We all have taken bad photos. We have experimented with silly techniques. We have let Photoshop get out of hand. But most of us quickly realize the error of our ways. We realize our truly interesting and unique concepts are overdone, stupid, and poorly executed. I frequently look back at older work and think “what the hell was I thinking”. At the time a part of me knows it’s a bad idea but I let novelty get in the way. But the key is to learn from mistakes, and not do what everyone else does. Or do what we think is super original when it may not be.
I have compiled a list of photos that I absolutely hate. I keep seeing these with emerging photographers and models. Often they think the ideas are creative, unique, or add some kind of edginess. Some people grow out of these phases while others continue to flood our Facebook feeds and portfolios with this garbage.
Model giving the finger – OMG you’re so badass and edgy. (I only use “OMG” there because those short forms are most often used by the type of people in these photos). You are really making a statement against conformity. Actually you just end up looking trashy and undignified. Leave the edgy persona to badass music artists targeting 14 year-olds.
Models on the toilet – Why is this a thing? It’s shocking how common these images are. Why would someone think this is a good idea for a photo? Just why?
Poorly done HDR – Generally we can’t tell if it’s a weird digital painting, or you’re at a rave perhaps? If you are going to dabble with HDR, do so discriminatingly. There is a way to have a wide dynamic range of light and colour without making your images look like Tron.
Weird borders – I understand Instagram is fun with borders, filters, pretty icons to superimpose over top. Keep it to Instagram. I don’t mind when there is a simple non distracting border. But when you use plugins that add grungy borders it really just takes away from the image.
Awful Watermarks – I did a whole post on terrible watermarks. Too often people ruin their images by splattering their logo/watermark all over the image. We get it! You took the picture. Is there even a picture behind your overly designed logo?
Marilyn Monroe – Yes she serves as a lovely inspiration of beauty etc… But imitations of Monroe are so overdone. At times these images can be well executed with the right creative team but more often than not it is a blonde busty girl with a fan under a dress. Overdone. Move on.
Gas Masks – You are trying too hard to be different and edgy. Often these gasmasks are added to “normal” situations to create some kind of dystopian world or suggest alternative modeling. It was interesting the first 1,000 times it was done.
Strangely manipulated skies - Why is that sky green? Was there some kind of nuclear fallout? Are you shooting a model in front of Aura borealis? I get that it is fun to experiment in Photoshop and make some interesting adjustments. These should not make it into your portfolio.
Horrible aged graphics – When you incorporate graphic design into your photography, i.e. logo design please keep up with modern design. Don’t include beveled and embossed lettering or something that looks like you made it in WordArt. Remember WordArt?
White Vignette – This should not be an option in the RAW editor. Shockingly I see white vignettes show up in some photographer's work. Leave this option where it belongs - > in my parents wedding photos from 1970s communist Poland.
Wrinkled sheet/Muslin backgrounds – This is one of my biggest pet peeves. A decently lit, well posed, beautifully styled photo, only to be ruined by the photographers wrinkled bed sheet. Firstly, do not use bed sheets. A roll of seamless paper is $40. Invest in your work. Muslin backgrounds also should not be used. To me they scream 90s Sears portrait studio photos.
Soft Glow – To me this is generally a sign of an amateur. You haven’t yet had much experience in retouching skin so you soften your images to death. Combine this with a few other amateur techniques and you are instantly placed in GWC category.
Caution Tape – Overdone. Let’s move on.
Over Saturated - Another common sign of amateurism. You start playing with editing features; you find saturation and think “woah this makes a big impact on my photo”. Look at all those colours you brought out. Well no, those colours don’t belong there so leave that saturation adjustment alone. The sky in a photo should not look like Gatorade, and the leaves on that tree should not look like lime candy.
Woah… that was a long rant. In the end do these photos always look bad? No, not always... but usually. If you think something is really unique try and Google search to see if hundreds have done it before you.