A photo ethics question

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by stephen_ewer, Nov 3, 2012.

  1. A professional photographer makes an image of a beautiful landscape. An amateur photographer sees the image in a gallery. The amateur then goes to the spot where the photo was taken and makes his own image of the landscape, and later crops it similar to the pro image.
    The photos look different in that the color of the foliage, light, and sky are different, as are other post processing effects.
    Has the amateur committed an ethical breach of conduct? I say no, because his image was his own interpretation of a similar scene-much like two photos of of the Empire State Building taken from the same vantage point, or Andy Warhol painting a Campbell's soup can.
    I'm interested in what others here might think...
  2. Artists of all genre have long copied the work of other, usually successful and well known artists. The painter who paints her own version of the Mona Lisa may be "copying" Da Vinci, but the work will not be the Mona Lisa, merely a different interpretation. I enjoy viewing the work of other photographers, particularly well respected nature, landscape and wildlife photographers of note. Early in my photography efforts, I hoped to somehow copy the work of these photographers and would end up greatly disappointed. Eventually, I learned the lesson I suspect everyone must learn: every person has his/her own style and point of view and you cannot successfully (or at least not happily successful) copy someone else's style. I love some of Arthur Morris's bird photography and have learned from his articles and books, but my efforts don't achieve his level of success. This doesn't particularly frustrate me, it merely pushes me to learn more and develop better skills. I don't want to duplicate Morris, I want to improve my skill so that I am able to produce images that meet my personal measure of success. Stealing another artist's work - in any form - is highly unethical (as well as illegal); attempting to reproduce similar images is no more unethical than trying to learn how another photographer created an image.
  3. As long as an artist never tries to pass of another's work as their own - or similarly try to push a forgery of work - there is nothing wrong with it ethically or morally. No artist, regardless of notoriety or accomplishment, own's the view they have captured, or the concept that instigated their work. We only own the product, the outcome of our inspirations.
  4. This happens all the time. It's actually hard to avoid, because the road or trail often takes you to a commonly visited place and the light may dictate the most likely view. The pro may try to get to less traveled area or try to get an extra special sky in the more commonly visited sites. The pro may visit the spot several days or nights in a row, searching for that special light that sets his or her image apart.
  5. "Good artists copy, great artists steal and make it their own." --Pablo Picasso
  6. If anybody can copy one of my photographs simply by standing in the same place as I did, then I truly did not create a photograph. I simply recorded what my camera is capable of by mindlessly clicking a button.
    This is true for landscapes, portraits, and just about any genre of photography.
  7. Here is a shot that I made as a result of seeing a local amature's picture of the same thing but I went for the distortion and some color intensification of the sign as a contrast. I do not feel like I stole it from her and I thanked her for the idea.
  8. IT did not upload
  9. You are kidding, right? No one can photograph the Grand Canyon becasue it has been "done."
  10. No, Wayne, I am not kidding. You are obviously an accomplished and famous photographer. I am an amateur simply trying to improve
    my skills. I think the question I raise is legitimate. I appreciate the other insightful comments. I especially liked the Picasso quote...
  11. So Stephen, will you be shooting from spots where great photographers previously took great images?
  12. "I say no..."​
    I think you pretty much answered your own question and I would be surprised if anyone here disagreed with you.
    A landscape photo taken from the same spot that a “famous” photographer took a photograph does not violate any copyright laws of which I am aware. If the more famous photographer published their image the copyright extends to that photograph, not to the spot or point of view from which it was taken. But that is only my rudimentary understanding. I am not a lawyer or an expert on copyright law. If I am wrong I hope someone will point it out and explain the finer points of the law. (Keep in mind that laws may vary from country to country.)
    Of course, one may do things permitted by the law that still do not seem to be right or fair from a personal ethics standpoint (which is more to the point of what the OP was talking about). But I do not see where the landscape situation described by Stephen is on shaky ethical ground either. There are examples of collages and appropriated photographs that come far closer to an ethical dividing line than a landscape photo taken from the same location as another, more famous, photograph.
  13. Steve covered a lot of good ground.
    Perhaps what the OP was thinking about was not so much the ethics of it in a universal way, but whether such a "strategy" would work for him. I cannot answer that for him, by I can tell an anecdote about my own process.
    I took the photo below about 6 years ago, when my Photoshop skills were rudimentary and I was trying to learn as much as I could, not just about post processing but about photographs in general, and where I was headed in particular. When I looked at the file for the first time, it suggested to me a certain kind of feeling that I remembered seeing in one of Annie Leibovitz's photos. I got out A Photographer's Life and set out to mimic what I saw in the LEIBOVITZ PHOTO OF WILLIAM BURROUGHS, having to adapt it to a different face, of course. I learned an incredible amount that day about facial structure, different means of highlighting, dodging, burning, depth of focus, tonality, subtlety in processing, etc. I don't feel like I ripped Annie off and I doubt very much she would feel that way. I consider it a homage. That experience was not an end in itself, though I can see in some cases why doing such a thing would be a valid end. It moved me forward and still informs how I handle the work I do, though I've utilized the technical and aesthetic skills and ideas I learned that day in all sorts of ways since, in doing more of my own thing.
  14. It could violate Derivative Works under copyright law, depending on how similar the images are and what you do with those images. The legal standard for copyright violation is substantial similarity. If you were to recreate the scene to the extent that the average person could mistake it for a previously created image, you would be in violation of copyright.

    One of Ansel Adams' most recognizable photos is "Moonrise." If you were to go to Hernandez, NM under identical meteorological conditions and photograph the moonrise from the exact spot he stood to create this image, using a lens with the same focal length, then publish those images yourself, would you be in violation of his copyright? If your image has substantial similarity, and if you publish the image, then the answer is yes.

    Simply recreating the scene does not violate copyright. Publishing an image that has substantial similarity to a previously created work does.
  15. Let's see if I've got you right. Go to a
    public place, photograph a natural
    phenomenon and be sued for copyright

    I know the law is an ass but that's a
    libel on all donkeykind!
  16. A professional photographer makes an image of a beautiful landscape. An amateur photographer sees the image in a gallery. The amateur then goes to the spot where the photo was taken and makes his own image of the landscape, and later crops it similar to the pro image.
    The photos look different in that the color of the foliage, light, and sky are different, as are other post processing effects.
    Has the amateur committed an ethical breach of conduct?​
    Steve, how old are you? If you think that would constitute an "ethical breach of conduct" you do not ever want to see the things politicians do... legally. You can copy anything you want as long as you don't display it in a museum or sell it. Even if you do sell it or display it in public it's highly unlikely the original artist would even know what you are doing let alone care. What do you think most of us do? I look at great pictures before I go on vacation and see if I can get similar shots. Of course some places may be shot on a stormy day with a dramatic sky. I go there and shoot it on a calm day as it basks in the glow of the setting sun. A lot of great photographs simply can't be replicated. Moonrise was already mentioned. A lot of chance things came together for that photograph to happen. Ansel Adams shot dupes on that same day. He was frantic. He knew he had something special and he tried to capture it several times before the light changed. Great shots are difficult to replicate... even for the original artist. And if it is just a dead center shot of a landmark in the noon day sun from some easily accessed location I doubt the artist can win any copyright case beyond someone xeroxing one of his prints. I mean things like the White House have already been photographed a billion times in the noon day sun. How can an artist come and call you a crook for taking a dead center shot of the White House in the noon day sun? Search for a famous landmark on Almay. You will find hundreds of very similar shots of the same landmark being sold side by side by different artists all at the same agency. They aren't suing each other. Why would they care about you?
  17. This doesn't address the issue that you raise, but … I was excited when I took a picture of the clock at the Quai d'Orsay, only to discover that another person's picture at the same site was being used as a logo for some company. I definitely felt sheepish about showing off my 'great shot' after that.

  18. To me the answer is "it depends"
    Even though you stand in the same spot, take the same photo, there are always going to be subtle differences
    • Light
    • Time of day
    • Time of year
    • Weather
    • Things in the foreground - people, plants, animals, snow, water
    • f/stop
    • Lens used / zoom value / etc - subtle changes like bokeh
    Then you get into the changes someone makes in postprocessing
    • Take your pick of what you do in raw processing
    • Filters being applied
    • spot, local changes
    Finally - how you print it
    • Printer
    • Paper - grain, texture, how bright
    So, once you get down to the end - you might get a similar picture, yours might even be better, but it won't be the same. Location is just one small part of the creative process.
    Final thought, all of us who are in awe of Ansel Adams and have ventured to Yosemite to try and duplicate some of his photos. Even standing in the same spot as he did. I've done this several times, and can tell you I'm still in awe. I get some what close, but never to the point where someone would say "that looks like an Ansel Adams print"
  19. A few years ago a friend saw a photo of mine and asked me where it had been taken, saying he wanted to get a similar shot. I told him the exact spot, he got it, his picture eventually went on exhibition and I was invited to the opening event (a great privilege for me). Being close friends he had had the opportunity to approach me directly and I had the honour of contributing to his photography. My high regard of his work was by no means diminished, because the rest of his photography was ample testimony to originality and creativity. If one has his/her own unique style, I don't think it matters that the occasional photo bears a coincidental resemblance to someone else's. In a continuous (as opposed to discrete) world, the continuous 'probability distributions' of photographers' portfolios are bound to overlap to a small extent no matter how hard one tries to be different - it's all probabilistic :p
  20. Well, Keith Richard said it in one of his the TV intervju
    " I play eight or nine songs from others and hope the tenth is my own"
  21. Coming late to this discussion, but please see this PDF file. It is an excerpt from my Media Ethics presentation to journalism classes at Virginia Commonwealth University. The photographer was fired and the newspaper published a Page 1 apology for the "visual plagiarism."
    This muddies the waters of this discussion, however. Landscape photography, or any photography for one's own personal use, need not always be subjected to the same ethical considerations as published works. We all steal ideas. How we deal with the theft defines us.
  22. The word is homage. ;)
  23. It's not unethical, it's human. We emulate each other all the time. Kids strive to play basketball with moves made famous by Jordan and Kobe. Bach learned to write concerti by transcribing the works of Vivaldi. Paul McCartney and John Lennon emulated American rock 'n' roll and R&B stars. People spend hours a day watching the Food Network in hopes of improving their food preparation skills.
    This is how humans learn and develop. We emulate some prominent person for a while. Some of that person's ideas and techniques creep into our own minds. But we don't become clones. Their techniques and styles merge with our own tastes and personalities to become something new and original.
  24. You can take a workshop from a professional photographer who will lead you to an exact location, such as Yosemite or Big Sur or even Venice, at precisely the right time of day, at the right time of the year and tell you what camera settings to use, what lens focal length to use, and where to stick your tripod. This is how many pros earn much of their living.
  25. I'm joining this discussion late, but . . . .
    I photograph a lot of circus, concert, and other performance stuff. Quite often, I stand next to photographers from other media outlets some or all of the time. In some cases there may be a few of us and we might circulate between a small circle of "photo spots."
    Many times we even have substantially identical equipment
    Yet the photos we come up with are distinct and different. A skilled photo editor could sort much of our work with a little practice. Clearly, none of us believes we are copying each other. We are just charing a vantage point and a moment in time.
    There can be times when we shoot the same moment and I suppose our pictures could at at that instant be very similar. But that is unlikely chance.
    The place and camera are only two pieces of the puzzle. The subject itself is always changing as performers move and change, and light and backgrounds change. But most of all the different photographers will have different visions for how each shot should be framed and exposed and that will make for unique images.
    The thing is, when you develop a style, your photos will tend to be "in that style," no matter what they are. That will make them recognizable and it's the style that makes photographers successful in most cases, as opposed to a specific subject.
    Being a writer, I can say it's the same with my writing, and my brothers. Both of us write books and many people read both of us. But our styles are distinct and different despite writing about being in the same places and even sharing the same genetic material (being brothers)
    You could read of the same event described in both our hands and it would be totally different.
    Here is a photo of a flood, which I took while standing next to photographers and cameramen from several networks. All our imagery of this same scene came out unique and different even though we were in basically the same spot at the same time.
  26. This is the photo
  27. Wonder if the OP is aware of this. The disqualification was for too much photoshopping, but the blog that this link points to raises substantially your question about the propriety of the whole exercise.
  28. A photographer can choose to shoot then post process mature subjects that have been shot by others any way they wish without having any ethical issues. I doubt if many serious photographers have ever spent much time considering such. However if what they are duplicating is work by a known photographer and plan to make the same work public, they are probably not going to be content merely copying as mere duplication tends to indicate a copy without skill or aesthetic vision. A lot more people can sense aesthetic value in exceptional prints than can explain why those images have that visual quality. When instructors leading students in the field to sites of strong subjects, many will be clueless as to where to best set their tripods down until an instructor explains the why on how to do so.

    As an old photographer with a lifetime of outdoor field work, other photographers will peruse websites like mine getting leads on productive places to visit. Fine I do the same or read guidebooks etc just like we all have always done. In this day of post processing Photoshop work, the status quo for many is to manipulate an image to maximum believability by saturating, increasing contrast, changing hues, removing awkward elements like out of focus branches, with some even adding elements like clouds. What does bother me is when someone locates then makes a similar image of a unique location I've shot and publicly presented in a reasonably natural way, but then post process manipulates that same image to something totally unnatural without even the tiniest public explanation. Such is more common for landscapes of colorful geology, especially those with reddish hues, where a manipulated presentation ends up some impossible gaudy red that those in the public without experience visiting such places will predictably blubber oohing and ahhing over.
  29. I don't see any problems with ethics here. There have been many photographs of Half Dome in Yosemite NP taken from similar locations used by Ansel Adams.

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