It happens to all of us at sometime, and it is not unique to Photography. Another photographer (usually someone with a big ego) will accuse another photographer of “stealing” a location or photographic style. It is becoming more and more common , and I have seen friends take this abuse very personally. Did I just say abuse. Yes I did and abuse is exactly what is happening here.
The most common situation is when someone shares a location/image on social media, or names a location when asked by a friend. In the small mind of the abuser this location is somehow secret, they believe that somehow it’s only to be known and photographed by them, at this point the abuse starts and the name calling, ego fueled bullying takes place.
So has this abuse happened to me?
Yes, and the opposite.
I won’t lie to you, I’ve kept locations secret from others before, mostly because I was waiting for the right tide, the right weather etc, so that could capture and produce a unique image, I think this is only natural, the main difference is I knew that I never owned the right to a location. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times someone else had stumbled upon a ‘lone mangrove’ while they were out scouting -the very same lone mangrove I’d been planning to revisit at the right tide and time. I just deal with it when it happens and move on.
If you look around my website, there is not one single image that I could guarantee to be so unique (or at any one location) that another photographer had not been to or visualized taking the same image -captured or not. Does this worry me? not really, apart from the fact that I probably need to get out more and strive to shoot more unique and artistic images -but that is topic for another day. Having said that, my most popular images are usually very basic, simple images that are just captured and presented well.
What to do if you are accused of location or style stealing?
In my experience the best thing to do is thank the photographer for noticing your fantastic work, and then ask them how they stumbled upon your website or facebook post (after all marketing these days is 95% of photography), then politely inform the accuser that their image is not the first ever captured of said location, and that it won’t be the last. If and when they try and tell you otherwise, simply sit back and be proud of your work.
Why does this happen?
People are jealous, simple. Photography is a very competitive industry and people can get very protective of their images, which is fine. When we first start out in photography we all strive to be be good at capturing images, some of us progress to shooting for financial gain in the form of print sales, and others just do it for the love of being out with nature. I do it for both reasons. So if the egotistic photographer feels that your image is bringing down the value of theirs, maybe they have a point, maybe they don’t. The simple fact is some photographers will always try and push others out of the market because it is the easy road to take. I don’t believe this behaviour will ever stop, in fact I see it getting worse, but ask yourself;
“Would you buy a print from a photographer who abuses others, and usually someone who is shooting for the love of it.”
Who owns a location?
No one owns a location, (unless the location happens to be private property or government/state land). But plain and simple, if you want to take an image of a particular location you can, never let anyone stop you.
“There are of course areas in Australia that are protected by the traditional owners of the land, it goes without saying that these rules and restrictions need to be respected.”
Who owns a photographic style?
Photography is an art form, and yes there are some classic styles and a few popular styles come to mind. High contrast black and white photography by Ansel Adams for one, but lets not bring Ansel into this argument, the reality is Ansel was not the first photographer to produce contrasty black and white images -and he won’t be the last, however he was was someone who perfected and developed a technique/style that worked for him. “Ansel most likely the first to photograph many locations for the first time, but he also encouraged others to also get out there and do the same”.
Photographic styles are a bit like ones taste in music, as anyone who has spent time trying to learn to play guitar will tell you, as you pick up the guitar for the first time, one of the first things you do would be to try and play a song form a band you follow -you will naturally try to play and sound like the musicians you admire.
Your photographic style will develop and change overtime, as you progress and become a better photographer, at the same time others will fall in love with the hobby. When your work is discovered online or on display at your gallery, it is very likely that your new fans will and be inspired by your work, and they will strive to shoot like you. Before too long they will develop their own “blended style“ a style which I can guarantee you will be almost 100% like 1000’s of other photographers all over the world, from all ages and backgrounds.
Deal with it. Get out there and capture nature, capture hearts and enjoy the journey. You have a right to style, you have a right to be inspired or to inspire others. Photography is more popular than ever, and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.