Photographic Subject Taxonomy and Cliche Photographic Subjects
by Jeffrey Sward
The Human Condition and Photographic Subjects
Since the triumph of the Jolly Yellow Giant [1] over one hundred years ago, casual photography has been available to millions of people. The digital era has expanded the number, availability, and means of making photographs even more. The subjects of photographs are surprisingly small. There is also no significant difference between professional and amateur photographic subjects, except perhaps by frequency distribution. The subject overlap between professional and amateur photographers is significant considering the differences in motivation, the former being commercial and the latter being memory preservation. The following taxonomy for photographs is offered, followed by a list of cliche photographic subjects.
Subject Taxonomy for Photographs
  • Natural Landscape
    • Nature
    • Flowers
    • Scenics (mountain, river, forest, etc.)
    • Clouds
    • Fall colors
    • Desert
    • Seasons
    • Sunrise
    • Sunset
    • Trees
    • Rocks
    • Weather
  • Human Made Landscape
    • Urban
    • Buildings
    • Amusement parks
    • Roadside attractions
    • Graffiti
    • Construction sites
    • Factories
    • Farms
  • Professional Sports
    • Team
    • Individual
  • Amateur Sports
    • Team
    • Individual
    • Recreational (Skiing)  
  • Events
    • Parties
    • Weddings
    • Shows
    • Vacation activities
    • News events
    • Holidays
    • Birthdays
  • People
    • Babies
    • Children
    • Lovers
    • Friends
    • Relatives, individually and in groups
    • Portraits
    • Portraits by professional photographers
    • Crowds
  • Vehicles
    • Cars
    • Planes
    • Boats
    • Motorcycles
    • Trains
    • Snowmobiles
    • Jet skis
  • Animals
    • Pets
    • Zoos
    • Wildlife
    • Farm animals
  • Human Made Objects
    • Art
    • Crafts
    • Food
    • Household articles
    • Houses
    • Clothes
    • Something for sale on Ebay
    • Machinery
  • Compound Subjects (Too Many to List, Common Shown)
    • People at events
    • People in front of natural landscapes, human landscapes, human made objects, vehicles, etc.
    • People with animals
    • People showing fish they caught
    • Vehicles at events
    • Vehicles in front of natural landscapes, human landscapes
    • People at weddings taken by professional photographers
    • etc., etc., etc.
Cliche Photographic Subjects
Note: compare with never fail images.
  • Flower close-ups, often with bees or other insects
  • Small groups of women at social events with their heads acting like magnets
  • Automobile snapshots, five main types [2]
    • The automobile alone (achievement) [automobile is main subject]
    • People by the automobile (status) [go-stand-by-the-car portrait, groups or individuals]
    • People arriving and leaving (potential mobility) [automobile as instrument, conveyance, tool; doors or trunk open]
    • Automobiles in motion (freedom) [taken from inside the automobile - through windows, other passengers, etc.]
    • Automobiles in the background (ubiquitous presence) [main subject of the photograph is something other than automobiles; automobiles occur incidentally; automobiles are unavoidable]
  • Selfies
  • Dutch tilt, particularly diagonal selfies
  • Snapshots with people at the exact center of the frame in front of anything
  • Photographs made to look like paintings
  • Overdone HDR
  • Sunrises and sunsets
  • Fall colors
  • White fences
  • Weather beaten wood, including barns and doors
  • S-shaped roads
  • Obvious use of fish-eye lens
  • Grand vista landscapes, often with atmospheric effects
  • Moving blurred water, especially blurred white rivers or white waterfalls
  • Lens flare
  • Mountains with mirror lakes
  • Clouds
  • Children being cute
  • Babies, cute or otherwise
  • Pets being cute
  • Formal portraits taken by professional photographers
  • Posed wedding participants, in various groups, taken by professional photographers
  • Brides at weddings with their mouths wide open, presumably indicating some sort of joyous moment
  • Photoshop montages combining heads and bodies of various animals or people
  • Lighted city skylines at night, often with reflections in a body of water
  • Venice Italy
  • Highly organized flat pictures of doors and windows, often with over saturated colors
  • Homeless people
  • Reflections
  • Effects with mirrors
  • Effects with fog
  • Piers
  • Silhouettes
  • Vignettes
  • Selective colorization of black and white images
  • Hard shadows
  • Self portraits showing photographer with camera
  • Photographs taken with a mirror, particularly selfies or self portraits
  • Converging railroad tracks or converging roads taken from the center
  • Electron microscope pictures of anything
  • Stars at night making a circle or semicircle
  • Telephoto shots of the moon with a foreground object
  • Stop action, especially liquid drop with circular splash back
  • Time lapse moving lights at night (Ferris wheels, city traffic, etc.)
Bloom's Original Taxonomy of Learning (1956)
  • Knowledge "involves the recall of specifics and universals, the recall of methods and processes, or the recall of a pattern, structure, or setting."
  • Comprehension "refers to a type of understanding or apprehension such that the individual knows what is being communicated and can make use of the material or idea being communicated without necessarily relating it to other material or seeing its fullest implications."
  • Application refers to the "use of abstractions in particular and concrete situations."
  • Analysis represents the "breakdown of a communication into its constituent elements or parts such that the relative hierarchy of ideas is made clear and/or the relations between ideas expressed are made explicit."
  • Synthesis involves the "putting together of elements and parts so as to form a whole."
  • Evaluation engenders "judgments about the value of material and methods for given purposes."
Bloom's Revised Taxonomy of Learning (2001)
  • Remember
    • Recognizing
    • Recalling
  • Understand
    • Interpreting
    • Exemplifying
    • Classifying
    • Summarizing
    • Inferring
    • Comparing
    • Explaining
  • Apply
    • Executing
    • Implementing
  • Analyze
    • Differentiating
    • Organizing
    • Attributing
  • Evaluate
    • Checking
    • Critiquing
  • Create
    • Generating
    • Planning
    • Producing
Bloom's Taxonomy as a Tool for Evaluating a Photograph


  • What do you see in this photograph? What words would you use to describe this photograph?
  • How would you describe this photograph to a person who could not see it?
  • Is this a naturalistic or abstract image?
  • What things do you recognize in this photograph? What things seem new to you?


  • What equipment, techniques and processes have been used to make the image? How does this affect the way we view it?
  • What does this photograph remind you of?
  • How would you describe the lines in this picture? The shapes? The colors/tones? The textures and patterns?
  • How has the photographer captured the play of light in this image?
  • How is this picture different from real life?
  • What interests you most about this work of art?


  • How is space represented in this photograph?
  • Which part of the photograph strikes you as most interesting? Why?
  • What questions would you ask the artist about this work, if s/he were here?


  • What title would you give to this photograph? What made you decide on that title? What other titles could we give it?
  • What do you think is going on in this picture? How did you arrive at that idea?
  • What do you think this photograph is about? How did you come up that idea?
  • Pretend you are inside this photograph. What does it feel like?
  • Why do you suppose the artist made this photograph? What makes you think that?
  • What do you think it would be like to live in this photograph? What makes you think that?


  • What do you think is effective about this photograph? What does not’t work so well?
  • What do you think other people would say about this work? Why do you think that?
  • What do you think is worth remembering about this photograph?
  • Create a photographic response to this image. What did you choose to create and why? How does it compare to the original stimulus?
  • What have you learned from exploring this work of art?
Dual Axis Motion and Locale Photographic Taxonomy Suggested by Aki Murata
Aki Murata, VP of sales and marketing for Olympus America, suggested a dual axis motion and locale photographic taxonomy which was documented by Dave Etchells in Imaging Resources, December 12, 2018 [3]. The suggested taxonomy is certainly suitable for market evaluation of types of lenses needed for particular purposes. However, the suggested taxonomy also has inherent interest. The following diagram extrapolates the suggested taxonomy with additional entries.

[1] In 1888 George Eastman introduces the Kodak box camera and the advertising slogan "you press the button, we do the rest."
[2] Paster, James. ""The Snapshot, the Automobile, and The Americans." Roadside America: the Automobile in Design and Culture. Editor Jan Jennings. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1990.
[3] Etchells, Dave. "A Full-Frame Olympus? Not Just No: *HECK* No! (And Why Olympus Is Better off for It)." Imaging Resource, December 12, 2018,

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