Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A bit about morals, photography, and internet

A small confession.

I did a bit of a splurge for my birthday (which I tend to do every two years or so, with the last two being dogs for myself). Instead of a dog (which is not allowed by my landlord), I decided it was time for a camera upgrade. Trying to stay in budget led me to purchase a used camera at an awesome little shop called Focal Point Photography located in Dallas, OR (which I highly recommend checking out to those who are relatively local- it is certainly worth the drive down from Portland).

With the new-to-me camera in hand for a great price, and under a limited warranty for the next 6 months (something offered on all the new and used equipment Focal Point sells), I of course had to get a few lenses. I have ended up with three: a 50mm that I bought with the camera (as recommended as the best for both portraits and for shooting low light sports shots, such as flyball), a 75-300mm, and a 35-80mm. Then of course I had to make myself a great little camera bag to hold my awesome new-to-me camera, lenses, extra batteries, speedlight external flash, and any other little do-dads and whats-its I may acquire.

I bought the bag itself, then added the brown and pink shoulder strap and the internal cushion dividers for the camera and lenses. I think it gives a much more unique look than a standard black, square camera bag.

Of course, the camera itself is stored in the blank middle space. I normally store it with the 50mm on, since that is the lens I use the most.

It has been a bit of a learning process. As many will know, I have previously been shooting pictures with cheap used cameras that are in the "super zoom" class of point-and-shoots. Most recently was a used Kodak that I picked up for $30 on Craigslist. I sort of reached a wall, though, with what I could successfully shoot with that camera, and wanted to get something that would help reach beyond that. Another super zoom, newer, with more features and a larger mp would have helped. But there would still have been a wall to run into as to the capabilities of that camera. When I found out I could purchase a used, good condition DSLR for less than I would spend on a halfway decent point-and-shoot or super zoom, I decided to throw caution to the wind and just jump in. Obviously my current camera body is not a brand new shiny state of the art camera. I paid under $350 total for both the camera body and the 50mm lens, with two batteries, a memory card, and a few other nifty accessories thrown in. However, my lenses that I collect now will be able to be used with any upgrade of camera body that I purchase in the future, making them an investment rather than something that will soon be outdated.

Taken with my 50mm in Sports mode, auto focus, the first week I had the camera

All this is a somewhat long way of getting to the original point of this post. With the addition of my new camera, I have started following more photography blogs, facebook pages, and other photography related sites, many focusing on pet photography. Some of these sites are part of what inspired me to purchase a new camera to begin with. (One of my long-time favorites is Artis Photography in Seattle.) Others are new finds that pop up when I do searches (often about trying to do a specific something with this new and often baffling new camera).

I am sure that when I say these sites inspire me, I am not alone. The photos these people can take of dogs that show so much emotion and have such a dynamic, moving lay out make me see some of what I would like to be able to achieve someday. But along with this comes the issue of copying. Where is the line between being inspired by a photo or idea, and copying that photo or idea?

An example of a photographer whose work I enjoy a lot, and who I am pretty sure many in the pet blogging community are already familiar with, is Scruffy Dog Photography. The photographer manages to really capture each dog client in a very unique and interesting way. The photos are beautiful and I love scrolling through the blog to check out the highlights of various photo shoots. In particular, a photo of two corgis posed on a white, old fashioned fancy white chair set outside in nature made my hands itch to try something similar with my dogs. The trick of it is, how do you take a great idea like this and make it your own? I would never want to insult an artist whose work I admire this much by carelessly stealing away the idea. At the same time, though, I know Scruffy Dog is not the only one who has ever used a chair pose out in nature to create a portrait. There is no copyright on this idea. It is not a matter of legality so much as morality and courtesy.

A photographer has to work hard to come up with unique, interesting ideas. It is as much the creative ideas of the artist as the technical skill that sells a photographer's work. Someone can have amazing technical skills with a camera and editing programs but still not be successful if they lack that creativity and imagination for creating interesting and unique photo designs. For such a technical photographer to use the ideas other, more creative, people have come up with does seem very wrong. With the internet and social media making the world a small space, physical distance doesn't even matter much, as far as this goes, since a photographer's unique style can be seen around the world.

I'm going to confess, at this point, that I am not really sure where to draw the line between inspiration and copying. I think the line has to be placed a bit differently for those people who are professionals and selling the idea to their clients versus those people who only do photography for themselves, for free. I did read an interesting blog post about this issue. However, this post is pretty obviously geared toward those who are selling their photography.

I'm interested in hearing what you guys think. Where would you draw the line? Would you find it appropriate, irritating, or offensive if, having seen the photography shared on the Scruffy Dog blog, I posted a picture on here of one or both of my dogs posed on an ornate chair out in the Oregon wilderness? If you loved the idea of this photo, would you go ahead with the shoot? Would you make an effort to change some aspects on purpose to make it more different? For most of us, the chair, dogs, and setting would all be at least slightly different, of course, but how much variance from the original would be enough? How different would your answer to these questions be if it was a professional photographer interested in the idea, instead of a casual picture taker and blogger? Would it change your opinion on this if the photos were to be sold? If they were to be posted online (say on a blog or in a Flickr group)? In what ways, and why?

Anyone have any other input? A different perspective, a what-I-did story, or other reference points?


  1. Well done, what camera body did you buy? That's a wonderful shot of Koira. I AM going to get a DSLR this year but it's taking me forever to work out which one! One of the reasons I'm so far behind reading and commenting on blogs is because I spend so much time researching cameras and, like you, I've also started following more photography blogs.

    I do follow Scruffy Dogs, magical photos:) As to the morals of copying an idea from a photo someone else has taken, well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery:) My dogs are so badly trained that there's no way I could get them both to sit on a seat together anyway;) Seriously I think it's up to the individual to decide just how far they are prepared to go with copying someone else's idea. Perhaps a credit back to the person with the original idea would be a courtesy. But then how would you know who is the originator of the idea? I'm not much help, sorry! Will be interested to read what everyone else has to say:)

  2. I've wanted a *real* camera for a long time as my point and shoot, while handy and not very old, is also not providing me with the challenge it used to. Give the cost of DSLRs I just assumed I would turn 80 before I'd ever be able to afford one. Why I never considered a used camera before I don't know. So thank you very much! Maybe a new-to-me camera will actually be possible! I can't wait to start looking!

    As far as copying goes, I guess it really depends. Everyone is going to have a different opinion. As you said, I think there is a big difference between replicating someone else's work and making money from doing so, or replicating someone's work just because you admire it and wanted to play around. I don't think there is anything wrong with the latter as long as you reference the original work. That to me is key. Even if you are just having fun, you still need to give credit where it belongs, especially when sharing it on your website.

  3. Great post! And thanks for showing me the Scruffy Dog site (new to me!), I am going to steal all his/her ideas :-) Not really!

    The first thought that came to my mind was the same as Greyhounds CAN sit, Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That being said, I have poked around on enough pet portrait sites to say that Scruffy Dog does not have a corner on the Chair in Wilderness motif. So who is to say she/he (I only checked out the corgi pics, so I don't know the photographer yet.) originated the idea? Also, technical skill really does make a huge difference in how well the shots come out. I have tried to duplicate (not so much the props) photos I have seen, and capturing the motion, the quality of the light, the depth of field, etc. is not nearly as easy as it might seem. I could drag a chair out to the woods and I won't come back with the same results, that's for dang sure. But also, just by the fact so many aspects would be different....the woods, the actual dogs, the props, I don't think it would be actual theft of the photographer's intellectual property, more just a similarity in what is trying to be accomplished. Pet photography is what it is, but true talent (a great eye coupled with the technical skills to capture it) will still shine through, and those with the most talent will rise to the top.

  4. Such an interesting post. I have never thought of photography in such a way... hmm.

    -- How do you know if the Scruffy Dog guy was the first to use that concept?
    -- Did he give credit?
    -- If you were inspired, say that: "inspired by _________", in itself, that can be very flattering.
    -- Even if it's not purposeful, I do feel like every photo is different -- even if it is the same thematically. I feel the same about other types of artists -- they may feel the same emotion or be assigned the same theme, but style is personal and it shows enough to be accepted as original.

  5. Thats a nice picture, will check out those links :-)

  6. Hey, it's Jet here. Happy Birthday! Glad you will use your new camera to take more super K9 pics!

  7. Happy Birthday! I think it was great to splurge on yourself - it's always important to do once and a while and I think a new camera is a great thing to invest in. The questions you bring up are interesting ones and really I hadn't give it much thought but I am now.

    I'm passing along the versatile blog award to you too... I always enjoy your blog :)

  8. happy birthday! i splurged on a camera for my last birthday too, I'm still learning. I'm hoping to see it as an investment eventually, not sure how yet. Right now I'm just helping our shelter build their petfinder and facebook page with better, clearer, cuter photos.

    I tagged your blog in this post!

  9. Thats a nice picture,Thanks sharing <3

  10. I'm jealous! I want a new camera really badly. I'm thinking my next might be one of the new Lytro light field cameras.

    Interesting topic. If I saw a photograph of a dog that I LOVED, I probably wouldn't hesitate to try to duplicate it. f I was sharing it on our blog, I also wouldn't hesitate to credit my inspiration and link back to them.

    No matter what, every photo regardless of setting/motif is uniquely yours, even if the props are identical to that of another artists piece. The lighting, movement f the fur, depth,'s all different and it affects how god the final product comes out. No two photos I have seen are ever close enough (in my eyes) to make them "copyright infringement".

    I think there is a major difference between wanting a similar picture of your own pup and trying to duplicate a picture for commercial purposes. Perhaps not legally as you can't copyright an "idea", but perhaps morally.

  11. Congrats on the camera!

    Personally, and with the specific example you've given of dog-plus-chair-plus-outdoors, I wouldn't worry about the morality of trying the same thing. I've seen a lot of photography and this particular convention is not original in-and-of itself; outdoor portraits-in-fancy-chairs (or beds) has been done since the birth of photography in the 1800's. It's almost like being worried about taking a girl's portrait next to a brick wall; sure, lots of artists before you have done it, but it's also a very simple combination of elements. There is plenty of room for each artist to explore and use their own unique style.

    Now, if you went out to that EXACT location with the EXACT chair and EXACT breed of dog with the INTENT of recreating her photograph to sell - that would be wrong (and pointless).

  12. I love your blog... Very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself? Please reply back as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. Thanks!

    Dog Harness