Plagiarism in the Photography World

Plagiarism in the Portrait & Wedding Photography is a big topic in the photography world right now. With so many workshops, new photographers, and visual stimulation it is nearly impossible to come up with an original idea these days and most of us (intentionally or not) are guilty of some form of plagiarism. I think for the most part the intent is not to plagiarize, but I can honestly say I rarely see an original idea. The point when it becomes wrong is when content is blatantly copied word for word or if an image is stolen and passed off as your own. But there are grey areas as well. With sites like Pinterest, photographers have been known to create inspiration boards with other photographers work stating they want to create images like the ones shown. While not blatant plagiarism, unless it is made 100% clear it is an inspiration board and not your work…you run the risk of being called out as a “thief”.

There have been a few times in my photography career that I have been irritated when I feel someone has taken my idea or concept. But then I realized it was a waste of energy to focus on what other photographers do (unless they blatantly steal), especially when the idea was such a general concept. After all my ideas were probably inspired by some other artist whether I knew it or not. For example I started shooting boudoir on grey backdrops (to go along with my name) back in the early 2000’s. When I started to see this all over the place after a well known photographer talked about how awesome grey backdrops were for boudoir I can admit I was a little peeved….but then I realized I got the idea from Avedon shooting all on white backgrounds. If I thought it was great idea, who was I to say this other photographer didn’t come up with their own as well. This is an example of realizing my idea wasn’t as original as I might have thought at first.

With this blog, my intention is to educate, rather than “call out” photographers for their wrong doing, so I decided to come up with some tips on being inspired, instead of intentionally or accidentally plagiarizing.

1. Look at different forms of art, not just photography. You never know you might what great ideas you may come up with that are inspired by the art. The best example I can think of when it comes to this is the photography of  Bill Gekas, who photographed his daughter as the subject of famous paintings. The work was obviously inspired by art, but it was definitely it’s own idea.

2. If you want to copy a concept so that you can do it with your clients, rather than creating a inspiration board with other photographer’s work hire models and put your own twist of the idea…that way you are showing your own work to your clients.

3. If you are writing blogs, never ever copy someone’s writing word for word. Write blogs the way you would have a conversation with someone else. If you want to share an idea that another blogger/writer has be sure to cite and share links! There are a million different ways to say the same thing…why do you have to use some one else’s words?

4. If you want to get into teaching other photographers, base your teachings on your own personal experiences. There is no better education than other’s learning from your own personal mistakes (and successes for that matter). If you were heavily influence by another artist give them credit rather than claim it as your own…in the long run you’ll get much more respect. After all we all had to start somewhere and chances are there was at least a few people who influenced you.

5. If you are assisting or 2nd shooting for a photographer, don’t shoot over their shoulder. Watch the way they work and learn from it rather than being focused on getting images for your portfolio. Make sure you have a clear agreement of how you can use the images. Even without a contract with a photographer, although you took the photograph when you are working for someone it is considered unethical to pass the event off as your own unless agreed on otherwise.

6. Be in charge of your own web design and never ever steal meta data from another site. Use keywords that are relevant to your work. For example I can have “nude” in my meta data & keywords because I do in fact shoot nudes.

7. If you are trying to break into photography do not use “stock” images, even if you pay for them to represent what you can do. Instead spend the money on models & sets and show what you can do.

And of course….this may seem obvious but you’d be surprised. Never ever put another photographer’s image on your website, this includs background images (stock or otherwise).  The only exception is if you are blogging and you give the photographer credit AND had permission to share the images. For example on this blog I have featured photographers (credit is clearly given and the photographers submitted their images to appear on the blog).

Lastly for photographer’s who have found that out their work is being plagiarized, while you might want to go into attack mode and blast the person instead  contact them first and find out what happened…after while some of this might seem obvious, give them the benefit of the doubt and be an educator first. Now of course if it’s a photographer who is an industry leader and should know better, well that’s whole different story.

Some of my favorite images that have been inspired by someone else! (credit given of course)

This image I shot was inspired by Irving Penn (putting subject in corner), posing of Richard Avedon, & styling of Helmut Newton.


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