemed to be the pose. It’s almost like year after year, nobody moved on from that. The models are still posing the way that they were in the 80’s.
William: I don’t know if I see that when I look at commercial photography. I see that with a lot of consumer model portraits. But I don’t see it quite as much with commercial photography. They don’t have their arms up. Unless it’s like both arms are stretching up and they are on the beach or something like that. I get that.
Just standing at an awkward angle is almost like they don’t know what else to do so they end up putting their arms up, or touching their head in an awkward way and all I can see is this bright spot where their armpits are.
It’s just got to stop. I want it to stop. Please help me spread the word: No more armpits!
Lee: Keep your hands down.
William: I kind of get the reason why. One of the things that you learn when you’re starting to pose models is a simple rule: If it bends, bend it. People look more interesting when they are fluid and they are bending and in motion.
Even though you have a still photograph, if there is a bend in their body and their hips are out on one side and shoulders on the other side, that kind of thing works. And of course your arms and elbows are meant to bend. You can bend your arms and elbows without showing off your armpits, though.
William: So that’s my rant on armpits. Take it for what it’s worth.
Lee: What’s next?
William: The next one is another favorite of mine. And this is for the folks that have neutral density filters that they like to use and invariably they go and take long exposures of sticks in water.
Lee: You don’t like sticks in water.
William: Well, what’s interesting about a stick in water?
Lee: Well I’m guessing nothing, because I eat lots of Tootsie Pops and then I drink my wine and throw the sticks into the wine glass and you’ve never taken a long exposure.
William: No, not once. And you know what? I don’t have anything against long exposures. You go to a waterfall and I think long exposures are beautiful. It’s certainly much better than trying to take a very fast snapshot of the water just frozen in mid air. Long exposures can be very beautiful. But sticks in water?
Here where we live there is a lake nearby that has an old dock from the mid 1800’s. You can’t walk on the dock. All that’s left are the posts in the water from the dock and people leave them there because they are considered “historic.”
A few weeks ago the City was saying, “You know we ought to get rid of those things.” And everybody clambered and said, “No, no! That’s part of our history.”
I thought all it is, is just sticks in water and you can’t use that part of the lake or that part of the shore anymore because of those sticks in the water. They are nothing more.
Lee: I know you pointed them out and then when I went by there, I think it was a day later, all I could think about was the sticks in water.
William: And there are photographers who will go out to that spot, they will line up their camera and tripod and they will take long exposures of those posts in the water. For the life of me I don’t get it.
Lee: Well, I don’t either, but it’s almost a still life landscape kind of…. I don’t know.
William: I’m not opposed to still life. There are some still lifes I really enjoy, but photographers really seem to just rush towards sticks in water.
Lee: Do you know what happened? I think it’s one of those things where sometimes you want a big simple, printed canvas or a framed picture for a large wall or space and as a simple subject something like that works. And somebody did it and now everybody thinks …..
William: They’re all doing it!
Lee: Yes. And that’s the problem with all these topics actually. They are because some people had done them well, they were popular and everybody else just kind of followed suit.
William: Well, exactly. And that’s why the topic is “Subjects That Photographers Have Shot To Death.” We have enough photographs of long exposures of sticks in water.
Don’t worry. You don’t need to take any more. There are plenty of other things you can do with your Lee Big Stopper or other neutral density filter. You don’t need to worry about sticks in water. It has been done. Stick a fork in it.
William: I think the last item on our list here is another one of my favorites and it is shallow depth of field for its own sake. And I’m talking about the folks that have a prime lens with F1.4 or F1.2. Shallow depth of field is a wonderful thing. It’s useful for isolating your subject and really bringing it out and popping.
Wild life photographers use it all the time where they’ve got those nice long 500 mm or 600 mm lenses and then they’ll put a teleconverter on it. If you’re into bird photography you’ll get a nice, crisp photo of your bird with a beautiful, soft, flattering background. That’s what shallow depth of field is for.
But then I’ll find people who will go out and take a picture of a street scene and not focus any of it and just maybe have one nail head on a board that is in focus and everything else in the city is out of focus, so they can show the bokeh and the lights.
Lee: Yeah, your subject needs to dominate the frame in some way. And if not in proportion and size, at least then with impact.
William: You’ve seen shots like this. You’ll go find a dock someplace, put a glass of wine on it and then that’s the only thing in focus and then the background is nothing but lights and defocused area. I don’t know. It’s just kind of been done as well.
Lee: It has and that can work if you get really close up to the glass of wine or whatever it is that you’re shooting. But what I’m saying is when your subject that is in focus makes up such a small portion of the shot, you’ve got all this blank, blurry space. Then what?
William: Well, exactly. If you’re shooting for a magazine cover or social media and you need to put text on something, I get the idea that you want to have some blurry area and maybe one subject in focus off to the left or right so that you’ve got room for text on there. If you’re shooting for a purpose, it makes sense. But if you’re shooting shallow depth of field just because – I’ve got a Nikon 85 mm F1.4 lens. It’s got beautiful bokeh; I want to see more pictures with bokeh. Well, no. That’s not really a subject.
Lee: Well when you find subjects and situations where it works.
William: Well, what’s happening is people have gear and they are playing with their toys rather than going out and trying to make something that is actually artistic. The bokeh is not the art itself.
Lee: That’s true. And playing with your toys is how you get to know how to use the stuff, so there is nothing wrong with taking photos of things that are weird, but you don’t share ‘em.
William: Yeah, you don’t share them. Go out. Take it. Learn how it works and then when you’ve got something beautiful to share, you’ve got that wonderful, soft defocused background to go with it. Just like, “Hey, look at the bokeh on this lens.” Well, then you’re just a gear-slut at that point.
OK, well those are our subjects we think have been done to death. If you’ve got a few more ideas of what’s been overshot, please let us know. We would love to hear it in the comments on the website.
You can find show notes available at williambeem.com/episode27.
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