Skip to main content

Avoid bad pictures, with this guide to things you should NEVER photograph

Selection of photos
Pages from Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph (Aperture, 2021) (Image credit: Aperture)

Here at Digital Camera World, we try to always be positive and upbeat in helping you to become a better photographer. 

Whether you want to know how to capture a bird in flight or improve your macro images, our experts will talk you through the process from start to finish, with nothing but words of encouragement. We have to admit that sometimes, however, a bit of negativity can be useful too. And here's a great example. 

• Read more: Best books on photography

Aperture's new book, Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph, reveals the personal red lines set by some of the world’s most talented photographers and photography professionals, including Roe Ethridge, Tania Franco Klein, Jim Goldberg, Lyle Ashton Harris, Rinko Kawauchi, Justine Kurland, Dionne Lee, Duane Michals, Taryn Simon, Alec Soth, and Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa.

In the book, edited by Jason Fulford, these big names and others share an encyclopedic list of more than a thousand taboo subjects. 

With contributions ranging from funny and absurd, to deeply passionate and heartfelt, this is a fascinating insight into the self-censorship practiced by professionals – and a useful lesson in how to avoid cliched and uninspiring metaphors in your photography.

Pages from Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph (Aperture, 2021) (Image credit: Aperture)

Covering everything from why you shouldn't put sunglasses on a dog to serious topics like colonialism, stereotypes and social responsibility, the publication features the bugbears of more than 200 photographers.

For example, Alessandra Sanguinetti's pet hate is people staring into space… even though she doesn't always practice what she preaches. 

"I tell myself not to do it, but I always have at least one frame with it: the angsty, faraway gaze, the thousand-yard stare," she admits. "I know, by now, that when I hear myself say, 'Look off to the side, stay serious,' that means I need to find some excuse to put my camera down, pretend I forgot something, go back to the car, slap myself out of it, think it through, and start over."

Alec Soth, Ed Panar, Pittsburgh, 2019; from Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph (Aperture, 2021) (Image credit: Alec Soth/Magnum Photos)

Alec Soth's list of forbidden clichés, meanwhile, includes cemeteries, railroad tracks, abandoned buildings and sunsets. And he's joined in his boycott of the latter by Alex Webb. 

"I remember showing Josef Koudelka an early color photograph of mine from Jamaica," Alex recalls. "It was of a group of men in trees silhouetted against a brilliant orange sky at a Bob Marley concert. 'Too sugar,' he said in his blunt Czech way. And he was right – but it wasn’t just that it was too sweet, it was too easy." 

Running to 320 pages and featuring 96 color and black-and-white images, Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph is available now in paperback for $24.95 / £19.95.

Read more: 

Best books on portrait photography
Best books on food photography
Best books on street photography
Best books on fashion photography
Best novels about photography

Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specializing in art, photography, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, T3, Heat, Company and Bella.