Photographers can be greedy when it comes to knowledge, hoarding techniques, shoot locations, and general valuable information on our craft. While we photographers need to be competitive, we also need to share our knowledge.
Teaching is a critical component for our professional lives as photographers. I believe that any time knowledge is passed down from one photographer to the next, the entire community thrives. To teach doesn't necessarily involve getting a master's degree and becoming an arts professor, though that is one possible route. It can be as simple as sitting down with that curious friend who keeps bugging you about wanting to learn about camera controls. Here are five good reasons to start teaching photography.
1. Teaching Is One of the Most Fulfilling Things You Can Do With Your Craft
There is no feeling quite like seeing the excitement of someone who has just had an “ah-ha!" moment with a camera. These breakthrough moments are more common with, but not exclusive to beginners. After you have helped guide a student or mentee through the process of mastering camera controls, there will always be more challenges to present, such as panning techniques, long exposures, and an endless array of editing skills, to name a few.
One of the most satisfying aspects of my teaching history has been seeing the work of a student of mine flourish after completing our personalized two-month intensive course. She "had the eye" for photography before our course, but needed to improve her technical proficiency. It took time and practice for the lessons to set in, but now, every time I check out her new work, I’m floored by her improvement. That is a wonderful feeling.
Every good student makes achievements that transcend even well-taught lessons. That’s because those students are growing into the next generation of teachers. The student might become better than you? That’s something that should make you proud.
2. You'll Create Unexpected Networking Opportunities
You might assume that someone who is new to photography would never provide any leads or valuable professional referrals. Actually, this assumption is part of a "scarcity mindset" that we all benefit by avoiding. I've not only been hired directly by workshop students, students have also introduced me to connections that turned into valuable professional relationships.
Instead of worrying that you're training your competition, realize that someone new to the craft is nowhere near taking the serious jobs that require your hard-earned talents. For this reason, students are usually more than happy to refer those daunting jobs to you. If you feel you truly are at risk of being replaced by a novice, you might want to re-think the photography area you're working in. Do your clients sufficiently value your work? Are you doing everything possible to provide your clients photography products that can't be surpassed by someone with beginner skills?
3. Teaching Establishes You as an Expert
Whether you’re sharing knowledge on YouTube, a blog, or in a one-on-one lesson with a neighbor, the thanks and respect you gain from improving the photographic skills of others will also improve your professional profile. There’s a cynical old cliché about talent: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." This is at best half-true. Sure, some professionals excel at executive positions and business management, while others seem born teachers. But there are photographers with well-run businesses whose love of the craft extends to sharing that craft with others.
One-on-one instruction and workshops can supplement your income while verifying your expertise, so working as a professional photographer and teaching students are not divergent goals. It is actually possible for the two activities to be complementary. Again, don't let that old cliché make you choose between “doing” and “teaching.” It’s possible to do both profitably. In fact, if you really work at both disciplines, that profitable outcome is likely.
4. You Will Refresh Your Understanding of the Craft
Going back to the basics can work wonders for your own photographic skills. That’s because “the basics” keep shifting and growing. Equipment becomes more complex, techniques become more sophisticated, the landscape of 2018 is different from the landscape of 2008.
After shooting for years, a photographer snapping away can grow accustomed to the settings, dials, adjustments, and so on. Your equipment and techniques become a second nature you take for granted. While creating your lesson plan, you may come across tricks of the trade you never knew about as well as techniques you might have forgotten about. Your students don't necessarily need to know what information is new to you given your background. Truth is, they really don’t care. When you refresh your own education and do your best to keep your students current, everyone learns something valuable. That is a win-win situation.
Unless you're holding crash courses, you will also wind up critiquing your students' finished works. Being able to put into words what works or doesn't work in a photograph helps you immensely with your own shoot/selection/edit process. In critiquing expertly, you will become a more expert photographer.
It's easy to say "That's a great image!" It's much more important to recognize exactly what makes an image great or not so great.
5. Teaching Enhances Your Communication Skills
This applies not just to verbal communication but also to writing. When you're representing yourself as your own brand, you need to make sure not only that your written communication is technically strong but also that you’re conveying ideas to your clients clearly and concisely.
Most (commercial) clients are busy and don't have time to read long or poorly constructed emails on an upcoming photo shoot. If you can save the client time by communicating effectively, you're doing a service both to your client and yourself.
Thanks for taking the time to consider these ideas on teaching photography and the potential positive impacts for you. Have you had a good teaching experience you’d like to share? Or maybe you’re still not convinced that teaching is a good idea? Please leave your feedback in the comments below.
Lead image by DariuszSankowski via Pexels.