This week, the boys and I met a friend at Twin Lakes Park in Westmoreland County, PA for a leisurely walk and bike around the lakes + photo practice. My talented and driven friend is learning photography - she has just reached the point where she can confidently shoot in manual, and so I thought, what better way for her to practice than on my energetic 3 and 5 year old? Like any kids, they don't stop and wait for you to change your settings and they certainly don't oblige your light preferences.
Watching my friend practicing made me think about how we learn. I was happy to see her doing all of these. I hope that you can take a page from her book- if not in application to your photography, then for any new skill!
We learn through equal amounts of thinking and doing.
I've seen new shooters who lean more towards thinking and those who lean more towards doing and really, either one is unproductive without the other. Photography is a skill that requires knowing how to read your light meter and knowing by memory where all the most important buttons and dials are. But without thoughtful reflection, you risk getting stuck in a loop of the same old mistakes and bad habits. On the other hand, those who overthink every shot are not in touch with their intuition and creativity and risk freezing up and missing a shot due to the never ending list of what-if's running through their mind.
I recommend shooting A LOT (preferably daily) and reflecting daily or at least on every upload. Blogging or having a small group with which to share successes and mistakes can help tremendously.
We learn by making mistakes (AND fixing them!).
We tell our own children all the time "we learn by making mistakes", but we don't practice what we preach. I still work with new photographers all the time who are afraid of making mistakes. Or, they are fine with making mistakes, but don't go back to figure out what went wrong and how to make it better the next time.
If you attempt to shoot a silhouette and it turns out wrong, it's not enough to have made the mistake. You must read up, make a new plan, and get back out there to shoot it again! If something feels wrong, is not working the way you think it should, or is yielding a result different from what you expected - this is your chance to learn something big! It's in the acts of mental dissonance and self-correction that true learning happens.
We learn by being brave.
At every turning point of your journey, you will come up against a new wall. A new reason to quit. A new reason to give up. I know this, because it's still happening to me. I mastered aperture priority mode and could go no farther till I mustered the bravery to get on with learning and mastering manual. I mastered manual and came up against composition. I mastered composition and came up against artistry. It doesn't end. It shouldn't end. It's the nature of passionate life-long learning.