I believe that if you have found your way to this blog post, you may either be having a difficult time trying to teach yourself photography or you want to know where to start. When I first started photography I was just as blank as you may be right now (I do not know). In this blog post, I will give you seven tips that will guide you through the process of teaching yourself the art of photography, all gathered from my personal experiences. When starting out there is a lot of excitement and anticipation over the work that we will create and what we will learn as well. Once we start self-teaching, we begin to encounter challenge after challenge, and this can quickly lead to frustration and disappointment.
Self-teaching is very different from being in a classroom. It is a process of experimentation which can either be for you or against you. The reason I say this is because as we self-teach we run the risk of picking up incorrect information and applying it to our work. Trendy photography edits in my experience have such an effect on our work and it is important to learn how to discern what is the truth from the false. However, I feel self-teaching also has quite a number of benefits. To continuously learn something by yourself from your own drive is something that I believe is pure passion.
If you are teaching yourself photography and having a myriad of experiences (good or bad), as a self-taught photographer I am here to tell you that it is something all self-taught photographers go through. It is part of the process. Take your time, be consistent. Gradually you will begin to see a change in your work. Even I am still seeing my work change. It looks nothing like I expected it to and I am in love with where it is going.
- Be patient with yourself.
The process of learning is not the same for everyone. Some people take longer than others to understand concepts. Photography is no different. Photography is filled with different concepts that one must take their time to understand and master. If you are teaching yourself, this can become overwhelming. Imagine having to understand both natural lighting and artificial lighting and then having to combine the two or having to understand posing subjects while still managing to compose the shot to fit a specific story that you want to tell. Finding the balance between the technical and creative stuff takes time. None is more significant than the other. The technicals and creativity complement one another.
2. Spend time with other photographers
Find yourself a tribe. One of the best ways to learn the craft of photography is to join a vibrant scene of people who engage in the same art form. When I started photography I was lucky to have found a group of people who were just as interested in learning photography as I was. We banded together and started teaching one another what we knew and shooting as regularly as possible.
Having people with different skill sets and different bits of knowledge will always be of benefit to you if you are teaching yourself photography. All that others have learnt and know will rub off of you. This can prove to be a great way to learn photography as you will be exposed to what others who have run the road before you already know and you will not have to reinvent the wheel. So, get out there and find your tribe.
3. Read Books
You will never go wrong with this method. I know that today not many people take their time to flip through a number of pages in a book. In fact, statistics indicate that reading books has steadily declined since the 80s. Books will always contain information and if you have a book, that information will always be with you. It will be available to you at any time, anywhere.
Recent developments in technology have made it possible to digitize books. So you can have e-books and even audiobooks. This means that if you are not a hardcore book lover like myself and you constantly find yourself easily distracted while reading a book, there is something for you in the e-book and audiobook sector. So get to reading.
4. The More you practice, The more it sticks.
Practice makes perfect. Sounds cliché, but true. Whatever it is that you learn, go out and practice. I think one thing I have not found in most blog posts that I have read on this topic is ‘The Role of Practice in learning”. I will go into this in a nutshell. When you learn something new, your mind forms new neuropathways. These new pathways are sort of etched onto the brain cells. As you practice and execute this new thing that you have learnt, the pathways are etched even further. The more you continue to practice the more the neuropathways are etched into your brain cells. That is why it is said that ‘The more you practice, the more it sticks’. Yes, it is a literal thing. So go out and practice as much as possible.
5. Join online educational platforms
Why would you bother joining an educational platform such as Skillshare, yet there are thousands upon thousands of free tutorials on youtube? Now, I am not saying that YouTube is not a reliable source of information. What I mean is that that the platform’s metrics do not allow the platform to provide its user’s with the most useful and in-depth content possible.
I recently spent hours upon hours looking through YouTube videos trying to figure out ‘How to fix Peaking/Clipping audio in adobe premiere pro cc 2018.’ After 2 hours of trying to find something useful, I gave up. All the videos I found either redirected me to software I had no knowledge on (adobe audition), the videos had no clipping /peaking in them at all or there was a technique that would actually help but the Youtuber did not get into the finer details of it.
When I look into a problem and don’t find a concrete solution on YouTube, that is an indication that I need to enrol in a class to get a much deeper understanding of the subject. YouTube has certain metrics that determine which videos rank highest. It is based on how much it is liked, subscriber count, hashtags maybe, posting time etc. Most people tune in to Youtube for entertainment. They also do not watch a long-form video as much, unless it is a very popular channel by society’s standard. Educational content is not as entertaining and is definitely going to be long-form. This means that I am more likely to get recommended a short five-minute video on how to edit a music video rather than a long forty five minute video on doing the same.
As you teach yourself photography, understand that learning is about depth. It is about getting a good understanding of subject matter. Learning will also require long hours of study. You will rarely find these on YouTube and that is why Educational Online platforms exist. However, this is not to say that you will not find useful content on Youtube. You will but it might take some time to find something that is in-depth. My recommendations for online educational platforms are Skillshare, Creative Live, Lynda, Udemy and ProEdu. Try them out, they are really awesome.
6. Craft your own projects
This, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to teach yourself photography. Projects will put you through every single type of emotion you can imagine. Projects will expose you to the reality of being a photographer. Projects can be difficult to put together and execute perfectly and this will be the case with most projects that you plan. It will require you to develop your negotiating skills so as to convince talent or other creatives to collaborate with you.
Projects also teach you that your photography is just a shell without the skills and input of other people. In May 2019, I put together a project on beards. In order to execute the idea, I needed an SFX artist, three models and a ton of lighting. The most important people were the models and SFX artist. Without them, the project would never have pulled through. I would have a ton of lighting and a camera but no subjects to shoot.
Do as many projects as possible and with the little that you have in the beginning. Share your projects with the world. Show the world what you are capable of. Projects do not specifically have to be some grandiose and luxurious piece of work. Start with simple projects like a 52-week photo challenge, or a 30-day composition challenge. Start with a simple idea and as you grow, incorporate all that you learn to create complex and more stunning ideas.
7. Use what you have
In a world where technology is constantly changing at a very high pace, it becomes difficult to convince most people to use what they have at their disposal. Necessity is the mother of invention. In the absence of all the fancy gadgets and gizmos, one begins to really understand why they need certain pieces of equipment or knowledge for photography. ‘Limitation’ is a great way to learn photography.
In 2017, while travelling for work, I did not have the chance to always have my camera with me and so I began to take photos with my phone. I took so many images to the point where I was actually able to put together a book. Hopefully, I will be able to share this with you this year. If you want to learn photography and your resources are limited, start figuring out how to get around the challenges that you are facing. This will greatly improve on your creativity which happens to be an essential element of photography.