Should You Be Upset When Someone Copies Your Shot?

Living and shooting in Pittsburgh means I run into a lot of the same photographers on a regular basis (it is a small city).  It also means that inevitably someone will show up where I’m shooting looking for the same shot or vice-versa.  If you follow Pittsburgh on Instagram you’ll often find similar photographs from similar locations because it’s a great spot that was broadcasted by a great photographer sharing his or her work…  I’m sure it’s the same in other cities as well.  So should you be upset when someone copies your exact shot?

The short answer is no.  You really have two options here; Never share your photograph because you are afraid your secret spot will get exposed or share it knowing others will follow and embrace that fact.

If You’re A Photographer Who Gets Upset When Others Recreate Your Shot

Competition is healthy.  It pushes photographers to improve and advance their careers or risk becoming irrelevant.  Consider whether the next person who took “your” shot did it better or worse.  If it was better what can you learn and improve on?  Now go and do it again but make it even better than the last person.

If, on the other hand, you get so upset when someone takes the same shot as you that it ruins your day, afternoon, or night then suggest you embrace the old phrase “ignorance is bliss” and stop following photographers in your area.

It is neither okay nor professional to confront a photographer you feel has “stolen” your idea or location.  If you posted the photograph to social media to stroke your ego don’t be surprised if someone wants to try to improve on your shot.  In fact, embrace it.  Remember, competition is healthy and spurs growth.

To The Photographers Who Only Copy Others Work

You didn’t think I would let you off that easy did you?  Honestly, if your approach to photography involves watching Instagram for good shots, copying them, and then posting them to Instagram you are doing yourself more harm than good.  Sure, you’ll garner some followers and perhaps the odd job or two but you (and other professional photographers) will know what is really going on.  You’ll never grow as a photographer and will continue to have to do what equates to tracing a drawing for the rest of your “career”.

There is nothing wrong with trying to improve on someone’s image from a similar location but don’t plagiarize it.  Challenge yourself to come up with a new perspective, a different way of shooting the scene, or simply don’t do it…  In fact, when I was starting out in photography I would often review my favorite photographs from other photographers and write down what I thought worked from each one and put those ideas together into a shot that was my own.

How To Stop Others From Recreating Your Images

In the years I’ve been practicing street photography I have created thousands of images that can never be recreated by other photographers.  I’ve captured once in a lifetime decisive moments, unique people in unique locations, and entire city blocks that simply don’t exist anymore (they’ve been torn down and rebuilt as something completely different).  So, if you’re looking for a way to create images nobody else can replicate street photography is a great place to start.

Another option is creating something abstract and unique.  For instance, my Next. series combines street photography with a different way of shooting/editing the images.  It’s important to always be exploring new styles and taking the road less traveled to set yourself apart.

Conclusion

Frankly, if you’re losing sleep over someone taking a similar shot that you took then I would encourage you to stop focusing on past work and move forward.  Take Bruce Gilden for example, everyone seems to have a desire to copy his style lately (where you shove your camera in people’s faces and take close up shots of strangers).  Could you imagine how he feels?  The reason he is a successful photographer is because he hasn’t stopped to cry in his milk, he goes out day after day and continues to improve his style and move forward.

Don’t be afraid to adopt certain techniques you see in others styles but do so in an effort to create your own unique style.  Encourage others to attempt similar shots that you’ve taken and learn from the experience rather than letting the anger sharks swim in your head.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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2 Comments

    • Agreed, it can be frustrating. However, I do believe that it’s inevitable so rather than let it get under your skin, embrace it as a fact of life (not everyone will have the respect you do for others work) and use it as inspiration to push yourself to continue to improve. Nothing like a little healthy competition to push us out of our comfort zones!

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