Why Teaching Has Made Me a Better Photographer

In any creative field, there seems to always be a tipping point — one that when you reach it, you suddenly yearn to help others learn your craft. Photography is no different. What's interesting is that at one point in time, photography was more like any other skilled labor, such as being a carpenter, electrician, or blacksmith, where you had to first pay your dues as a apprentice for years before ever being able to perform said craft on your own.

The skill sets it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, a successful marketer, or a relevant celebrity is a different skill set than you needed ten years ago, even though that was the skill set that mattered for decades.

—Gary Vaynerchuk

Yet, as we all know, the digital revolution put an end to that way of thinking.

It made cameras readily accessible to ordinary consumers, bringing about a wave of people eager to pick up a camera as a side-gig in hopes of making it a career. However, that's where we'll stop that topic as to not derail the main overall purpose of this piece.

The overall point of the digital revolution was in regards to what it did to the photography landscape internally. Gone were the days of trade secrets and overwhelming paranoia of everyone else solely being your competition. Up until the 90s to early 2000s, you only really owned multiple lenses and bodies if you were a working professional. Nowadays people regularly walk into my Digital Photography I class with a camera and three to four lenses they got for $600.

So the question is, what do you do in this completely revamped culture? Working professionals suddenly had enormous competition coupled with a recession that made commercial budgets disappear overnight; the roaring 90s were over. Previously where photographers could only need two or three big clients to carry them through a profitable year, that number has now drastically changed. With that change also came the great reaping; old film shooters who either embraced the digital change or naysayers who believed it was all just a fad and faded into obscurity.

Photographers as a whole were, generally speaking, split into two camps: “This is bullshit!” and “This is going to be one wildly exciting ride!”

Point being that no one really knew where digital was headed or that today more people have cell phones than toilets, many of which of course have a camera. Let's say that again: today more people have cell phones than working toilets. Yes, I know, that's a scary statistic but a telling one nonetheless about the drastic technology transformation just the last 15 years has brought on.

Yet, it's this sudden wave of new shooters that had a lot of photographers asking, "We can't live in denial about their existence, so why not educate them instead?" Almost overnight the long-time walls of photography started crumbling down.

Creating content that allows us to share our experiences, thoughts, and ideas in real time is becoming an intrinsic part of life in the twenty-first century.

—Gary Vaynerchuk

With that emerged the photographers who gradually started building an online following of eager photographers who wanted to learn from the best of the best, not an art school professor whose work was last relevant two or three decades ago. They set out making informative blog posts, YouTube tutorials, behind-the-scene videos giving us a glimpse into their world, even transforming online education with sites such as CreativeLive. These creatives based it all on a belief system in-line with much of the value based ideology that media walking brain and the The New York Times best-selling author, Gary Vaynerchuk, preaches practically daily on his YouTube episodes #AskGaryVee; constantly provide real value to your audience before ever trying to sell them on anything. All this according to the mantra of put out enough positive vibes into the world, it will eventually come back to you — the idea of paying it forward.

For a long time I struggled, as any creative would, with the idea that I really had something to offer people starting out. 

As human beings we're supernaturally talented when it comes to self-deprecation. So I started small with taking on assistants on shoots and teaching them whatever I could, then taking on part-time assistants to help with administration tasks, followed with taking a more active role in online forums and groups as an admin by posting stuff I found informative and interesting motivating whomever I could.

The big turning point though came when I started doing 1-on-1 workshops with photographers from around the country. One of the first really bright photographers I taught was an engineer turned photographer after recently being laid off. I could tell she was an incredibly smart person who was just getting too caught up in her head instead of just relaxing and having fun while shooting; something pretty common with left-brain heavy individuals. However, after just two sessions in just over a year in Florida, she really turned it on, becoming a big boudoir powerhouse in the Sunshine State. Years later to this day, I still keep in touch and love watching her career skyrocket upward.

After a big move to Maryland last year, I had a tough transition moving to a completely new state where I didn't have any friends and family outside of my girlfriend and two kids. But like most things, the tough time brought me joy when I went out to the local colleges to take classes in an effort to get out of the house and meet new people.

This was when I realized that I had not been adhering to my side of the bargain. I wasn't putting out any real value for people, so I knew I had to change that.

This is where I found teaching and saw my MBA graduate degree seem to finally pay off; allowing me to help even more people see the real joy of learning photography and battling through the frustrations of not knowing how to get the shots they want. Like most photographers who shoot full-time, after a while you sometimes forget the joys and real reason why you picked up a camera.

Knowing that truly has made teaching one of the most fulfilling things I've done as a creative in my career thus far. It's remarkable how just going over the basics with someone, stuff you can do with your eyes closed, can be so rewarding when you see the look in their eyes when it all finally clicks. I quickly realized why we always come to the point where we want to just give back to anyone and everyone who's willing to listen — to make them see what we see, why we're so passionate and what makes us do this crazy thing called a creative career.

It's that feeling that has made me fall back in love with photography.

[Vaynerchuk quote via Forbes]

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David Arthur's picture

If you're such a good photographer, why are you blogging about photography while using photos you got from unsplash.com?

Jose Rosado's picture

Easy, because part of being a full-time creative is knowing what's worth your time and what you can delegate - like using a service such as Unsplash for blog posts that need images I don't have in my archive.

They wouldn't have a business model if it wasn't a big enough need with people writing content daily.

David Arthur's picture

It was a little misleading to not put on the post that they weren't yours, I would have assumed they were if I hadn't recognized them. I use unsplash as well, but not for blog posts and such. I use them for slide templates at church.

But I see your point. It's a time saver. It just looked like you were trying to pull one over on the readers. If that wasn't your intention, no harm.

Jose Rosado's picture

Oh no, not at all. The only time I'd post my own work would be if the article required it and it would be obvious (tutorials, lighting diagrams, etc) - this article wasn't one of those posts.

Nathan Nellans's picture

Who gives a hoot Dave. You missed the point of the article. He's talking about his experiences, and not particular photos. Who cares if he uses stock photos?

Nick Viton's picture

I don't particularly care if stock photos were used, but it is misleading. For instance, I saw the Massey Hall picture which in my mind infers the author is from Toronto.

Nathan Nellans's picture

So you can't post pictures of a foreign place if you don't live there yourself? Geez, I feel bad for travel photographers then.

Nick Viton's picture

I didn't say you can't. You can do whatever you want. Geez indeed!

Nathan Nellans's picture

Okay, let me rephrase.

So you're misleading people if you post pictures of a foreign place and you don't live there yourself? Geez, I feel bad for travel photographers then.

Jose Rosado's picture

People travel, Nick - also, there's an About the Author section at the bottom that states I'm from the US, so apologies on any confusion.

Kyle Ford's picture

Why does it even matter where they are from, that has no relevance in the piece written...

Melanie Steele's picture

I wouldn't call it misleading but I agree, seeing the Massey Hall photo and living in the GTA myself, I thought great, the author is a local on FS! And I could have a closer connection, attend classes, etc, until I saw the credentials at the bottom.

Chelsey Rogers's picture

Peter House is one of our writers from Toronto.

Kyle Ford's picture

Teaching always helped me solidify my skills. When I was a little ahead on the web design class I would get asked to help others which only improved my skills while doing it.

Jose Rosado's picture

Yes! Some people don't realize how much going over the basics with someone can help you so much - we just get so caught up in our own thing + making money that we don't find that a good use of our 'time'.

lee arthur's picture

There is a book called "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah" by Richard Bach. If you have never read it, I suggest you do. In it is a quote, "You teach best what you most need to learn." I have found this to be true on more that one occasion. Thus it does not surprise me in the lease that by teaching others, one becomes better at one's craft. Good article, good pictures, lesson learned: help others to help yourself.

Jose Rosado's picture

Thanks, Lee! I'll be sure to check that book out as I'm always looking for a new inspirational books to help keep me motivated. That's a great quote by the way, and thanks for the kind words.

Andre Goulet's picture

That is a fantastic book, as are all of Richard Back's.