I have discovered something lately about photography. I really enjoy teaching it to people. When you get someone that really wants to learn and when they have that "ah ha!" moment it pleases me. It makes me feel like I have done my job in teaching that concept.
There are a few schools of thought about those that teach photography. There is the standard "those who can't, teach." And then there are those out there who sell phony formula-style systems that, when followed, will supposedly make you an instant master photographer. As with anything there is learning, struggling with concepts, maturing, developing your style and your own personal way of doing things. Then comes the time to pay your dues, network, market, prove yourself for evidence of your ability and make certain that evidence is available to anyone who might be considering hiring you.
Myself, I could never imagine not shooting. There may be slower times when the processing needs to be done, the seasons and weather aren't ideal but those do not stop me from making photographs on a regular basis. I have no fear of becoming one of those photographers who stopped shooting just to teach. As for formulas, there are settings to learn and features of every camera to master so that you're spending time working with your subject, be it a person, a pet or something inanimate, so that when the time comes to shoot you are not fumbling with your camera, wasting time and losing your subject's optimal look, be that a smile or the steam coming off of a hot plate of food. There are the "technically correct" photos that lack communication, emotion or a sense of story being told. That is what the engineers designing scammers aim for because they have to for something so why not technical correctness.
It is not until you have mastered the settings and developed a style for what you want your photos to look like that you can start to actually make those photos as envisioned in your head appear that way as a final result. The point of all this is that it is not one day workshop that is going to turn you into a true artist. In fact, thinking that there is a finish line at all is short sighted. I follow many photographers who have been doing this for many decades and they still surprise me on a regular basis when they write on their website about something new they have learned completely unrelated to the technology of photography but to the art of creating an image.
On the day that this is first written (I plan to keep this post updated over time) I had coffee with another one of the photo ministry team members at Ebenezer Baptist. She had some questions that I was more than happy to answer and watching her understand the concept I was trying to instruct was really pleasing to me, just as I described earlier. She mentioned her desire to go to school in the near future and I asked her what for and she replied, "photography." I was a little bit surprised, not because she doesn't really love photography, but that a degree in photography is one of the least required official certifications of all the trades and skills out there.
Now, I am not undermining the value of a university education, but I am self-taught and have searched high and low in DVDs, books, articles, videos and many other sources of information and, where everything I heard was once new to me, I now typically learn one new trick or idea from hours of consumed material. Likely there is a less identifiable kind of information or learning being absorbed by me when I do consume that material but my point is that I do not feel like by getting my education from virtually free sources I have missed out on anything that would make me a better photographer. Let me just add that stating that I am self-taught does not mean that I picked up the camera and learned everything I know by using the camera. It has been by the generosity of the people you will read about it in this post who have shared their information, their wisdom and their experiences that have enabled me to learn what I have learned for the remarkably low price that it has cost me over the years.
If four years of university tuition cost a person $30,000 you could spend $1000 per year on various premium structured materials, develop your skills and be working at the same time to pay for your educational materials and build your experience and skill much faster than in a university setting as well as have an exceptional portfolio before you would be done your formal education. Without question, it would require some self-discipline and probably run you more hours per week than University alone, but that would be time spent shooting and doing the things you love, as well. If you come upon a concept you do not understand while consuming those purchased materials you are but a Google away from greater clarification of the term you did not know to search for five minutes previous.
Let your portfolio be your credentials. A framed certificate in your office is not going to get you clients like top-quality work displayed throughout your local area would when it comes to photography. That is my opinion but it certainly is not the right path for everyone.
As I have said, there is so much that can be learned for free online but there will always be great value in conversation, critiques and face-to-face interaction with other more experienced photographers. In addition to formal classes, that is what I would like to provide for people and if you are interested in either I encourage you to contact me. I would be very interested in providing classes as well as those opportunities to fill in the gaps and have a conversation about specific things you may have learned that could benefit from additional clarification.
On to the list of people and websites I have followed in the past, considered to be valuable for someone in the earlier stages of photography and those websites which I follow regularly now. (Last updated: 12/11/2012)
Great places to start learning photography:
Fro Knows Photo - Jared Polin shares with you his experiences, tips, gear reviews and pointers in writing, but mostly in new YouTube videos multiple times per week. He is much more about the art than the gear and that will make you a better photographer far faster than dumping money on more equipment. Some premium and some free educational resources are offered by him.
There are many, many more, but these two are what I've found to be the best places to begin and are free, or very low cost.
Intermediate to Advanced Learning:
Kelby Training - This one is not free, but for $25 per month or $200 per year, you have thousands of hours of training from dozens of working professionals in all areas of photography including shooting all genres, lighting, processing, business aspects and everything you could need to become a great photographer. I have not purchased any training from them, yet because either I haven't run out of free material or haven't had time to spend absorbing all that is offered there.
CreativeLIVE - My favourite location for learning all things photography and much more. The classes are broadcast live for free. Decided not to go to school for photography? Write the live courses into your schedule. The classes are available for purchase at special rates of usually $100 if purchased by the end of the live broadcast, or typically $150 after the broadcast, with occasional sales. I have paid for material from CL. Three, eight hour days of teaching for $100? Yeah, I can do that.
Craft & Vision - Remarkably affordable e-books in PDF form from the top names in the industry with topics of everything you could want to know related to photography. I have not purchased much from Craft & Vision because I'm terrible for not reading the e-books I already have. What I have read from them is excellent and far superior to your average 10-year-old hardcover books sitting in a bookstore.
Ask Me Anything About Photography - Zack Arias - So much material from one of my top five favourite photographers. Endless material to keep you reading and easily formatted to skim questions for those you are most interested in. Few people tell it like it is, without being arrogant, like Zack.
Strobist - Learn to Light. David Hobby shares his decades of experience as a lighting photographer. Almost every photographer will use lighting techniques, eventually. David shares all of his knowledge for free, organized into classes just ready for you to consume. He offers a few DVDs but almost nothing on them is not on his site in written form. Best to have your photography basics under your belt, but DH does a great job walking you through the how & whys.
Petapixel and Fstoppers - The best two places to get all your photo news about gear, trends, up and coming photographers, interesting projects people have done and many other interesting articles to informed and inspired. I prefer PetaPixel's writing best, but both sites cover almost identical stories, some breaking on one site or the other, first.
Gear Information Resources
Digital Rev - This website deserves to be in every category. They provide shopping, comprehensive gear reviews both written, and video, photography tips and techniques (though some are awfully beginner and not as comprehensive as they could be) but are most definitely interesting and help to keep you in the loop of what is new and how the new products stack up. Their YouTube channel is where I focus my attention and they have new videos 2 to 3 times per week.
Certainly, I have more places I go to for information that this but these two are my primary places when I am researching lenses for cameras. Researching things beyond basic camera and lens photography, such as lighting equipment, is best done by sites dedicated to that type of gear. Lighting, strobist.com is my go to website, for example.
I use acquisition because much of what I use is do-it-yourself or home made equipment when it comes to lighting. As such, my first site recommendation is DIY Photography. Here you will find some tutorials, DIY light modifiers, DSLR video devices and accessories, many giveaways, and a solid community of photographers looking to think outside the box and help one another.
Don's Photo - My primary place to get my gear that cannot be made yourself or gear that simply needs to be the best, from a reputable, knowledgeable, warranty supporting seller. They price match any Canadian seller and are local.dealer with staff you get to know and who get to know you.
B&H or Adorama - The two largest photo and video equipment suppliers in North America and for good reason. They have very competitive prices, helpful staff and fast shipping. Adorama has a great print lab and a free video podcast with much good information. B&H has an unbelievable inventory of anything you could possibly need, especially their store brand, Interfit, that provides decent quality products for a lot less than the brand name products. Be aware that your purchase shipped to Canada will come with duty and import fees which can exceed the cost of buying locally, if that is an option.
Midwest Photo Exchange - A great supplier of standard equipment, but more so many things you cannot find locally, especially their Strobist kits and other lighting equipment. Like B&H, check out MPEX's Lumopro brand. Great quality at often less than 1/3 the brand name cost. Their shipping is fast, but often import fees seem quite high, however, I've heard it has more to do with the shipping company you choose.
Flash Zebra - For those cables and adapters that you cannot find elsewhere, these guys really fill a niche at reasonable prices and shipping.
Deal Extreme - Your home for all things Chinese knockoff. There are the ethical concerns about a lot of Chinese products such as sweatshops or Joby researching and developing their $85 Gorilla pod then Chinese companies reverse engineering them and selling them on DX for $12. The price differences combined with free shipping (which takes about 4-6 weeks) free of duty is hard to beat when top quality is not your goal. That said, would I trust my DSLR and a large lens on a knockoff Gorillapod? No. But a flash on an umbrella swivel? Yes.
Amazon - Shopping on Amazon.com from Canada can be frustrating. Find the right product at the right price? "Sorry, we won't ship to your location." Yes, you will? Great! How much is shipping?...Ouch!... Import fees?... Doable. Return policy and customer service?... Sometimes iffy, depending on the item. You buy it at Don's, they'll ship warranty items for free. Buy it at Amazon, shipping is on you and by this point you didn't save much by buying online.
eBay - When in doubt, try eBay. Competitive pricing, but no customer reviews like other sources.
Shows to Watch
Kelby TV - Comprised of multiple shows on multiple topics. My caveat is that it is that they do spend a lot of time selling you on a North American Association of Photographers membership and on Kelby Training.com. Both worthy, just be warned. Also, often opinions and personalities are strong on these shows and they are very people photography oriented. It is not uncommon for me to stop an episode of The Grid part way through unless they have a great guest on it.
I watch the Grid and D-Town TV, now called Photography Tips and tricks. The Grid is a talkshow with much to do with trends and the industry, a little on technical skills. PT&T has some interesting pointers, but remains very basic in the information that they offer.
DRTV - Digital Rev TV's YouTube channel. Like I said above, many gear reviews, some photography tips but mostly very interesting characters, doing street photography in Hong Kong, walking through the most interesting places making their videos. Often they have very interesting guests and unique series of videos. Definitely one of the uploads I look forward to a few times per week.
YouTube Channels to Check Out - Benjamin Von Wong (Montreal), The Camera Store (Calgary), Chase Jarvis (achaser123), Jared Polin/Fro Knows Photo, Kelby Media Group (The Kelby TV shows on YouTube), The Slanted Lens and Framed Show are the main photography YouTube channels I watch.
People to Follow
Once you have your technicals down, there will be a void to fill and that will be the creativity and detailed or specialized areas of photography. Where I gain much of my motivation and influence is by following these photographers' tweets, blog posts, books, DVDs and other online content:
Joe Mcnally - Portrait and editorial photographer based out of New York with many years with work experienced in publications such as National Geographic. A master of lighting, incredible teacher, nice guy, funny and as easy to like and learn from as anyone out there.
Chase Jarvis - Commercial photographer and director based out of Seattle. Chase doesn't teach much in the way of technical information, but he will motivate you and has given back so much to the community of photographers everywhere. CreatiiveLIVE was his brainchild.
Zack Arias - As straight a shooter as anyone you will follow. He tells it like it is, generously provides perspective and advice on everything from gear to business to life as a photographer which is seldom an eight to five job. In addition to his site linked to in his name, his tumbler blog has 1,000 questions answered from followers as of the end of 2012. As of this writing he is on his end of year social media hiatus while he focuses hard to conclude his year.
David Hobby - The Strobist. As mentioned, his site has comprehensive lessons on learning to use off camera flash, all for free. What you miss on his site are his retweets/reposts of very applicable information and interesting articles. His lessons took me ten steps forward in my understanding of photography. If you do shop with Midwest Photo Exchange, click to them through Strobist.com to give DH his commission. For all he has done for free, he deserves it.
Jeremy Cowart - Is a commercial photographer based out of Nashville and the creator of Help-Portrait. He is an incredible artist in more than just photography and a compassionate humanitarian. A real inspiration to want to be more than just a big name in photography.
Peter Hurley - A master of the head shot based out of New York. I've only recently begun to follow him. A very assertive character and former olympian, he is a product innovator with great ideas to fill gaps in the photography equipment industry. If you are shy watching him will help you move beyond that and see how to get those superb expressions from your subjects.
Is that everything and everyone? No, but my top names and sites. To look at it it can appear overwhelming. Check out one or two and go from there. I am only able to keep up on everyone through RSS feeds using a reader like Google Reader and by subscribing to the YouTube channels so I am notified when I go to YouTube who has something new to watch. Information overload is a problem with today's technology and a person needs to not be afraid to consume only what you can digest. High quality, low fat, content. Shooting will always be the best way to learn so if you are reading far more than shooting, take a step back and evaluate your ratios... Says Jay after this huge post.
If you have additional suggestions for these lists, want to chat about them, or want to have some learning time with me, send me an email (jayscottphotography AT gmail DOT com) and we will make it happen.