I love teaching photography – it helps me to be a better photographer as well as those I teach. Every photographer should be a teacher at some point.
Many photographers, including myself, are largely self-taught. This does not mean learning new techniques and methods from someone more advanced than us is not welcome.
Modern life affords you endless resources to become self-taught in many subjects. Certain professions require an academic degree, photography does not. Becoming a doctor or engineer would be impossible without formal education. To learn photography all you need to do is get online and start reading and watching videos. Most of it you can even do for free.
There’s no substitute for a competent teacher
Aspects of learning that require a teacher include: receiving clear instruction in person. Having the opportunity to ask and have your questions answered, and being challenged about specifics at your personal level of learning.
Everyone can become a competent teacher. You will always know at least a little more than someone else. Even if you’ve only learned what you believe is a little. You are capable of sharing what you know in a unique way. Your knowledge and experience will be appreciated by someone.
Finding the right students
Whatever level of photography you are at, you’ll always be able to find someone who knows less than you. Or someone who does things differently than you. Connecting with people who appreciate your willingness to share is important. It’s practically impossible to teach someone who does not want to learn.
Even complete novices can teach each other through practical experience. Going out with another photographer provides you opportunities to talk about the photos you’re taking. Because we all have a unique view of the world, we all see things differently. Sharing this with others can help us become more skilled with our cameras.
More advanced photographers are usually more capable of teaching those with less experience. Having a positive and encouraging attitude towards each other helps. I never tell people they are doing something wrong, instead, I prefer to teach them how to make improvements to what they are doing.
Making yourself available and reaching out to those with less experience is a good first step. Building a relationship of trust will encourage the learning process. Once your students know you’ll not lambast them for an incorrect exposure or out of focus subject, they’ll be more open to learning from you.
Start by asking and looking
Before I run a workshop, I like to see a selection of photos from people who will attend. This gives me a pretty good idea of how they like to use their cameras. It often provides me with a pretty good idea of how to teach them.
I like asking questions, and I love it when people ask me questions. This is a huge part of the learning process. Establishing how a person uses their camera, and what they prefer to photograph, helps me know where to start teaching.
Asking questions and looking at the photos of someone you are teaching makes the whole interaction more personal. It also makes the experience much more practical.
Don’t only look at the best photos someone has taken. Ask to see some recent pictures they’ve made that have disappointed them. Even if you cannot see any obvious reason for the lack of success, discuss the pictures. This will often bring new ideas to life, and you can both learn something new.
Asking a person questions about their photography shows you are interested in them. Most people will appreciate this. Once they know you are interested, they will be more receptive to what you have to teach.
Teaching is not only about what you know
You need to become aware of what your students do and do not know. This information is gained both by asking questions and looking at their photos. Once you have this understanding, you can focus on teaching them what will be practical.
Remember that when we hear something we’ve had no prior knowledge about, it’s more difficult to understand it. Building on what students already know and incrementally introducing new concepts is practical.
Understanding what you have to share is important. Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Teaching what you understand well, you will be received more readily by your students.
When you think you have a good grasp of technique and the person you’re sharing it with is looking bored, this is a clear sign you are not hitting the mark. Do you really have such a good understanding of what you are teaching? How can you simplify your explanation to make it more acceptable? Or are you introducing a brand new idea too soon?
Teaching and doing is the best way to learn photography. Having their camera in hand, a student can put into practice what you are teaching them. If, for example, you’re teaching about depth of field, this is better understood when you can see the results different camera settings produce. When photographing the same subject that your student is, you can compare your photos. This way, you’ll see if they understand the teaching.
You will reap what you sow
Every photographer should be a teacher because as you teach, you will also learn. Giving out brings back to you many times more than what you contribute. I’ve always enjoyed sharing what I know about photography with others. It wasn’t until about six years ago that I started running regular photography workshops. Because I was teaching, my rate of learning increased incredibly.
Teaching can push you to learn more too. Questions from students or fellow photographers will challenge you to learn more. It feels good to give a clear and understandable answer to someone’s question. Regular interaction like this will inspire you to increase your knowledge, and as a result, your photography will improve.
You don’t need to wait until you believe you’re completely competent. Start now. Build relationships with other photographers who are at about the same level as you and find others who are beginners. Start to share your experiences together and encourage them to share with you what they know about photography. This way, you’ll all benefit from teaching, and you’ll grow together in your photography experience.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Why Every Photographer Should be a Teacher. If you have anything else you would like to add, please do so in the comments.