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.
About the Author (Author Profile)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.
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