Facebook did it to me again. A headline promised me I could master photography easily. It sent me (I couldn’t help it, I was curious) to an infographic about apertures and shutter speeds and focus modes and rules of thirds. I read it all. And when I was done I knew exactly what I knew when I was 15 years old, after a year with a camera in my hands. Nothing more. And nothing anyone would mistake as mastery. So what in the name of Nikon have I been doing all these 30 years since then, if those things alone don’t lead to mastery?
Learning. Learning about what vision means to me. Learning about my own aesthetic tastes. Learning how others do things. Not learning to become a master, but learning for its own sake, knowing that learning is the journey itself and mastery isn’t a destination.
I think that we are learning is often more important than what we are learning.
When you learn something new, doors open, and those doors lead to more paths and more possibilities.
I know so many people, and mentor so many students, that are stuck. And when I ask them what they’re reading, well, they aren’t. When I ask them what new things they’re learning or exploring or playing with, they aren’t. We move forward when we push against the unknown, try things we’ve never tried. We used to call it “play.” It used to come so much more naturally.
“I think that we are learning is often more important than what we are learning.”
We used to be curious and hungry for new experiences. We knew we didn’t know things, as children, and we seemed wired to peek into corners and behind things to find out. We knew we didn’t know, but we didn’t know what we didn’t know so we learned it all.
That same approach can still work. The problem is that we think we know what it is we don’t know. We think if we want to master landscape photography that we should study only that, unaware of what new place we might go if we spent time spent studying great painters or the way portrait photographers use light, or how the impressionists did their work.
“Stuck? Learn something new. The moment you stop actively learning, is the moment you get stuck. The joy, the meaning, the life, is in the forward momentum and the discovery.”
Can you focus your camera? Can you expose? Perfect. You’ve got the start on the technical stuff. You’ll keep learning that, I promise. But what you probably need now is…well, that’s the thing. Most of us don’t know. But I guarantee there’s a good chance it will come from the creative process. It’ll be a mix of this and that, and it’ll be unexpected and the more unexpected it is, the more interesting the results will be. That’s where the path to mastery begins, friends. Mastery is not that you can do something, it’s how and what you do with the something.
And if mastering the technical stuff is your goal, you’ll still do that better while you play with new ideas and try them on for size.
There are a million ways to learn, and to play with new ideas and techniques and see where they lead you. This past week we’ve been pimping the Complete Photography Bundle III (for more info, click here) in partnership with the 5 Day Deal. For $127 you get over $3000 worth of education. Some of my products are in there. I’m only involved at all because for this kind of money you’re not going to get exposed to more variety in photographic education anywhere. And all these ideas, when you play with them, go somewhere. This is about learning mastery, by which I don’t mean “learning how to gain mastery.” I mean mastering how to learn. From there the options are infinite.
Stuck? Learn something new. The moment you stop actively learning, is the moment you get stuck. The joy, the meaning, the life, is in the forward momentum and the discovery.
This big sale is over at noon, Pacific time (PDT) on September 15. Once it’s over I’m going to get quiet for a while. I’m heading up to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest to photograph the Spirit Bears and whales for a week. Then I’ve got a quick assignment with The Nature Conservancy in Clayoquot Sound, before packing my bags and heading to the Isle of Skye. That’s the first stop on a 2-month personal project in the UK and Italy. I’ll take you along as I can, sending postcards to the blog, and posting new episodes of Vision Is Better. If you did participate in the sale, thank you. We’ve raised $80,000 for some great charities so far and I’ll be adding a portion of my own profits as an affiliate as well. Thank you for being part of what I do. Always grateful.
Don’t forget that anyone that picks up the Complete Photography Bundle following my links (click here) get entered to win a day, expenses paid, with my in Victoria, Canada, and there are 10 chances to win signed copies of The Visual Toolbox.
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