I have been thinking about this blog post for awhile…this concept of Imitation vs. Interpretation. It’s been on my mind because I have had some very unsettling experiences in the past little while with people straight up copying my work, my marketing, my logo, my branding, my ideas, my images and more. Even things I did to celebrate my baby. And of course, so many people have said to me, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” And that is all well and good, and a sugar coated, polite thing to say. But here is my reaction to that…actually it’s not flattering, there is another “f word” that comes to my mind…it’s FRUSTRATING!
It’s frustrating to see my hard work stolen. To see something I put my time and energy into to create which truly reflects me, and someone so quickly and instantly just steals it and makes it theirs. Someone else’s imitation of my work shows pretty much just one thing…their laziness! It takes time find unique ideas. It takes to be inspired by things you see and hear, and to interpret those things into something that reflects you. And I find that some people just aren’t willing to put in the time it takes to create something original to them.
In one of the situations I encountered recently, I was actually contacted by the person who copied me and in my reply I shared these thoughts with them…
I think there is something called interpretation and then there is another thing called imitation, and what you did was imitation. It might not be one of my images, but it is still mine. And it wasn’t just an idea you copied, you went to the extent to copy my design as well. I worked for a really long time to get something that was individual to me. And you didn’t even go as far as to use your own brand, style, fonts, or colors. I am someone who tries to be really open about things and tries to help others out there. But I don’t do all of that so someone can copy me and the hard work I am putting in to come with things which are unique to me. When push comes to shove, no matter where you thought I lived, in your same area or the other side of the world, what you did was copy me. Had you taken my concept and made it your own and made it to reflect you and your business, I probably wouldn’t have even cared, but you didn’t do that. From looking at your website and your blog and your style, there is no part of it that is you and its really disappointing. I heard once you should never take more than 30% of someone’s ideas when looking for inspiration and that has something that I have always tried to do. I think we gain inspiration from all sorts of places both near and far, and the point of looking for ideas is to find our own way and “interpretation” of a lot of ideas and make them our own. Not use someone else’s hard work for our own “imitation”.
The conservation that I ended up having with this other photographer ended up being a really good one. And I think she better understands now what is appropriate and what is not. And I realized one thing about myself. I want to help people grow. I want to help people figure out how to be themselves and find their own path, because then they spend less time imitating mine. And I refuse to be someone who creates a scathing, threatening blog post to scare people away from looking at my work. So I am bound and determined to be true to myself and what feels right to me, and that is to give some advice…
So I have come up with eight tips as you are making your way in the journey of inspiration…
1. Figure out your own style
The more you know who you are and what you like, the more easy it is to follow that path. I know what my style is and so everything I do reflects that. I don’t have to spend a lot of time studying or trying to recreate someone else’s style because I have my own. And here is the great thing…my style is very apparent, its very consistent, so the brides that choose me know what they are going to get. And their styles and my style match up perfectly. So I don’t have to try and be something I am not, because they love what they see, and that is what they want from me.
But what if you don’t know your style…well here is a little two week exercise to try. Over the first week set up a Pinterest style board, and each day spend one hour pinning things that catch your eye. It can be photography, jewelry, interior design, anything you see and a drawn to. Don’t just look at photography. You need to broaden your horizons because truly, your style is more than just what you love in photography, your style should be a clear definition of you. And don’t forget your own work. Go through your last year of sessions and pin the images you took that you love. Ones you would be proud for others to see. Now after the first week you should have hundreds of images pinned. Then in week two, starting downsizing. Make a goal…get that Pinterest board down to 50-100 images. And really take the time to look at each image. Why do you like it? What about it are you drawn to? And keep downsizing…the more you can weed out that doesn’t really appeal to you, the closer you will get to what your style is. And soon you will be able to see a clear path to the direction you should pursue.
2. Be True To You
Once you know what your style is, stay true to it. Be consistent. Don’t jump all over the map and try things that don’t match with that style. Are there going to be things that appeal to you that don’t fit in your style that you love and are drawn to? Absolutely! One example for me is Ryan Muirhead Photography. The raw emotion in his images takes my breath away. I am so captivated by his work. But can you imagine what would happen to my business if I all of a sudden decided to try and copy Ryan in everything I was doing? Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have any business. You don’t turn your style upside down every time you see something that catches your eye. Can you play and adapt and integrate concepts into your style, of course, but in the end be true to your style. So the thing from Ryan’s work that I am most drawn to is the raw emotion, so can I try and bring more of that raw emotion into my work and still stay true to me. You bet. The consistency is an amazing guiding force and helps you understand what you are doing and helps others understand it as well.
3. Stop Comparing Yourself
I find this is one of the biggest things that I see that other photographers struggle with. So many people spend far too much time looking at other people’s work, when they should spend that time growing and discovering their own work. I have a friend, whom I love, and she used to always call me and say, “Did you see this session? Do you know that photographer? Have you seen this? Have you seen that? I am never going to be as good as them.” She spent far too much time worrying about everyone else. And it was very discouraging to her. So right now…STOP DOING THAT! A good way to do it…do a social media detox. Go through all the people you follow, like, etc. Ask yourself this…does this person inspire me or discourage me? If they discourage you…they go in the detox pile. If they inspire you and make you excited about your own possibilities…you keep them. I once went through my facebook and un-friended and un-followed SEVEN HUNDRED people and pages. It was like a breath of fresh air. And I still don’t follow a lot of people, only those who inspire me. And I rarely follow local people, I think we spend too much time comparing ourselves to the people in our backyard. When I tell people about this concept I always get a few who say, “Well I have to follow them because they are always copying my work.” Here is my answer to that…People can smell imitation a mile away. People know a fake. And fakes don’t last. They burn out because they aren’t authentic. So spend the time you might have spent worrying about that person, to further building your own brand, honing in on your own style, and building your business to a level that those people could never catch up.
Oh and my friend…she did the same thing. She did a detox…and guess what happened. She created an amazing brand and style for herself and her work is amazing! She is actually someone I follow now, because what she is doing inspires me.
4. Plan before your Pinterest
If you have an idea…don’t immediately jump on Pinterest to find someone else’s version of your idea. Take some time, think about it, draw out your own ideas first. Come up with some key words to describe the idea you want to do. I have a session coming up on the blog in the next week or so that you are just going to love…but before we made a Pinterest board to help get on the same page, I came up with some key words that I shared with the designer and before seeing much of anything here is the right up she put together…
Soft springtime florals with glimpses of gold. Working with mostly whites, creams and light, warm neutrals with soft pinks, mauves and gold glitter. The only vibrant colors will come from the greens in the foliage. Along with foliage we also plan on incorporating wildflowers or longer-stemmed flowers. The furniture pieces we are using are mostly brown and white vintage pieces. We plan on incorporating a lot of vintage, print fabrics all in soft, neutral tones. We are hoping to find a wooded location with trees for hanging gold-dipped feathers and a few fabric chandeliers we are making. Overall we want this to be a fusion of natural springtime and the synthetics of gold glitter and paper flowers.
Do you have a vision for it now? Aren’t you excited to see it? Its going to be amazing…and it wasn’t this “You know that one session of Jose Villa’s with that dress and those flowers? We want it to be exactly like that.” Take the time to plan. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt that you have ideas and inspiration inside of you. Do the work. Don’t just instantly dive into someone else’s work…
5. Get away from the computer
I find my greatest inspiration outside my office. In the world. At an arts festival, at the park with my kids, in magazines, its everywhere. Start to see the world, looking to be inspired and you will be pleasantly surprised how many things start to jump out at you. Carry a notebook so while you are sitting somewhere doing nothing you can jot down ideas. Take snapshots of something that sparks an idea for you. Document your inspiration so when you sit down to plan, you can remember that spark.
Working with others is a great way to do something amazing. Really talk with your clients and share you vision with them, and listen to their vision. Work with people in your industry who have a similar goal as you. Go out and play with your photographer friends. I have a few videographer friends that I love shooting with…when we get together we just click and we are able to boost each other and create something breathtaking. Like I just did a bridal session with a videographer friend of mine, and earlier in the day almost every obstacle was against us. But things worked out, and when we got there, we both just got in sync, and the ideas were flowing and it was honestly one of the most amazing, and yet easy, sessions I have ever shot. I was true to me, and he was true to himself. And everything just fell into place. Find people like this who you just click with. Brainstorm ideas and talk them out. I am lucky to be able to do a lot of styling in different projects and working with amazingly creative people helps push me. So work to create those relationships. You will be surprised what you can push each other to create.
7. Don’t be afraid to fail
True story…not all my ideas are winners. Sometimes they don’t come out as beautifully as I imagine they will. Sometimes they suck. But then sometimes they are amazing, and they far exceed the vision I have in my head. But if I walked around the time afraid to fail and try new things, I would still be in the same place I have always been. Just this past week, I was at a bridal session and I told my bride, “I want to try something new, and I have to warn you, it might be lame. But let’s just try it.” And you know what happened…it was kind of lame. It was one shot I took a risk on, and it kind of flopped. Was it awful, not really. Was it amazing, not really. It wasn’t as great as I had imagined it…and the rest of her session was so incredibly gorgeous so she is happy. But I took the risk on that one shot, and now I understand what went wrong, and how I need to shoot it differently next time. The failure was worth it…
8. Fall back on your own plan, not someone else’s.
When you are walking into a situation where you are pushing your own creativity, don’t walk in blind. Have a plan. Here’s a little secret for you…I am not the worlds most “in the heat of the moment” creative person. Am I creative, of course. But I have to work at it. There are true artistic creative geniuses who just ooze with ideas, I am not one of those people. But I am constantly working and planning and pushing myself. And over time it becomes easier, but even now, I still have to work at it. How many of you have had some amazing ideas walking into a situation, and the second you get going they are all gone. Poof! Your mind is a blank. So what do you most likely do? You revert back to doing the same old boring thing. Or you start copying someone else because that is all you have to cling to. How about try this…make a plan. When I walk into a situation, I have a plan. I might have a post-it in my pocket with a few words jotted on it to help refresh my memory of what I want to do. I might take an entire folder of my plan so I can make sure to really succeed if its a huge project. Having a plan, in my mind, actually opens the door for even more creativity. You aren’t stressing with a blank mind, you are prepared, which helps you relax so you can really do something wonderful.
And finally to show you how I bring an idea to life I want to show off two sessions to you…
The first is the Face of the Showcase session from this past year. Before we did anything, the designer Julie from Middle Aisle, and I chatted with the bride. The bride was wearing her grandmothers dress, which instantly pushed us toward a vintage feel. Her colors were pink and grey, and she loved sparkle. Her real wedding is going to be full of bling. So we knew that we wanted to integrate the elements of sparkle, without making it too modern, which wouldn’t work with the dress, but would be still true to the brides style. And we wanted to integrate the colors that she loved…so after we chatted with the bride and came up with our own vision…this was the Pinterest board that we put together to share with all the vendors involved…
Then here are some images from the real shoot. You can see the whole shoot HERE. As you can see there are touches from the inspiration that carried over. But you would never look at our shoot and say we copied someone. We were inspired by lots of things and then we created our own vision. And to be honest, I like our work better. Because it is true to me and those that collaborated on this…
Then this is a recent anniversary shoot that I did. The whole starting point for this session was the husband’s beard. I was kind of in love with it…I just love facial hair on guys. So we basically based the whole direction around it. I wanted something woodsy, rustic, with emotion and intimacy. The wife also has amazingly gorgeous curly hair and that played in perfect with the plan. So after we emailed back and forth a bunch of times, we created this Pinterest board…
And here is our session…I am so in love with it. It is exactly what I envisioned. And you would never look at our inspiration and again say, “They totally copied that session.” Even though we found inspiration to bring our original vision to life, I stayed true to me and my style. And I love how it turned out. You can see the whole session HERE.
So in short…my advice is this…people are so much more intrigued by what you have to share, than by seeing something they have already seen before. Let them fall in love with YOU!
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