Thanks to my time at Montessori, I have always been a relatively self-directed learner. I like to gather information, solve problems, and have extensive knowledge on any subject that I find fairly interesting. And yet, when I introduced myself in the Beginner’s Photography class I enrolled in with a friend, I had no choice but to admit that I bought my DSLR camera three years ago and have yet to understand or use any feature that didn’t come pre-programmed into it.
While somewhat embarrassing, this reality is more confusing to me than anything else. Why? Because I am a person who can learn a lot from a book. I’ve taught myself Excel, Access, and much of what I know about education from books. But for some reason, this has not worked with photography. I have had access to plenty of materials to learn how to use the camera, but I simply could not get into them. The instant my friend mentioned the course, I knew I wanted to be there, because I knew it was the only way that I could commit to learning more about my fancy toy.
As I considered this after a fascinating class of light painting and learning how to use our cameras to (nearly) overexpose someone sitting in darkness, I’ve settled on two possibilities for why this struggle has plagued me despite a great interest in photography.
1) Photographers are visual people; I am not.
Why does this matter? Well, aside from the potential for truckloads of terrible photographs, it means that many of the books written about photography are designed for visual people. Our instructor mentioned this as he cushioned a book recommendation with “don’t worry, it’s mostly pictures and diagrams, not too many words” and I found myself thinking that I should skip that particular purchase. My love for diagrams stems only from the elation I feel when I realize I can skip most of that page in a homework assignment. I once convinced a teacher to let me write stories instead of drawing pictures for a weekly vocabulary assignment. Faced with a book full of diagrams and pictures, I am lost.
2) The learning was not contextualized.
I believe my lack of visual skill contributes to this lack of internal motivation, but when I consider the other how-to books I’ve used and enjoyed, my mind is filled with screen shots, charts, and figures that actually proved to be very useful. And then I think back to why I had those books in the first place – to help me solve a particular problem that I was facing at one job or another. Sure, I went through each chapter (my Achiever rarely gives me any other choice), but any time I came across something I thought might work for my actual problem, I stopped reading and gave it a try with the real thing. The need to solve the problem motivated me to learn the relevant material so strongly that my brain acclimated to a hated learning style. With photography, I have yet to reach a point where I am so unhappy with what my camera ‘s automatic features produce that it became worth it to make it through the how-to books.
How is this class going to fix either of these things? It won’t. I am already wondering if my entire perception of a ‘good’ photo is about to crash down around my shoulders or if I’m going to become insufferable to friends as I try to set up the perfect shot (once I finally learn how to do that, of course). But, because class based learning is not nearly as much of a stretch for my brain, I’m willing to try it. More than anything else, this illustrates the importance of meeting different learning styles as we work with students. While it may seem tedious, impractical, or unnecessary, at least in this case it’s the difference between learning and not learning, which looks like a win to me.