This is a topic that sticks out its head on the photography groups at least once a week: “hey guys, I want to study photography, where do I go?”
This is a valid question. And it gets many responses – but the most common response one sees is the following: “you don’t need to study photography, just pick up a camera and shoot, you’ll figure it out.”
This is why I’m bald, see? Because responses like that makes me pull my hair out! Imagine if you will (or you may not even need to imagine this!): you have a child of school going age. And your kid is not doing quite as well as they should in a subject – they are under performing. You are a bit worried. So you go speak to Teacher about Junior’s under-achievements, and teacher shrugs and says “no need, to teach the kid, they will figure it out”. Tell me, how will you throw your toys out the cot in that situation?
Yet there is an attitude that you don’t need to study photography, you can just “figure it out”. This I blame on the amount of people who have figured it out for themselves. Not many people – amateur or pro, went to study. They just “evolved” their skill over the years. They know what is going on behind a camera, they have the experience and they take good pictures. Thus: if I can figure it out for myself, then you can figure it out for yourself.
But what the “I figured it out” people forget, is that the “figure it out” bit takes years! One does not simply pick up a camera and start taking good photos…. nope, you have to make many, many mistakes, and have the presence of mind to recognise mistakes and learn from them – and this is not a quick fix problem. There is no substitute for experience except experience.
But now… do you really want to spend years “figuring it out”, when someone can show you what and how to do things? Learning the principles of exposure, and how to think about your photography, is not a long process. It can be taught in a relatively short time. So why do you want to spend years to go figure it out, when you can be told what to do, and apply it straight away?
This is why you should study photography: it will save you time. It will equip you with the knowledge you need to know to be able to start practicing your vision straight away – you still need the experience, but at least you will have a firm foundation in place, and the “figure it out” bit is cut short by months, if not years.
But there is a reason you should not, and this has to do with a rather cynical approach of some photographic institutions. And that reason is “clutter”. Photography is a highly technical, widely-encompassing subject. There are many, many technical aspects to photography – “reciprocity failure”, as an example. What is it? Why is it? Why do I need to know it? The answer is utterly irrelevant to being a good photographer. Yes, it is a real photographic phenomenon, but do you really need to know it? Simply: no. It is something to be aware of when you are doing agency-level extreme-end photography, but for 99.9% of all photographic stuff, you will never, ever, be influenced by it. Yet you will spend hours of your life studying it and be tested on it in order to be called a “photographer”. And this is just one example – there is a ton of other clutter out there that will have virtually no impact at all on your capacity as a photographer.
Many were the times that people have come to me, people who have gotten formal qualifications, and asked me for help – they left colleges more confused than when they went in. How can someone spend two years studying photography and not even know the basics of exposure? Easy: because they got cluttered up.
So the answer is a happy middle ground: get someone to teach you the stuff you need to know, and avoid learning the stuff you do not need to know. Get the required meat-and-potatoes essentials knowledge. Avoid the clutter that will detract from your vision.
And this is as good a place as any to punt my book – From Snapshot to Hotshot. 60 easy to understand, conversational-English photography lessons – everything you need to know, nothing you don’t!
Go forth, be beautiful.