There are so many photographs nowadays, you can’t avoid seeing many of them. And if you are a photographer, you can’t avoid being influenced by many of them. Also, many photographers recommend other photographers to study photos of renowned photographers as well as photos which attract their attention. To learn the craft, to find out what captivates them and to get inspired. Some even go as far as recommending others to reproduce the ideas or even the scenes to learn in that way. As a result, both knowingly and unknowingly we use the ideas, scenes, compositions, etc. in our own photographs.
We need to learn the basics, the principles and techniques, that’s fine. But then? Don’t we just copy what’s successful instead of coming up with our own unique views? And if we use the ideas knowingly, how much such conscious reproduction could or should be regarded as kind of plagiarism if such a photo is presented without referencing the original and its author?
Once I saw a photo taken in a town and I loved one particular feature of the photo consisting in one of the photo’s edges being filled with an edge of a house. Just a few centimetres of a wall and that detail accentuated the whole image in a very interesting way. I used this idea consciously in two of my photographs and I love them both yet I feel like I stole that idea from the other photographer.
This is one of the photos I took based on the idea, you could see it in week 30 of my 52-week photo project back in 2014:
Nonsense, you might say. Who knows who was the first person having used such a detail? Who knows whether they used it purposefully or whether it was just coincidence? And actually, why the fact that I saw it in another photo should prevent me from using it as well? It’s not even the same scene…
You know, the thing is that if the same idea occurred to me without seeing that other image, I would have no problem with finding it elsewhere but as I adopted the idea, the photos don’t feel to be entirely mine.
And this is the other photo, you could see it in my post from Klatovy:
I surely can’t imagine that everybody who would be inspired by somebody else’s photo and used that idea in their own photo would reference the original and its author. And the truth is that we all learn from one another, adopt what we like, what’s interesting and what works for us and carry it further. Our work may thus become richer and more creative and using ideas others came up with may lead us to new results, new inspiring ideas.
So perhaps we don’t need to invent what’s already been invented but should rather build on it and be grateful for the knowledge… even though we don’t mention the source of that knowledge (unless it’s necessary for copyright purposes of course).
But that doesn’t relate just to photography, does it?