8.11.13

Comparing, Copying & Imitating


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!


12 comments:

  1. I find it okay to 'imitate' other photography edit effects. No one owns any of them and they have been done and will be done over and over again. If someone looks how a certain photographer edits their photos, they should do the same but at the same time learn to find their thing :)

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    1. Totally agree with you! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts :)

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  2. Yes! I completely understand this. I have to admit many many many times I try to copy someone on purpose because it serves as an initial inspiration, but as soon as I do it, it turns into something COMPLETELY different!
    I set out to take a self portrait, initially inspired by this (http://www.pinterest.com/pin/422845852483751331/) and ended up with this.
    (http://giuliaduch.blogspot.com/2013/11/i-need-your-opinions.html). Hahaha, I don't even know how that works, but it does, and it's wonderful!

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    1. Oh, that's so great to see, thank you for sharing, Giulia! :) There's probably a reason for why things turn out completely different when we try to copy. And that's the beauty of it - we're all individuals with different strengths and talents. Wouldn't be great to see the same stuff everywhere. So let's appreciate the fact that we all create unique artwork :) Yours is beautiful btw!

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  3. Love this conversation! My photo teacher was big on having us look at and decipher lots of photography in an effort to find out what we liked and didn't like about them, and how to apply it to our own work. :) It was super-helpful! After knowing a bit of that, I find I get more, myself, out of just shooting and shooting and trying new angles and exploring that way, myself. But imitating until you find your own voice helps when you're stuck for inspiration or want to try something new to see if it can apply to your practice... :) These shots of yours are so beautiful, too!

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experience on this, Michelle! It's great to hear that imitating helped in your case. And I bet it can be very useful and a good challenge trying to apply new ways of working to your own practice.

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  4. I understand this feeling completely - I think it's amazing when you can develop a style that is instantly recognisable to others and almost flattering when people try to mimic it. In the design field it is especially hard because as you say - it is much easier to replicate. I have recently done some "reverse image searches" on some of my graphics -and they are being passed off as the work of others which is highly frustrating! aaah sigh.. the life of an "artist" hahaha :)

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    1. Oh, that's sad! But as you said, think of it as a compliment - people love what you do :) I think your style is very unique btw, which is great! Hopefully people copying your work motivates you to keep up the good work, and also to constantly grow and become better at what you do! :) x

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  5. Thank you! I love hearing praise of healthy, considerate imitation! We learn by copying, and copying isn't ALWAYS bad.

    Kate from Clear the Way

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    1. Thanks for the feedback, Kate! Great to hear that we're on the same page :)

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  6. great post. i really am so happy that i stumbled across your blog. really enjoying going through and reading your posts.

    rae at lovefromberlin

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    1. Thank you SO much, Rae! :) I really do appreciate it!

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