We learn from others via meetups, coffee with peers, clubs, magazines, books, classes, and workshops (online or in-person) and even by looking at many images. We take bits and snippets of all that knowledge that we deem to be true to what we do or want to do as artists. When we take a workshop and listen for two or three days, we hear a lot we already know, we hear things we do not think are good or valid for what we do or how we shoot or we may just not even want to try it. We will hear new things that make sense and based on our success when we try it, we will keep doing it or we will toss it aside.
Over time it is a culmination of all these things we learn, and the decisions we make as to which we will implement or toss aside, that fashion who we are as photographers and artists. They are what will guide our path to ‘our’ style. But, are we making the right decisions as to what we choose to accept as photographic truths that we implement in how we photograph?
New photographers that have just picked up a new camera are excited. They want to be photographers and will go around and shoot whatever they can. Cats, dogs, fire hydrants (because it’s not running away). They try to take in as much as they can as quickly as they can usually from the internet which is filled with many sites that frankly give bad advice; often, incorrect advice. As they progress, they often turn to clubs that then guide their hands and eyes into specific paths that are led by the club organizers and ultimately by the associations the clubs are members of.
Through the club, they will do outings or evening workshops and they will try many new things and new genres. Flowers one day, landscapes another, and long exposures on yet another day. They often only get a general gloss over on how to do these things. Then, based on what they have learned, how they did in their first few attempts, and even on how good the presenter was, they make a decision on whether they like the new skill or genre or not.
This is a bad way of learning new things and a bad way of making decisions on whether you like something or not. How can you decide something when you do not know how to do it, or how to do it well, or correctly?
When I returned to photography after an 18 year absence, I used something that at the time I called “Forced Learning” to help me learn new skills (technical or artistic). The first Forced Learning tasks I gave myself were Flower Photography and Digital Editing. Flower Photography because we were entering the rainy winter season and what I was going to shoot were flowers in a Studio setting so I could get back to working with Portable Flash units and Lighting. Flowers are also very difficult to photograph and decided to take on the challenge of creating good flower photos. Digital Editing was because I knew nothing about it and knew that I needed to learn it.
The important part was not my decision to just ‘try’ something, but rather to master these things. To learn it very well to the point I could teach it if asked. Well enough to win some awards with my photos, even if only at club level.
Both of these things made me a better photographer. I learned an awful lot by mastering these two skills. The following season I tackled Bird Photography and D.A.M. (Digital Asset Management.) and then the following year, B&W Photography and Printing.
B&W Photography and Printing so much so that I decided to take some darkroom classes to get back into the darkroom so that I could learn to make my Digital B&W Prints look more like classic Darkroom Prints. This helped tremendously. The point is that learning these things to the point of mastering them, is not only what helps you become a better photographer, but after spending months working and learning a new skill, you are in a much better position to decide whether you like that genre or not.
For me, the realization was getting into Street Photography. This was one of my Forced Learning skills. I had chosen it because it was going to take me out of my comfort zone. Because I knew nothing about it. And, because I dreaded even going out and shooting strangers on the streets.
I ended up taking a three-hour evening Introduction to Street Photography class, then read a few books while I forced myself to go out and shoot. And here we are, years later, and Street Photography is now my favorite genre; all because I chose to master a new skill.
Forced Learning is your friend. It WILL make you a better photographer. You can use ut to learn new Genres like Street Photography, new Skills like B&W Conversion from Color, or even new Techniques like Zone Focusing. Think about your weaknesses and choose some Forced Learning challenges that will improve your weaknesses or skills you need.
It’s time to become a better photographer! See you on the streets!