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It Should Be Photography 101 | How Photography Education Can Hinder Your Progression

By Max Bridge on July 27th 2016

Education is a wondrous thing which can allow even the most mediocre of photographers to achieve new heights. However, if used incorrectly, it can also be a force which will hinder our progression. In school, teachers guide their pupils along a specified path with an explicit goal in mind. Online photography education has made high-quality education accessible to the masses for what is, compared to conventional education, a paltry sum. Without the guiding force a tutor provides, however, we can, in fact, damage our progression. This article will cover my own photographic development and discuss an important factor which held me back.

A Desire To Improve Your Photography Can Have The Opposite Effect

As an amateur, I thought I had to know everything, and that mentality carried through when I began my career as a professional photographer. As a professional working photographer though, the mentality further developed, and I thought I had to know everything, and If I didn’t, I wasn’t a professional!

[REWIND: PUPPET WARP | THE REALLY COOL TOOL YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT]

I purchased educational courses and dabbled in landscape photography, portraits, fashion, wildlife, and so on. I spent hours, years even, analyzing the various approaches to all sorts of photographic disciplines and practicing. Granted, I became good at quite a few things, but you could compare the approach I took in my early years to that of a scatter gun, the danger of which I will explain in a moment.

Why Is It Bad To Broaden Your Photographic Horizons?

It’s not a bad thing to widen your horizons as a photographer, it’s often necessary as a pro to add multiple strings to your bow so you can earn extra income. It can also sometimes serve as inspiration during a dry spell; learn something new in another genre and apply it to something else.

So why is it a bad thing? One word: Direction. At school, a teacher leads their pupils on a specified path to learn one particular subject. Constantly jumping from one thing to another is not the most efficient way to learn. Without practise and repetition, you forget topics you’ve covered in the past, and while you could argue that you’re learning, photography is such a gigantic subject with such dramatic differences between each genre that to try and learn EVERYTHING at once is an impossibility, and that impedes you.

I’m An Amateur Photographer, Can’t I Experiment?

Yes, God yes. Photography is fun, but you won’t enjoy every genre, so by all means, as an amateur, try everything, but know that you’re just dipping your toe with the aim of finding an area that makes you want to dive in.

Throughout this article you’ve seen some of my family and wildlife photography, but the image below is a grid of seemingly random photographs spanning many areas. You’d be forgiven for thinking that not much thought went into the photos for this article. You’d be wrong.

How Photography Education Can Hinder Your Progression

They are here, in fact, to demonstrate my point. I am a good family photographer, good enough to charge for it, good enough to charge quite a bit for it, but I am by no means the best. I am an ‘OK’ wildlife photographer, and more specifically, I’m okay at photographing the deer in my local park and they were my creative focus for many years. However, I am not a great wildlife photographer. In fact, this is what it’s like for many people who are competent with a camera, that they are okay photographers in all manners of genres. But, It was only once I stopped dabbling, stopped feeling as though I had to learn EVERYTHING that my photography took a big leap forward. I focused all of my efforts on product photography and am happy to say that this is something I am very good at.

[REWIND: USING SPLASH PHOTOGRAPHY TO PRODUCE SOMETHING SPECIAL | HOW I SHOT IT]

Summary – So Education Is Not Important?

No, gaining the right photography education is vital. However, if you try and do everything all at once, the mountain of photography information you will be attempting to absorb and internalize will be overwhelming, and you will not take it all in.

My advice to amateurs is first to learn the basics that every photographer must know, concepts that are covered in depth within much of the SLR Lounge Education. I’d recommend Photography 101, Lighting 101 and Lighting 201 to any amateur, or pro for that matter. Click here to take a look at all the education on offer in the SLR Lounge Store –  The benefits of having a structured education versus haphazard YouTube videos cannot be overstated.

Once you’ve covered the basics, experiment with different genres of photography but once you find something you enjoy, specialize. Focus all your attention upon becoming an expert in that field. By applying all of your energy to one area, you’ll find your photos dramatically improve.

As a professional, the same advice applies. Sure, you’ll probably do lots of genres regularly to pay the bills; some portraits here, headshots there, a little bit of product photography, family portraits, weddings, whatever will bring in some income. The trouble is, if you continue trying to become the best portrait, headshot, wedding, product, family, and fashion photographer, you will likely fail. Instead, you will become a jack of all trades and master of none. In photography, you want to focus.

[REWIND: SIMPLE PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS | THE FORMULA TO BECOMING A PROFESSIONAL]

If you’re interested in the culmination of my own journey, you need only visit my new product photography website, click here. This business is new, but I’ve become reinvigorated and have never been happier with my state of expertise as a photographer. Will the clients come, who knows? That’s a whole other article.

About

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
Instagram: Follow Author

9 Comments

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  1. be free Financial

    Hi I was searching for the blogs for many times, now I have reached at the right place.

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  2. Andrew Leinonen

    Being able to enjoy variety and experimentation without guilt is one of the many reasons why I am always glad to be an amateur photographer without the need to make a paycheque out of my passion.

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  3. Dennis Christians

    Great read. This could probably apply to gear as well – try out everything and know why it’s there, but master the tools that make the most sense for the style you shoot (I’m still learning this) Thanks for the article!

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    • Max Bridge

      Glad you liked it Dennis. On many levels I completely agree although the need to use many varied pieces of gear will depend on the genre you shoot. Some could get away with very little whereas others will find they NEED a lot more.

      That said, a sensible approach to acquiring gear and mastering each item is definitely necessary.

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  4. barbara farley

    Thought provoking and poignant for me. I’m all over the place.

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  5. norman tesch

    i am actually on the opposite side of the fence. i like to shoot everything. the more shooting you do the better you get. if you shoot fast animals then you can surely shoot that kid crawling across the floor, learning angles and lighting as it changes. cant learn that in a studio where the kid isent moving and the lights are perfect.

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    • Max Bridge

      Hey Norman. I definitely agree that regularly shooting is important but if we can agree that there are vast differences between photographic genres, then surely attempting to learn it all at once is not an efficient manner in which to do it.

      It’s a personal thing of course and if you prefer it that way then I certainly won’t stop you. I suppose the best way to summarize my thoughts is to say it’s much easier to become the best family photographer than it is to become the best family, portrait, engagement, wedding, wildlife, fashion, product, and street photographer. Replace “family” above with any genre.

      Some genre’s fit well together but trying to be the best of everything must be harder (perhaps impossible) than being the best at one thing.

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  6. Karen Borter

    Max … there was a time (when I first got back into photography a couple of years ago) that I thought “there is no way I am going to shoot portraits/people”. I felt I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t post process well enough. I shot street art and more candid street photography. I have found, however, over the last year, that I am doing more and more in the realm of portraits and people so I am shifting focus to that genre. I have gone through Photography 101, Lighting 101 and am currently watching Lighting 201. Once I get through that series, I am going to go back to Lighting 101 and re-watch the videos and STOP when I get to an assignment and do the assignment, post here for critique and re-shoot if it’s not “right”. I will be limited by some equipment, but I am determined to get on and off camera flash right, it’s something I am struggling with currently, so I am going to focus on that before moving on. Thanks for the article. Your product photography is amazeballs!

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    • Max Bridge

      Hey Karen. If portraits and on/off camera flash is what you want to be doing (creatively or professionally), I think that sounds like a great approach. I’m certain that by the end you’ll be confident with both!

      Thanks for complimenting my product work too :)

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