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Is Imitation the Best Form of Flattery?

scmu-5hpm7446-13That is the title of the post I have written for Photographers.com.au today, Is Imitation the Best Form of Flattery?  Looking at when you can and can’t copy other peoples techniques.

I hope you will go and take a look at the post, it is something that I feel strongly about and something I think we should all be careful about.

Again, if you can leave your comments there, that would be appreciated, helps me look good.  Thank you.

93 Comments
  1. Great article. As I was reading it, I was thinking a lot of it applied to writing, too. Thanks!

    January 8, 2014
    • Yes, Ann, I can see how it would apply to that as well. Thank you.

      January 8, 2014
    • I agree about the writing. No harm just for practise, but not for the public. I am a writer too. Develop your own style, I say, whatever art you pursue. With you Leanne.

      January 8, 2014
  2. captureyouphotography #

    I am a portrait photographer in Texas outside of Houston. There are so many photographers within a 30 mile radius of me.There are so many copy cat photographers it is unreal. Many see it on Pinterest and duplicate it exactly. They just do not have any imagination of their own. To be a photographer you need to be creative you need to have your own imagination and be able to make your own photography set ups. Pinterest is great to get ideas from but never copy anything exactly that you see on there and never copy another photographer. I just think its wrong. Posing its all be done one time or another that is hard to call you own. Locations and posing both that are copied NOT good…Especially by someone in your area that you know was watching your stuff.

    January 8, 2014
    • I can imagine how bad it would be for portrait photography especially, and I imagine downright frustrating. I agree about being creative, and developing your own style, in the end that is what will make you more successful. It never ceases to amaze me how many photographers are in it for a quick buck, I’ve met a few of those. I hope you run that other person out of business. Good luck.

      January 8, 2014
      • captureyouphotography #

        In our area there is now what we call “Shoot and Burns” these are photographers who only offer cd’s at a minimal cost, and they do no pro quality prints. They are the ones who might have taken 1-3 good pictures in there lifetime and started a business. The sad thing is the quality of their work is terrible but people will use them because after all that cd was only $50.00 US. Our market here is oversaturated with the shoot and burn photographers.

        January 9, 2014
      • I think we have similar ones here, I think the worse thing too is that not only is their work terrible, people can’t tell that it is, our clients need to be educated, no idea how to do that though. People just don’t understand that you get what you pay for, if you want beautiful photos, you should pay for them. I live in the hope that there are enough people out there that want quality over cheap, I need to find them, or we do.

        January 10, 2014
  3. It depends how the copying is done . . . I don’t mind explaining to others what I do (although no one usually cares), and don’t mind people learning from what I do.

    It would miff me a bit if it’s a blatant copying of what i do, and they make money from basically duplicating my ideas.

    On the other hand, if they take my ideas, expand or do it better . . . well, then it’s on me for not making the most of my ideas.

    . . . now, if I could only get a specific idea, look, style, or anything particularly distinctive . . .

    January 8, 2014
    • I think it is the blatant copying that is a problem. I know a photographer here in Melbourne who is doing okay, but his work is totally ripping off another famous photographers technique, so there is nothing original in his work. He just copies it. I think that is bad. I want to be known for my own style, not as someone who copies someone else’s.
      I think you have some good points disperser, and on that last part, we all feel that way, I don’t think I have a style, but many people tell me I do. It is an interesting process. Keep going.

      January 8, 2014
  4. Writers try things out too, to learn. I agree, trying things okay for oneself, but develop your own style.

    January 8, 2014
    • I agree Carolyn, we have to develop our own style and in the end, that is what we will become famous for.

      January 8, 2014
  5. I am a poet as well as a learning photographer.. Copying someone’s words is not even on my radar and the same goes for pictures.. That being said, I absolutely study photos of people I admire (Bill Brandt, Francesa Woodman, etc) not to copy their set up ( I never pose or pre-plan my pictures) but to be inspired..
    Much enjoyed your article..

    January 8, 2014
    • I find it interesting to imitate, to understand, but then I work out how I can use something in my own work, that is how we learn, but I never totally copy unless it is to learn something in particular. It can fun too. You can learn so much when you try to copy, but usually it nearly always ends up different, and then you start to put your own style into it. Thank you.

      January 8, 2014
  6. I don’t copy anyone. I never have and I never will. I am fiercely independent. There are no secrets to my techniques, no hidden methods in my processing. I don’t do a lot, quite frankly. The less I do, the better. Yes, I have noticed certain photographers attempting to do what I do. But they can’t. No one can do “me”. Just like no one can really do Leanne Cole. They can try. But they will never be completely successful at doing “Leanne Cole”. I look at and admire what other people do, but it’s never to get ideas. I have my own. And that’s enough for me…

    January 8, 2014
    • I think in a way we have all learned by copying, that is what we learn at school from a very young age, but in the end you do have to throw it all away and work on your own and work the way you feel comfortable with. I have learned a lot of new techniques by looking at what others do, especially post processing, that is really where I look for inspiration, but often I might take something, but never the whole, I like to find my own way of doing things. I totally agree with you say about the way you work, no one can copy you exactly, and my style is that, my style. I love getting ideas from others, I think it helps me grow as an artist. Thank you Merilee.

      January 8, 2014
  7. Amy #

    Leanne, I totally agree with what you wrote. What is the purpose in being an “artist” if you only copy someone else’s technique? That would be cheating yourself in finding your own technique.

    I had a taste of what you are talking about, and it did leave a bitter taste in my mouth, and angry. Yes, I am talking about copying. I saw someone take what I said, very cleverly, rearranging the words, and more or less, saying the same thing I did. When it happened more then once, (and realized it was not coincidence), I seriously was upset.

    I felt robbed. I felt my privacy was invaded, and my unique style as in how I express myself, was stolen. So…..

    That being said, I don’t come right out and tell others how I photograph, because with this also, I have my own technique. But words, that is a different matter all together, because there is not too much room to “hide” my technique. You’re looking at it.

    Thank you for giving me the “space” to get things off my chest. The article was excellent and holds a lot of value. People really need to discover their own special technique that says “This is ME!”

    January 8, 2014
    • You are very welcome Amy. I agree with you all the way. It does leave a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when you have worked hard to develop your style and then someone just takes it. It is like you take all the risks and they take all the credit.
      So, mouth off all you want, I completely understand. I know that I get asked all the time what my technique is, but I am not ready to share it with everyone just yet. I think people should just enjoy the work and do their own thing.

      January 8, 2014
      • Amy #

        Agreed. Totally. The after-effect of what happened to me, has left the inner writer very hesitant to come out and again write. I haven’t done so in a while. It really was a big betrayal especially as when I do write, I write from a very unique perspective.

        So, in the meantime, I am having FUN practicing my photography “techniques”. IF you didn’t see my “Day 2 in the Arctic” (I think that is what I titled it LOL) it is a must see. For someone in Australia, it will be quite something. We are in a terrible blizzard right now. Yes, as in SNOW and hurricane winds. Nasty. And BITTER COLD! And I went out this morning, camera in hand….which I won’t do again until these winds die down, for my lens formed ice on it!……and snapped what is happening here. We even have more snow now, and when the winds die down, again I will go out to record this precedent storm. Hang on……I’ll post this, go get the link for you and leave it here for your convenience. No, this is NOT because I want you to admire my work. I want you to SEE what you normally do not. 🙂 BRB

        January 8, 2014
      • I hope you do go back to your writing, you shouldn’t be put off by people copying you, just do your thing. It is an unfortunate thing in life that there are always going to be people who don’t have enough creative imagination of their own, so they steal from others. It like the in thing at the moment, everyone wants to be an artist. I’m afraid I am not a believer that everyone is an artist, I think people can imitate being one, but they will never really be. I sometimes wonder if I am one of those imitators.

        Thank you so for the link, those images are incredible, I just can’t imagine anything like that. It is beyond my comprehension. I left you a comment. 🙂

        January 8, 2014
  8. Amy #

    Back. LOL Here it is. ENJOY!

    http://herladypinkrose.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/day-2-of-the-arctic-blast/

    HUGS, Amy

    January 8, 2014
    • Incredible Amy, safe warm and stay safe.

      January 8, 2014
      • Amy #

        No, Leanne, you are not a copier, not by a long shot. Your work stands out by itself. You happen to be one of my role models, and no, I do not say this just to kiss butt. (smile)

        And when the writer stirs she will. This is something I just can’t force. It really was a shock. So I am immersed in poetry and photos right now, not bad in of itself, and yes, having FUN.

        When these winds die down, I do plan on getting some pretty amazing pictures. At least 2 feet perhaps 3 of snow, has fallen by now. New York State is in a state of emergency. It’s nasty.

        I will repeat myself here. I will NOT be taking my precious camera out again until it is safe to do so. I got “lucky” this morning. When I saw ice form on my lens, I said, NO WAY!

        I’m touched you looked at what Mother Nature is doing here. It’s even incredible for me to believe. LOL

        January 8, 2014
      • Thank you Amy, that is such a lovely thing to say.
        Having fun is the best way to go Amy. It is a very healthy way to go.
        I can’t wait to see what get, will be pretty amazing.
        Good to hear.
        I love seeing what happens with snow, it is so mysterious to us here, we will never experience it unless we go overseas.

        January 8, 2014
    • Amy #

      Third time is the charm. Talk about “eating”. Third time I am posting this. YOU are not a copier. Your work stands out all by itself.

      And as for me writing…..I will. When the “writer” is inspired. I think you understand when I say, art cannot be forced. In time…..the “writer” will be seen. 🙂 Meanwhile….
      poetry and photos. What FUN!

      January 8, 2014
      • Sorry Amy, I moderate all my comments, so your other ones did come through, I just hadn’t approved them yet. I do this for two reason, the reason I started was so I could stop super critical horrible comments, I was getting a few, and I have found by doing it, I don’t miss any. I hated it when I just let anyone comment that I would go to a page and find comments I had completely missed. I like to respond to every one, and this way I can. I haven’t missed any for a long time, unless they end up in the spam folder.

        January 8, 2014
  9. unitedmmcart #

    Hey thanks for posting this. I just saw one of Brooke Shaden videos last week on youtube. Love her work. Peace

    January 8, 2014
    • You’re welcome, I think it is something for all of us to think about. I love Brooke, she is really inspirational.

      January 8, 2014
  10. Terrific photo. I will check out your article as well.

    January 8, 2014
  11. creativemind214 #

    Reblogged this on creativemind214 and commented:
    Very interesting! Its hard to be inspired by someone and not copy what they did.

    January 8, 2014
  12. Great article and very true. Sometimes I find myself trying out certain types of photography or styles but it doesn’t make me as happy as when I’m free to create something out of myself. Sad that other ‘artist’ can’t find that for themselves.

    January 8, 2014
    • I take bits and pieces from lots of artists, I think that is how it works, it is like a recipe, a bit of this, and a bit of that. I like to see what others do and then see what I can do with that to make it my own. I think “other artists” are not really artists, they want to be, but never will be. Thank you.

      January 8, 2014
  13. Sonel #

    Great article Leanne and I did as you asked. 😉
    Thanks for sharing. *hugs*

    January 8, 2014
    • Thank you so much, I really appreciate that you did that.

      January 8, 2014
      • Sonel #

        You’re welcome hon. You write great and interesting articles. 😀

        January 8, 2014
      • Thanks babe. 🙂

        January 8, 2014
  14. Very well written article Leanne. It has a nice, casual flow to it. I am in 100% agreement with you on this issue. I like to be INSPIRED by others, but I would never copy their work. To me it’s a cheap shot and shows no originality. We can learn from others, but our own work should be original.

    January 8, 2014
    • Thank you, glad you liked the article. It is interesting, the line between learning from others and copying them. It is always best if you going to take techniques, to make them your own.

      January 8, 2014
      • I totally agree. I hope we both have agood year of blogging and photos. I am still working on that DSLR :>

        January 8, 2014
      • Good luck to you too, hope you get that DSLR this year. I’m working on a macro now, need to convince my husband it would be worth while getting.

        January 8, 2014
      • Well good luck with that. It must be nice to relax from the Melbourne job.

        January 9, 2014
      • Haha, I think I will need it, not sure I can convince my husband how much I need one. It is very nice to have it done. Now I have to work out what next.

        January 10, 2014
      • Sometimes the ‘what next’ comes to you

        January 10, 2014
      • Yes, that is true, I usually find if I really want something I can usually make it happen.

        January 11, 2014
      • I would have to say the same. Right now I am working super hard to start a new business, but I want it to be my main one. You may have seen a post or two about it on Facebook. But I’m getting clients only through networking, word of mouth and referrals. And using my own energy and the law of attraction. This is my best idea in years and hopefully will lead to my next camera. I hope you would agree thatbi have outgrown my current one. ☆★☆

        January 12, 2014
      • I have to admit, I haven’t been on FB much, just quickly here and there. I don’t know what they new business is, so can’t really tell, sorry. That is great that you are getting clients that way, they say it is the best way. Good luck.

        January 12, 2014
      • Thanks for your input -》

        January 12, 2014
      • We should organise another chat sometimes.

        January 12, 2014
      • Yes, that would be nice….Actually, I am working on a new photographic process that I really like and that should sell itself in the right market. I am choosing not to post them on WP. If I sent you about 2 or 3 of them could you give me your brutally honest feedback on them, and if so, how would I send them to you?

        January 13, 2014
      • Sounds interesting, I don’t know if I can help, I will look, you can send low res images to my email.

        January 14, 2014
      • Okay. Thanks. Give me a few days to do this. I will try and get them down to around 800×600.

        January 14, 2014
      • Sounds good.

        January 14, 2014
      • All I need you to do is let me know if you think they are commercially viable or not and your own personal, brif opinion. No analysis required 🙂

        January 14, 2014
      • I am not always good at knowing, but I will do my best.

        January 14, 2014
      • Fair enough……

        January 15, 2014
  15. I’m living in a country with one of the top 3 copycat cities in the world (Cape Town). So if you don’t mind and with full credit I will COPY and PASTE the last paragraph of your article on my FB-page. i.e. “So, if you are trying to come up with your own style, just copying someone else’s work is just that: copying what they do. You don’t want to be known as the person who copies what another artist does, you want to stand on your own and have your own unique style. Sometimes copying what another does will help you find that, but it is important to work out what style is yours and follow your own creative path”.

    January 8, 2014
  16. nice article, i like the way of your writing and of course we should develop our own style of photography, if you capture your own style photography people will like them, i am a wedding photographer and i have my own style of Wedding Photography and people like it.

    January 9, 2014
    • I think that is something we all want to do really, develop our own style, but some people don’t have the creative talent to do that, or even try, I have seen it, so they steal a style from someone else, then make money from it. Sad, but very true, and shows a complete lack of artistic talent. Thank you Angela.

      January 9, 2014
  17. I truly enjoyed reading this, Leanne.

    January 9, 2014
  18. Imitation, indeed, is the sincerest form of flattery but flattery is not art. Picasso said, Talent Borrows, Genius Steals. Others have attributed the quote to Oscar Wilde and Morrisey borrowed it for ‘The Queen is Dead’.

    So, we all have people who inspire us and we borrow from them incessantly mostly to learn. I have an enormous amount of respect for your work but I do not want to be you. I do not want to borrow what is in your head to produce photographs that can never be anything but a second to your work.

    Genius steals and gets away with it. If everyone who commented on your post wrote a list of their top influential people, you would have that many different lists. In between learning from our mentors, we also come up with ideas of our own that are often fleshed out by the techniques of others. Or, we learn something quite by accident when we screw up the camera settings or use a faulty printing technique. These things happen to us all.

    When it is all combined in your eye and your technique so that the work you borrow from is no longer recognizable as the work of those who have influenced you, you have stolen it.

    Echos may remain as Mozart echos Bach with some of his violin music but nobody ever said that Mozart borrowed Bach’s technique. He heard it, he loved it and he made a home for it in his own music.

    We do the same with our art. Anything less is not art but mimicry – flattering to be certain but mimicry all the same. I am the first to say that I am guilty but like you, I do not claim mimicry to be my own work but rather a cheap imitation.

    In having the perfect picture for the sake of comparison, I learn where I fall short. When I perfect the technique, I have done nothing worthy of calling my own.

    That some people don’t feel that way is sad. They are surely talented when it comes to moving the camera controls and applying just the right touch in their photo editing program. They are not geniuses, though.

    You are clearly a genius. My photographs are not nearly so beautiful as yours all of us who look to others for inspiration but create art that is uniquely our own are approaching genius. We may not always be talented enough to perfect a technique but if it is our own vision in digital format, we have done more than all those who work very, very hard to get their technique just like yours.

    That’s my two cents. Be flattered.

    January 9, 2014
    • I love what you have to say here Julianne, you have made some great points. I love the references to music. It is true, I think you do find influences in other peoples art, you will find influences in my own work. They don’t come from any one artist, but from a multitude of them, there are many artists that I like, and I know you can see aspects of their work in my own, though I may be the only one that can see it. If you admire others you are going to be influenced, unless you live in a bubble, and who wants that.
      Thank you so much for the lovely compliment, I don’t feel like a genius, but I do try and perfect what I am doing, and growing with it as well.

      January 9, 2014
  19. A great article. I have written about admiring other peoples work and learning their techniques. But when it comes to my photos I just go out and see what is around me and then just let the fun begin on the computer.When I first started doing my own developing back in the 90’s I was more interested in going my own way anyway with what I wanted to achieve – post editing – much to the disgust of the other camera club members. It is about developing your own style and really doing it well. You can see how my photos are evolving in just 4 months on my blog. All I have done is learn about different editing programmes and then just did my own thing. Cheers. 😀

    January 9, 2014
    • I have done that as well, written about people who influence me, and I know I can see that influence in their work, usually it happens because you are attracted to their work because it is similar to my own, but then I do my own thing. As far as post processing goes, I do look at what other people do and then I try and find my own way, or use it my own way. Often watching others process is a great way of learning how to use the software, or different ways of using it, then it is up to you with how you use. Now don’t get me started on camera clubs.
      Thank you.

      January 9, 2014
  20. Excellent article……healthy food for thought in all spheres. : )

    January 9, 2014
  21. -Great Information.

    January 9, 2014
  22. Ah, but you are a genius if you have ever had an idea all on your own and committed it to a photograph so other people could share your ideas. I’m sure I have bored you with Tolstoy’s definition of art before (actually one of many).

    It may not mean anything to most people who see it, it could be a very dark idea or it could be executed in such a technically horrible way that it should be ‘worked’ a whole lot more before you share it with the world.

    Consider the difference between the genius and the merely talented. You have a group of each and they are assigned to take a picture of a concept. Morning. Joy. Devotion. Just a concept that they are to illustrate with photographs.

    While you and I may be worlds apart in the skills required to use a camera, we would likely have very different ideas. OR, we could by chance have a very similar interpretation. If we respect ourselves, we will convey that idea with honesty if nothing else.

    Merely talented people would google ‘Morning’ or ‘joy’ images. They might see what has been ‘selling’ or decide to simply look over your shoulder. They might have far more skill in manipulating the dials of a camera than any human being on earth. They might be able to reproduce Avedon’s bee boy perfectly. So what? It is Avedon’s Bee Boy. (I must say it was worth an afternoon to see that exhibit at the Hyde in Atlanta many years ago but being depressed for three days afterwards was a bit much.) I don’t care if you make the bee boy red or use wasps or even butterflies instead of bees. It all bounces off of Avedon.

    So, you see, you are a genius. So am I and all those others who have posted that they would never steal an idea. Reading between the lines, I gather that your fans would much prefer to produce a less than perfect image than to abandon their integrity and borrow someone else’s idea. I will continue to look at your photos and Brook Shaden’s, etc. and borrow from them when I am trying to understand how the dials on my camera work but when it comes to creating a photograph I want to call my own, I will remember who I am and insert it in between the pixels. But, if you look closely, you may see an expression on a woman’s face you recognize, or a fairly stingy use of space that this minimalist by nature doesn’t come by honestly. If I am genius, you think, ‘I could have done that.’ If I am only talented, you think ‘the bitch done stole my ideas and technique.’

    January 9, 2014
    • Thank you so much Julianne for you words here, they ring very true.

      January 9, 2014
  23. Had to think about this. As a comparative, I can see posting it along side the original, with a self-critique of my version.

    January 10, 2014
    • I think that is what I did the first time I showed the two images in the post, the one Brooke did and the one I did. You really only do this sort of thing as a learning exercise, I think. Thanks David.

      January 10, 2014
  24. In the world of photography, where I’m setting my very first steps, I just do my own thing, limited by the ‘equipment’, but free to do whatever. However, any picture made by any photographer is an inspiration.
    When we teach subjects like painting or drawing, we teach techniques that first copy the known world, next start to experiment and intercombine ourselves. A full blunt copy will always lack spirit. The right moment never makes much space to do things exactly like … (I humbly think, without knowing the subject i’m talking about)

    January 11, 2014
    • I think learning photography is done the same way, that is how I teach it, learn the rules and what they say you have to do, then slowly you learn how to break them. Thanks Bert, great thoughts.

      January 11, 2014
  25. Niiiice…. and moody

    January 12, 2014
  26. Hi! I’ve been reading your site for a long time now
    and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Huffman Tx!
    Just wanted to mention keep up the good job!

    January 16, 2014
    • I hope it is a terrifying thing to do, I like hearing from people, so I hope now that you have done it once you will do it again.
      Thank you so much.

      January 16, 2014
  27. Good-one Leanne, went and read the article and tend to agree…stay coy till you’ve explored something or done something for all you think it’s worth.

    February 1, 2014
    • Thank you, I have to say I find it hard to give out all my techniques, one day maybe.

      February 1, 2014
  28. Argus #

    Imitation is the only sincere form of flattery … if that helps~?

    February 4, 2014
    • Or sincerest form, I get my sayings mixed up all the time, I don’t think it matters too much, you get the idea right?

      February 4, 2014
      • Argus #

        Sincerely … 🙂

        February 4, 2014
      • Haha, exactly 🙂

        February 4, 2014
  29. You already look good, Leanne!

    March 22, 2014

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