How we teach wildlife photography
Photography, like almost any other artistic discipline, is, or at least, should be, an ongoing journey of learning and improvement.
Often people are asked how long they have been photographing with the goal of understanding how good they might be. The reality is that the number of years spent on something is not necessarily any indication of ability. Here’s the worst case:
- A photographer has been photographing for decades
- They only pick up their camera occasionally
- They make little attempt to improve
- They never get out of their comfort zone and try different things
- They are unaware of their limitations
- They never ask for feedback or help while incorporating it into an intentional process of improvement
- Even if they spend some time trying to improve, they don’t make the best use of this time
Now let’s contrast this with the opposite extreme:
- A photographer has only been photographing for a short time
- They have a voracious appetite for knowledge and are constantly trying to learn more about the process and the art of photography
- They practice as much possible to not only prove what they know in theory but so they can react quickly in the field when it matters
- They set goals to be better and they plan a series of steps to reach those goals
- They constantly push themselves to go out of their comfort zone
- They try to be very aware of what they are good at and not good at
- They constantly look for opportunities to learn and get feedback on their work with the goal of getting better
- They try to be as efficient as possible to make the most of the time they are able to spend on becoming a better photographer
It doesn’t really matter how long you’ve been doing something. What matters more is whether you want to get better and how much you are willing and able to commit to that.
Let’s use an analogy. If you wanted to learn a musical instrument and play in a band and become at least a musician of some note, what would you do? You would likely:
- Practice multiple hours every day
- Get a teacher
- Play with other musicians of at least equal, or ideally, better ability
- Work towards goals such as performing a particular set of music to an audience
and so forth. Yet many people who want to become capable photographers don’t do any of these things.
10x’ing and the growth mindset
In some areas of learning there is now the concept of 10x’ing. This is the idea that you would try to get ten times better at something. This is a lofty goal to be sure. Perhaps that goal is not attainable within a certain period or perhaps it is never attainable. However setting such a goal can help you attain even a lesser degree of improvement.
To get better requires a desire and motivation to learn and improve. If you have that and you’re willing to put in the work, we want to help you get there.
Repetition is important but so is variety
When we plan our workshops we look for two types of opportunities to help you become a better wildlife photographer. Repetition is important because practice makes perfect (but only if you practice perfectly!) Therefore there are opportunities to repeat techniques over and over so that you can commit them to mental and muscle memory and recall them at an instant when a fantastic, but brief, photo opportunity presents itself.
However it’s also critically important to have variety. Going out and doing the same kind of shooting for every day on a workshop, such as sitting in a vehicle on game drive after game drive, is not only boring but it doesn’t push you to grow. We look for opportunities where you can vary your technique, try different things, and even, when the time is right, experiment with the possibility that you might fail and then learn from that failure.
Our photographic leaders are all deeply passionate about teaching and helping people become better wildlife photographers. They have experience teaching in the field and in the classroom as well as teaching one-on-one or with groups way larger than we ever have in our workshops. In addition to being teachers they are also practicing professionals and, at times, will shoot alongside trip participants.
The ability to teach skills and give advice is important but we also want our teachers to be a source of inspiration and support. For this reason we look for photographic leaders who have artistic charisma and can speak to the challenges of achieving their artistic and professional goals.
Most importantly, our teachers ALWAYS put workshop participants first. Their primary goal is to help you get the best shots. To be absolutely blunt about this, there are some people who operate tours as a way to regularly get themselves to certain locations for the photographic opportunities. When a great opportunity presents itself, they are often shooting and trying to get their own shots when they should be helping others. In our opinion, this is the greatest sin a photo workshop leader can commit.
Between shooting sessions
The time you spend on photographic activities when you are not shooting is just as important as the times when you are shooting.
In addition to time spent shooting together, our teachers give talks, feedback, and are generally available to help between shooting sessions.
We strongly encourage all trip participants to edit between shooting sessions with goal of having at least basic editing of all images done before the next outing. This is very important so that you can identify areas of improvement, shots you are missing, faulty equipment, and so forth. We are strong proponents of fast and efficient editing and will show you our workflows and the software and hardware we use to edit in the field.
Support in our workshops AND BEYOND
And here’s the most important thing:
We support you in our workshops AND BEYOND. We use a mentorship model. For a period of six months after a workshop ends, we will continue to support you with remote feedback in any wildlife photography endeavor you undertake without other support for learning.
We want you to get better in our workshops and to continue you to get better when you get back home. Even if you can’t travel to exotic locations and get in front of rarely-seen species, there are still infinite opportunities to practice and get better in your home town or not too far away.