Photography is one of the most rewarding hobbies you can have—and digital photography offers the instant gratification of seeing the images you just shot, in the camera right after it is created.
Today’s technology provides folks with more outlets than ever to learn—from reading the camera manual, books and magazines to viewing a video, DVD or webinar to taking a dedicated class or lecture. By far, the ideal way to learn is from in a classroom or lecture setting where you can converse with the instructors, ask questions and seek advice. Reed Hoffmann, one of Nikon School’s instructors explains: “There’s a special kind of energy you feel when attending a class like this, and it’s infectious. From watching the instructors, to sharing lunch, we all learn and grow together. And perhaps most importantly, you leave with a new enthusiasm for photography, a better understanding of it, and ideas for ways to continue to grow with this amazing creative outlet.” Being in a classroom environment lets you learn not only from the instructors but feed off of the energy of the other students as well. Instructor Nick Didlick adds: “I know from personal experience there is nothing like getting into a room with a bunch of like-minded photo students and instructors and participate in a fun learning experience.”
In addition to learning about photography concepts and techniques, attendees also learn the functions and features of their cameras. Instructor Bob Pearson says, “I have many students come up after a class and tell me that they had been confused by certain functions on the camera. Exposure Value (EV) adjustments for example...many students have no idea what EV is for, and are very excited once they understand how EV functions and the advantages to using it.”
Bill Durrence, who has been a Nikon School instructor for two decades, says he hopes the biggest takeaway that students get is a new perspective on learning. Bill feels that it is also important to explain the “story” behind the photograph. He says that in addition to noting how images are made, explaining the story behind the image allows him to add humor and entertainment, which provide a break from the day’s lectures. He adds: “It gives me the chance to talk more about esoteric aspects of making—as opposed to taking—photographs.”
Nick says that one of his favorite parts about teaching is, “talking to people about our common passion for photography,” along with answering student’s questions.
Learn from instructors with a passion for teaching
And the best instructors are those who are working professionals. Nikon School classes are taught by such working pros who not only make a living in photography but who also have a passion for teaching. Reed says the best moments are when he sees students finally understanding a concept that may have eluded them. “Seeing that light bulb go on, witnessing someone understanding what they didn’t before, that’s the best part of teaching photography.” Nikon School instructor Michael A. Schwarz agrees. “A class doesn't go by when someone doesn't come up to me and say there was something they just could never understand, but now they finally get it and it all makes sense. That really makes me feel good,” he says.
Bob adds, “I believe a good base of knowledge in photography will help students take that step from just shooting images to really making nice photographs.” Learning how to use the camera is just the beginning explains Bill. “You have to understand the basic technical considerations for using the camera, and those things have to become second nature. When you achieve something close to that, then you are ready to begin the real work of learning to see,” he says.
Nikon Professional Services (NPS) Technical rep., Mark Kettenhofen, one of the Nikon School instructors who teaches the HD-SLR Multimedia Workshop, explains how teaching photography is more than images, and yet more than words. "Ansel Adams once said, 'When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.'" To Mark, teaching is more than just explaining photographic concepts or techniques but being able to help his students find the creativity they have within themselves. "My belief," Mark says, "is that my photography, together with my words, creates not silence, but a flow of imagination and vision that allow Nikon School participants to grow creatively beyond what they ever thought possible."
Bill says he remembers when he first started learning photography, and how confusing it was. “Once I did understand, I felt like it shouldn’t be that hard and I’ve spent most of my professional life since then trying to find ways to simplify this material and put it in plain, practical language,” he explains.
Michael notes the importance of creating a positive learning environment for Nikon School students. “I always hope that people find our classes educational as well as entertaining. I want people to expect to have a good time at our classes. We try to make it fun—we try to personalize it with our real world experiences. Lastly I want them to understand that our class is not a day-long sales pitch,” He adds: “Our goal is to try and help people enjoy their photography more by helping them get better photos and by removing any frustrations that they previously experienced.”
Nikon School classes aren’t only for beginners either. Nick explains that the attendees of Nikon School classes are often more enthusiastic about photography afterwards. “I see a renewed enthusiasm for photography and a drive to get out and put into practice some of the techniques they have learned from the class. There is nothing like watching the faces of the students as they leave the class with big grins on their faces, energized to go out and shoot pictures.”
“I feel that our instructors have so much professional experience that we blend into our teaching that there are always a handful of real practical ‘learned-in-the-field’ techniques that we pass along that can benefit those who already are pretty well experienced,” adds Michael.
Having Fun While Learning Too
Nikon School instructors do their best to educate students about photography, and help them with any questions they may have, but also make the learning experience fun and entertaining, so in addition to the gained knowledge, students enjoy themselves in the process. Reed feels photography is at its best when it's a shared, group activity. “That’s why I’ve always enjoyed teaching these classes, and hands-on workshops too. I learn from the students’ questions, and we all feed off of each other’s energy. And I love telling stories about my failures—it’s fun, and helps the students understand that we all make mistakes, no matter how long we’ve been doing photography. The important thing is to learn from those mistakes.” According to Bill, “play” is the most important word in photography. “Learning happens better when we’re having fun. Mistakes are how we build knowledge and skills.”
Bob explains how the students’ energy is also infectious for the instructors. “One of the reasons I joined the Nikon School teaching staff was because of the energy that the students bring into the seminars. I love to see the excitement in the students when we talk about photography, when we show them beautiful photos or see their eyes light up when they understand a concept that had eluded them up until that point. That energy in turn motivates us instructors.”