The Ethics of Digital Photography: Part 3

Today’s edition of our miniseries looking into questions of what is and what is not “ok” when it comes to our work as creative professionals steers us towards the more conceptual side of the discussion. What are the limits of using the creative ideas of others in your own work?

This one is a hard one. Especially in today’s visual marketplace where we are bombarded with imagery wherever we turn, is it ok to borrow someone else’s concept in your next project? Whether it’s a processing technique, a particular design approach, or whatever, when does it change from being inspired by someone else’s work to “stealing” it (for lack of a better word)?

I’m really not quite sure about how to respond. Unlike the previous two posts where we could come to some sort of conclusion about what to do, here we are thrown into the deep end of the gray area.

Personally, I would say that if you are using someone else’s work within your own work there should probably be some sort of attribution to the creator of the piece – though the rules may be different for using stock imagery. I just think it’s right to give credit where credit is due. Whenever I do a tutorial that is based on or inspired by someone else’s tutorial or concept, I try to always reference where I first learned it or what the source of the inspiration is.

When it comes to using a style in your work it’s a lot like painters working in the artistic school. The concepts are the same, the techniques may be similar, but the actual production of the piece is all you. If I use a high-contrast/low-saturation portrait effect on a photo, I may have learned how to do it from a Scott Kelby class at Photoshop World but I wouldn’t be using the exact same settings and how those steps effect the image I am using will be different each time. So, it’s a situation where it’s inspired by someone else, but the interpretation, execution and final product is still my own.

What do you use as your guiding principles when “borrowing” from ¬†others when creating your own images? When using outside resources (stock photos, etc.) do you feel as though you have to disclose that information? Should you? How about when using a concept that someone else came up with? Should there be some sort of explanation citing the source of your inspiration? What would you say?

With this whole discussion in mind, this is your last chance to be a part of this week’s Points of View Photo Project. Follow the link to download the source image, edit it however you like, and send it back to me at by 8pm EST tonight along with a description of what you did so that it can be included in tomorrow’s collection of posts.

Looking forward to it!

  • I am not sure if you are not too strict here. I have the strong feeling, that whatever I go to photograph, it has been photographed a million times before I was even born… I do not disclose it, but I will often look for my subject or location on Flickr or iStock, and see what other people did, just to give me ideas. I am sure that I never repeat their concept exactly, I will always leave a trace of my style on it, so I feel it is fair.

    January 17, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Leave a Comment: