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Thread: What is originality?

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    Default What is originality?

    The recent Landscape Photographer of the Year contest has raised some controversy, it seems the winning image is very similar to a photograph made, and published, by another photographer. The images are not identical, there is a different perspective and the lighting is very different as well.

    My question is... what makes an image original? With an ever increasing number of photographers and a finite planet with a finite number of attractive landscapes, how does one ensure originality. How many photographers have stood in the footprints of Ansel Adams and shot Half Dome? What makes a shot of Machu Picchu original? can an image be inspired by another one and still be considered original. What does original mean in terms of photography?
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    One element that would make an image original, even if it is a very popular scene, would be the lighting, which changes hour by hour and day by day. Two pictures of, say, a scene at the Grand Canyon, can be very different because of the lighting. Because the 'material' of photography is light and shadow, which impacts most everything, ie, color, tonality, mood, etc., I would say that light/shadow is one of the critical ingredients in originality. As such, luck, and timing, plays a role in originality.
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    I agree, it is often the light that makes the difference. That is why I shoot infrared... trust me, it is original.
    Seriously, in landscapes it is often the clouds that make all the difference. Sometimes you just get lucky, sometimes you don't.

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    Default Re: What is originality?

    Trust John to post post this one. And I just thought I'd drop in to see what everyone was up to......and bloody hell, I see "what is originality?" sucked in immediately! It's one of the great questions and having studied it in depth and even written about it for an awful long time I feel obliged to put in my bob's worth. Rather than trying to define originality as something that is a planned and reasoned assault on a notion of a status quo, and arbitrarily dismiss the idea that for something to be original it cannot be similar to anything else, I think it is better to go back to basics. We are all capable of being original but the simple truth is that very few people dare to be themselves and by definition be original.

    So - each person is original - each person if they are being honest with themselves will react differently to another person, see beauty (stuff that's, artistic, cool, etc) interesting from an individual perspective and have a vastly different set of values in terms of attention to detail and similar issues. For a lot of people emulating Ansel Adams is as original as they want to be or dare to be. Now if they really put their minds, eyes and hearts into it, they would quickly start to see Adams in a very different way, as some kind of romantic dinosaur, almost irrelevant now but an interesting marker from a vastly different time. About the quickest and easiest way to be obviously original is to turn what was thought to be good into its opposite.

    OK the simple version: we are all original, every day is a new day, every second is different and new so if we were all honest with ourselves we would all automatically make original work. The easiest way to do that is to try to make our idea of beauty, truth and maybe COOL.

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    Default Re: What is originality?

    In the world of photography... there is nothing new. In the world of modeling, there is even less. Pretty much everything has been done at one point. Many of them have been done to death already. You don't know how many times I get asked "where I got that stock photo" or "where I stole that photo from". As a commercial photographer whose job is to create these "socially recognized" images, I take those comments as a compliment.

    It's not a creative's job to re-invent a new wheel every day. It's a creative's job to make that wheel fit you and work for you. No client wants their product photo or their ad picture to look like something nobody has ever seen or imagined before. They want it to look like all the other ads out there, but centered around their product or their service. Looking like what is out, recognized, and established is what we call "professional".

    Maybe there's a difference between the professional and the "artisté", but at least the professional is grounded in reality and not fooling himself with visions of grandeur and "originality". I don't consider myself a trailblazer just because I've walked down some paved street that I've never been on before.
    Last edited by Neddog; 11-02-2012 at 12:00 AM.
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    I tend to agree with Halfa -- there's no absolute scale of originality. The best reference point for originality is each of us ourselves and what we've done before, how our eyes and skills are evolving. So long as that's happening -- our eyes and skills are evolving, we're exploring our own ideas and limits -- then originality will take care of itself, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ways.

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    Default Re: What is originality?

    Neddog - I can't go along with the implied idea that originality is limited to fine art, I even think that there's often far more originality in advertising than art and it is driven by the requirement of satisfying the client's needs - which are actually changing all the time and are tethered to society's constantly evolving perception of itself. A friend of mine started buying interior design magazines (from all over the world), as a research tool for her business. Soon she had so many she couldn't keep them in her apartment and "gave/lent" them to me, they run from the late 80's to the present day - they are perfect record of just how radically and often things change in the commercial world - sure there is a similarity between old product photos and new ones but they definitely are not the same. So I'm a firm believer that originality is alive and well in product pics. Clive

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    Default Re: What is originality?

    Oh yes, there is definitely creativity and originality involved Clive. That's why advertising professionals are called "creatives". What I mean is that we who make a living in creative fields don't have the tendency to be stuck up and believe that everything that pops into our head is our own original idea which nobody has thought of before. That's why we don't get our nose out of joint over copyrights and "intellectual property". If somebody does something which looks similar to something we've done, it's no need to cry "plagiarism". That's the point I'm trying to get at, not that artists are creative and professionals are not.

    When I hear about somebody saying that a landscape shot is "too similar" to another landscape shot and is some sort of theft of intellectual property (when it's obvious the exact photo hasn't been ripped off or altered), it sounds to me like another frivolous "battle of the snobs". If they did this for a living, they wouldn't be so uptight. We make new things all the time, and other people do as well. Those paths sometimes cross, and most of the times there's nothing intentional about it. If it looks good, somebody else will do it too, or already has. There is that much individual "creativity" floating around in the world that it's unavoidable. That's what I mean by "there is nothing new". I don't mean that we're stuck to "copying" somebody else and following in their footsteps. I mean that everything has been tried. Could very well be that they didn't do it right, as people will realize when they see your version.

    When somebody takes a copy of your photo and re-distributes it, that is theft of Intellectual Property. When somebody happens to shoot the same scene as you do, that is NOT intellectual property theft. In this case - it's just visiting the same spot with a camera.

    The photographer, fans, or whomever raised a big fuss about this photo "idea" being stolen comes off to me like a snot-nosed amateur who hasn't been around long enough to feel the gravity of how much creative work is out in the world. I could be wrong (and haven't even read into this situation), but that's the general impression I get from it. If he took the photo that was shot with the other photographer's camera in the other photographer's hands, and either pawned it off as his own or altered it to make it look different, then that would be a case for concern.
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    I couldn't agree more - it also reminds me of my art school teaching days when all too often students avoided going to art exhibitions, almost never looked at magazines or books but claimed that they were highly original - this practice had a strange logic to it, by being ignorant of all the things that other people had done they could claim that their ideas were as original as anybody else's - it sort of works as an argument but is really very sad.

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    Default Re: What is originality?

    Yup, and I think a lot of times the ones who become the most creative are the ones who are not afraid to take inspiration from others. We need that kind of input from the greater body of creativity to help us foster new ideas to make whatever we're doing better. I think greater ingenuity is borne out of collective thought than out of isolation.

    I'm proud to say that I study the work of others and apply what I learn from them into my own work. I'm not afraid to give credit where credit is due.
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    Great comments all. Much to ponder.
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    Just an update on the issue that brought me to raise the original question, the LPOTY people have revoked their award on the grounds that the image submitted by the winner was, in fact, not original enough. It seems that the photog had PShopped in a different sky, seems to be against the rules of the contest.
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    That's what the organizers said, after they looked closely.
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    I love this kind of stuff - In my quick search to see what the rules may be I stumbled on this ...

    11) Digital adjustments. Digital adjustments, including High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging techniques and the joining together of multiple frames, are allowed in all categories. However, for images entered in Classic view, Living the view and Urban view, the integrity of the subject must be maintained and the making of physical changes to the landscape is not permitted (removing fences, moving trees, stripping in sky from another image etc). The organisers reserve the right to disqualify any image that they feel lacks authenticity due to over-manipulation. The judges will allow more latitude in the ‘Your view’ category, which aims to encourage originality and conceptual thinking. Please see How to enter for further details.

    Guaranteed to confuse, I'd say - and the very interesting "Your view" comp that encourages originality - which in effect says that originality is not encouraged in the other categories!! and from the entries that I've seen it is obvious that the organisers virtually have no interest in originality. So now I can understand why John was confused in the OP


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    Default Re: What is originality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Halfa View Post

    ..... So now I can understand why John was confused in the OP

    I'm confused damned near all the time mate.
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    Quote Originally Posted by jnicklin View Post
    I'm confused damned near all the time mate.
    but you have to admit that confusion keeps the mind active

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    Default Re: What is originality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Halfa View Post
    but you have to admit that confusion keeps the mind active
    Works for me.
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    Quote Originally Posted by jnicklin View Post
    Just an update on the issue that brought me to raise the original question, the LPOTY people have revoked their award on the grounds that the image submitted by the winner was, in fact, not original enough. It seems that the photog had PShopped in a different sky, seems to be against the rules of the contest.
    Waitasec, now I'm confused. That sounds to me like the type of "original" they're looking for is being unaltered from its original state, not original in terms of uniqueness.

    I must say though, cropping in a new sky should get you disqualified from most photography contests anyways. Lol.
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    I think that there was a lot of confusion over what original meant in that contest. Some critics were complaining that the image looked too much like another published image, hence not an original idea. We've debated the merits of that quite nicely. The rules said that, for that category, you couldn't alter the image by removing or inserting elements, they wanted the image to show the subject as it looked originally in its context.

    There's original and there's original I guess.
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    Default Re: What is originality?

    awesome pic....

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