Well here we are approaching the end of another year and I thought this would be a good time to reflect on some of my experiences this year. First of all I assumed a teaching/mentoring roll, which is something I thought I would never do but glad I did. A mentor is meant to provide information. They share their experiences, knowledge and wisdom with the person being mentored. This helps others to stay on a path that will keep them focused and understand and relate to situations and think of ways to solve problems on their own.
I had struck up a friendship on a social media website where I post a lot of my photographs and was asked if I would be willing to share some of my photography skills. At first I was a little reluctant mainly because I am self-taught and can only speak from experience rather than having attended a college and received a degree in photography. Technique is the foundation of photography while the creative eye is your signature as an artist. Technique can be taught I am not sure about the other. Some have it some don’t. I know what I bring to the table……so trust me when I say I’m not afraid to eat alone.
I am a firm believer in OJT (On The Job Training). I can’t teach experience you have to earn it. I can help evaluate the errors and how to correct them. My teaching method could be called “The Fail Fast Mode” –it’s ok to fail, but make corrections and move on.
It’s a matter of mastering all of the tools that you have available. You can think of a digital camera as a master mixer – it combines all the lines, shapes, colors, tones, exposure, speed, and depth of field and creates a response. The camera is this huge toolbox and one must learn to use all the tools in the toolbox.
My student was a middle-aged lady with a lot of distractions; social media, zoo activist, dowser, rock hound, custom jewelry designer, bird watcher, writer, photography enthusiast, not to mention huge K-State fan. The challenge was how do I focus her energy on photography. The creative part was already there so I needed to focus on her technical skills. If I could elevate her technical skills it would be a huge step forward and she would be on her way. Her main interest was nature and wildlife so where do I start?
She had invited me to attend a trip to the local zoo, which I accepted. I had already decided that this trip would be a getting too know the student and observe her techniques. At the end of the day I think I had a good handle on what I could do to help her hone her technical skills. I would like to take a moment and explain a couple of pitfalls with the new and modern digital cameras. Part of there marketing is that the camera has five or so auto programing settings; landscape, portrait, night photos, dusk/dawn, silhouette, sunset, action etc. For the casual photographer or person wanting to document a moment with a photograph these settings work fine.
For the creative photographer they fall way short of using the camera as a creative tool. I would describe it as a camera on cruise control. I needed to have her explore a new level of photography.
The Professional Modes
I needed her to understand there are a few selective modes on her camera that would give her a greater amount of control over her photography. Enter the professional modes.
P: Program Mode – Will not spend much time here as I would only recommend this mode for a casual environment where quick adjustments are needed a party or gathering.
S: Shutter Priority – Here, as the name implies, the major emphasis is on the shutter speed.
A: Aperture Priority – When you want to control depth of field this is the mode.
M: Manual Mode – This is my favorite mode. This mode allows the photographer to have full control of shutter speed and aperture. This mode can be challenging at first, but after a while you will have complete understanding of how each change affects your exposure.
Introducing her to these modes opened up a whole new world for her as an aspiring photographer. The last thing was convincing her to shoot in RAW mode. This would give her much more control over any post processing she did.
We have now made several field trips together with great progress and improvements. Her main interest - nature and wildlife - had created a new problem. She had limited lens capabilities. I had to convince her that she needed to invest in a good telephoto lens if she wanted to pursue wildlife photography. Getting close to a wildlife subject is an art in its self. I wanted to build her confidence and the quickest way to do that was a telephoto lens.
After long consideration she made the big step and purchased a new telephoto lens. I don’t think she has any regrets at all. Her wildlife photographs have came alive and her moon photographs are spectacular. I can see and feel the confidence that has grown in her.
There are still some tools in the toolbox but she now knows how to reach for the right tool and experiment in its use. She can now grow through experience. I can’t teach that.
It’s been a fun journey and rewarding. I think I surprised myself and learned that we can help others learn if we just take the time and use some patients. As for her future efforts she will need to consider a good wide-angle lens for her trips out west but one thing at a time the fire is there and she will do great.
Bill L. Coulter