Know the difference between influence and copying
One thing you’ll find me preaching quite often is that, as a photographer, its important to have other photographers and artists that you look up to and try and emulate. This is how we learn – by standing on the shoulders of giants. When doing this its important to study how your heroes use light, composition, tonality, contrast and all other aspects of composition in their pictures. In addition its also important to look for things that might be less obvious visually like subject matter, attitude, methodology, psychology, and approach.
However, there does come a time where your own maturity as a photographer and an artist must kick in and you have to find a way to take all the things you’ve studied and start to find your own voice. Its easy to start applying techniques once you’ve learned them, but its hard to find ways to say them with your own voice and do them in a new and different way.
Look no further than the hordes of photographers on Google+ who emulate the work or Michael Kenna – or even the countless galleries you’ll find near Yosemite National Park that carry hordes of young artists who’s work looks like second hand Ansel Adams. Or the trendiest of all – taking works of past master painters like Vermeer and doing photographic renditions of their work. This one bothers me most of all as it says absolutely nothing, except that the photographer knows little about the work being copied.
On an interesting note, painters in the 18th century used to copy great masterworks (the Mona Lisa has been copied a lot during this period) as a way to learn, but also to reproduce as reproduction processes in these days were crude at best. They are not today.
Copying is a great way to learn when starting out, but do yourself, your career and your own morals justice and take the next step to do your own work.