When You’re Tempted to Copy

When You’re Tempted to Copy


It’s that simple. While you may capture an image that is beautiful, you will always know that it is a copy of someone else’s work. Each time you share that image, you’ll have a guilty feeling in the pit of your stomach because the image isn’t really yours; its conception belongs to someone else. Instead of setting out to copy an image down to its every last detail, you can work a little harder, and a lot smarter, to figure out exactly why you like the image, and then put that knowledge to work.

What are you most drawn to?

Sometimes, an image in its entirety will completely blow you away. Every inch of the frame will speak to your heart and you won’t be able to find a single flaw. Much more often, however, if you spend time studying an image, you’ll find that there are one or more elements in it that speak most loudly, to you. Perhaps the light use is stunning and emotive, but you might choose different subject matter or story to place in that light. Maybe you really enjoy the way a photographer has utilized a particular compositional technique. It could be that an unexpected choice of depth of field has captured your imagination. When you find yourself drawn to an image, spend the time to truly study the frame and think about what elements you most admire, and which you think could best fit into your way of shooting. Here are a few elements that you might choose to focus on, though there are many more possibilities: light use, time of day, subject matter, blurred/frozen motion, effects added in processing, subject expression, mood, use of framing device, use of line, use of color, etc.

Make an entirely different image.

After you have studied the image and teased out why exactly you like it, write down the elements that you like on a piece of paper. Then, brainstorm an image that is entirely unlike the original, while still including the elements that you admire. If the original image was a maternity shot and I really enjoyed the way the photographer added light in processing and the lack of eye contact, I might brainstorm an image of my son, that purposefully lacked eye contact and was lit in such a way that I could add extra light later, through processing. Copying really isn’t the most sincere form of flattery. Finding an image that you love, figuring out what exactly it is that you love about it, making a unique image of your own and sending the original photographer a note about how they have inspired you… that is a very admirable form of flattery.

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