Jakar Dzong, Bhutan. The huge prayer wheel and the small monk were blurred with a long exposure. I'm sure I'm not the first photographer to have used a long exposure for this subject, but as long as I am not copying someone else's photograph, I have nothing to fear! David Oliver and I are leading a group to Bhutan next year - only a few places left, so get in touch if you're interested.
In the AIPP's The Working Pro newsletter this month, I wrote a piece about plagiarism - the direct copying of someone else's work. In the old days of painting, it was usual for a student to directly copy the work of his master as a process of learning. For photographers today, that process is still highly recommended, except if you do copy someone else's photograph, don't enter it into a competition or post it on social media as though it were your own.
The problem isn't in the copying, it is in misrepresenting the photograph as being your own work.
So, what about subjects that have been photographed before? We've all seen photographs of the Sydney Opera House, so does that mean when we take our own photos of the Opera House we are plagiarists? Of course not - unless we take along someone else's photograph of the Opera House and seek to copy it directly.
If plagiarism were based on subject matter, portrait photographers would be in trouble because we all take photos of people! It's not the subject matter as much as the way or the manner in which the photo is taken. If you apply your own individual style and approach, that should usually be enough to distinguish yourself.
On social media recently, there have been a few examples of photographers exhibiting images that are incredibly similar to the work of other photographers. What these photographers might not always recognise is the amount of discussion about the similarity that happens elsewhere. It doesn't paint them in a good light. This isn't to say that just because a photograph is very similar to someone else's that it was copied. It could be coincidence and so we should also be careful not to accuse someone of plagiarism before we know all the facts.
It's an interesting subject and one that has many interesting facets and turns!