Photography inspiration vs imitation

Photography inspiration vs imitation

We all embrace photography for reasons relating to capturing moments or communicating thoughts, emotions or ideas.

When we take a photograph that moves us we want to share it with the world; to allow others the opportunity to experience the emotion that we feel or gauge the way that the image effects different viewers. We love comments, compliments and discussion about our images.

However, when work is shared there is always the possibility that it will move other photographers to action. Sometimes imitations will be attempted, and no one enjoys being copied.

Thankfully, there is a way to use elements of another photographer’s picture to inspire an entirely new image. Inspiration helps an artist to create a new piece of work and does not diminish the value of the resulting image, as it is unique and separately created.

Here are some points to consider when using another photographer’s image to inspire a work of your own.

What about the image speaks to you?

Is it the emotion of the moment? Connection between subjects? What about the photo immediately grabs your attention? Spend several minutes studying the image and determine how you feel when looking at the picture. Brainstorm ways you could create a completely different image that captures the same feeling. Alternatively, you may decide that a slightly different mood might better benefit your vision. The point is to allow another’s work to ignite your own creativity.

What are the most important elements in the image for you?

Perhaps the technical aspects of the image (choice of depth of field, focal length, processing technique, etc.) Type of lighting situation? Location? How can you take those elements and adjust them to fit your style of shooting? Maybe the image is shot in a beautiful field, backlit during the golden hour. You don’t need to head out to a comparable field and wait for 6 o’clock, but maybe you could find similarly warm light in a backlighting situation indoors, or attempt to capture the warm feeling solely through the interaction between subjects or the expression on a lone individuals face. Identify what you like and then let your imagination wander.

Consider using an image you find uncomfortable, or not compatible with your taste, as inspiration.

You needn’t always find inspiration from images that you would like to see in your own portfolio. Either think of it as an exercise in technical flexibility to create a picture that makes you similarly uncomfortable, or attempt to create a photograph that is an opposite to your inspiration image. Create an opposite mood, use soft processing instead of harsh, use greater depth of field instead of shallow, etc.

An example of finding inspiration:

I absolutely love this image by Ashley Spaulding, which she posted on the Daily Project:

being inspired by other photographs instead of copying them by Megan Cieloha

When I spent time looking at the image the elements that immediately jumped out to me were the connection between the subjects, the clean, soft colors and the unique vantage point used. I decided that I wanted to capture a quiet moment with one of my boys (I tried to get a shot with each of my two boys separately, in two different locations, used two different lenses and went through countless different poses… self portraits are hard work!) and I wanted to communicate a similar connection to the one Ashley showed in the inspiration image. A mother’s love changes and matures as her children age and I set out to capture the softer side of my relationship with my kiddo, as it is now.

being inspired by other photographs instead of copying them by Megan Cieloha

Has another photographer inspired an image you’ve taken?  If so, we’d love for you to share with us in the comments!

About the Author:

After growing up and attending college in the Willamette Valley area of Oregon, Megan married her high school sweetheart who had recently commissioned into the Air Force. They packed up all of their belongings and set off on an adventure with the US military as their tour guide. In the past 10 years they have called Del Rio TX, Spokane WA, Lincoln CA and Eastern Sicily (yes, the island in the Mediterranean!) home. Megan shoots with a Nikon D700 and various prime lenses, focusing on a documentary approach to capturing her family and their travels, along with taking an interest in fine art and macro work. Visit Megan Cieloha online.


  1. Mindy Oct 04 2011 at 7:36 am - Reply

    Love this image of you and your boy Megan and the post was perfectly written and great food for thought!

  2. Stacey Haslem Oct 04 2011 at 8:06 am - Reply

    This is wonderful Megan. You provided an excellent example of inspiration vs imitation. I love that image by the way and will have to evaluate it and figure how to capture that emotion with my own boys 😉

  3. Rebecca Oct 04 2011 at 8:44 am - Reply

    Great article! It is helpful to go back to images and say *why* do I love this, *what* speaks to me???

    On a more specific note… Do you have any technical advice based on your trial and error for this type of shot? Did you shoot this using a tripod?

  4. Kitty Chen Oct 04 2011 at 10:37 am - Reply

    this is one amazing inspiration.. makes me wanna try to captured my own emotion with my boy. thanks for the post, very well written plus amazing photo!

  5. Ashley Spaulding Oct 04 2011 at 10:41 am - Reply

    You've covered so many truly wonderful points with this article, Megan! Thank you so much for your awesome words and for your gorgeous example! I am constantly inspired by your work, so I feel incredibly honored that an image of mine inspired you the way it did.

  6. Amy Lucy Oct 04 2011 at 11:17 am - Reply

    Thank you, Megan, for this insightful article!

  7. Katrina Stewart Oct 04 2011 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this article Megan. You provided some really great tips which are going to make me view pictures differently and hopefully help me to create my own inspiring images. Thanks.

  8. Meredith Oct 04 2011 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    Well said, indeed. And both images are beautiful! Well done ladies!

  9. Elena Oct 04 2011 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    Megan, how do you get so many photos with yourself in them? Your work is stunning!

    Thanks for the article!

  10. Megan Cieloha Oct 06 2011 at 9:27 am - Reply

    Thank you so much everyone 🙂

    Rebecca- I did use a tripod for this shot. My best advice for self portraits is to use a slightly narrower aperture than you would normally use for the situation (if you were behind the camera, taking a picture of someone else) and don't be afraid to take a lot of shots. I put my D700 on "interval timer shooting" and take 20-40 shots before I get up to chimp and then re-arrange myself/ my kids, if necessary.

    Elena- Since starting a 365 project I've often been finding myself without a willing subject to take a photograph of 🙂 So, it falls to me to model for myself. Sometimes I haul out the tripod, sometimes I just set my camera on a flat, secure surface. Self portraits are a lot of trial and error, but I've decided that it is important for me to be "in" images, so that my kids will have them to look back at, one day.

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