I just spent the last week back in Boulder Colorado visiting friends, and I made a new friend. Coleman is an aspiring photographer. We got to talking about photography and we managed sneak in a photowalk during my last hours in Boulder. I was pretty excited to get in a photowalk. I rarely go photowalking with other people. When I do go with others, it’s with people who have some experience behind the camera.
Coleman, does have some experience, but he doesn’t have any practical knowledge of the math involved. He knows f-stops, shutter speeds and ISO. He doesn’t understand how they work together, and if you are already a photographer then this triangle is so engrained that it is no longer a second thought. Trying to explain what we think is simple math problem turns out to be not so simple to explain to beginners. I believe the real problem is that new digital cameras just have these scary numbers splashed on a LCD screen. The first time I picked up a camera, those three important numbers were on physical, mechanical dials on my camera. They weren’t hidden inside a slew of digital menus that just add to confusion for newbies. So beginners just have to set the camera to AUTO. This turns into a crutch and the art and science of photography just falls by the wayside.
There are some online photography instructors like Jared Polin that believe beginners should start with learning composition before learning the math. Now, I really like Jared, and I think he gives solid advise and instruction, but this is where I don’t agree. New photographers need to have a good understanding of the basics first. If you tell them to just use auto until they’ve figured out there style, then they are likely to go through their the photographic career not having any idea what is going on inside of the camera.
I have met professional photographers that make a legitimate living with photography that have no idea what hyperfocal distance is, much less actually care what it is. I believe this to be a fundamental principle in photographic composition.
I’m not a photography instructor, but I’ve been giving advice to friends that ask for it for a lot of years and I find that many of them are happy to learn the more technical items. Some are a little discouraged by all the math and some just don’t care. There is no reason to wait to learn the fundamentals. We can only learn the way we want to learn. I would just like to see more good photography out there and more photographers trained in our craft, the better.
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