photo books

On Photography Education

On Photography Education

I’ve taken maybe a handful of online photography courses, mostly in speedlight training because it was so new to me. Over time, I learned most online photography courses are like online Photoshop courses: one trick ponies to only use when you really need it. And for most of those, as CJ says, there’s free videos on YouTube to learn techniques.

Seriously, just do a search on anything you need to know – from camera repair to off-camera lighting.

No, my “education” comes from the How To See end of the photography spectrum. Specifically, it’s learning how the great photographers of history have seen the world and translated it through their pictures. When I learned how Callahan and Metzker saw the world, my photography voice and vision (not techniques!) improved.

The best photography lessons come from photo books and projects, not one-off online classes. Find a photographer you like, go grab their book from a library, and spend some time with it. If you really like the book, buy it, and you’ll be able to keep it forever. You can share it with friends. You can revisit it over time and rediscover the lessons.

Libraries provide books to anyone, just about anywhere, for free. Through interlibrary loans, if they don’t have a book, they can get it for you. That’s a librarian’s job! They can’t wait to help you find a book. I’m lucky enough to work at a university where I can go online, pick a book, and it shows up at my office a few days later (one of the many reasons I love working in higher ed).

Now, if a photographer doesn’t have a book, visit the Projects section of their website and spend some time with it. Look at those images full size. Read the text. Find out the why. Hell, send them an email and start a conversation. Don’t be shy.

If you’re a professional photographer who needs to solve a difficult problem, maybe something like CreativeLive will work for you. Maybe it’s worth the money.

But for us hobbyists, a book is a better investment in time and treasure.


A Small Fraction

 

Buy Books, Not Gear

Eric Kim, in a classic:

I would argue that buying even 5 great street photography books will do more for your photography than any lens out there would. And assuming that each photo-book was $50, that would cost $250. That is a small fraction of any lens that you could purchase out there.

Good reminder this weekend, when you have some time for reading. And for the holiday season, when those Amazon gift cards come rolling in.


Work With Your Hands

Northampton, Massachusetts

In middle school, my shop teacher was a grizzled old guy. Suspenders, beard, calloused hands – a stereotype if there ever was one. He told us to “make sure you keep things steady” while his hands shook. Neat guy.

One day he told us a story about taking a factory job as a younger man. Our teacher, the new employee, had to work 30 days in the plant without taking a day off. If he worked those 30 consecutive days, he got hired on as a full-time employee. If he missed even one day, he would be let go.

Well, he missed a day because he was violently ill. And of course he got let go from his new job. His lesson, if I remember it right, was that the real world was a tough place, and you had to work hard and pay your dues to make it.

I probably knew it earlier than seventh grade, but after hearing my shop teacher’s story, I figured out that maybe I didn’t want a blue collar job. I wanted to make things, yes, always. But not work in manufacturing – as my father had. It’s not that blue collar work was “below me.” I wasn’t “too good” for a factory job. It’s just that shop class never clicked, and hearing my teacher’s story made me worry about the prospects of working at a place like that. My future was going to be spent doing creative things with my mind.

Luckily, today we can “work with our hands” in other ways: digital projects, hobbies, crafting, writing, etc. It doesn’t have to be a full time job. The stakes are much lower.

At my previous job, there were a few college professors that spent their entire days in the abstract, teaching and reading and lecturing. When they got back home, they got their hands busy doing things like woodworking and car repair. I understood that need. It’s why I enjoy fixing things around the house when I can.

As humans, our best tools are our hands, and maybe tinkering tickles some ancient need we have as toolmakers.

It’s one of the reasons why I love making and pouring over physical things like photo books. Holding something physical, making artistic decisions about materials – I create things with my mind, and then get to hold them in my hands.

 


Books Are Friends

Books Are Friends

Seth Godin, announcing his $159 giant-ass book of blog posts and writings:

A book is a special object, a time-tested conveyor of not just information, but emotion and connection. Some of my best friends are books.

…All the words are already online for free (it’s a collection of my online writing over the last four years). What you can’t get online, though, is the feeling of owning it and the joy of gifting it.

That’s why all the digital publishing platforms and blog posts in the world can’t replace a book: the joy of owning, giving, and experiencing.

My practice is, try to buy a photo book every month. For $20-50, I get an education and a way of seeing the world. It’s a darned good deal.

Godin’s book is $159 for writing you can read for free, right now. But it also has photos by Thomas Hawk, and is this massive monolith of thought and wit that you can take down and re-read – no batteries required. Godin’s book will sell out, surely, which says there’s a market and that the books is valued.

Craig Mod just kicked butt on a Kickstarter book project about a walk through Japan. Maybe, after all the hype about eBooks, people are realizing that physical books are just fine.

Books are humanity’s friends. Books are here to stay. They’ve been around for longer than most empires, and many will stick around for even longer.

While I love viewing photography online, and checking out blogs from my favorite artists, buying a book is a true vote of confidence for someone’s work.

 


Printing Family Photo Books

Printing family photo books

For the last few years, every holiday season, I’ve made it a point to create a family photo album. It’s a highlight reel of the most recent year, with our vacations, our birthdays, our seasons and walks and daily routines all documented.

My family photos albums were so important to me growing up. For many years, a lot of my childhood photo albums were somewhere I couldn’t get to them. It was only in the last seven or eight years that I got ownership back, and I made it a point to scan all those childhood pictures for safe-keeping (digital is relatively fire proof, as long as you have a good stable backup).

Going through those old photo albums was satisfying. I feel like I got my childhood back. And today, while we still print individual photo prints of the family, the idea of a photo book—a collective annual history—is a tradition I want to carry on. I look forward to making our photo book each year.

Another tradition: making a photo calendar and giving it away to family members. That’s become an annual tradition too, and it’s fun to see a year full of family photos and memories up on relatives’ walls. It makes for a great Christmas gift.

This year, I want to try something new: give away photo books to family members. With my daughter turning one this week, I think a photo book of her first year might make some family members pretty happy.

These are the types of things that keep memories alive.

This year, with the photo book idea, I can keep our collective family history going – and make sure that if one collection of pictures gets lost, there’s another copy floating around somewhere.