What’s the Best Way to Hone Your Professional Photography skills? Teach.
I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to instruct and advise photography students for the Indianapolis Camera Club. In addition to the satisfaction of helping people develop their passion for photography, I have also discovered that teaching has made me better understand what I do. When it comes to work, many times we approach developing a skill by doing a lot of research and then building upon our instincts and experiences. When you teach, you must know the hard reasons behind your choices. Why do I place my light here? Why do I position the subject this way? Having to articulate and defend to myself the whys behind my work has certainly helped me hone my craft! And then there are the question from students. Answering “that is the way I’ve always done it” could be the truth, but having a technical reason is more helpful. It also makes me understand why I do something, and provides the opportunity to refine my process.
One activity in particular that the Club had me do was a hands-on image critique for a class. They gave me a bunch of pictures and had me describe why some worked and others did not. I feel this experience was extremely helpful for the students. Photography does not have obvious solutions to problems. Unlike driving, where you typically step on the brakes when you encounter a difficult situation, imagery is not that straightforward. The goal of photography is to evoke an emotion – which one is up to the photographer or the client. Answering why one image has more emotional impact that one that was taken two seconds later is not easy. Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke about the notion of the decisive moment, that one place in time that captures the best of what is happening in front of you. This concept has driven my work; I am always evaluating a scene to uncover the perfect moment to capture. I have found that introducing this idea to students can be impactful. My goal is for them to know the concept exists, and use it to guide their work. From there we discuss elements like composition, lighting, expression, gesture, etc. – the other things that go into compelling images. Not only does articulating these aspects of good photography help elevate my work, it also is important for novice photographers to hear the concepts and see examples of how they are used or not used. I hope that the students leave with a good knowledge base and the desire to be proactive in looking for ways to develop their skills.
Jeff Coates, President of the Indianapolis Camera Club, offered some thoughts on my work with the organization:
“I’ve been on the Indianapolis Camera Club Board for several years now and I also have a Masters in education. There is a mantra is the education industry – just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you can teach it. Our group understands the value of bringing outside photographers in to share their experiences with our members and we try to get folks who are also interesting in teaching. What struck us about Paul was his genuine interest in listening and trying to help people learn whatever aspect he was talking about. I found that fairly unique; he has a natural affinity for being in a teaching role. We all picked up on it and appreciated it. His ability to develop a rapport with our members was remarkable, and we were so impressed with him the first time, we keep asking him back. It is one thing to explain your craft, but being able to engage with the students to help them learn is another. We have a wide variety of skill levels in our group and Paul is especially good at helping people learn foundational skills of photography.”