Inspiration & Plagiarism: The Good, Bad, & The Ugly
I have often preached that it’s your ability as an artist to stand out and be different that will set you apart and make you great. One of the most famous and well known artists in our history, Pablo Picasso, was known for his originality in his work. He was also the artist that once said, “Good artists copy, but great artists steal.” Wait, what?!?
The Harsh Reality
We live in a time where plagiarism and theft of others’ work has risen to a whole new level. Digital photography now makes ripping off other people’s work to claim as your own is as easy as clicking the shutter of your camera. Even the artists and photographers that have made it to the top of their industry have even been caught plagiarizing in recent years. At the same time though, there is a harsh reality and truth to Picasso’s quote, and that nothing is truly original anymore. Everything has been done to some extent before.
To stand out and be unique, ironically, takes knowing how to use another’s work as inspiration, copying to an extent, stealing if you will, and ultimately, molding it into your own unique work. No great artist or photographer has built their career without taking from others, it’s a simple fact. It’s the line between inspiration and plagiarism that is often too thin these days making it difficult for some to truly understand. Knowing that line and how to use inspiration without actually stealing the work of others and calling it your own is what can make you great. Knowing how to use inspiration to make you a better photographer is critical in creating that “originality” to your work, and your style. The photographers that know how to draw on inspiration from a number of different places and successfully mold them into their own unique work are the ones that become great.
[REWIND:Rihanna Sued For Plagiarism]
- Look to other places for inspiration. If you’re a wedding photographer, look at fashion magazines or landscape photography, just for example. Something different to spark new ideas and add to your creativity.
- Look to incorporate something different in your work than what you normally do. A great way to learn new techniques, whether it be lighting, posing, or even processing techniques, is to take a specific photograph that impresses you and try to duplicate it. You can do this without it be plagiarism by adding your own twist to it and giving the original artist credit. This is a great learning tool.
- When just getting started, look at several photographers who have different styles. Consider taking workshops by other photographer’s whose work inspires you. Workshops are a great way to learn new techniques and see how other photographers work.
- Do not copy another photographer’s work with the intent to make your work look similar. Whether it be that you love their work and want yours to look the same, or because you think that since it works for them, it will almost certainly work for you. I see a lot of photographers want to know the exact processing settings so that they can make their work look the same as a favorite photographer they follow. You don’t want people to look at your work and know exactly who you are trying to replicate. Learn techniques, processes, etc to enhance your own work, but never to look identical. I feel like its becoming a growing problem in the industry with a large number of photographer’s work looking all the same with lack of originality.
- Early in your career, don’t be afraid to copy another photographer’s work with the intent to learn from it. Being scared of using inspiration and copying other’s work with the feeling that it will hold you back from being original will hurt you. Inspiration is a good thing and learning from others will only speed your progress to becoming great.
- Don’t feel entitled to things you have done; you have gotten them from somewhere else. Maybe not completely, but don’t cringe when you see someone copy something you have done. Instead, I suggest looking at it as a compliment. If your work or a specific project/photograph is copied, you should be given credit in one way or another, but if it’s not identical then that isn’t always necessary.
- Don’t use another photographer’s images to try and claim as your own in the hopes that it will bring you business.
- If you want to copy a certain photograph or project to learn from the process, give credit to the original artist.
- Plagiarism will always catch up to you, and will cripple you in the end. Be honest and true to yourself, learn from others, and you will be great.
MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS
I personally believe that you can never stop learning, nor would I ever want to, and I look to many places for inspiration. That being said, my inspiration today is much different than what it was years ago. Early on in my career, I looked to other photographers whose work I admired and tried to learn the techniques that they used for certain images. I was very interested in learning techniques that pushed my creativity, such as free-lensing, tilt-shift photography, and especially, the Brenizer method. The extremely shallow depth of field similar to that of medium format film really impressed me. Today I am inspired by photographers that have excelled in genres of photography outside of the wedding industry, such as high end fashion and popular street photographers. Two completely different genres, both inspiring me to think outside of the “wedding photography” box, to help keep my work fresh and always evolving.
Here is an example of an image I created using the technique, and an image by Ryan Brenizer himself. Ryan admits that he wasn’t the first to do this technique, but since I learned it from him I always give him credit, labeling it a Brenizer shot.
PERSPECTIVE FROM OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS
Ever since I picked up a camera, I’ve been inspired by the images that I see in magazines and on posters. That inspiration fueled my early work and to this day challenges me to push my creative and technical abilities. I often tell aspiring photographers that if you’re going to test shoot do so with a purpose. With that in mind I recently had a test shoot and took the opportunity to attempt to recreate one of my favorite portraits photographed by Kurt Iswarienko. With just one light and a salt shaker off my dining room table, I attempted to create a similar photograph and add my own unique touch, which ended up being the reflection of my model’s face in the salt shaker. While I used many elements from Mr. Iswarienko’s image I also added my own spin on things just to make this image my own.
The first few years I was shooting weddings, I actually tried to avoid looking at other wedding photographer’s images in an attempt to remain as original as possible. Instead, I found myself primarily looking towards other genres of photography for inspiration. However, over the past couple years, I have started to realize that I was making a big mistake in eliminating my own genre from my inspiration pool. Turns out, that in trying to remain “original,” I had actually backed my own creativity into a self-imposed box. Since then I’ve begun to follow a few amazing wedding photographers quite regularly and find them to be a great source of inspiration for my own work. I’ve also realized that it is a very fine line that we walk as photographers to be inspired by others and to still remain creatively original by our own standards. In walking that line, though, you can find ways to push yourself technically, reinvigorate your own creativity, and most importantly, deliver amazing images to your clients (that is what this is all about after all).
A favorite photographer of mine is Sam Hurd. I recently attended one of his workshops and not only is he an amazing photographer to learn from, but he is just a flat out awesome guy. I was introduced to free lensing through following Sam’s work and I was always a big fan of the other worldly feel that he was able to give to his images using the technique. I created this image when I was asked by a Groom of mine for a particular shot that is done over and over again in Philadelphia, “The Broad St. Shot”. I’ll be honest, at first, I secretly cringed and as we made our way to the location, I was racking my brain for inspiration in an attempt to make this fundamental shot somehow different from everything else this couple had seen. It was mentally wading through that inspiration pool in my mind that I remembered the free lensing technique from Sam and I reached into my bag for the glued together 50mm. If I had never started looking towards other wedding photographers for inspiration, this image would not have been created for this particular couple. That image ended up being the Groom’s favorite image out of everything they received from their wedding.
What are your thoughts on this and do you agree with all that I have written? This can tend to be a touchy topic as there are clearly different views on the subject. The bottom line is: honesty and being true to yourself is the safest route to being good, but knowing how to use inspiration and the work of others to enhance your craft will lead to greatness.