Monday, March 2, 2015

Things I Wasn't Taught In Photography School (Or, What I Wish Someone Had Told Me 15 Years Ago)

From The Past - Mojave, California
I started learning photography 15 years ago in college. There certainly were many principals and ideas I learned that I continue to carry with me today. But there are many things that I wasn't taught. There are some things I wish someone had told me 15 years ago--things that I had to learn on my own, often the hard way.

The first thing I wasn't taught is that rules are meant to be broken. I was taught "the rule of thirds" and "the golden hour" and to "have the sun behind you" and "sunny 16" and things like that, but no one said that those are merely starting points. Photography rules are meant to ensure consistently good photographs, but rarely allow for great photographs. Great images often happen when the rules are thrown out the window.

I wasn't taught what a great photograph is or how to create one myself. Perhaps this is because it's an abstract concept, but this is something the classes should have focused on and not glossed over. Learning how a camera works is easy. Learning darkroom techniques is easy (or, in today's photography world, software techniques). Learning how to make something meaningful with a camera is not easy.
The Old Boron Housing - Boron, California
I wasn't taught that equipment is unimportant. In fact, I was told that the SLR I showed up with on the first day of class wasn't good enough, and that I needed to go buy a better one. Nonsense! Cameras are devolving, and yet all of them are good enough if you know what a great photograph is and how to create one.

I wasn't taught photographic vision. I wasn't taught how to interpret a scene. I wasn't taught the decisive moment. I wasn't taught how to take my new photography skills and knowledge out into the workforce. How to earn money from photography wasn't even touched on.

Most of the things that truly matter in photography were not a part of the curriculum. I've talked with several other photographers who share similar experiences.
When All Is Lost - Mojave, California
This is not to say that institutions that teach photography are a waste of time, because I do not mean that at all. This is simply to say that one cannot expect to learn everything important at school. Mass education is not intended to be individualized because it must be generic.

So you have to educate yourself. You are responsible for your own life, and you must figure out what you need to know and then figure out how to know it.

People spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things that are unimportant, and spend very little time and energy on the things that really matter. Forget the rules. Forget what camera or software you do or don't own. Learn how to be creative. Learn how to craft great images.

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