Don’t Just Make a Carbon Copy

y3Architectural Photography is a passion for some. Taking a shot of a building’s interior or exterior, with the perfect lens, on a perfectly still tripod, with the perfect light, and at the perfect angle is challenging pursuit that requires patience. The same applies to Landscape photography. The result can often transcend the technique. But mostly not. If you are taking landscapes like this snapshot on the left, then, yes, you have transcended technique.

Ansel Adams’ best images are mesmerising. He brings something more than just a beautiful scene created by nature to the image in his best.

I am not slagging off on Architectural or Landscape Photographers – just suggesting the best always seem to bring something of themselves or their own vision to the image.

Again, the same applies to other items of art and design. It is not enough to just faithfully capture and reproduce the intent of the artist – unless, of course, you are doing a book on Banksy. Are you? If not, stop just photographing groovy looking things. You can do better than that.

The surprising thing is that most of the photographers I spot just taking carbon copies of other people’s work are usually technically very proficient. The images they create are beautiful and capture the way the thing looks. The lighting is precisely right, the composition is completely thought out, and the focus is sharp from the front to the back of the image. It is a perfect facsimile.

I suppose I might be a little harsh in my assessment here, but photographing the Mona Lisa does not make you Da Vinci. Nor are you siphoning off a bit of his brilliance by making a great representation of his painting. You have to add something to it if you are going to own the composition.

Photographing someone else’s creativity is a cop out. Photos are not cool by association. Your image is completely reliant on the other person’s concept. But don’t fret, all is not lost.

One question can help you, and change the way you photography landmarks, sculptures, architectural subjects and the like. Did you add anything in your composition? Maybe you took the shot from an unusual angle. Or you saw it in a new way and was able to translate that to the image. Were you able to capture a story around the subject? Was someone interacting with it that you captured in a way that says something about the moment, or the subject itself?  Could you frame the subject, or provide a leading line, or prop to add to the image?

With regards to the Mona Lisa subject, could you shoot the faces of the people gazing upon the painting, capturing the emotion. Or the painting from the perspective of a person at the end of the line, gradually edging closer to the holy grail – I have never seen the thing, but I feel it is safe to assume there is a line?

A second question. Could your image be used for a non-ironic postcard? Answer yes? Then it is a “no”. Aspire to more.

Take photos of unusual and aesthetically pleasing subjects. Sometimes this is reliant on someone else’s creativity – if this is the case, then add something to the image to make it truly your own.

Here are some images I have taken over the years with some commentary to help explain the thinking.

The two Black and Whites are more images from Ansel Adams. When I visited Yosemite some years ago, I had already seen Adams’ wonderful landscapes. If I want a straight up postcard shot, I would have left my DSLR at home, and spent up at the Yosemite gift shoppe. Adding the smallness of the human subject adds something to the landscape. It is a particularly powerful to me personally, as my wife is the subject! It reminds me of our time at Yosemite, and the overwhelming “hugeness” of the beauty – not a very elegant phrase, but captures the sentiment…


Another Landscape – the threatening weather and sunlight on the wet road produced something more…


Possibly Australia’s single most recognisable landmark – The Sydney Opera House. One of my oft used composition tools is to change a landmark into an abstract. Buy your postcard shot from the shop.


“The Vault” is a much-maligned Victorian outdoor sculpture. Again, an abstract composition brings something additional to the image.


Victorian State Library building. There are a couple of things here delivering the final image – toy camera, cropping, angle, and some colour work.


Finally, “The Blowhole” sculpture at the Docklands. This is quite a favourite with many photographers, so it is critical to at least try to do something different. This is captured at night, with a ten second exposure, delivering the smooth textures and colours against the greyish night sky.


  1. 2015 Tokyo and Hong Kong Trip – Image 6 | Inconspicuosity - January 3, 2016

    […] is also a steady supply of subject matter to base compositions on. When photographing at museums, galleries and the like, avoid being lazy. There are plenty of photogenic, aesthetically pleasing scenes – so unless you are […]


  2. Be Inspired by Others… | Inconspicuosity - January 30, 2016

    […] Here are some of my shots from the Ghery Exhibition. Some great aesthetics, some people shots, and great light. Just remember to try and add something to the composition. Don’t just make a carbon copy of someone else’s work (read more about this here). […]


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