A few days ago I talked about developing a cohesive style in photography and the learning process of being a photographer.
Today I want to talk a bit about copying and imitating others. This relates to feeling dissatisfied with our work, and trying to find our own voice in photography. I want to talk about this again because I feel like it’s constantly present, something we always think about and work on as creatives, and something we can all relate to.
As we find ourselves comparing our work to other people’s work in our field, it’s easy to become dissatisfied and discouraged. Now, we either end up being frustrated and in the black hole of feeling ‘stuck’. We stop creating because we think it won’t be good enough, and we feel paralysed.
Or we start copying our ‘heroes’. While this might be easier (and more dangerous) to do in some areas, like design for example, it’s a bit harder to copy in photography. Of course, if it’s a set-up shoot (e.g. fashion photography), this won’t be so hard. If you’re thinking of documentary work though, it won’t be quite as easy to directly copy someone else’s work. You could of course go and find the exact same spot where the photos were taken, try to find the same people to photograph, get the light right, etc. … but, well, it just seems a bit unrealistic.
The other thing we can do is to imitate other people’s work. And this doesn’t mean simply copying what someone else does. Instead it’s about figuring out what they do to make their photos look a certain way. What’s an element that repeats in their photos? What is the light like? How do they edit their photos? What angle do they shoot from? What makes them look similar? What makes you recognise their photos? Why do they look familiar to you? What do they think about while they work? Why do they focus on certain issues? What makes them tick? Ask all these questions to find out on a subconscious level what it is that they do. This can also be really helpful if you want to figure out what you really like (e.g. what kind of style) and why; what it is that attracts your eye.
In this case and at the stage you’re probably at (including me), I think it’s ok to imitate. It helps to improve our work. And over time we will develop our own voice. Again, I don’t mean copying - I mean looking at others’ work, and learning from them. And then applying some of the lessons to our own work.
How do you feel about copying vs imitating? What are your thoughts on comparison?
P.S. If you’re looking for a fun way to improve your photography, come along to the next Photo Brunch!