102 – Learning to Read

Learning photography is a bit like learning to read.  Before you can read anything of substance, you need to know all twenty-six letters of the alphabet, in both upper and lower cases, the ten numerals, and punctuation marks.  You simply have to learn these off by heart before you can pick up the latest tome by , erm, me, and delve into it.  (Hey, I’m putting a lot of work into these lessons, allow me a bit of shameless self-promotion!)

One of the ways you teach kids to read is by starting off with a simple concept: only two letters.  Teach them to recognise “a” and “t”.

“at”.  Then when they can see “at” you can add a “c” and get “cat”.  Or you can add a “b” and get “bat” (which is very important if you want to add “man” after that!).  And so you slowly but surely teach kids the alphabet until they can read fluidly.

No kid is born knowing the alphabet.  It needs to be taught, and it needs to be learned.

So it is with photography.  No one is born knowing how to do this properly – it’s not a “talent”, it’s not a “natural born ability”, nope, it’s a hard-skill that you have to learn.  I certainly was not born knowing what I know – it took years of study, experience, trial and error, tutorials, videos, books, whatever, to get me to the level of knowledge I have now.  So, take heart, even the masters started somewhere.

And so starts your journey with this book – realising that learning photography is a lot like learning to read.

Here is the bad news: At first, a lot of the concepts won’t make sense.  It is going to be a random squiggle of a line on a piece of paper that someone tells you is “a”.  Devoid of any context and meaning, that “a” is meaningless.  But as soon as one puts a “t” along with it, we get some context that means “at”, and when we get to the “c” part of “cat”, it starts to make sense.  The lessons in chapter one will be a bit like this.  Some things just do not make sense in isolation.  But as you continue with the next lesson, and the next lesson, by the end of this section, these things will make sense, you will understand the interplay between “a” and “t”.

No one is born knowing this stuff. I’m not “special”. Neither are the acknowledged greats. We all had to learn. Photography is a “hard skill”. Sure, some people have a bit more intuition than others, or a more “creative eye”, but even Mozart had to learn how to play the piano, even Ayrton Senna had to learn how to drive. Next time you get that “I suck” feeling, remember, even the best photographers in the world today sucked as well.

Like Daniel-San who needed to know how to wax-on, wax-off before he knew why he needed to know it, you will read concepts here that don’t make sense on their own.  (I once met Mr Miyagi in Seattle!) But you need to trust me when I say you need to know the concepts – or at least know about the concepts – to get the next concept.

The good news is, English has 26 letters in upper and lower case and ten numerals, while the base concepts of photography can be broken down into only a handful – there is a lot less to learn than the 65-odd characters of the alphabet and punctuation marks in order to get to grips with reading.  Getting to grips with photography’s technical bits is a lot easier than learning the alphabet!

I have taken great pains to ensure that the lessons following are set up in some sort of logical order for you to “get” it without being too abstract.  The nine lessons that follow this one is set up in a specific order for you to make sense of the basic concepts of photography.

So, put in your thinking cap and sing after me: Aye – bee – see – dee – ee – eff  – gee…  and let’s go see the elemeno pee!

(Header photo credit:  my brilliant photo buddy Wendy van Zyl)

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on September 29 • by

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