Photography and Online Learning

Been pondering a fair bit lately. Or maybe it’s mulling (to borrow the word from a certain Internet chum). Whatever it is, I’ve been doing it. And it’s a good thing as well.

With a clearer mind over the past couple of months I have made some decisions regarding this photography caper. Lark. Endeavor. I’ve decided that I like being an amateur photographer. I enjoy relaxing with the camera in hand. I’m even learning to enjoy being in front of the computer doing the editing and decision-making stuff. But more importantly I have decided that if I’m going to enjoy this caper. This lark. This endeavor. Then I had better get better acquainted with it.

I’m talking about learning.

Now before you go off half-cocked (or fully-cocked… whatever suits your pleasure) and tell me that education and learning are hardly necessary if you’re only looking to enjoy taking some snaps ‘ere and there, just let me explain.

I really, really enjoy a handful of things: socio-economic-political things, consumer electronic things and photography things. To those ends I have a fairly voracious appetite for reading. The more I read the better informed I hope I become and subsequently the better I might enjoy these capers. These larks. These endeavors. But unlike socio-economic-thingys and consumer electronics there are things one can learn to physically and mentally do to make oneself a better photographer.

Now what exactly is a “better” photographer in this instance? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest it is one who better understands their camera, their other photographic equipment and the various concepts that are integral to taking pictures that are technically correct. Or proper. And I make the distinction between technically correct/proper and Artistic because at this time I am not looking to learn about the latter, but focus upon the former. This is due, in no small part, to the fact I don’t believe I’m particularly creative (“artistic” if you will) and as such I should first focus on mastering the intricacies of everything else.

I don’t know if this is the best route. Or the correct route. But it is a route. It is me getting off my behind and doing something positive and that in itself is a marked change in direction.

And so it was that not too long ago I enrolled at my local camera shop in a five-week course (meeting once a week), which discussed the very basics of modern digital photography. And starting this coming Saturday I will be enrolled in the second five-week course they offer, where we will be taking bigger and deeper steps into the world of photography.

In addition, I have picked up a three-volume set of books by the renowned photographer Scott Kelby. I haven’t yet started them, instead waiting to finish my second course with the local camera store. No particular reason.

But more recently I came across yet another educational opportunity that looked quite exciting. Exciting because it was online. Live. And free. Let me repeat that last part: FREE!!

Say hello to John Greengo’s Fundamentals of Digital Photography via http://www.creativelive.com.

creativelive.com is actually the brain-child of photographer Chase Jarvis and was explained on http://www.photographybay.com as “…a new online learning resource for photographers and other imaging professionals…” The site hosts live video instruction covering various topics, many of which are above my head and outside the scope of my needs. However, John Greengo is offering a 10-week course (2-hours each, Wednesdays from 1400-1600 -5UTC) covering much of the basics of digital photography. I was able to watch the first session as a recording on the website, but it was really a Welcome to What We’re Doing thing. The second course, broadcast this Wednesday past, concerned the camera itself and the various types of cameras, sensor sizes, settings, etc. Next Wednesday we move on to lenses and so on and so forth.

Granted it means planting my butt in front of a computer for two-solid hours each Wednesday, but I take copious notes while he instructs and there is an opportunity to ask questions via a live chat feature. In addition, if one decides they would like to have the entire 10-week series for their very own, they can download the series for USD79 while the 10-week courses are being offered, afterwards it’s USD129.

But hey…. it’s free. It’s educational. And even if they cover tonnes of things I already know I am very certain they will also cover stuff I don’t know or offer a new twist on things I already do. I have to tell you….. I’m very excited about all of it. I enjoy taking pictures. But I’d like to enjoy taking better pictures. Smarter pictures. And the only real way to get better is to both practice and to learn.

And I think I’m getting the learning part covered these days.

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12 thoughts on “Photography and Online Learning

  1. This sort of ties in rather neatly with a post I still have in draft stage at the mo’. Dammit! You’ve now just goaded me into trying to get it finished.

    Meanwhile, best of luck with the direction of your re-awakened enthusiasm.

    🙂

  2. Thanks Mike. It feels good to feel invigorated.

    And I’m very, very sorry for having posted and causing you no small amount of trial and tribulation. I know how you much prefer to not feel compelled to exert energy needlessly.

    😉

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  4. Hey,
    I have commented on Mikes blog post, sparked by this very post so thought I would read yours to see what you have to say, only to find you have purchased the same 3 books that I refer to, the Scot Kelby ones, I had the first oen bought me for Christmas and subsequently bought the other 2, they are a great read, very easy to read and very useful, I am sure they will continue to be a reference for me for many years to come BUT I tend to agree with Mike that (for me at any rate) I don’t learn very well in a classroom setting, my prefered learning style is very hands on, in this context the best way for me to master the camera had to be hands on 1-1 tuition with someone who is more skilled and better than myself, for me this person was Mike, I approached Mike and asked if he would be prepared to go out with me and help me get to grips with the camera, being the ever obliging guy he is he happily agreed.
    I realise that your not able to do that with Mike, due to geography but would urge you to try scouring the net for other keen amateurs or early pro’s with whom you can team up, maybe offer to buy the coffees whilst your out in return for some of his/her expert advice and tuition.

    • Hi David.

      Yes, I’ve seen your name pop up here and there over on Mike’s blog (or what passes for one 😉

      I have finally gotten round to posting a reply on his post after carefully considering my take on the subject. Clearly I’m in the camp that appreciates and accepts an education-based route, but I’m not limited to such. As a matter-of-fact, my entire photography caper up until this year was decidedly marked by the DIY route enjoyed by Mike.

      However, I felt I had plateaued in terms of photography with that particular route and elected to take a new one, which just happens to fit well with my personality. Not only do I enjoy learning in the more structured environment that comes with classes & coursework, but I also enjoy talking about (“teaching” if you will) photography things with those who may be looking for advice.

      Of course, I’m never above saying “I don’t know,” or “I haven’t quite mastered that myself,” but I feel a strong imperative to offer advice if I’m asked and when I believe I have information/knowledge that will be of help. Mike referred to such as possibly being condescending depending upon the source, and no doubt he is correct, but I personally haven’t yet run into one of those sorts.

      Regarding the idea of something akin to a mentor I very much like the idea. That said, I think it is important that any given person who wishes to be mentored by a more knowledgeable and experienced person should already understand the basics of the craft they are seeking to improve upon.

      Think of it this way: how much mentoring could a photographer provide to an aspiring photographer if said photographer didn’t understand the very basics of photography? At that point they no longer are a mentor, but a teacher in that they must instruct the budding photographer on the minimum knowledge set needed to operate a dSLR with any sense of competency.

      Of course it helps if we both agree on the definition of a mentor and how it may be perceived as being different than a teacher/instructor. To me and mentor is someone who helps guide and instruct someone who has already achieved some level of competency in a given craft/job/chore/hobby. Naturally, if you define it differently then we’d have to find a way to flesh-out this discussion with mutually agreeable terminology.

      Regardless, I think it is quite possible that the gentleman who instructs my Saturday morning classes could become a mentor in the future if I elected to seek such assistance. He has made a career in photography for himself and already teaches professionally at a local university. To me he seems like a very good person to consider as a mentor, but I wouldn’t dream of asking him to do such without having first exhibited some basic level of ability. Hence I’m taking courses and reading books (or will be reading books).

      Finally, and as an afterthought which has popped into my mind during the writing of this tome, I have noticed that there has been a decided lack of sharing between some of us more usual commentators around Mike’s blog. And by “sharing” I mean issues of technique with both the camera and software, with technical issues, and with creative issues.

      I think, in part, it is difficult to discuss such because it might mean providing a critique of each other’s work and that leaves me feeling slightly uneasy. Uneasy because it is so easy to hurt someone’s feelings without meaning to. And, of course, there is the very issue to which Mike’s post revolves: pictures should reflect the person taking them. Who am I to offer my critique when it’s not my picture? Unless, naturally, it’s asked for.

      In some manner I wish we were at a place where we could do such while feeling safe and secure in our abilities, but open to what one would hope was genuine constructive criticism. After all, part of the process of growing as a photographer is seeing other’s work and saying to one’s self “I wish I could do that.” and then being able to query the photographer as to the technical and creative processes involved.

      • Ah… critique. I could write an entire blogpost about that on its own. In fact, I think I may very well do so at some point.
        😉
        Sufficient for the mo’ to say I don’t offer it, and don’t invite it. Were I to offer it then likely as not I’d preface every such instance with a question to the photographer along these lines… “Is this the result you were after?”
        And then I’d wait for the answer before saying anything else.

        As regards the “sharing” in terms of technique and processing. Interesting thought and one that, I must confess, hadn’t occurred to me.
        Leastways, I can’t recollect it ever having done so. I think the closest I ever came to that was to query Tam one time as to whether or not she’d employed an HDR process on one of her pics… but that was little more than idle curiosity.

        Truth is it had probably not occurred to me because I rarely have the inclination to ask such questions of other photographers. Why would I? I’m far too involved trying tp do my own thing without wanting to do someone else’s as well.

        And I’m certainly not about to start explaining my techniques and processing to anyone else. Hell, you need some sort of methodology to have fancy things like techniques and processes. Whereas I just muddle my way through. Heh heh

  5. Muddling through certainly explains a lot (as you are fond of saying).

    😉

    Regarding critique, about the only time I want any is when I have an image that for whatever reason isn’t working the way in which I intended. As such, I have often wondered if another set of eyes (especially another set that knows a thing or two about photography) look it over and offer their thoughts. I know what I want from the image, but sometimes I just can’t get there and it is nice to have someone else offer their two-cents worth…. if they have the two-cents to spare.

    And one could think of it this way regarding the sharing of techniques…. say you snap a picture and do something I find particularly clever in Lightroom. I might ask you how you went about creating your masterpiece and you obligue with the details.

    I, in turn, try said settings on some of my images where I think it might work. Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. But using your technique I might explore further options of my own accord that render an image in such a way that makes me happy.

    Sharing information isn’t necessarily about turning my pictures into your pictures, but extending my knowledge such that I can further or better explore possibilities for myself.

    Of course, I notice that you did not touch upon (at least not in any meaningful manner) how your muddling through on your own methodology may very well be just an extension of your natural proclivities to avoid working with others. You make no bones about being hermit-like, so it comes as no big surprise that you might prefer a manner of learning that is completely self-dependent. I, on the other hand, am rather gregarious and as such seeking knowledge in a communal atmosphere comes as little surprise.

    • Critique: the only problem with that is (following the way you describe it) the person offering the “critique” all too often simply states how they would have done it… which isn’t the same thing at all.

      Following on from that, saying to someone “What I wanted to achieve was such-and-such but it hasn’t quite worked. Any thoughts on what I could do to get what I want?” isn’t, to my mind, asking for critique. Its asking for advice… a different thing altogether. And, in my book, perfectly legitimate.

      Technique: why would you want to use someone else’s technique rather than exploring and developing your own?
      Nowt wrong of course with looking at someone else’s pics, seeing an effect you like, and then seeking to emulate it in some way. Though to do that there’s no need to know what their technique is, or how they processed the pic. This is where the experimenting comes in. And what you end up with may be something that’s similar… but uniquely your own.

  6. I see what you mean….. there is a difference between critique and advice and each has their place. But I agree… the more proper term for what I would wish to elicit is advice.

    Regarding technique, isn’t it just as possible and likely that any technique you might create is, in some manner, tainted by what you have seen of others photographs on Flickr (or any other place one might see images)? I find it hard to believe that the work of others doesn’t influence in some way and the only way for your pictures to be totally and completely your own is to never look at anyone else’s work.

    And while experimenting is fine, why re-invent the wheel if it’s unnecessary? And by extension, if I understand your technique and duplicate such, it doesn’t mean I’m going to like it with my images and may reject your technique in its entirety or, as I stated before, use it as a starting point for creating something different.

    • Well, I started to knock out a reply to this but now feel I dare not post it here… cos I’ve really only just started getting into the swing and I’m already on the sixth paragraph… with no immediate end in sight!

      Cos you know what I’m like… I just ramble on and on and on. So I think what I’ll most likely end up doing is another proper post on my own blog about this sort of stuff. And this little comment’s just to let you know that I’m giving the points you’ve raised some serious consideration.

      😉

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