Can you be taught to be a good photographer?

When I bought my first serious camera, a Canon Ftb slr, my photography was going to improve by leaps and bounds. It didn’t. I found out that the more equipment that I had didn’t make my pictures any better. I just had more bad shots taken in new ways.

My progression was slow. I shot everything on Kodachrome film.It was expensive and usually took two to three weeks to get processed.

I had to be careful what I shot because every exposure cost me money. I was young, still in school and tight for cash.

I was in a hurry to improve. Everyone is in a rush to get better. Thirty some years later I can tell you, there is no quick way to improve your photography. Out of desperation or not knowing better, many believe that they can buy their way to better pictures.

I think that one of the reasons photo workshops are so attractive is because these same people believe that attending one will improve their photography by leaps and bounds. Spend a few hundred dollars and your landscapes will look like they belong in a glossy travel magazine.

I recently saw an ad for another photography workshop. I see them every day it seems but this one caught my attention. Why?  The cost.  Almost three thousand dollars for under a week of instruction. Three thousand dollars! Yes, that wasn’t a typo. Three thousand dollars.

Here’s the poop on photography. You can teach basics. That’s about it. Everything else is you.

There are no secrets the pros use. There aren’t any shortcuts that I can give you to make your photos sizzle. If I could make you a better photographer by offering you an online course or a weekend or week long workshop, I would do it. But I can’t. Nobody can.

I spent two years in photography school with a half a dozen different instructors and a slew of guest lecturers. That was two full years of constant instruction, critiques and assignments. You’ll never get that kind of instruction in a photography workshop. There’s a connection here. Read on.

Before I went to school, everything I learned, I did so from reading.

In the space of three years my landscapes were getting published in magazines and coffee table books. A national publisher made me an offer to produce a book on the mountains of Alberta. All of that happened without any formal instruction from anyone.

I dropped the book project because I thought that it would be better for me in the long run to learn the craft of photography in school. There had to be more to it than what I was doing.

The two years passed quickly. Instead of shooting landscapes, I ended up shooting advertising, fashion, food and editorial. Now I am back to landscapes after a long absence.

When I finished the course, I was the  same person creatively that I was when I started the course.

In that time I never saw anyone take a giant leap in their craft. The kids who were good at the beginning were the same ones making great shots twenty four months later. The so so shooters were still, well, so so.

Compare that two years of intense study with a weekend or a week of  outdoor workshops. One weekend or one week of instruction with anyone will not improve your photography as much as you actually getting out on your own and shooting for yourself.

If you are going to improve it will be because of you not because of someone else.

Don’t rush to get better. Take your time. It will happen. You can pay someone to take you on a nice guided holiday of the mountains and shoot the breeze with other photographers. It sounds like a nice photographic holiday. If you really intend to come away a better photographer, my money says it’s not going to happen that way.

As your photography improves you’ll realize that you could only get there on your own.

Happy shooting,


ps, I’m out the door to Banff and Jasper in a few moments. The forecast is great for photography and hopefully, I’ll come back with some fresh, interesting images.

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~ by Dan Jurak on September 22, 2010.

4 Responses to “Can you be taught to be a good photographer?”

  1. I really like your photography, it seems real. Thank you for sharing your view of your home!

  2. yah, agreed.. it takes time to enhance your skills.. and having lots of expensive equipments doesn’t mean you are a good photographer.. because it’s all depends on the person behind the camera.. :)

  3. Really like this statement – ” offer no workshops, no photo tours, no e-books and no online courses to turn you into the next Ansel Adams. The most successful professional photographers that I personally know have succeeded by being independent thinkers.” So…very true. My soon to be husband is a Fine Art Photographer and these words echo his beliefs as well!
    Your work is beautiful!

  4. @ Brenda, thank you for visiting and commenting. I think that you can teach people the rules and the mechanics but anything beyond that comes from within. The most successful photographers that I know, financially anyways are the ones who were the best sales people. That isn’t necessarily the same thing as the best photographer. There are plenty of talented artists living from in poverty.


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