Learning photography is a challenging process. Some shooters head to organized schools, while others spend countless hours scouring the internet and devouring books to teach themselves the skill. But there’s one technique that can help you learn photography, and it’s hardly ever talked about at all.
And that, very simply, is to teach photography to someone else.
You see, teaching photography forces you to acquire a deeper understanding of the subject than if you were just doing it. This concept isn’t new. In fact, nearly 2000 years ago, Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC – 65 AD) said: Docendo discimus, which means: “By teaching, we learn”.
We’ve been teaching for the majority of our photographic careers, and we can tell you that it has been one of the biggest factors in how quickly and thoroughly we have learned the necessary skills!
So this isn’t just another article to get you excited about photography. I seriously want you to teach someone else, even if you’ve never ever done it before. I’m going to walk you through the process, so you can get out there and make it happen!
How Teaching Helps You Learn Photography
Teaching requires full and total understanding of your subject matter. You have to be able to explain things clearly and concisely, as well as take advanced ideas and break them down into simple concepts for a beginner. You also have to be prepared to answer questions, and explain things in a few different ways, in case your student isn’t getting it. In order to do all this, you need to have a solid grasp of the fundamentals.
Now, a lot of photographers don’t really have those fundamentals down pat, especially if they learned how to shoot on their own. Schools have structured curriculums that drill these in, but if you’re one of the ever-growing number of self-taught shooters, you probably work more intuitively than technically. You can certainly get by on that, but photography becomes a much richer and more fascinating pursuit when you fully understand what is going on. You’ll also be able to handle a wider array of challenges when your fundamentals are rock solid!
So one of the first things you have to do when teaching photography to someone else is brush up on the material. Teaching will really put the pressure on you to make sure you understand!
Another big part of the learning that comes from teaching exists in the teacher-student interactions that take place. This is probably one of the most exciting parts about teaching! Sometimes, it’s as simple as a student asking you a question that you don’t know the answer to—maybe something you never even thought was important to learn.
The first thing to realize is that this is nothing to be embarrassed about. If you pretend to know the answer, or make something up, you’re hurting both yourself and your student. Humility is the key to lifelong learning. You have to accept your own limitations, and then work to overcome them. So if you get a question that you don’t know the answer to, hit the books and find out! Your students will probably push you to go and learn new things, and that’s fantastic!
Another way students are a big part of the learning equation is due to their unique perspectives on the subject matter. Photography is an exciting field because there is very little right and wrong. Instead, different perspectives, ideas and approaches are embraced and encouraged. Your students may have a completely different way of looking at a topic than you, and these new ideas can be incredibly inspiring! Often beginners come into photography with no baggage, and no pre-conceived notions about how things should be done. That makes their work some of the most refreshing of all. As a teacher you’ll get access to this fresh perspective, and get a chance to look at old topics in a brand new way. Once you know this incredibly valuable aspect of teaching, you can see why it’s such an important process!
When Are You Ready To Teach?
I’m sure that a lot of you are thinking that this all sounds lovely, but you’re not nearly advanced enough to be able to teach. Well, that’s not true at all.
See, even if you’re just in your first year of photography, you are still further along than someone who hasn’t started at all and would be able to help them out!
When we were only one year into our business we began getting a lot of questions from other shooters. We knew we could help them by sharing what we had learned so far, so we held a totally free workshop in our home, and had a fantastic group of photographers over. We had a little presentation, went out shooting together, and then we let them ask questions and we answered as best we could.
That experience was definitely nerve-wracking. We were super new, and there was a lot about photography we didn’t know. But between the great feedback we received, and the energy that comes from teaching, we were hooked, and have kept doing it ever since!
So no matter where you are in your photography journey, remember that you surely know enough to teach even just the basics to someone else! Then, as you learn more, you can teach more!
Who To Teach
Now, you’re probably wondering just who you should teach. Well, that’s simple: anyone!
We’ve taught everyone from kids, to brand new photographers, right up to shooters with decades more experience than us. And no matter what stage they were at, we had things to offer our students, and, very importantly, they had things to offer us too.
So think about who you know that is interested in photography, and what you could teach them. It could be your significant other, your friends, new photographers, or even your kids! Anyone who wants to learn is the perfect person to teach.
You can also teach in many different formats. It can be one-on-one, in a small group, or a large lecture theatre. You can meet in person, chat over the phone or with online video, or you can write articles and tutorials and post them online. We’ve taught in all these ways, and can tell you that each and every one is effective! They all have their pros and cons, of course, so you’ll have to figure out what works best for you and your students.
Teaching can be a formal experience, or you can do it casually. If you’re just getting started, you might be most comfortable just explaining what you learned that day to your significant other or a helpful friend. Then, as you get more experienced, you can begin teaching in a more structured way! You don’t need to start big—the simple act of rephrasing and explaining material can do wonders to help you understand it better!
How To Do It
First you need to understand what your student is hoping to learn in their time with you. Once you know their goal, you can prepare appropriately to help them achieve it!
Then, you have to figure out how you’ll teach them the material. Overall you should be trying to make it easier for them to learn the subject than it was for you. You probably won the knowledge through a lot of hard trial and error. The goal of teaching is to give the benefits of that experience to your student!
So figure out how you can make it easy for your student to learn. Sometimes this involves simplifying a complex topic, and getting down to t
he fundamentals. Or perhaps you could compile all the necessary information into one place. When getting your materials together, put yourself in the student’s mindset, and walk through the lesson. Are there any places where they might get confused? If so, figure out how to make things clearer.
When you’re actually teaching your students, there are a few things you can do to help them to learn better from you. First, make sure they understand that there are no such things as stupid questions, and that you encourage them to speak up if anything is unclear. Too often people are afraid to ask a question for fear of looking dumb. But we’ve already established that that is a silly fear, and that the dumb thing is not asking and learning!
Also encourage your students to take notes when they learn. Not only does it allow them to reference the material later, but it also helps to increase comprehension when they write down concepts in their own words.
Finally, make sure your students take what they’ve learned, and go out and practice, practice, practice! What you teach them won’t ever become a skill unless they go out and shoot!
Important Final Thoughts
Teaching is a very serious responsibility. You’re taking someone else’s education into your own hands, and that’s not a task to take lightly. When you teach, do your prep—research the topic from all angles to make sure you are giving them solid information. And remember: if you don’t know the answer, go look it up, don’t make it up!
Never forget that you can learn from everyone you ever encounter. To really get the full benefit of teaching you need to have an open mind, and see it as a fantastic opportunity for mutual learning!
Most of all, teaching photography is an amazing way to deepen your love and appreciation for the art. Enthusiasm is contagious, so get excited about sharing what you know with others, and you’ll be amazed at how stoked your students will become!
So, who are you going to teach now?