We all need a leg up occasionally. Whether you are a first time photographer struggling with pretty much everything or a seasoned pro looking for advice on a new technique, the fact is that without people to help us, few would be able to improve their photography to any great extent. Our peers are a vital part of our photographic eduction. Listening, learning and drawing inspiration from their work can elevate our own images to a new level. Today we are going to look at why you should sometimes interact with your peers and why sometimes you should not.
Who are your photographic peers?
Technically they can be anyone who takes photos or who gives advice about photography. In reality it can be photographers whose work has inspired you, friends who take a great picture or a kindly soul who will take you under his or her wing and guide you through the minefield we call photography. Places you might find a good photographic peer might include:
Camera clubs and societies: Here enthusiasts meet weekly, hold competitions and try to help newcomers to the art. Amongst the membership will be people of various levels right up to those who could quite easily go professional if they desired. Like any club, there will be people that love to help and advise and others that will turn their noses up at anyone trying to better themselves. The best way to integrate yourself into a club and adopt a peer, is to go to the regular meetings, enter the competitions and chat generally with the membership. Avoid being arrogant and you will soon find that someone will take you under their wing and guide you.
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Learn the club’s politics early, there will be some members who feely oddly threatened by newcomers, especially if that newcomer has a degree of talent.
Friends and Family: There will almost certainly be a photographer in your social circle. You might not have noticed them, they might not shout about it, but one or more of them will have a love for photography. Take your camera with you on social outings and events often, and soon that person will start to show some interest in what you are doing. Because they are already a friend or family member, more often than not they will be only too willing to give you advice and guidance.
Online Professionals: Although most professionals may not have the time to interact with you directly, there is no reason why you should not be inspired by their work. Many pros also have blogs where they explain how certain shots were achieved, about trends in photography or just the life of a professional. Some may allow comments to their blogs, some may even reply. If you are inspired by a professional photographer, bookmark their page and don’t be afraid to comment on either their photos or blog posts.
Forums: Online forums can be both a positive and negative place to interact with peers. Forums are often a good place to get advice on the technical aspects of photography and photographic equipment. However like with camera clubs, most online forums have their own politics and their own “armchair experts.” Like in real life, the bullies and opinionists will shout the loudest and it is sometimes difficult to find the real experts. Spend some time in the forums, ask and answer questions in a civil way and you will soon learn who the people to trust are.
What can you learn from your peers?
Interestingly, its not always the obvious that you might learn. Subjects like depth of field, low light photography have been documented extensively on the internet. Much of the top level photographic technique is easy to access. Very often it's the little tips and hints that can make a photographer's life easier that are the ones you learn from your peers. It might be about carrying a small spirit level in your camera bag or a subtle way to change the composition of an image for the better. Its the many tiny details that you can learn rather than the big sweeping techniques that can radically improve your photography.
Listen but don't always Act
Even the world’s greatest photographers get it wrong or don’t know everything. Sometimes advice you might get given as fact, is merely an opinion. Sometimes it's completely wrong. Listen to opinions from a number of peers and never take a single person’s word as gospel.
Peers are a vital part of our photographic learning. We can find them everywhere, online and in the real world. Try to identify a few peers that inspire you and that you feel have the knowledge to advance your photographic abilities. Some of them may even end up becoming great friends.