Imitation vs Inspiration
For anyone in the creative field, discussing imitation and inspiration can be a bombshell subject. I've heard so many photographers, models, tattoo artists, etc talk about their work being copied. I'm gonna share my two cents and a couple stories. What I have to say is simply my opinion, take of it what you will.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with studying work that you admire and being inspired to go about creating your own style. If you're amazing at what you do, and create a unique style, then chances are other people are going to be inspired by that and play around with that style as well, while still NOT copying your shots. Example, look up Robert Alvarado. That man's style is amazing! He teaches workshops so people can learn his techniques. There are also other photographers in the alternative scene that shoot his style (therefore creating an Alvarado look) without copying his actual work.
One important thing to remember, there is absolutely nothing new under the sun. Any idea that you have to photograph, google it and there's probably someone that has attempted something to do with it.
Inspiration should come from multiple sources. In regards to the example I gave about Alvarado, many of the people that have done work in his style, have added their own spin to it. They don't simply go in and try to copy his actual photographs. I personally have found so many different people inspiring at different stages of what I do. The work that speaks to you helps to shape your own voice. Being inspired shouldn't be just from different photographers, but let music, art, and life itself inspire you.
Sometimes people don't look at it like this. Sometimes doing something similar will piss people off. In 2012 I did a photoshoot with a snake and a tattoo model. We did mainly really edgy shots but took a glam looking shot on a black background as well. Shortly after we both got an email accusing us of copying a photograph that neither of us had actually ever seen. It was on a white background and we were told by the model how upset the photographer was that we copied his shot. The two shots' only similarities were that they involved a snake and the models had the sides of their heads shaved. It really bummed me out because the photographer was one of my heroes. That just happened to be an alternate cover that I hadn't seen on the magazine that came out in my area. We explained to the model and she understood. I planned to write him but a model friend I had in LA gave me some advice that has stuck with me. " The only time someone gets pissed that your work is similar, is if they view you as competition."
It can be a very slippery slope. At photoshoots, 90% come in with photos that they want. Which these are photos that either other people photographed, or when it's yours, it's of a model that you photographed. A lot of models have the same wardrobe because they saw this outfit and it's so cute! Others don't have a variety of wardrobe and so they wear it at multiple shoots with various photographers, and then people want to say you copied their work because she's wearing the same thing.
Sometimes mistakes happen. There have been a couple times I really liked an idea, and I worked to change aspects of it up because I liked the lighting, but I wanted to add different things. It looked so close to the original that I scrapped it because I didn't feel comfortable putting something that close to an original out there. Once I made the mistake of agreeing to a duo shoot where we photographed a model at the same time, and because both our work was b&w (I used b&w film) I was accused of copying his work. Lesson learned. Never photograph the same person at the same time someone else is shooting them as well.
There are so many amazing artists out there to be inspired by. Drink it in but be mindful. If you become someone who just imitates rather than developing your own style, people will never say "look at this, it's amazing!" They'll simply say "Oh, this reminds me of....."