Don’t Copy, be Original — The Innocent Eye

I see photography as a tool of personal expression. So why do we have this tendency to copy each others work? Of course, it’s always comforting to know that we’re able to reproduce a photograph we admire, but then why show it to the world if it doesn’t represent what we saw? Isn’t it more rewarding to create something on our own, something that represents us? Or at least try to?

It is interesting to see how much photographs — especially on the web — look like each other although we all have a different way of seeing things. I’m sure that if you give a camera to a dozen of Innocent Eyes — people that have never been interested in photography before —, they will all create different photographs of the same place and situation. So why do we tend reproduce the same photographs again and again when the Innocent Eyes are able to create something different? Well, I think part of the answer can be found in the question: innocence.

Chances are your work is influenced by photographers from all around the world. Mine is. As soon as I began to be interested in photography I watched and analysed photographs and, little by little, lost my photographic innocence to become some kind of expert at following the standards and guidelines of the “online photography world”. I don’t think there is anything wrong at that because I doubt you can avoid it. Every photographer has been influenced by their peers at one point. But if you intend to develop your personal vision, then you need to keep these influences subtle and fight your natural tendency to reproduce what you’ve already seen and liked before. So here are some tips in order to help you (and me!) to get rid of this tendency.

Every time I photograph a place I have already seen in another photograph, I feel unconsciously tempted to reproduce what I saw and liked. I can’t control that, it’s stronger than me. So if that also happens to you, I suggest you just reproduce this photograph for the sole purpose of liberating your mind from it. Now you got it, you will not be haunted anymore by its influence and thus be free to create something different and more representative of you.

I also noticed that finding inspiration somewhere else, another kind of photography, another art, can be helpful. Let’s say for example that you are a landscape photographer. Then an interesting way to nurture your vision would be to stop watching landscape photographs and find your inspiration, let’s say, in photojournalism and literature for some time. It can sound a bit weird, but spending time out of your little photographic world is a great way to challenge your creative mind and come back inspired.

And for the most hardcore of us, following the advice of Zen master Shunryu Suzuki by emptying our mind before making photographs in order to re-establish contact with our Innocent Eye may be the ultimate solution, although it is proved to be extremely difficult:

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.

So now you’ve got these tips, feel free to find what works best for you, but please spare me something: don’t copy, stop trophy hunting. Be original, be yourself and challenge your principles!

Did you find interesting tricks to get away from the (invasive) influence of your peers? Or maybe creating already-seen photographs doesn’t disturb you? I would be very interested to know about your conception of photography in the comments.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of #MakePhotographs or feel outraged by what’s written here, please read this.


  • 23/07/2015

    Love this post. After 25 years of shootin so many kinds of photography I feel empty with new ideas. Every single scene I see on any location seems to be a copy of something I have already seen. :(

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