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!
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.
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.
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.
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.