Every craft, discipline, and profession has knowledge that must be acquired before mastery is eventually achieved. Every person who seeks to excel must acquire a minimum of technical skill that will eventually result in an efficient and experienced way of working. Since its birth after the appearance of lithography, photography has evolved around complex physics of light that result in still images. From its formula to define exposure, to its reproductive nature, photography presents certain demands that must be learned to master its tools. After that, only passion and dedication will lead to a fulfilling career and meaningful work.
Photography involve as much technical skill as any other discipline out there. The technical aspects of photography center on the action of capturing light on photosensitive media to render an image.
I live in a country with an extreme shortage of academic offerings around photography; therefore, we are a largely population of self-taught photographers. But, of course, there are courses that teach the fundamentals of composition, exposure and artificial lighting. But thanks to our craving for academic knowledge, we have developed a very interesting photographic culture. The large majority of us tend to share the tiny amounts of knowledge we have. We are used to reading books, and we burn our eyelashes by watching tutorials from various photography-related sources on the internet. Even though our lack of academic resources has bred a cheerful culture, there are some things we should resent:
- The hard time we have earning profit from our photographs
- The fragile, fragmented network that has grown due to the lack of academic support
- Low access to resources for experimenting and learning from other professionals
- The lack of workflow instruction
- The shortage of portfolio reviews.
Building a sustainable career in photography is not necessarily achieved by just taking pictures. There are a lot of professional opportunities that are popular worldwide. Some of these are:
- Gallery networking
- Working at museums
- Editorial activities.
It’s no secret that with the evolution of the media and the appearance of social media (and its sharing dynamics) we are constantly bombarded with images that are not necessarily meaningful. Therefore, it is important to pursue knowledge to create a more thoughtful visual culture and objective criteria for our own stuff. Being able to stand out from the crowd is key – especially today, where things get more ephemeral each day.
It’s not only basic technical skills that are important. Guidance and feedback, which both rely more in society than in teachers, are also critical. John Free explains this idea more clearly than I do. The key is to practice, practice and practice, after knowing how the tool works. Why practice so much? Easy: because there’s no better way to learn.
When it comes to sustainability, understanding the basics of business management is important, too. Creativity must not fool our minds into thinking that it is all that matters. The guys over at 99U (an amazing project of Bēhance) know this for sure. I'm currently reading their books as well – and wow, they are treasures when it comes to balancing things out.
Some people discourage online learning. But if you don't have access to academic resources in your own country, or its academic offerings are simply beyond your financial wherewithal (I'm a true believer that education must be easy accessible to anyone with a passion for learning, no matter their academic level) online learning is a great solution. I've learned a lot via online – not just about photography, but also about meteorology, curation and food security, which are topics I love, but which are not easily accessible to me through a traditional academic experience. In a couple of months, I’ll start studying for a PhD in a traditional way because, happily, it happens to be accessible to me. You see, I don’t rely on online learning only. The only people who look down on good quality online learning are those who have never experienced it, period. MOOCS and High Quality Tutorials are awesome.
Websites I consider as good for learning technical photography stuff include:
Recently I was talking with a friend of mine, a great illustrator, and he told me something I think can apply to photography as well. Talent is not enough. You can have lots of talent, or very little talent, but what really matters is discipline and responsibility. Another thing he believes is that you'll always have people to admire – people that produce work that inspires you to become better each day. This is something you learn in the real world, not in classes. Education may introduce you to a more precise photographic environment, but the responsibility of making amazing stuff is entirely yours.
I can't remember the episode, but in her podcast, Valerie Jardin once related a very cool anecdote. She met a young girl who asked her for advice. The girl had an opportunity to study either Photography or Pediatrics. Jardin told her to become a pediatrician, because she could always be a pediatrician and a photographer. But if she decided to study photography, her chance to become a pediatrician might not present itself again. Amazing advice! (That anecdote reminds me of the great writer William Carlos Williams, who was a medical doctor and a poet.)
For me it all comes down to this: photography schools are fine for learning the mechanics of photographic tools. You don’t need to learn every system once you understand the nuts and bolts of exposure; you’ll be able to work with any camera, and every camera will work for you. But there are three huge things you rarely develop at school:
- social skills
- a personal voice.
Your own passion will drive you to learn more about history and other beautiful things related to photography. Keep that passion alive, and your photography will evolve in a positive way.