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Emulation vs. Innovation (And why we need both!)


Why do so many photographers think it’s their duty to make you feel less than you are for wanting to see how others do their thing???

Are we not visual people by nature?  So wouldn’t it make sense that our best form of learning and absorbing would come from seeing how others do things?  I believe that there is an unbalanced emphasis on finding your own voice (which of course is very important) but not enough on truly learning and understanding the craft of portraiture.

Today I’m sharing my own personal journey from copycat, to emulator to even eventually a little bit of innovation. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!  

Weigh in: Is there too much emphasis on originality & not enough on learning the craft 1st?  <— Tweet it out! 

Love the BACKDROP? We do, too! It’s Spangled, from the fabulous Drop it Modern!

Join the conversation

1. What’s the #1 thing you wish you could see how another photographer is doing? 

– or  –

2. Is there too much emphasis on finding your own voice but not enough on learning the craft first? 



  1. Tiffany says:

    I wish I could see another photographer do an in-person sales appointment.

    bahahhahahahahahahhahahahah you can fly!!!!!

  2. Dave Cearley says:

    Thanks for posting this. Reality is, every idea supposedly developed in a vacumn by some famous artist or photographer, is usually the result of building on the work and ideas of others, sometimes thousands of others. We’re all standing atop the pyramid built be every artist before us, trying to find a way to process all that previous knowledge and create something new. The process you describe is the process followed by virtually all living things and certainly nothing to feel guilty about.

    In the age of photoshop, it’s just a little more complicated. The number of people who really can shoot good if not great images has grown exponentially, but the number who can them take that image and perfect it, create a compelling portrait or landscape using digital tools is much smaller.

    What’s the one thing I wish I could see another photographer do? I want to better understand how to develop a Photoshop style and produce consistent results definable as my own.

    • Thank you so much for your comment Dave, it is so thoughtful and well written!

      And I completely agree on the Photoshop Styling, that’s actually one of my top ones right now too! I feel like I found my style years ago but then I did the ‘set it and forgot it’ thing and moved on to other areas I wanted to grow on. Now I’m finding that it’s time to refresh my style. I have found three training courses of styles that I like and am working to go through each other them and then pull the elements I like most while simplifying for my style. If you’d like, shoot me and email and I’ll tell you where I’ve been looking. 🙂

  3. Trisha Kern says:

    I would LOVE to learn how to edit my photos better. I’ve never found a one stop shop for this. The truth is I don’t like editing and really wish I could outsource it-I’ve tried in the past but I’m a CONTROL FREAK and using services never seems to work for me. I know that my workflow stinks and that I have so much to learn about Photoshop, etc. I love watching Photovision videos but the editing clips are not nearly as in depth as I need them to be.

    Would love any suggestions! You have such GREAT energy. Thank you so much for doing what you do to inspire us all! Trisha Kern

    • Thank you so much for joining the conversation Trisha! I have been feeling the exact same way about Photoshop… I was just telling Dave (comment below) that this is one of the areas I’ve been really wanting a refresher on. I’ve recently purchased some training to get me going… If you want to shoot me an email I’d be happy to tell you which ones I’ve purchased! 😀

      And I have great news… There is an upcoming video all about outsourcing your editing! Hopefully it will help get you in the right direction. I outsource mine and it’s been the best decision. It took me a while to figure out how to make it work for me but once I did, it’s been awesome!

  4. I’d love to see how photographers set up their shops to sell products online and automate that process to be as easy as possible 🙂

  5. Mary says:

    I am feeling the same as Trisha and Dave. I would love to learn the editing side so much more.

    I feel like there is SO much information available and I just don’t know where to start!

    • I felt the same way Mary!! I love learning, I would just sit and learn for my 8 hours a day if I could! But I had to get some order to it so here’s what I did: I made a list of things that I really wanted to learn more about, for example it could be; Editing, Posing, Using YouTube Better, In-Person Sales, Lighting, Poll Dancing… Whatever you want. And then I assigned each area of focus a month. So every month I get to work on a new area of interest. It helps me to always be growing and I get excited when a new month comes becuase it’s a new topic!

  6. Say it, Sister! Everything I have learned, I have taught myself because I wanted to try to do something EXACTLY like someone else. Along the way, I have made tons of mistakes–some of them happy accidents that led me to do something even better than I had intended. In actuality, it doesn’t matter how any of us get here or there, it’s that we are on the road. And it’s more fun to be on the road together than it is to be on the road alone. Thank you, Leah, for being not only a fellow traveler, but a driving force behind the betterment of both the art and the art of the business.

    • Shelly that was so incredibly and beautifully said! I couldn’t agree with you more. It can be very lonely as a photographer, I know it was for me at the beginning – I would love to see all photographers open up more, learn to share more and build relationships with the other photographers in their community more… If we would stop looking at each other as competition or even worse, as enemies, I believe we would all be better for it!

  7. Misty says:

    OMG This made my freaking day! I even cried…. Okay okay… maybe I’m a tad emotional lol

  8. Candace says:

    First my son is singing the word fly as he walks around the house. Second inspiration on poses. I love Pinterest but so many say not to go there. Sometimes I get to a shoot and the inspiration juice runs short. What do you do to get it back quickly without looking like you have no idea what you are doing or feelin lost. This usually comes when I have a family that does not move or joke. Thoughts?

    • I love that little ones are always willing to sing with me! 😀

      Several years ago I got to actually watch two master posers (<–that looks a bit odd) do a posing demonstration (It was at AfterDark) and that was huge for me. It was no longer just seeing a pose and thinking 'Okay I will try that' now I could see for the first time how and why shaping a body can do what it does and hearing all about the rules of triangles and thirds and so much more… It was amazing. If you can ever watch an actual posing course, do it!

  9. Jodi says:

    And where was that beautiful singing voice at the retreat????? Love it!!! I agree with Tiffany…I would love to tag along with someone just to watch how they do their SP. I’m such a visual person and I like to “see” and hear how other people do things so I can then practice putting my own spin on things. I wonder if any locals would be up for doing something like this 🙂

    • I bet you could totally do this Jodi! You have other Thriver’s near you don’t you?? Why don’t two of you do a trade and come as each other’s assistant – you guys could switch! What an awesome idea!!

  10. Gabriella says:

    I would love to see more if how other photographers interact with the clients. Ideally a lifestyle family session and learn what that photographer does to get trust and real smiles and laughter from the kids.

    • That’s a great one Gabriella AND I have an awesome place to see this! Tamara Lackey is truly amazing at this… I watched her and purchased this Creative Live Session she did ( and you will be in AWE over how much you learn on this exact subject. You will watch not only how she interacts but she explains the why so profoundly. I would HIGHLY recommend you get it ASAP, it’s seriously the answer to exactly what you want and what makes it better is Tamara’s spirit, she is an absolutely beautiful person.

      I want to hear what you think so you better let me know! I’m super excited for you to watch it!! 😀

  11. DeeLee says:

    Posing: families, couples, and maternity. I was reviewing some of my photography image history and thought, “I wished I would’ve told her to stick her chin out and down, wish I would’ve told him to put his arm around her, wish I would’ve told her to look down at her tummy…you know, like Sue Bryce would have, LOL.” I have purchased a few posing books but I would really love to see it done in person.

    • I do the same thing DeeLee, just the other day I was reviewing a huge model session and was looking at an image thinking, ‘I wish I would have had them fill in the gap there.’ I think posing is taught so much better as a visual thing (at least for me!), seeing the fluid motion of how they get from here to there is so amazing… It’s really an art in and of itself don’t you think? You can read my comment to Candace, I was talking about my first real experience of getting to watch a master poser at AfterDark but I would think there should be some amazing posing options through Creative Live, I’m just not sure which ones they are. Obviously Sue is always a GREAT choice but for family… Bambi Cantrell is a master, I would be willing to bet on hers.

  12. It is so awesome to hear people talk about this. I remember when I was just starting to take portraits I asked a woman I knew who was a hobby photographer where she had taken a picture. She flat out refused to tell me because then she would be, “Doing the work for me.” It was so disheartening for me at the time. I was struggling to find my footing and it wasn’t that I wanted to copy her photo shoot, in fact it was a giant field in which I could have taken a number of different shots. Since then when people have messaged me with questions on how I’ve done things or where I shoot I never hesitate to share and most of the time it strikes up a conversation that ends up helping both of us develop new ideas!

    • I’m so sorry that happened to you Christen, I know it happens ALL the time but it still never ceases to surprise me (in a NOT good way). I’m so so so glad that you chose the higher rode, there are many, I’m afraid, who had the same thing and thus chose to treat others how they were. We all improve when we share, now of course I’m not saying that we share things that aren’t ours to share (like items we’ve purchased) or allow ourselves to be ripped off or taken advantage of but I don’t see why people don’t shoot together more and get together more… It not only help reduce the learning curve but it just makes this whole thing way more fun!

  13. Galicia says:

    You crack me up!!! Btw- I’m jelouse that you have a great voice! 🙂

  14. Leslie says:

    This is so funny to me that I ran across this today! Because just yesterday, for the first time EVER, I had the guts to email a photographer (that I’m pretty sure I found through something you posted on FB actually!) and ask her a question (I figure if she doesn’t reply, hey, at least I tried, right?!)….so I’ll tell you what it is, and maybe you’ll know the magic… I wanted to know how she gets awesome saturation in her shots that are backlit (lens flare)?! I always end up with the hazy grey effect, but that doesn’t fit well with my style, even if I love it in other people’s work…so…is there something I’m missing? Is it use of a flash? Does a lens hood used correctly make THAT much of a difference? Or IS there a way in editing to bring back the rich color and blacks?! I know it’s a lot….but I just feel like, push me in the right direction and I’ll keep rolling…

    Awesome webinar the other night, btw! Thank you!

    • Thanks Leslie! I love teaching webinars, it’s so fun to get to really interact on a more personal level with all of you. My first thought was Photoshop but maybe she’s got some other awesome tips too! Let us know if you get your answer!

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