I managed to get away to Callaway Gardens by myself this weekend and really had a blast shooting the azaleas and other flowers that were blooming. Nestled in the woods on the grounds is a small chapel with incredible stained glass windows. Last time I was there the chapel was closed for a wedding. This time is was open, so I went inside to get some pictures of the windows. A couple of people were already there shooting the main window, so I shot the side windows while I waited for them to finish. When I finally had a chance to get to the front of the church there was an older gentleman there who proceeded to tell me about how he had seen this great photo online that he just had to “plagiarize” (his word) and described the shot in detail. I smiled and nodded as he talked and went ahead setting up my shot. All my smiling and nodding, though, seemed to signal to him that I wanted or needed his advice. He asked me if I wanted to know how to shoot the “plagiarism shot”. Without having to think about it, I said “No, thanks. I’ll make my own picture.” He must not have expected someone to reject the free advice he was offering, because he started explaining the setup to me anyway. He got to about the third step in the process when either he noticed I wasn’t listening, or it finally occurred to him that I had said no. Either way, he stopped mid-sentence and went off to find someone more willing to listen.
I’m not above mimicking other photographers, especially if they’re good artists. However, I think the act of copying another’s work is a very personal thing. There are dozens of different things about a photo that may evoke a reaction in me: light, color, composition, textures, etc. If I choose to copy someone, it could be just one or a number of those photographic elements that I set out to duplicate. The process of taking the elements that I like, then making the rest my own, is part of how I develop my own style. Eventually, I hope to get to a point where I’m no longer copying anyone, and all my photos have a consistent Marcus Taylor look to them. Making photos by following the advice of someone else’s interpretation of a photo I have never seen does nothing to help me personalize my photos. As I see it, the kind of advice this man was offering was more of a hindrance than a help to the budding photographers who actually listened to him.