Teach Yourself Photography in 80 Years

| January 8, 2011

If you buy a camera you are a photographer; if you buy a flute, then you own a flute. –Bob Kolbrener

The other day, while searching for books online, I noticed a few titles that grabbed my attention. These books are, I’m sure, familiar to many and proclaim to teach you photography in anywhere from 24 hours to 14 days. How misleading. Having taught photography at various levels, the best I can hope to convey within days is how to operate a camera and how to begin(!) to tune one’s mind and vision to the creative aspects of composition and light. I always tell my students upfront that they will leave the class with little more than the cast of characters and first lines of a story. The rest of the novel is for them to write. If they are sufficiently committed and fortunate and brave, they may end up with an epic saga.

Claiming to teach photography with a quick introduction to camera operation is like saying you could teach writing by explaining the basic functions of a word processor, or carpentry by pointing out the proper way to hold a hammer or a saw. Photography is not about cameras, it is about the expression of stories and life experience, and those can only be painstakingly accumulated over a lifetime of dedicated pursuit. There are no shortcuts.

While photographs are created in instants, photography is the product of ongoing and ever-evolving relationships, of the things that shape us into unique individuals, the people who inspire, love, betray, educate, raise, defeat, or even let us down. It comes from our passions and frustrations and knowledge of things and places and lessons woven into the fabric that is the story of our individual lives. For nature photographers, in particular, it is the reflection of how all the things that make us human influence and are influenced by cold silent mornings in remote places, aching blistery feet on the trail, serendipitous moments of majestic beauty unfolding before our eyes, solitude, the joys and fears and challenges and humility brought on by experiencing the world in the raw, on its terms rather than ours. And ultimately, how these all feed back into new ideas, beliefs, and emotions that propel us forward through life and build our individual characters. It is a process that begins and ends with each of us and evolves for as long as we are privileged to be conscious in a world of beauty, cruelty, mystery, and complexity that defy our comprehension. It is as much a reflection of immense gratitude for such a life, as it is of the frustration that comes from realizing how utterly insufficient it is to see and understand all that there is.

Teach yourself how to use a camera in 24 hours, and then set out to learn about photography for the rest of your life. The same is true of any art. The day you think you mastered it is not the day you have learned everything there is to know. Rather, it is the day you choose to give up learning and evolving.

Photographs are created in the blink of the shutter. Photography is built up over a lifetime.

Wintry Pastels

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Category: All Posts, Featured, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is a published author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau – a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (40)

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  1. Edie Howe says:

    80 years? Woot! I only have 29 years left to go before I’m a photographer!

    Edie (Thinking of changing my name to Vivian) Howe

  2. Kathleen says:

    Loved this post, Guy, definitely something I try to teach my students as well, especially the ones looking for the “secret recipe” to great photos. :)

    Kathleen

  3. Right on nerve. I echo the same thing when I am asked “What’s next?” after I teach the Digital/Nature Photography Workshop.

    Sharing link to this wonderful post on my Photography Workshops page for the participants to gain insights!

    Best
    +Lalit

  4. Adrian says:

    OH YAH! I like that quote. I dunno if I’m a photographer or not but I enjoy taking photographs…mostly nature.

    I imagine Leonardo DaVinci had someone say to him, “Yeah, I’m a painter, too…I have paints.”

  5. You have hit the nail on the head, Guy.
    “Photography is not about cameras, it is about the expression of stories and life experience, and those can only be painstakingly accumulated over a lifetime of dedicated pursuit.” Love these words. So true.

    Some call it quits out of desperation when searching for success without thinking about the long process involved. This is one post that I would love to read again and again to keep my inspiration at optimum! :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Mark says:

    “For nature photographers, in particular, it is the reflection of how all the things that make us human influence and are influenced by cold silent mornings in remote places, aching blistery feet on the trail, serendipitous moments of majestic beauty unfolding before our eyes, solitude, the joys and fears and challenges and humility brought on by experiencing the world in the raw, on its terms rather than ours.”

    Love this statement Guy, so true.

  7. Steve Weaver says:

    So eloquently stated and so very true!

  8. Even with the highs and lows it’s a wonderful journey, looking forward to my remaining years. Thanks Guy!

  9. Jack Brauer says:

    Great post! (And a perfect title too).

  10. Photo1017 says:

    So true, and precisely expressed. My ‘nom de photo’ is the date i began this journey to ‘master’ the expression of visual arts – my birthdate. The date i complete it has yet to be determined, i am now 55.
    I have produced an occasional ‘wow…’ photo from time to time, some by intent, some accidentally.
    But I am proud that they are more by intent nowadays.

  11. A beautiful well written post. Guy, I am inspired not only by your photography, but also by your writing style.

  12. Dan Bailey says:

    Great post, Guy! I like the musical instrument analogy. It’s a very apt comparison, because like music, photography is very much a lifetime activity of continual learning.

  13. I think this relates to those who believe that their photography may be advanced solely through the acquisition of new and “better” equipment. I know a few who want to improve their photography but are resistant to the idea that ultimately improvement comes from inside of them rather than the equipment they are holding.

  14. Beate Dalbec says:

    Well said. Photography is a journey that lasts all live and is constantly changing and evolving.

  15. Luke Austin says:

    Spot on Guy, Thanks for sharing

  16. Dan Baumbach says:

    So clear. So well put.

  17. Anil Rao says:

    I have not seen books/courses/workshops that claim to teach medicine, architecture or egnineering in a matter of days. Folks spent years studying music and language. So why is it that students of photography expect to complete their studies in a matter of days or weeks? I believe that photography can be taught but over a much longer period of time. Only a part of that study would involve learning the physical process of producing photographic images. The rest of the time would be spent on learning what to do with that newly learnt skill.

    I went to engineering school to study computer science and it took several years to graduate. Only a tiny fraction of that time was spent on learning how to write programs.

  18. Very well put…and very true! Thank you for this post.

    Photographer Detroit

  19. Tessa Blue says:

    Only 80 years? Awesome – I’ll be a young 135 then! (Better late than never…)

  20. You’d be doing pretty well to learn how to use a camera in 24 hours too!

  21. Another winner, Guy. It is of course a lifelong learning process. May the journey never end!

  22. Morris McClung says:

    Great article as usual. Enjoy your blog immensely. Good news is I’ve got 61 down and 19 to go!

  23. Eric Leslie says:

    There is so much wisdom in this post. It leaves a bad taste for so many because our culture is one where we expect the fast food drive through experience for everything. They don’t want to work hard for anything, they have an entitlement mentality. They pickup a camera, use the Google machine, watch some screen casts on youtube and read hundreds of blogs. They fail to realize that they need to get out and shoot.

    Thanks for the great post!

  24. Thanks for such an insighful and well-written article. It is about the journey and the craft after all – no shortcuts.

  25. You said it very well and without having to write a book. Awesome and thanks!

  26. Russ Bishop says:

    Another wonderful post Guy – thank you. It’s always about the means and not the end.

  27. Another successful and well presented article Guy, I really like your writing style and agree that process of learning photography will last a lifetime, thats what makes it so fascinating.

  28. This couldn’t have been written better. A beautiful, inspiring post. Thank you!

  29. “The day you think you know it all is not the day you have learned everything there is to know. Rather, it is the day you choose to give up.”

    I love this essay, Guy, especially the quote above.

    I’ve long used Kolbrener’s quote in my own teachings; how accurate it is.

    That’s all for now – I’m off to Master the Landscape.

  30. I thought you could just add water and a camera and become a photographer. My father landscape photographer Philip Hyde one time had a workshop student ask him to take his 50 plus years in photography and “break it down to 10 simple steps.” That was the wrong question to ask Dad, who uncharacteristically had a few sharp remarks according to witnesses.

  31. Allan M says:

    Hey Guy,

    Sharing your view on evolvement, this is most probably the least realised thought about life – Eternal evolvement. I love your book “Creative Landscape”. Thanks a stack.

  32. Being a landscape photographer is so exiting! You can see the beauty of those things that others simply don’t notice!

  33. So true Guy, learning to visually communicate one’s point of view is an ever evolving process. I’m amazed at how much I’ve changed as an artist.

  34. Great read Guy, and so true, especially the part about no shortcuts!! Thanks for sharing.

  35. Agree with your views, Guy. And nice to see that you are one of the exceptional photographers that do not give a complete list of their “gear” on their website (some even give all their filters and minor accessories!!). Photography is indeed not about camera’s !!

  36. Milkayphoto says:

    I’ve come over here from Darwin Wiggett’s site and so glad I did! That quote is FABULOUS and resonates within me. On more than one occasion, folks have walked into my booth at an art show, gazed at a (wonderful) shot I have of a hummingbird in flight (captured with my 600mm lens) and casually commented, ‘Oh, we have hummingbirds in our yard I’ll have to try to capture one like this’. Yeah, good luck, I say. Everyone with a camera believes they are a photographer and yes, sometimes they get lucky and will take a really great shot. Being a true photographer involves knowing and cultivating the craft every single day and producing consistently great photos. Not sure what it will take OR if we will ever be able to change the perception of the general public that photography is easy.

    Great post!