In this solo show Bart shares eight ways in which he keep learning and improving his photography. We all learn in our own unique ways so Bart doesn’t recommend a recipe for learning, but rather shares how he learns in the hope it helps or at least inspires others.
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At this stage it’s probably a cliché that I take every opportunity I can to remind people that you never stop learning in photography — you can never know everything, and you can never master every technique. There’s always more history to absorb, you can always gain a deeper understanding of photography at an artistic level, you can always improve your physical and software skills, and there are always new physical and processing techniques to encounter.
OK, so I keep preaching about the importance of perpetual learning, but I haven’t actually dedicated any significant time to suggesting how you might do that!
This is one of those things where there is no right answers. We’re all different, we all learn in our own ways, so the best I can do is share my approach in the hope that at least some of what I do helps spark something in you.
Here are some of the things I find helpful:
Study Photos — our modern world is awash with photography, most of it doesn’t even catch our eye. When ever something does, take a moment to figure out why? Of all the images I saw in the last hour, why did this one catch my eye?
Learn the ‘Rules’ — there are loads of guidelines, tips, and techniques out there. Learn them, practice them, understand why they work, then, you can break them effectively!
E.g. ‘Give subjects room to look into’ is a common compositional ‘rule’. It has an important un-spoken context/prefix — ‘to create harmonious compositions’. So, once you know and understand the rule, you can intentionally break it to create compositions that feel uncomfortable, tense, or jarring.
Imitate — we know that we need to crawl before we walk, and walk before we run. To be a great photographer, start by simply figuring out how to re-create photos, techniques, or styles you admire. Only when you’ve figured out how it’s done are you ready to improvise around the idea to create original takes of your own. Remember, as long as you’re honest about the fact that you’re re-creating a photo you admire there’s nothing unethical about it. It’s passing other peoples ideas off as your own that’s morally reprehensible!
Get Critiqued — no, I don’t mean get insulted on the internet 😉, I mean seek out honest appraisals from people who have earned your trust and respect (and be open to doing the same for people who trust and respect you).
Embrace Change — some people are lucky enough to be free of the fear of the unknown or of change, but I have to pro-actively work on it. My natural temptation is to figure out one way to do things and to just keep doing that for ever. Modern tech moves fast, so you actually can’t just keep doing the same thing for ever, no matter how much you want to. So, you can either get dragged into the future kicking and screaming, or, you can stop trying to swim up stream and embrace new tools with a determinedly open mind.
Understand the Tech — the art and craft of photography are intimately connected, and technology is where they meet. Artistic desire drive technology, and technological limitations constrain what’s possible. The better you understand the software and hardware you use, the more you’ll get out of your tools. The better you understand the wider array of software and hardware that exists, the more effectively you’ll be able to invest in your toolkit.
Read/Watch/Listen — sure, there’s a lot of blowhards out there, but there’s also a lot of wisdom and insight out there. Seek out the signal from the noise, and try to honestly absorb the thoughts and opinions of others who’ve earned your respect, especially when you disagree with them! Books, articles, podcasts, even YouTube videos and tweets can help deepen your understanding and expand your perceptions.
Learn your History — compared to most arts photography is a neophyte, but photography didn’t just appear out of nowhere in 1839, and it’s changed a lot in the century and a half since! I’m a firm believer that you have to understand where something came from, how it changed along the way, and what forces moulded and shaped it to produce the now we’re experiencing if you want to have any hope of glimpsing the future.