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Outlook for 2014 – The Year of the Copy Cats

So I was reading the Photo Shelter Photographer’s Outlook for 2014 and it made me slightly reflective about photography and how it has progressed over the years. The guide is a great read and I’d highly encourage you to have a look at that and the various other guides Photo Shelter make available for free. Their material and presentation is exceptional and makes for some great and informative reading.

When I first got into photography in 2006, it was a different scene to what it is now and DSLR’s were only just starting to enter the market but with a high price tag to come with it.  As more and more people go out and buy camera’s and take up photography I’ve noticed an increasing trend. Plagiarism. I’ve always found the notion of plagiarism a difficult topic when it comes to photography. Sure, you have your common plagiarism where someone blatantly takes someone else’s work and claims it as their own which is very common and has even resulted in people winning competitions and later discovered to of won based on using stolen material. But what about people that go out and take photos that have a very strong resemblance to others? Is this plagiarism? I’d argue it is.

Dove Lake, Tasmania

This trend is fueled by a new breed of photographers who are content on going out and taking the same photo as those before them. Sure, I’ll admit that some locations may have limited composition opportunities in terms of obstacles which might make getting a different angle difficult but ultimately that’s what photography is about. It’s arriving at a scene, capturing it with your unique perspective and having something different to others even if only a very slight difference. What is the point in following around other photographers and doing your best to frame the photo just like they did? Some of my favourite photographers aren’t necessarily putting out the most captivating images out there all the time but their work is always trying to push the envelope and be different to how others have shot a scene. One person that is a great example of this is Ricardo De Cunha who has some stunning work and strives to capture popular locations differently to those before him.

Palouse Falls - Another favourite for the herd of copycats
Palouse Falls – Another favourite for the herd of copycats

Take a quick look on Flickr or 500px for a popular location and I can bet you will find images that bare striking similarity to what others have shot years before them.  I’ve taken the liberty to do this for you and drop them into animated gifs (sorry, no doubt giving you a headache as they blink through from frame to frame). Are people going out to deliberately shoot a location the same as others as they feel this is the only way the location can be photographed? Or perhaps through researching a location so much they have they become so desensitised to the work of others that when arriving at the location, they take the same photo as others without even realising the striking similarity. It’s almost as if they compose the photo without realising that its subconsciously based on what had been seen elsewhere. Something that is excusable. I hope the later.

The iconic and slightly overdone view of 12 Apostles
The iconic and slightly overdone view of 12 Apostles

I’m not going to pretend, we’ve all done it and we will all continue to do it. Hell, I’ve done it with this photo of Russell Falls but then I tried to differentiate myself by grabbing a different angle with this other photo from Russell Falls.  Sometimes that angle is the best way to capture a location. One that comes to mind is the iconic photo taken of the 12 Apostles. Everyone does it as it’s a great angle. But when someone comes along and photographs it slightly different to those before them like this stunning photo by Oat Vaiyaboon. It quickly stands out from the rest.

It’s almost as if there are two types of photographers developing, those who actually have an artistic vision and robots that are content on taking the same photo as every Tom, Dick and Harry as they travel from Tasmania to Iceland in the search of shooting the same locations like those before them. Some of the later fall into another category which I also find fascinating and slightly irritating, the obsessed and slightly nutty about gear heads who spend too much time talking about megapixels and the size of their… Err… Lenses. Rather than getting out and actually using their camera equipment that could almost buy them a semi reasonable car, they’re too busy criticising others work on forums because they’re not rocking a Zeiss 15mm Distagon (at the bargain price of $3k). The lens which according to Lord Rockwell is the ultra wide angle lens to have as apparently Canon don’t make any sharp ultra wide lenses and Nikon sort of do.  But really, who gives a shit?  I use the Canon 17-40 and have never once found it unsharp and let’s be honest, who actually pixel peeps that much to notice?

So how do we curb this trend? We stop placing so much emphasis on equipment. Great equipment doesn’t necessarily always equate to great photos. Hell, I know a very popular landscape photographer that shoots with a Canon 600D and occasionally the kit lens. He doesn’t disclose it publicly but it’s amusing nevertheless that people would possibly  look at his photos differently if they knew it was shot with the bare basics of a Canon DSLR kit.  In regards to locations and similar compositions, unfortunately this trend will continue to go on due to laziness and people becoming a little too inspired by their favourite landscape photographers.

I hope I haven’t offended anyone with this post as it wasn’t my intention. Instead it is to encourage people to be different and make an effort to capture a scene differently to those before them. Sure you might not get that ‘post card’ like shot but your work will be unique and over time this is what will differentiate you against other photographers. Rather than having a portfolio of photos that have similar resemblance to others which there is nothing wrong with, I’m just encouraging you to get out and do your best to get creative.

– Alex

7 thoughts on “Outlook for 2014 – The Year of the Copy Cats

  1. Great post Alex, and good points. I’m getting a feel for snapping and really enjoy when I can get out and about. I enjoy reading your blog, full of great tips and advice 🙂

    1. Thanks Scott! I’m glad you enjoy the blog 🙂

  2. It’s the same in every form of art: nobody ever creates something really new, he or she just makes the same thing someone already did, just a bit differently. It happened to me as I one time heard the exact same music I composed a couple of years ago. This music was never even published, but I was still listening to it from time to time. So how could someone just copy my music? He didn’t, he just created it, he just have created the exact same music I had composed. How strange but still it makes it clear that photography is even worse from this point of view. Every scene is the same, and often the angle is the same, but the day is different, the landscape has changed, and most importantly the photographer is not the same and doesn’t feel the same as you at the time he’s taking the picture. That’s what’s the most important to me: it’s not to create something new, it’s just to create something at all, with your mind and with your heart. That’s not copycat, that’s copyheart.

    1. I love this comment.

      You’re right, landscape photography will always be different in terms of light and other factors beyond the photographers control which will always allow for uniqueness even for the most common angles (like those referred to in the post). Appreciate your thoughts and copyheart is a great way to describe it.

  3. […] Outlook for 2014 – The Year of the Copy Cats – this is a very interesting article written by Alex Wise.  Alex takes a close look at the concept of plagiarism in photography, and not just from the perspective of stealing an image online and passing it off as your own.  He takes a deeper look in this piece by discussing how taking a shot of an iconic scene with nearly the exact same composition and framing as others is also a form of plagiarism.  At the very least, this piece will definitely inspire you to be unique and to express your own vision in the craft of photography. […]

  4. This is precisely why I avoid sites like 500px and flickr, I’m very conscious of what I feed to my subconscious. It’s also why when I find a unique location I am hesitant to share the exact location at times 🙂

    Love your post, I couldn’t agree more.. I’m not a regular reader, your blog came up In something else I was reading though 🙂

    1. Thanks for calling by Paul. The post was bound to ruffle some feathers and resonate with others which made me slightly anxious to post about my concerns about the current state of landscape photography. So it’s nice to hear that it’s not just me who has noticed this trend emerge.

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