Last week I had a dilemma. The Societies Roadshow for Photographers was coming to Newcastle and I had nothing in the diary that day. The outline for the day looked great: 3 professional photographers giving seminars about their latest work, a range of respected manufacturers and suppliers showcasing their wares with demonstrations.
But would it be worth it? The seminars were on topics I didn’t photograph; money’s tight so the temptation of new kit would be dangerous. Surely there’d be ‘better things’ to do with my time? Shouldn’t I be working on developing my skills, not listening to others talk about theirs?
And that’s where I was wrong, because there’s always something you can learn from other photographers. Here’s some ways to do it.
Attend workshops or seminars
Look out for talks by photographers in your local area. Camera clubs often have visiting guest speakers (yeah, I know camera clubs sometimes get a bad rap, but stay with me) and clubs often allow new visitors in as a way of encouraging new membership. Colleges and universities with photography schools may run public lectures too so keep an eye out for them. Larger, national photography associations such as the RPS, The Guild of Photographers and the Societies hold regional events from time to time (and if you live in that there London, fairly frequently, but don’t get me started on that…).
Many photographers offer workshops where you can learn new skills or techniques in small groups or even one-to-one covering a genre that they specialise in.
So why was I having second thoughts about The Societies Roadshow?
To be honest, I didn’t feel the speakers had anything to offer because of the topics. Christina Lauder was talking about prom portrait photography, Terry Donnelly on switching to Sony and Gary Hill on taking boudoir photography as a bloke. Would it be worth it?
Well worth it. Even though I have no plans (currently) to shoot proms or boudoir, what Christina and Gary were talking about could be applied to other genres of photography too. In fact, as Gary pointed out, ‘boudoir is just a portrait with less clothing’. Christina’s ideas about lighting, studio setups and her enthusiasm for prom photography was infectious, setting the cogs whirring about how I could offer something similar…
Terry’s talk about switching to Sony was possibly the most dangerous though. As someone who’s toyed with upgrading my gear, his demonstration of what the Sony cameras can do was a revelation. It took all I had to resist getting out the credit card and taking the plunge there and then!
Social Media and YouTube
We’re often lectured to on the evils of social media, and though I don’t believe for one second that Mr Z ‘cares about me and the people I share with’, Facebook is filled with groups where you can learn stuff. This may include stuff like the quiet lad you were friends with at school is now a racist, misogynist homophobe, but you may also learn some useful stuff about photography too. There are groups for pretty much every genre you might like to try.
Twitter also has a growing photographic community of professionals and amateurs who share their latest work and links to their blogs.
When I started digital photography, Flickr was a vibrant community of photographers sharing ideas and tips. Although Flickr’s influence has waned since, it led to meetups in real life and friendships that last to this day.
YouTube is just ace! Lightroom nightmare? There’s a clip for that! Compositing conundrum? There’ll be someone on YouTube who’s created a walkthrough of a process which you can follow and, best of all pause, rewind and rewatch. Aaron Nace’s Phlearn channel for example is great for Photoshop solutions.
There are also plenty of photographers who vlog nowadays. Check out Thomas Heaton who records his adventures in landscape photography.
I don’t know why I didn’t start listening to podcasts until last year, but they are a great medium for learning. It’s like having a really specialised version of Radio 4 on your smartphone tuned to your interests.
If you’re interested in landscape photography, The Togcast is well worth a listen. In each episode, Sam Gregory and Paul Sanders, both experienced photographers themselves, interview a photographer about their inspiration, processes and the day-to-day challenges of photography in an era when everyone’s a photographer. Previous guests have included Colin Prior, Vanda Ralevska and Mark Littlejohn.
If you get the opportunity to assist a photographer, do it!
You’ll not only be a big help to them, but you’ll get a great insight into how they work. It’s unlikely you’ll be taking any photos yourself, but the learning potential is huge. Prior to shooting a wedding for the first time, I assisted wedding photographers on several days and I learned so much, not just about technical stuff but soft skills around working with wedding guests. These all stood me in good stead when it came to shooting a big day myself.
Meet up in real life
When I first started taking photos with a ‘proper’ camera, it was a pretty lonely thing to do. Especially landscape photography. To be honest, I probably wanted the solitude at the time, but that’s a whole other blog in itself and I’ve rambled on too much already…
Anyway, meeting up with other photographers for a chat, either on location or socially is a great way of sharing ideas, problems and solutions. You may find you don’t just natter about photography either!
Be open to new ideas
The key to learning is being open to new ideas and the great thing about photography is there is always something to learn and someone to learn from. So if you’re in a creative rut or just want some inspiration, take a risk and try something different.
Have you noticed I’ve added links to all of the photographers I’ve mentioned in this post? So if you don’t know where to start, scroll up and try clicking on a couple of links! You never know, you might just learn something. 🙂
Good luck and don’t forget to let me know how you get on!