Why I Teach: A Personal Perspective

(NOTE: I would like to thank those students and alums who helped me become one of the top workshop teachers on Photo District News, Reader’s Poll for September, 2011.)

I was recently asked to discuss what I liked about teaching photography, and why I thought it was important to teach. It made me pause, and I carefully thought about my answer. It is not a simple reason, it is actually sort of complex at the edges, and simple in the core.

I photograph because I must. I teach because I must.

I teach because I think I am good at it. I have always taught at some level… whether it was my assistants, or my younger employees, or even those intrepid souls would make it to my door to ask for some ideas or guidance.

It is a responsibility, I believe, that is carried upon each of us at the varying levels we find ourselves. Teach the ones below and learn from the ones above. Taking and giving workshops makes one have a place in the legacy of the art. It is important work.

When I first started, it was simply a reaction to some situations that I saw within my own area. As a designer/photographer, I was far busier designing and doing ad work for clients than shooting. While I did some work for my clients, I also believe that hiring the right photographer was more important than satisfying my own ego by shooting it ALL myself. I know what I am good at, and I know what areas others do a better job. Reality.

I had a few photographers make appointments to show me their work and I was, to say it simply, appalled. Bad lighting is simply unacceptable, and add that to terrible concepts and presentation and I was artistically grumpy. Sure there were other photographers to hire, but these kids needed some guidance and were not finding it.

I held a mini workshop at the studio and had 6 local photographers come in. We did lighting setups from about 9am to nearly 10 that night. They had never seen lights in that close, or known the difference between shooting thru a scrim and bouncing from a secondary source. They would chimp every shot, and start to shoot before the lighting had even been tweaked.

They were very knocked out by how particular lighting can be made to be. And they were making better pictures that Saturday evening than they had ever made. All of them became pretty good friends, and I watched several of them take their photography to career level within a few years.

I decided the following summer to do it again, but this time put some formality to it. How would I teach how I light… and have it make sense? I wrote a curriculum that was pretty good, and did a free workshop to test it out. It was pretty good – and if I had the students for a week, we could have gotten to about half of it. To say it was ambitious is an understatement.

Back to re-writing and tweaking. And we did a year and a half of one day workshops. Manic? You betcha. We would start at about 7am and finish about 10PM – everyone exhausted. Nothing wrong with being exhausted, though.

I decided to take a few other workshops to see how they were getting the job done.

Workshop One: Two day workshop where the first half of the first day was spent listening to the photographer tell us how cool it was to be him, and how no matter what, we would never be as cool as he was. OK – not really a concern (I stopped being cool when my first kid turned 13 – just ask her), so on to the workshop. He set up the lights, and we took turns taking photos of a semi-clothed woman. Meh…

Workshop Two: Started two hours late, and the photographer was far more interested in taking photographs of his ‘girlfriend/model’ than teaching the students that attended anything. “Put your camera on f-8 and stand here… take a few shots…”

That ain’t teaching.

I did have a good experience with a location shooter who had great materials, a solid plan, and some hands on stuff that the students got into. And that fit with my world view of how to teach.

My Philosophy for Teaching Photography (and really anything):

1. Tell the story. Say what we are going to learn. In detail.

2. Show what we are talking about. See it as well as hear it.

3. Do it. Make it happen… listen, see and do.

I really don’t do much in the way of ‘how cool it is to be me’ cause, well – it really isn’t that cool. I don’t shoot much at the workshop because it is the student who is there to hear/see/do and they NEED to be the center of the workshop. Student Centric Teaching… heh.

I find that this works. I can teach lighting and some advanced photography to even the most basic beginner as well as the already advanced Pro-Am. There is always something for everyone, and I think that is as important as anything. No dumbing anything down, and no lofty, over their heads discussions either.

In the end, the reason I teach is that photography is very, very important to me. I care about it, and the practitioners of this most incredible art. And I think there is a dearth of good education out there. From forums where misguided, and occasionally misleading, information is disseminated, to magazines that paint a rosy picture of easy success in fashion photography, I think there is too much bullshit out there. Too much bullshit.

I don’t have anything to sell at my workshops, I want to focus on teaching. I don’t do any upselling at my workshops (ask those who have attended) and am simply glad to have students learn the concepts I think will help them light better, shoot better and have a better photographic experience.

I rarely do any promotion of my workshops on this space, other than the mentions and links, but the question of why I do it was a good one. And I decided to answer it here, in public, on my favorite site.

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

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