Part 2 – Relating To and Learning From Other Photographers

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Steve started things off excellently with his list of ten ways to relate to and learn from other photographers. So excellently, in fact, that I had to give him a hard time because he used many of the ideas I had for my own article. That’s what we do, though – in giving each other a hard time we’re really complimenting one another for raising the bar and creating a challenge.

We all have a tremendous opportunity to learn from one another, and an equally tremendous opportunity to TEACH others. A note on an experience I recently had – a photographer showed me an unedited copy of the photo you see above (Shiprock, New Mexico), and asked my advice on how to improve it. I had a really positive experience showing him how to edit the photo, talking about things he could have done to better position himself so that post-processing wasn’t necessary, and in the end was able to see how proud he was of his work once he finished following the steps I outlined.

Here’s what the original looked like:

My point is, being a photographer that others can relate to and learn from is just as rewarding as finding a photographer that you can relate to and learn from! So among my own items of advice, I’m going to add some things we should keep in mind if WE are approached by someone who wishes to learn from us.

1 – Ask intelligent questions. It really, really helps to be prepared. So if you’re going to a conference, workshop or class, try to think ahead of time of the kinds of questions you’d like to have answered. It’s easy to become tongue-tied in a crowd, or star-struck in front of a personal idol. Even if you have to write your questions down, you’re more likely to be met with appreciation and commiseration than ridicule.

2 – Don’t be a show-off. Some folks try to relate to other photographers by just showing off what they are capable of themselves. That’s going to turn someone off very quickly, and you’ll find their interest and attention waning before too long. So if you are looking for advice on a specific problem you’re having, and have examples of what you’re trying to explain, by all means provide that information or image. Don’t stand there flipping through your whole portfolio with a, “See? I can do that too!” attitude.

3 – Ask for clarification. If you’re having a discussion about technique that you don’t quite grasp, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. If YOU are being asked a question and you’re not sure how in-depth you should go, ask the person for their level of expertise so you can tailor your answer accordingly. Walking away without providing or understanding the answer is worse than never asking the question!

4 – Keep your mouth shut when it’s time to keep your mouth shut. The only way to learn is to LISTEN. So, while someone is talking to you, taking their valuable time to try to teach you, really listen to them. Don’t formulate your next statement or question in your head while they’re talking, and don’t interrupt! Likewise, listen to the person that is asking you questions or trying to relate to you. Remember, we were ALL in the same place of the learning curve at one time or another, so no condescension!

5 – Keep an open mind. Photography is an art, and is thereby open to many different levels of interpretation and many different kinds of preferences. You don’t have to love someone else’s stuff, just like they don’t have to love yours. Embrace our differences and find the positive in every photographer you encounter – whether or not you’d prefer to emulate their style.

6 – Take your turn. Don’t monopolize the conversation, especially if you’re in a crowd of folks vying for the attention of a rock star photographer or a single instructor. If you have a lot of questions or a lot you want to talk about, narrow things down to your top two or three topics.

7 – Pay attention to body language. You can tell if a person is enjoying themselves, and you can tell when they aren’t enjoying themselves, just by paying attention to the queues they provide in their body language. Don’t push your presence upon a person who is stressed, nervous, or obviously very busy. If they let you know that they simply don’t have time to converse with you, respect that.

8 – Call a spade a spade – but only in your own mind. Some photographers – just like folks in many other professions – can become snobbish, conceited, and downright rude. So, as much as you’d like to put them in their place with a few choice words (a selection of which come to mind but I’m sure you can figure out what those might be) hold your tongue and renew your vow to never become like them.

9 – Use good social media etiquette. Many of us have blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and photo sharing websites. So do many professional photographers. If you have good, kind things to say, and positive feedback to impart, then by all means talk about your experience. Leave kind comments on the photographer’s website, link to them from your blog or on Facebook, and spread the word about an excellent mentor. Do NOT engage in high school tactics like becoming a comment troll, being derogatory on social media sites, or defaming anyone in any manner WHATSOEVER. The world of photography is large – but smaller than you think. Word gets around, so always conduct yourself in a manner becoming of a true friend – otherwise you might find that what goes around comes around. If someone’s experience with you was positive, they’ll be more likely to want to converse again, refer someone to you, or even provide fantastic opportunities for you (such as what Steve described in his article).

Do you have any further wisdom to share, or your own personal experiences when trying to relate to and learn from a photographer? Please share with us in the comments or on our Facebook page!

* The person who took the photo prefers to remain anonymous, but I have his permission to post.

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