Learning Photography

by William Lulow

As followers of this blog will attest, I am, and for quite a while have been, involved with teaching photography either in accredited schools or through my workshops and this blog. I had an interesting conversation recently with the director of an art school who was basically saying that interest in photography instruction has fallen off dramatically in the last few years! She attributed this in large part to the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) world we live in today. Why, she asks, would someone pay to take a course offered through her school when they can get the same information often for free online and without having to leave their own home? (Some courses do charge fees, but information can readily be had at no cost if you know where to look).

Indeed, there is one website I have looked at called “Creative Live” which offers quite a few very well produced videos on a number of studio lighting setups as well as information about how best to use your camera! 

This is all well and good, but videos and manuals don’t really take the place of good, personal instruction by a live teacher.  The problem is that many people don’t want to get up off their rear ends and journey the distance to a school or workshop. 

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman in a recent article, referred to the fact that even though computers can “think ” they have no “heart and soul.” They don’t know when students are not getting a particular concept and they certainly can’t hope to figure out why! That’s one of the reasons we need live teachers! There are some things and techniques that simply have no place in a “do-it-yourself” environment. 

If your goal is to become a better photographer, to understand the concepts of the art/science and perhaps even set yourself up in business as a “professional,” personal instruction is the best way to do this! 

In addition, the DIY world cannot teach you the “whys” of what you’re doing. Oh, it can demonstrate “how” to do something very well but it can’t teach you why you would do it a certain way. Also, if you’re looking at a “how to” video, you really need to look very closely at what’s being presented. I have often found myself looking at these videos and wishing I could see “behind the scene” as well as what’s in front of the camera. Obviously, the person making the video has decided what and how much will be shown. So you really have no opportunity to see everything you might want to see. In a live class, not only can you see everything both behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera, but you can see for yourself how much space is used and what the instructor and the model’s reaction is.

As I have said before, I’m a trained teacher and I know there is really no substitute for “hands on” learning – something you just cannot get from a computer or a video! Yes, you can always “try it yourself,” but you then have to refer back to the video and that constant checking and re-checking can impede the flow of learning.

So, if learning how to be a better photographer is your goal, try to make the effort to attend a class or series of classes in person. Try to choose a class that’s more than a one time shot! Try to select an instructor who gives objective homework assignments that force you to learn the lessons and then checks to see if you’ve done them correctly. Photographs can be, by their very nature, subjective works of art that some may or may not like. Successful instruction begins with demonstrating a technique and then checking to see if it has been mastered! That’s not subjective. You either got it or you didn’t.  That’s really the best way to learn!