Photography Trends We Should’ve Left Behind in 2015

Photography Trends We Should’ve Left Behind in 2015

I love trends. But what I love more is making fun of them. Be it a trend in lighting, or a trend in aperture choice, or a trend in post-processing, here are some that we should've moved on from a long time ago.

Recently, I went through a lot of amateur/camera club photography websites. While they featured work that looked good, some images stood out more, as they were strikingly similar to each other. How could that be? The model, lighting, background, and everything else were different, yet the images looked not that different from each other when compared. Turns out, there were a lot of similarities when it came to the visual aspect. Here are some trends photographers use to this day that should’ve been left alone a long time ago.

Canvas Backdrops

Are you ok, Annie? Are you ok? Michael Jackson, clearly concerned about Annie Leibovitz’s well being, was probably asking if she was ok after so many people used canvas backdrops in the same way she did. There are a ton of portrait images that are shot using canvas backdrops. For some somewhat unknown reason, they all look the same.

The reason is that they all have canvas backgrounds. Some people have portfolios where the only thing is a canvas background. I admit I also have a canvas backdrop, but I rarely use it. The look is very outdated, and currently, the world enjoys more gradients and smooth colors. So, maybe it's time to step away and try something new. White seamless is always there for you. 

Bokeh So Creamy It Was Shot on f/0

What is the aperture you can shoot widest at? Mine is f/2.8. What is the aperture you shoot most at? For me, it’s f/8-f/13. The thing about super-creamy bokeh is that it has become a quality symbol in portraiture. If your image doesn’t have any out-of-focus backgrounds, it cannot be classified as a professional portrait. I don’t quite understand this trend for as fast of a lens as possible. Sure, there are benefits to it when used in low-light, but you should not be obsessing over a background that is as creamy as possible, so maybe hold off buying that mega-fast lens. When I bought my Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS, I shot everything at f/2.8 like it couldn't stop down. Why would you even need anything that is slower than f/2.8? Turns out, to have things sharp. Nowadays, I use it at f/8-f/13 most of the time, and even when I can go all the way to f/2.8, I still prefer it at f/3.2 since there is no noticeable difference in bokeh, but all the difference in sharpness.  

Overhead Umbrella Lighting

How is no one bored of this lighting setup? Why is anyone even using lighting setups? Sure, if you are starting out, they are helpful, but you do quickly realize that using them is somewhat monotonous and, well, boring. They aren’t anything beyond a quick fix for symptoms of poor light knowledge. Refusing to use light setups, playing with height, distance, power, angle, diffusion, specularity, size, flags, and more, will, for sure, help you depart from the trend of using light setups that look the same.


There is a trend to have ISO as low as possible. This is probably one of the ones I understand most, as I also try to keep ISO to a minimum sometimes, but I am not afraid to push it up as required. After all, high ISO is simply grain and a slight loss in detail. Arguably, you're unlikely to notice that loss if you’re posting to Instagram. A high ISO is an aesthetic as well, as it adds texture to the image that might otherwise be too clean. A secret to having better-looking photos can be adding a bit of grain at the end. One of the retouchers I often work with, Zahar, adds grain at the end to bring out volumes and make the image more high-end. Frankly speaking, if you’re adding grain at the end, why worry about it being there at the beginning. I have shot images at ISO 6,400, even higher, if need be. No one batted an eyelid. At the same time, I have shot work at ISO 100 with the best quality studio lights available and added grain to the images at the end because it looked good.

The point is, being scared of grain or high ISO is a trend, or rather a fear, you should leave behind. Don’t be afraid to crank it up a bit higher than you would normally do it. If you want to know a secret, some clients not only accept high-ISO images, but also images that are slightly out of focus. It is about the feel of the photograph, not about how sharp your lens is, unless you’re taking images of lens charts.  

Crazy Skin Retouching

Oh, can we please talk about this one? It is like after one discovers frequency separation, one decides to use it for everything. One makes sure one uses it to the point where the skin has no tonal variation, just texture.

This trend started in roughly 2010 with the advent of Photoshop courses and amateur photography taking off on the internet. Sadly, for us, it still hasn’t stopped spreading the god-awful trend of crazy skin retouching.

Not only does it scream amateur hour to everyone looking at the image, but also tells everyone you don’t take the time to use more advanced post-production techniques. 

Closing Thoughts

So, there you have it: five trends we should've left behind a long time ago. These, in my opinion, are either far too overused or just scream amateur hour. To sum up, canvas backdrops are a thing of the past for now, not every image has to be at f/0, an overhead umbrella is far too overused, grain is not to be scared of, and crazy skin retouching should be stopped.

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Paul Juniper's picture

A high ISO, in addition to introducing noise and reducing detail, also reduces dynamic range. Depending on what you're shooting and what camera you're shooting with, this can be important to preserve.

Timothy Linn's picture

Good point. Starting with a clean image and adding grain after the fact also gives the photographer more control of the final output. Still, I understand Illya's point.

Reginald Walton's picture

Other things we should have left in 2015 is telling photographers what tools and techniques they should be using or moving on from. I get it, you've advanced in your skills and/or equipment, but that doesn't mean everyone should be using the same tools and techniques as everyone else - to each their own. If what you're doing works for you and your clients, then keep doing it; you don't have to follow the latest trends. IJS

Michael Hoaglan's picture

I totally agree. The only opinion that matters should be your own.

Jim Cutler's picture

Crazy Skin retouching. Amen to that. My daughters had plastic dolls that looked more real than a lot of the stuff out there.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Aperture f/8-f/13? Let me guess let me mostly shoot indoors? In a monotonous studio setting? In case you failed to notice, photographers that usually shoot wide open (or close to it) usually shoot outdoors or at an actual location. Shooting at your beloved f8-f13 in some of these scenarios will probably end up looking like smartphone pix. And, that will scream amateur hour.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

If you add to that ridiculous outfit and agency model it will scream « Vogue editorial ».

Justin Sharp's picture

I was reading a book published in the early 1900s (I think around 1930 or maybe a little earlier) about retouching and editing portraits. It talked about the trend of over editing the skin. of course, it wasn't on a computer but on the actual print (using razor blades and powdered graphite to alter the skin tone on the print). The book talked about the same dangerous trend of over editing that needed to stop. So actually, the trend stated closer to 1910 than 2010.

David Pavlich's picture

Meh....shoot what makes you happy or what makes your client happy. Beyond that, it's background noise.

Klaus X's picture

Thin ice. I agree on one point - plastic skin. But there is also the opposite with "professional" retouching. Structure and grain that does not exist on the skin, just to get a completely uniform complexion. Skin retouching must be natural. As for the other points, these are not trends but working methods that some photographers like and others don't. It's always problematic when you put yourself in a position where you're evaluating the way other people work. And it has already been mentioned. If the client likes the work and pays your bills, fine.

James Wells's picture

Low ISO does have its uses - for magazine work, with high end, highly detailed scale models a low ISO is preferable as grain can detract. So f40 and 100 ISO is a combination which works for me.

Focus stacking when it's overused can make for terribly unnatural images.

Chris Rogers's picture

F40!? lense apertures can get that small!? Crazy sauce. I had no idea.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

White seamless?

Sounds much more fascinating than painted backdrop.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

I did my first portraits in studio 40 years ago. Since that white background have almost become standard. The old photographers was saying that white background was for commercial photography, not portraits. Even if I also use white background a lot, I agree. So for fashion, yes. But for portraits, not so much.

I find it embarrassing when people use canvas same way as Annie Leibovitz. and many do. But adding structure to the color on a canvas backdrop add to a simple portrait. Personally I find the use of colored gel tasteless and ugly, most of time.

I think it’s much more interesting to shoot portraits on location shooting wide open. But again, for fashion that is not the best idea, you may want the cloths in focus to. For portraits it can be nice. Still many clients don’t get that blurred out background.

I think the best thing to leave behind, is other people’s opinion. And work. Make what you like, enjoy the creative process and that moment of trill when you are happy with a image. Of cause on the other side, unless you are super creative, looking at other peoples work is a good way to find inspiration.

patrik persson's picture

ISO is my question:

Would you not like to shoot at the ISO in which your camera has the widest dynamic range? For Sony A7IV it is at 64, for S1R it is at 100.

But do you need the widest dynamic range if your target product has a low dynamic range, in which case you have wasted dynamic range and crammed it into a final product which cannot handle it.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I'm guessing Illya is just aiming for lots of replies to up the £££ paid for such a dumb article.

And apart from the obvious bit of not overdoing retouching, I've not read such useless tripe for a while.

Canvas backdrops offer numerous options and classic styles. If you're making them look bad, your doing it wrong.

Nothing wrong with shallow DoF. And shooting at F1.4 can offer amazing perspective and centre attention to a shot. EVERY f-stop has value and to say he shoots at f8 nearly all the time is as bad as shooting wide open all the time.

Don't use "lighting setups...?" What on earth does this mean. Nothing is new, everything is a setup. And brollies are great. Some of my best portraits have been shot with a single shoot-through brolly, centred over the subject. (And I have a myriad of modifiers to choose from). Total tosh written in this article.

And overhead use of lighting / brollies... a symptom of not understanding lighting...? I guess Platon doesn't have a clue what he is doing...? If I could slap the author of this article... well...

Low ISO means we're not adding digital artefacts. And adding grain at the end is no where near the same as having digital noise at the start. Cameras a better these days, but if I want a crisp clear image, low ISO will get me there better than a higher ISO. Sheesh, this is basic stuff...

And let's not generalise about skin retouching. There are good examples and bad examples. And frequency separation is not the main cause - poor use of apps like Portrait Pro etc are the biggest culprits - but we can find bad stuff throughout the age of photography - so this bit is scraping the barrel somewhat.

I'll tell you what is the current scourge of modern trends of photography... Daft articles with daft aims to secure comments - but there you go, I've earned you a few extra pennies. And so the "trend" continues.

Michael Hoaglan's picture

White seamless? So instead of ripping off Leibovitz we should rip off Avedon?

Mike Ditz's picture

Who? LoL :)

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

You talk mainly about the editing but fail to talk about the editing programs of the 12 years or so past. First PS/Lr cost about $800 each (the cost of a new canon camera/two kit lens) and for each full update in 2010. So many to start had to use the camera makers software or when around 2014/15 some $80 software came about. And the Pro software C1 (like Lr) (got for $30 with Sony Cameras) there was no real noise removal for years or even lens profiles, you had to make yourself. My point today editing a digital and analog image is so easy and inexpensive to anyone. Today everyone wants the fast lens for the bokeh/blur BUT you can save your $ and add in software even Lr with subject select inverse and ON1 Photo RAW you can even do the bokeh balls. Fast Glass was used in film days to get a faster SS so one could hand hold vs carrying around sticks. One thing I use my old film FD lenses for is the prism filters no longer found or used, like starlights or blur backgrounds so easy to do in camera. Another thing everyone does RAW but no one knows the settings that affect just jpegs that can't be duplicated ever with software, as a Nat Geo photographer embarrassingly learned. Want to learn try film. Ah! today they have a digital implant for film cameras!!!! Ever go back a redo an old 2010 image with today's software, you may find the old kit cameras were not so bad! Strive to be spoiled.....

anthony marsh's picture

I nominate the abominable digital cameras.

Chris Rogers's picture

Guuuys it's a jooooke

Chris Rogers's picture

Different strokes for different folks

Harry Martin's picture

I could not agree more with you Illya! Great points on everything Learn the rules so you can break them. More pieces like this one please - oh don't forget the B&W with selective color, like a red rose in a black and white portrait.

Daniel Medley's picture

All pointless.

Make the photos that you love and don't listen to anyone else.

Even a down-vote from Michael Anderson won't matter.

Kate Northwood's picture

My best photos are carefully thought out poses using my canvas backdrops with diffused umbrella light and some kind of fill. My portraits are timeless, beautiful, and high quality. It doesn’t bore me because that’s what I have found that works for me and what I prefer. If my portraits were to bore anyone they are free to invest in their own gear and shoot how they want.

The trend I am over is the one where every mom who gets her hands on a dslr camera thinks she should start a business, and starts shooting/charging clients before reaching anything approaching professional competency.

Michelle Elmer's picture

Well then how should every mom who gets their hands on a dslr and has dreams of starting a business pay for training, gear, and editing software? Just curious.

Andrew Broekhuijsen's picture

TIL shooting at low ISO when possible to maximize image quality is a "trend."

J Barber's picture

I strongly agree about the blurry bokeh. It's become an addiction, and personally annoys the heck out of me. Especially since it seems to be equated with 'professional look'

So much better to keep the scene natural (by which I mean depth of field closer to the human eye).

Jan Steinman's picture

"Why would you even need anything that is slower than f/2.8? Turns out, to have things sharp."

Why would you ever buy an expensive lens that isn't sharp wide open? That's why I keep shooting the old OM Zuiko 350mm ƒ/2.8 — it's as good wide open as it is stopped down.

Paul Trantow's picture

They forgot those dumb smoke bomb things. Geez.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Steel wool?