When people ask me about my background, I’ve answered the same way for many years – that I’m a self-taught photographer.
Thing is, I’m starting to realize that title isn’t correct. For someone to be truly self-taught, one would have no experience with cameras would figure out how to get results using trial-and-error.
Of course, trial-and-error is something that all creative photographers explore and learn from.
The truth is that although I’ve had no formal training, I have relied on the knowledge of others and the power of the internet (thank you Google) to gain knowledge about the “how.” Knowledge isn’t everything; everyone may know that eating well and exercising will lead them to lose weight, yet people still struggle to do so. In terms of photography, knowledge is the first step on a never-ending staircase to perfect the “how” so that a photographer can explore the “why.” It’s only by putting the knowledge to use that real growth occurs.
I’ve gotten myself pretty far using these methods over the past 12 years. I also see the work that other photographers put out there and know that my growth isn’t done (if it ever will be?).
I’m happy with where I am, but not satisfied.
Before 2014, I had never taken a photographic workshop. It was because I didn’t want to pay for something I could learn for free and I was attached to the idea of defining myself as a self-taught photographer.
Over the past two years I’ve (mostly) let go of my desire to define myself as “self-taught.” For me it’s more important that I create great photographs, than how I got here. I now believe that anything that helps progress one’s craft is worth trying.
That has led me to actively search for a photography workshop that would give knowledge and experiences that aren’t available online. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for photographers just starting out) most of the workshops I’ve found are tailored for beginners. I already know the basics and want more.
The other thing that I came up against was that when I looked at the portfolios of the photographers who were offering workshops, I wasn’t particularly inspired.
Last year I finally found one that is run by a photographer I have a lot of respect for. It was natural light masterclass being delivered by Peter Coulson, the photographer behind Koukei Workshops.
I love Peter’s work. The expressions that he captures and his use of light is beautiful. Here is someone who I want to learn from.
We met up at Fed Square in Melbourne at 10am. It was a bright sunny day and part of me was wondering how Peter would get beautiful light outside of the “golden hours.”
The other was the incredible Teisha, who I’d been lucky enough to work with before; it was like a mini-reunion!
We spent the next 4 hours walking around to various locations. At each spot, Peter would stop, talk about how he would approach the location, give some tips, and then take a couple of shots to show us the concept. He’d then give us time to work with the models to put what we learned into practice.
I’m not here to share Peter’s secrets. The best way to learn from his experience is to learn from Peter directly.
Watching a master approach a situation is enlightening (photography pun not intended). Listening to him talk about what he looks for, and seeing him interact with the models was where my learning occurred.
I’d highly recommend taking a workshop in order to develop your photographic craft.
Once I selected my favouite images from the workshop, I wanted to try out some new retouching techniques that I had recently learned from watching Pratik Naik‘s “The Art & Business of High-End Retouching” on CreativeLive. He is someone who I’ve followed ever since I found out that he retouched some of my favourite work from Joey L.
Although not a workshop that I took in person, it’s just another example of how I stand on the shoulders of others to create my photographs.
I also benefit from the relationships I have with other photographers in the industry. Talking with other photographers, and following their work is another way I stay inspired.
The Self-Taught Photographer Lie
So am I self-taught? The more I think about it, the more I think the true answer is no.
Deep down I know it was just a title I gave myself because I thought it may make me look better. Now I realize that it comes down to my work and who I am in this moment, not how I got here.
What is true is that you can become a professional photographer with no formal training. There are many ways to get the knowledge, skills and experiences to get you to your goal. Passion plus action will get you there, or at least moving in the right direction.
There are times where it may seem that practice isn’t getting you to where you want to go, so perhaps it’s time to try something new. Experiment, break out, explore.
What about you? Do you define yourself as a self-taught photographer?
Where do you get your information and inspiration from?
Please share in the comments below.