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Photography DiscussionLearning Photography: Discuss

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Charles Haacker
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Learning Photography: Discuss

Post by Charles Haacker » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:21 pm

Matt Quinn remarked in a post that he was "still learning." It got me thinking: Who isn't? I think it's arguable that if you aren't learning (in any endeavor at all) you may want to check your pulse.

Long before I went back to school for a formal education in photography I rather suddenly developed (pun fully intended) an intense interest. I wasn't satisfied with taking film to the drugstore so I bought a ridiculous little developing kit with a tiny horizontal enlarger. You put a 25W bulb in I think. It had a tiny red Christmas tree light for a safelight. There was a little daylight tank with an adjustable reel, the kind loaded by rotating the two halves back and forth to walk the film in. It had a little alcohol thermometer that doubled as the agitator. You left it in and every 30 second or something you turned it back and forth for agitation. I put black plastic over the kitchen window. The kitchen wall clock was the only timer. I was utterly entranced.

I bought books. I learned the exposure triad. I learned pretty much everything from books. I found why I was fogging my paper (wrong color "safe"light). I just kept plugging along. Within two weeks I'd bought a real enlarger, a Bogen, used it for years with both 120 and 135 film until with my then-new bride's strong encouragement I went to school and needed one that could take 4x5 negs.
ImageI Guess I Must Have Really Liked That Little Darkroom in the Walk-in Closet by Charles Haacker, on Flickr
I volunteered for church, community theater, wherever I could make some shots and utterly screw up because I had little clue what I was doing but I was learning all the time by the simple process of making misteaks, reading to find out what I'd done wrong... It was analogous to learning to drive by hitting fewer things as I went. :|

Fast forward to 1973 as I graduated Summa Cum Laude with two associate degrees, one in commercial photography and the other in anthropology, ready to do, um, something. My mentors warned those of us who graduated (two, I think, out of some 40-odd starters) that we were NOT now photographers! What we had learned was how to learn to BE photographers. The only way to really learn it was to do it, preferably at least 5 days a week 8 hours a day!

I still have many of my class and early portfolio pictures that I sincerely thought were good. I look at them every so often to remind myself that we are all basically Ozymandias; we think we're great but mostly we ain't. I am embarrassed right to the present moment that for years I basically produced garbage but didn't see it as garbage until I learned better and looked back in sometimes abject horror. AND people actually PAID me to produce garbage! [*SHUDDER*]

BUT... I learned from every job. I was only ever as good as the next job. I did some 800 weddings, and every wedding was marginally better than the last. I gained confidence with every shutter trip (but no overconfidence because down that road lieth lawsuit-th). I thought I was pretty good at conventional portraits. I learned to retouch on the negative (Photoshop where art thou?). Our studio failed not for lack of training or hard work but for lack of business acumen.

But still I learn! I have been working in digital now for 10 full years. I have Creative Cloud, a good computer, and a Spyder5 monitor calibrator. I still read books, watch tutorials, make pictures, screw up, make post processing corrections, screw up... I am still driving the metaphorical car while trying to hit fewer obstacles. Every day something new and "why didn't I think of that see that know that sooner?" I go back deep into the archives and rework stuff on my Flickr that now embarrasses me when once I thought it was, actually, really, pretty good. :| Makes me wonder all the time how bad my current "best" stuff actually is! :thumbdown:

So there he goes again running off at the keyboard! Ack! But the point of this post is mostly to suggest that we all learn something every day, sometimes photographically related, and if we are not learning it is possible if not probable that we are dead. :cheers:
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All the great photographers use cameras! No, really. :|

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Post by minniev » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:50 pm

Totally agree with you Chuck! Every photo I take is pretty much an experiment, and every image I post is a calculated risk to see who, if anyone, thinks it's acceptable, and what they think I should have done instead of what I did, to get what I wanted out of it. I know what I like, but that doesn't mean I think it's any good. I'm forever tinkering with new ways to shoot, compose, process. If I can't get out and shoot new stuff, I try new things with old pictures. I love taking images outside the realm of reality with the "art-ish" kinds of processing with a gazillion masks, textures and whatnot. Photography is a never ending adventure for me, and I can't imagine getting bored as long as I have a camera and a computer.

That said, it's easy to see why I really like the direction pM seems to be going, with an emphasis on shared learning. It suits my way of doing photography far better than a straightforward critique or image-rating forum would.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by Duck » Wed Dec 06, 2017 5:54 pm

In regards to learning photography, I always get a chuckle from those that expound how they are "self-taught".

I have always been an artist. I often kid that I picked up crayons as a toddler and never put them down. When I was in grammar and high school there really were no 'advanced' art programs for me. I was bunched in with the 'elective' kids who saw art a a free class to goof around in. Frustration led me to seek out my own education. I found refuge at my local library, the PLumb Memorial Library, surrounded by tons of art books, from the masters to the modernists, surrealists to comic book art. I have a short list of some of my greatest influences. What I couldn't learn in high school art class I learned from books. Sadly I encountered a similar mentality at college. I was frustrated, as an ART major, to be lumped in with the elective people. Talk about reducing the class to the lowest common denominator. I felt cheated, but that's another rant.

Years later, any time anyone asked me if I went to school for art I would respond, "yes, the Plumb Memorial School of Art." In reality, I had a great many famous teachers; Howard Pyle, Aubrey Beardsley, Davinci and Rembrandt, Bill Sienkiewicz and Charles Schulz and many more.

That same mentality is still with me to this day. Instead of art it's photography and processing. I study with people I can relate to; Dean Collins, Bryan Peterson, Ted Forbes, Unmesh Dinda and even our very own members here on the forum. So to those that claim they are 'self taught' I say, "bullcrap!" You are not self taught you are just learning from others in a self paced manner.
"If you didn't learn something new today, you wasted a day."
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Post by Steven G Webb » Wed Dec 06, 2017 11:22 pm

A young boy sang, "Twinkle twinkle little star how I wonder what you are" that young boy grew up and acquired a college degree and proudly looked up at the night sky and sang "Twinkle twinkle little star, now I know just what you are" after years of life experience and with acquired wisdom that little boy now with silver hair looked up at the sky and sang with melancholy , "Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are". There are few sermons I recall from my childhood and that is a portion of one. The message was that there is a vast difference between education and wisdom.

I was an arrogant young man. I was studious and considered bright by teachers and classmates alike and I knew it. I'm pretty quick at concept grasp. Being smart has been an undoing for me. Photography is the great equalizer. I'm not excellent at it and the failures keep me humble. The tools at my disposal are the same as yours and all the masters you can name yet I struggle to make really nice photographs. Learning is never ending. One of the great lessons is the discovery of ones own ignorance; comprehending that there are things, specific things that I do not know is just as important as all the things I realize I know. I hope that as grey displaces dark hair and the lines deepen in my face that I grow as both technician and artist.
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Post by Charles Haacker » Thu Dec 07, 2017 2:31 am

minniev wrote:Totally agree with you Chuck! Every photo I take is pretty much an experiment, and every image I post is a calculated risk to see who, if anyone, thinks it's acceptable, and what they think I should have done instead of what I did, to get what I wanted out of it. I know what I like, but that doesn't mean I think it's any good. I'm forever tinkering with new ways to shoot, compose, process. If I can't get out and shoot new stuff, I try new things with old pictures. I love taking images outside the realm of reality with the "art-ish" kinds of processing with a gazillion masks, textures and whatnot. Photography is a never ending adventure for me, and I can't imagine getting bored as long as I have a camera and a computer.

That said, it's easy to see why I really like the direction pM seems to be going, with an emphasis on shared learning. It suits my way of doing photography far better than a straightforward critique or image-rating forum would.

Experimentation is the name of the game, and with digital pretty much there is no limit. I know there are folks on the site who are still film buffs, but while I respect it I would never go back. I spent too many years griping about what film couldn't do that digital can. On the other hand, I can't tell the difference between an MP3 and vinyl (hearing's going) so there's that.

I think you have a pretty good idea what's good or you wouldn't show it. That's me, too. I have some trepidation showing stuff but I'm pretty chuffed when I show something and it is validated by others. I've even been dipping my toe in Critic's Corner (mercy)! Photography for those that love it is and should be an adventure! :thumbup:
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(I prefer to present pictures in albums because I can put them in specific order.)

All the great photographers use cameras! No, really. :|

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Post by Charles Haacker » Thu Dec 07, 2017 2:32 am

Steven G Webb wrote:A young boy sang, "Twinkle twinkle little star how I wonder what you are" that young boy grew up and acquired a college degree and proudly looked up at the night sky and sang "Twinkle twinkle little star, now I know just what you are" after years of life experience and with acquired wisdom that little boy now with silver hair looked up at the sky and sang with melancholy , "Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are". There are few sermons I recall from my childhood and that is a portion of one. The message was that there is a vast difference between education and wisdom.

I was an arrogant young man. I was studious and considered bright by teachers and classmates alike and I knew it. I'm pretty quick at concept grasp. Being smart has been an undoing for me. Photography is the great equalizer. I'm not excellent at it and the failures keep me humble. The tools at my disposal are the same as yours and all the masters you can name yet I struggle to make really nice photographs. Learning is never ending. One of the great lessons is the discovery of ones own ignorance; comprehending that there are things, specific things that I do not know is just as important as all the things I realize I know. I hope that as grey displaces dark hair and the lines deepen in my face that I grow as both technician and artist.

Oh, heck, Steven, I think there's even a quote someplace about the "arrogance of youth." A bunch of 'em actually. We all did it. I am not thrilled with getting old but I am pleased with mellowing somewhat and realizing that I not only no longer know everything, I now know less than I started with. The main reason I posted was that I was musing about it, lifelong learning. I realize that the internet is both blessing and curse, but on the blessing side I love the fact that I have the world at my literal fingertips. I can learn about, or refresh my memory about anything, any time, nearly instantly. I am sometimes mildly distressed at how much I thought I knew that I now know I did not, or at least was misinformed, but at least I can take corrective measures now.

"Growing as technician and artist" I think is mainly a matter of keepin' on keepin' on. That's what's always struck me: every single thing we do teaches us something, even if its a new and better way to do it. The great Danish philosopher (and depressive) Søren Kierkegaard said, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." That's pretty succinct. My late wife often told me I spent too much time looking back and regretting. She was right! (She always was.) But I am pleased that I still have photography for as long as I can see and lift a camera, and I'm still learning, every day. :)
Friends call me Chuck. :photo: This link takes you to my Flickr albums. Please click on any album to scroll through it.
(I prefer to present pictures in albums because I can put them in specific order.)

All the great photographers use cameras! No, really. :|

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Post by Charles Haacker » Thu Dec 07, 2017 2:39 am

Duck wrote:In regards to learning photography, I always get a chuckle from those that expound how they are "self-taught".

I have always been an artist. I often kid that I picked up crayons as a toddler and never put them down. When I was in grammar and high school there really were no 'advanced' art programs for me. I was bunched in with the 'elective' kids who saw art a a free class to goof around in. Frustration led me to seek out my own education. I found refuge at my local library, the PLumb Memorial Library, surrounded by tons of art books, from the masters to the modernists, surrealists to comic book art. I have a short list of some of my greatest influences. What I couldn't learn in high school art class I learned from books. Sadly I encountered a similar mentality at college. I was frustrated, as an ART major, to be lumped in with the elective people. Talk about reducing the class to the lowest common denominator. I felt cheated, but that's another rant.

Years later, any time anyone asked me if I went to school for art I would respond, "yes, the Plumb Memorial School of Art." In reality, I had a great many famous teachers; Howard Pyle, Aubrey Beardsley, Davinci and Rembrandt, Bill Sienkiewicz and Charles Schulz and many more.

That same mentality is still with me to this day. Instead of art it's photography and processing. I study with people I can relate to; Dean Collins, Bryan Peterson, Ted Forbes, Unmesh Dinda and even our very own members here on the forum. So to those that claim they are 'self taught' I say, "bullcrap!" You are not self taught you are just learning from others in a self paced manner.

I can think of nothing more to say to that than Hear! Hear! :thumbup: :clap:
Friends call me Chuck. :photo: This link takes you to my Flickr albums. Please click on any album to scroll through it.
(I prefer to present pictures in albums because I can put them in specific order.)

All the great photographers use cameras! No, really. :|

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Post by Ed Shapiro » Thu Dec 14, 2017 10:16 pm

I always wanted to be a visual “artist” ever since I was a kid. Problem was, although I had a burning desire to express myself visually, I could not draw or paint! I never had the talent or necessary hand/eye coordination- well I learned to play the accordion and wasn't too bad a baseball but I could not get past stick figures. I knew what I wanted to create, I knew how to place things, at least in my mind, but as soon as I picked up a pencil or a paint brush- NADA! SCRIBBLE! What's worse, my aunt, a recognized abstract artist and art teacher and my uncle (her husband) an architect, both prognosticated that my artwork was terrible and advised that I pursue plumbing or one of the building trades as a career option- this based on my large size and dis proportionally large and strong hands- how discouraging.

There were always cameras around my home- my dad was an avid snap-shooter and my mom was the family album curator. I soon came to realize that the only medium I might be successful in would be photography. There were two portrait studios on my way to school and I was always in awe of the professionally produced portraits and wedding photographs in their window displays. I decided that “THIS” is what I want to do as a career. I read every photographic book and magazine that I could lay my eyes on. I commandeered the family camera and shot anyone or any thing that would sit still for me. In junior high school, I joined the AV squad just so I could get into the school darkroom. I somehow realized that I was just floundering around- I did not want to take the usual “camera club” rout that most photo-nerd teenagers were up to – I did not want to remain an amateur- I wanted to go to photography school and lean to be a professional photographer. There was only one vocational high school in New York City that had a photography program- so I applied but the entrance requirement was being able to DRAW. It was at the commercial art faculty at the High School of Industrial Art where photography was one of their departments. They were not impressed with my stick figures! There were two private photography schools in the city but the tuition was beyond my budget. So...I pack up my “portfolio” of what I had shot and printed in the school darkroom and, put on a suit, a white shirt and a necktie, and at the age of 14, I walked into one of those neighborhood studios and asked for an after-school job. The proprietor suggested that I apply at the grocery store or the laundromat- they were hiring! I was relentless and kept coming back and became a real pain in the gladiolus maximus. I told the “boss” that I wanted to learn photography and would work for free for the experience. I also said I would go away and never come back if he gave me a tour of his “professional” darkroom! He took me down to the basement, more of a cellar, and I expected it to look like the pictures of the Life Magazine darkroom that I envied in the photo magazines. Well- this place was like what I imagined the fabled Black Hole of Calcutta might have looked like. It was hard to believe that all those great images came out of this mess! So...I open my big mouth and offered a critique...I think I said something about the place not being fit for human habitation!

The I got the surprise of my life- to that point. The boss took me to his office sat me down and gave me a lecture. First he told me that child labor, indentured servitude and slavery was against the law and that if was crazy enough to hire me, I would receive a modest stipend for my labors. Then he said that if I was such a darkroom “smart-ass” I could come in after school and do all the janitorial work down there as well as the washrooms and the studio! He mentioned that his darkroom technician was off on a two week vacation, during the slow season, and now would be an opportune time to get in and clean the place up, throw a coat of paint on the walls, drain the sink and mix new chemistry. He then reiterated- I was gonna get paid- not as the “chief photographer” but I would get a fair wage for a fair day's work! He told me that if I did become a professional photographer and worked at his studio, I would be asking folks for money all the time- deposits, retainers, payments on delivery and that I should get used to that idea! “This is not a hobby” he explained, “we work hard to make a living around here”! Not a bad work ethic! And so started my official apprenticeship!

I was, in retrospect, a very lucky guy in that the training I received was very down to earth and effective. I told my boss that I wanted to be an artist, just like he is. He responded, “artist-shamrtist- that remains to be seen- first learn your TRADE, the ropes, the rules, how to get things done- the art will come later if you have it in you- meanwhile do exactly what I tell you to do and when you learn it all we will discuss if you have better ideas”! “Worst comes to worse- so you won't be an artist but you will be one hell of a great technician- you will know exactly what you are doing and you will earn a living at it”! DOGMATIC as hell, but at 14 years old, how cool was that?- I just went with the program!

I worked every day after school and every day all day in the Summers. I was janitor, gofer, chief passport photo and ID photographer, album assembler, picture framer, delivery boy, second light holder and dragger of heavy gear at weddings, at one point I graduated to second shooter, darkroom assistant, print dryer operator, dry mounter and the senior photographers bestowed me with the title of “Chief Usher of the Flusher” because of my fastidiousness in cleaning the toilets. I though that was funny but the boss did not- he admonished them- he said that there was no job in the studio that was menial, he rebuked, “when a client comes in for a portrait sitting, especially on a hot humid day, the first place he or she is headed after the reception desk is the washrooms and the dressing rooms, to freshen up- if the place is not spotless and fresh they get a bad impression of the whole place- all details are important”!

I shot my first “solo” wedding at the age of 16, when one of our senior photographers became seriously ill and had to be hospitalized at the last minute. By that time, I had the routine pretty will down pat but I never perspired more in my life and that includes boot camp and serving in Viet Nam! I worked in that studio up until I went into the service and for a short time after coming home.

I was fortunate enough to peruse a formal education in photography, studied with some fine masters, attended numerous seminars, workshops and degree programs and worked diligently at perfecting my own style- I never stopped studying and learning. I haven't perfected anything yet! I had some really great and inspiring teachers, mentors and instructors- some might be considered very prestigious- but I am not into name dropping, however, the most important and influential experience I ever had was those first years in that neighborhood studio, with my first boss, where I learned the basics- the rudiments- the fundamental know how. More importantly was learning and honoring the work ethic, the humility, the respect for my elders, my employers, my coworkers and later on my own customers and employees and of course the understanding of basic business principles.

If there is anything lacking in today's photographic education, in my opinion, it would be the abandonment of some of the basic rules, at least as starting points. Sometimes, I detect a resentment for theses basics in the name of “art”- folks say there are no rules in real art. Perhaps not, but there are certain techniques to be mastered. Even the greatest painters had to learn to stretch and size canvas, mix pigments, select brushes or palette knives, learn the mechanics- the rest is talent!

:thumbup:

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Post by Charles Haacker » Fri Dec 15, 2017 2:39 am

Ed Shapiro wrote:More importantly was learning and honoring the work ethic, the humility, the respect for my elders, my employers, my coworkers and later on my own customers and employees and of course the understanding of basic business principles.

If there is anything lacking in today's photographic education, in my opinion, it would be the abandonment of some of the basic rules, at least as starting points. Sometimes, I detect a resentment for theses basics in the name of “art”- folks say there are no rules in real art. Perhaps not, but there are certain techniques to be mastered. Even the greatest painters had to learn to stretch and size canvas, mix pigments, select brushes or palette knives, learn the mechanics- the rest is talent!


:thumbup:

Wow, Ed. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. You did it right. Having the sheer moxie to keep pounding on your first boss's door until he had to let you in was exactly the right way to do it. Having the humility to clean the darkrooms and maintain the bathrooms for the comfort of the clientele was exactly right! Learning a business and a profession and an art from the literal basement up...!! Wow! I am ashamed now to confess that when I was that age (I'm only a year older than you) I thought I was too good for mopping floors &c or I might have had a different story of my own. Ah, well... :wall:

Off topic an' bye da bye, I'm t'inkin' I detects from some o' da t'ings dat youse sez dat maybe youse's bawn in Noo Yawk Sitee same as me! Small woild ain't it? :cheers:
Last edited by Duck on Fri Dec 15, 2017 2:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Edited length of quotation for relevance
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Post by Matt Quinn » Fri Dec 15, 2017 2:54 am

Ed, Wonderful story. Great memories. Good lessons.Thank you. Matt
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"One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind." Dorothea Lange

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