Copying Ideas - Inspiration or Stealing?

It's ok to borrow ideas, or, as Austin Kleon writes, to Steal Like an Artist. In fact, it may just be necessary.

Ideas don't come from a vacuum, but that's not to say that they necessarily have to come from other photographers. You might find inspiration in paintings, or drawings, or nature or conversation or poetry or music. Zack Arias for example talks about being inspired by Jack White from the White Stripes (he writes an excellent post about it here, well worth a read). The Scottish author Iain Banks kept a journal of ideas, making a note of anything that caught his eye, anything that he thought be useful for a future story. I try to do the same, whether it's an image that I love or just a thought. We're all forgetful and ideas disappear too quickly, even the great ones.

Inspiration needs to come from somewhere. Stephen King said that to be a great writer you need to write a lot and read a lot. Practicing the art and craft, but also continuing to absorb the work of other writers.

Look at the work of the greats, photographers you admire. Find the images that you love and inspire you most. Then dwell on them. Make notes. Why do you like them? What is striking or pleasing or compelling about them? What is your eye drawn to and why?

Some refer to this as building a visual memory. Examples to call upon that might help inspire a composition. Science always builds on the discoveries and theories and solutions that have already been established, but always looking to take the next step forward. Why wouldn't we as artists do the same?

Sao Paulo, Brazil. 1960. ©Rene Burri/Magnum Photos

Sao Paulo, Brazil. 1960. ©Rene Burri/Magnum Photos