Paint by numbers photography or why you shouldn’t play follow the leader

Athabasca River, mountains, boulders, rocks, monotone, black and white, low key, Dan Jurak, Jasper, rockies, Travel Alberta,

There is a trend in landscape photography.

I have a couple of daughters in university. Both are taking genetics, biology, etc. and as a result we sometimes talk about what they learn in school.

One of the things that we have talked about is genetic diversity. You see the more diverse the gene pool is of any species the healthier it is. It is by being different that we are better able to survive.

Many years ago in North America, Dutch Elm Disease was introduced to the continent. Hundreds of thousand of elm trees across the the United States and Canada died. The elm trees, American Elms had no resistance to the disease and easily succumbed to it. Here in Edmonton as a result, our city has purposely planted a variety of trees to prevent the same thing occurring here again. Diversity in biology is a good thing.

I recently received an email from a well known photographer offering a very, very expensive course on how you could  process your photos to look just like his. Now this photographer has been around for a few years and for better or worse there are plenty of clones trying their hardest to emulate what he does. The result is thousands upon thousands of landscape photos that look as if they were all taken by the same person at the same place. The skies all have the same overly dramatic look. The locations are all the same, probably because it takes no creativity or imagination to find someplace on your own? I don’t know but it is a sad commentary on how a creative art like photography has for too many become a case of paint by numbers or follow the leader.

Maybe photography isn’t biology but in the arts it is valuable to have as diverse and wide ranging outlook as possible.

Happy shooting,


ps. and YES Abraham Lake does have the best ice bubbles in Alberta Seriously. 🙂


~ by Dan Jurak on February 7, 2017.

12 Responses to “Paint by numbers photography or why you shouldn’t play follow the leader”

  1. Dan, I agree very much with the theme – imitation may be the best form of flattery, but as an artist, I want my work to be different than anyone else’s.

  2. Ron, imitation is one of the ways that we learn but I have seen porfolios of photographers who have gone obviously gone on photo tours because I am able to easily recognize the locations and style of the “instructor”. There is no creativity in blindly emulating someone.

  3. I have to agree. There seems to be an accepted cliche style for landscape photography that to me is also too predictable. I think style should follow the subject and not be imposed into it.

  4. HiEduardo, thank you for visiting and commenting.


  5. Hey Dan, I must declare guilty of copying other photographers style, but it was a great way to learn. When I purchased my first DSLR I looked around 500px and I could only imagine myself shooting landscapes like those; so I tried the same colors, similar compositions when possible… It was very useful for someone who knew nothing about photography. Then as I learned a little bit more I realized how much people use 500px as an ego booster and how a lot of photos looked the same. So I started researching about the “fathers and mothers” of photography and I’m trying to learn from them… well, let’s just say I have a lot to learn. Copying is a great tool to learn but you have to leave room for you to think for yourself. 🙂

  6. You are right. We are all guilty of copying to varying degrees. After all, very little is new in this world.

    I have no problem with copying to learn but I disagree with people who have made it their goal to not use their imaginations but to blindly copy every place, location, time of day and processing style instead of venturing out on their own. Is it fear of rejection or of being different that prevents so many from striking out on their own?

  7. Abraham lake does have nice bubbles, Darwin took us there one weekend though I couldn’t get into the bubbles so I drifted away to shoot the mountains in the storm. Amazing lodge and food though!

  8. Bryan, Abraham does have beautiful bubbles and what it also has that the other lake this American photographer brags about is ice heaves.

    It is the large ice heaves that really add another dimension to an otherwise two dimensional photo. Spray Lakes is not near as good as Abraham and I can say that because I am NOT making any money by enticing photographers to pay me for this “secret”.

  9. Willing to learn from the better as well as the least unknown and yet somehow hope I have my own style. I have seen people copy and receive alcolades, but in one situation I was personally turned off because it was almost identical to someone else’s work. There definitely seem to be “trends.” If people are making money off their work, good for them. And if people can afford these workshops, good for them.There are alternatives and many choices to learning.

  10. Hi Jane, I usually reply sooner but my wife had an accident at work and I spent all day in the hospital with her.

    I came across a very, very well known landscape photographer from Europe today who also happens to give photo tours in Banff and Jasper during the winter.

    At first when I saw his photos on Facebook I thought that he was another extremely well known American landscape photographer who also gives photo tours during the winter in Jasper and Banff.

    Why would I think that? Exactly the same locations Tangle Ridge, Bow Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Spray Lakes, the river between upper and lower Chephren lakes were taken in almost the exact same location with the almost exact same processing. I wondered why two very talented photographers had work that looked identical to each other. It certainly isn’t a lack of talent. No imagination? One copies the other?

    I learned ages ago while photographing editorial that the most difficult thing in a photograph is not the execution or the processing it is finding an original idea. It is the idea of creating something new that is a challenge.

    Lots of painters can copy a Mona Lisa stroke for stroke and make the painting look identical but there is only one Leonardo Da Vinci.

  11. Reblogged this on Travel, Photograph, Experience and commented:
    Dan Jurak nailed it with tis post. Because it’s true that there are lots of obvious trends that everyone seems to follow, the super long exposures of water, the overuse of Clarity to juice up the drama. I’m sure we’ve all seen it. Not to say you shouldn’t try out different looks and techniques. That’s part of exploration. But finding a look that has your DNA on it, that’s the hard part.

  12. Great point, Dan. And lovely work!

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