Thursday, October 20, 2011

Business Day Thursday: Are You Stealing Your Work – Part 2

Good Morning Everybody,

What a great time we had last night in San Diego.  I can’t believe it –when I added up all the door prizes we give away, it totaled over $3,000!!!  My sincere thanks to all our sponsors, especially our newest sponsors, OnOne Software and Calumet Photographic who combined put up $800 worth of the prize winnings.

We had a wonderful crowd and they were locked to their seats till  we wrapped the program about 10:35 p.m.  LaDawn was also thrilled I ended the program just about on time too ;~)   (Yes,you are correct, that made me VERY happy!) The program went off without a hitch.  Today it’s on to Las Angeles/Orange County where we will present my Captured By The Light program tomorrow evening and we will give away another $3,000 in door prizes! We still have a few seats available – not many, but a few.  I hope you’ll join us.

Are You Stealing Your Work – Part 2

TheifFor today’s Business Day Thursday post I want you to think about something important.  If you attend someone’s workshop, like mine for example, or grab some shots from say a big shooting setup extravaganzas like the American Photo Model Shoot that has been touring the country, do you take credit for the images you capture and claim it as your own?  I think it all depends.

Recently I received a comment from Rob Goldstein, one of our DPT readers.  He posed the question about the legitimacy of posting your shots as your own in this type of situation.  Scott Kelby hosted a long discussion on "the Grid" about posting shots from workshops in your portfolio. 

The thrust of that Grid episode was Make it your own. These four words sum up a very spirited discussion between Scott, RC and the live viewers on whether or not it's ethical to take a picture snapped during a workshop (especially one where the instructor sets up the entire shot) and put it on your professional portfolio as a representative of your body of work to a potential client. – you can find that episode right here.

Here are my thoughts on the subject - which I’ve posted here a few years ago, but are even more relevant in today’s new photographic educational climate.  Years ago at the beginning of my photographic career I attended a week long workshop by the top wedding photographer of the time, Rocky Gunn

Rocky GunnHere is a photo of Rocky in the middle with a very young Monte Zucker on the left and Bill Stockwell, also one of the top wedding photography influencers of the day.  Rocky was undoubtedly one of the most inspirational and influential wedding photographers. Let me share my thoughts and experience with you again about that week with THE wedding MASTER.

During that week, we had a beautiful couple who was posing for us or rather posing for Rocky. Each of the class was going to receive Rocky's top 50 images for the week.  That was like a really BIG thing - we got a chance to take a bit of Rocky home with us so we could study his images, refresh our memories and eventually take our own photography to the next level.

I Had The Gear – I Was Going To Get The Shot Too!

Sure, everybody was shooting over Rocky's shoulder to try to capture the shot. Everybody had their cameras blazing taking photographs of the couple. I remember at one point Rocky found a spectacular location, posed the bride and groom into a beautiful composition.  Next, he grabbed a 40mm Distagon lens super wide angle lens and placed it on his Hasselblad.

40mm  DistagonWow! In my camera bag I had the identical lens - a $6000 optic that only a few photographers even owned. I quickly attached it to my camera. I watched how Rocky framed the shot. I framed the image identically and I took the photograph. I thought, “Wow that image will make a great sample print for me when I get home.”

But Was That Shot MY Image?

Here is the rest of the story. After getting back home, I couldn't wait to get my film off to the lab.  It would only be a few weeks till I got the proofs back I was able to see my results.

Anyway, they finally arrived and I started looking through MY (note emphasis on MY) images.  There it was – the shot – the most beautiful shot that Rocky had done all week. Yes, I was holding a nearly perfect replica of Rocky's gorgeous shot in my hands – the image that I had simply pushed the button and taken too!

My intent was to have this negative enlarged to a 30” x 40” photograph, frame it, and hang it in my studio as the example of MY(emphasis again) work.

A Conscience Check & Second Thoughts

Good AngelDon't ask me exactly what happened at this point. Maybe it was my photographic guardian angel sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear saying, "But David you didn't take that shot.  Rocky set it up and you copied the shot. It wasn't your original creative thought. Why do you think making a large wall sized portrait is representative of your work - it's not.  It's still Rocky's shot!"

Well, the words my little photographic guardian angel whispered in my head hit me in a profound way.  It was at that moment that I realized that I had indeed copied the shot. It wasn't my original idea or even my composition. It was not my shot at all.

I quietly reinserted the negative back into the negative glassine and placed it back into the envelope with all the negatives from the week. I never printed any of those negatives up for samples. They were filed away. And to this day I have no clue where those negatives are.

If I had decided to make up the samples, I would have been stealing - I guess the correct term is plagiarizing Rocky's work.  What credit is that to my own creativity and ability as a wedding photographer - the answer is none. What was important to me that special week was that I learned what Rocky was doing. I was able to take his lessons and let them mix with my own creative juices.  That combination of creativity has allowed me to create many, many images that I could call uniquely my own.

There are many students shooting over the Master’s shoulders.  Many students think they are there for the Master to set up the images so they can shoot the shot to what - call it their own for their "portfolio" images. Folks, nothing could be more unethical.

It's not about copying the work of the Master.  It's about learning the techniques from the Master, blending and mixing them with your own creative processes, and then truly producing an original work on your own.

Experiences From My Master Class

This same thing happens a lot at my workshops. Now we  bring in the cute models and, sure I set up a few of my shots, and sure, some folks shoot over my shoulder, I hope more to reference my shot than to copy it.  But, then again, I don’t know.

Class picHow about class members that take the shooting opportunity to create their own UNIQUE images from the opportunity I have given them through my Master Class or workshop – are they stealing my images?  I think not.  They are taking what I have tried to teach in the class session, adding their own perspective and interpretation to the pose and making an image that they can call their own.  I love this image taken by one of our class members – I wish I had thought of it first ;~)

For example, last week during my Fall Master Class I was blown away by some of the images that were submitted for review.  Many were completely different than anything I shot and in my opinion, that student has the right to use that image in their portfolio.

If on the other hand,  I set up a shot and captured a few images and then a student steps in right behind me and grabs the same photograph, then NO, that is is mine, not theirs.  Simply said – a copied image is NOT an original image!

Getting The Best Learning Experience

My best advice to every "student" reading this is to, with the teachers permission, time sync your camera to his/her camera and shoot wide-angle overall views of whatever they are doing. In my classes, I always give the students a class CD with all the my favorite images I shot from the workshop. Their time synced overviews with my favorite shots gives them a wonderful learning tool whereby then can revisit the week anytime they want and study any of the shots I've put together.

What an efficient way to ramp up learning if indeed you are trying to emulate the work of somebody you truly admire in the profession. When I was attending classes - back in the film days, we never had that kind of luxury. In today's digital world, every student today has the luxury of learning more quickly, the ability to fine-tune our techniques, and become a much better photographers in your own right if you make the effort.

It's not about copying the Master, it's about you becoming a Master yourself!

Food for thought--


Hey gang, that’s it for me today.  LaDawn and I are heading up to LA later this morning and planning to hook up with my buddy Don Zimmer, DZ West as I’ve nicknamed him.  Don has been involved with the Orange County Photographic Center for many years so I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s been up to.  That is also the location  we will be conducting my CBTL program tomorrow evening.

Have a great rest of the day and I’ll see ya’ tomorrow.

North bound and down, David


  1. I see and agree with you. I'm very new to this business/Art and attended one of your classes. I also had the same feelings you mentioned when I came home with the images I caught while the instructor was instructing. I loved the pictures I got, but for sure I would have not been in such beautful location with beautiful MODELS if it were not for THE CLASS. I hate to say but I got into my own thing and failed pay attention to what I payed to be there for. LOVED it anyways because, what an experiance. I did post those images anyway though. Although they have their own album and was described as the images I got while attending classes. I really love the images. I believe if one gives credit where cridit is do, it could be fine. That's my take on the subject. I will say I never stood in the Instructor's shoes. That was my problem THEN, I got into my own thing. Thanks

  2. The quote "Good artists borrow, great artists steal" has been attributed to Picasso and Dali (among others)as well as a similar version by T.S. Eliot (one wonders who made the original statement and who stole it). The point is that even if I duplicate the work of someone else, I will put my own mark on it. The better I am, the better that mark. So even if Rocky set up the photo, you could legitimately say that you made the image. I assume that you learned enough from Rocky so that you could make your own version under new circumstances and therefore you wouldn't be lying to your potential clients that you could produce images of similar quality for them.

    Also, thanks for the image of Monte, Rocky and Bill. I was at the WPI (before it was WPPI) convention in Las Vegas where Rocky refereed the 'fight' between Monte and Bill and I was reminiscing with another photographer who was also there when we realized that we were both getting pretty old. I prefer to think that we are just experienced.

  3. Hi
    I am looking for samples of Rocky Gunn's work for a school assignment and can't find even 1! Anyone know where I can find one?
    thank you