The Benefits of Tuition and Mentoring

In the beginning...

One of my early landscape images taken in Glen Coe in 2008.

I bought my first DSLR in 2006 when I purchased a Nikon D80.  Previous to that I had a Minolta DiMAGE A1 so this was a big step up for me.  It was at this point that I started to want to learn more about the craft of photography.  So as many people do I went to my the nearest newsagent and picked up a photography magazine.  And so started a journey of several years of reading a lot about photography.

The problem was I wasn't actually taking that many pictures.  Sure I was inspired by what I was reading and saw, but despite having considerably more free time back then I didn't practice the craft of photography as much.  (Read my blog post on Practicing the Craft of Photography).  I also wasn't that focused on a specific genre of photography.  Most photography magazines have a broad range of articles from portraits to macro so I would often spend time trying these things out.  Don't get me wrong, I did go out with my camera, but looking back I don't think I was trying hard enough to really learn about photography.

Changing My Approach

This changed back in 2013, when I decided to go full frame and buy a Nikon D600.  I promised myself that if I was going to invest all this money in a camera (and lenses!) I was for sure going to learn how to improve my photography.  By this stage though I was fairly sure that my heart lay with landscape photography.   

Some early lessons about composition with David Nightingale.

I decided that the best way to make progress was to actually go out and shoot more, and to engage the services of a professional for some 1-2-1 tuition.  At the time I was following the work of Blackpool based photographer David Nightingale and so I booked a whole weekend of tuition and got to work on improving my photography.  The weekend went well and it was a bit of an eye opener for me.  Firstly, I actually didn't know as much about my camera as I thought.  While I knew some of my composition skills were lacking, I thought I knew my camera well but this wasn't really the case!  It all goes back to practicing the art of photography, something I hadn't been very good at!

Up till this point I had wondered if it were actually possible to teach someone about composition and how to make a beautiful photograph.  As many of my previous photographs had been average at best, I was beginning to think that you couldn't really learn an art, you had to have a natural talent for it to start with.  While many people do find creating art easy, for me I had to learn about it.  Fortunately David reassured me that I could learn the art of photography.  So for that reason alone that weekend was a success.

Making Progress

A year later I had kept to my promise of going out more with my camera.  I was still bound by my work and family commitments but I was at least using my spare time to go out and shoot.  In 2014 I went on a Dawn 2 Dusk Photography workshop on Dartmoor where not only did I have a lot of fun with some like minded photographers but I also learnt a considerable amount about landscape photography.  On the workshop I also met Ross Hoddinott, one of the tutors.  I had been looking for a local tutor to help with my learning journey and Ross seemed the ideal person.

Learning about timing and waiting for the light on a 1-2-1 with Ross.

A few months later I met Ross for a 1-2-1 session and in that one day I probably learnt more about composition that I had done since I purchased my first DSLR 2006.  Not only did I become inspired from that session but I also became more confident with my photography.  Since that first 1-2-1 session with Ross I have regularly met with Ross for further 1-2-1s and portfolio reviews and this has had a significant impact on my photography.  Each session I learn something new.  Sometimes it's a really small change in how I might compose an image, but it often has a big impact.

So this brings me to the point of this blog post.  If you are struggling with your photography or you've reached a plateau then I can strongly recommend that you find a tutor or mentor to help with your photography.  Find someone close to home or who's work you respect.  Most photographers offer some kind of tuition on a 1-2-1 basis now.  Or if that seems a little much as a first step try a photography workshop such as those offered by Dawn 2 Dusk Photography.

We spend so much money on gear (something I'm definitely guilty off) but the one thing that has had the biggest impact on my photography is the time I've spent with a professional photographer.  No matter what stage you are at with your photography journey I believe a little mentoring and tuition can be very beneficial.  Of course I still read photography magazines, Outdoor Photography being my personal favourite, but when it comes to developing as a photographer 1-2-1s for me are invaluable.

Do you have a photography mentor or favourite tutor?  What do you think of 1-2-1 days with professional photographers?  Let me know your thoughts.