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I Am NOT a ‘Self-Taught’ Photographer


“Meet my friend Saurabh. He’s an amazing photographer from India and his work has been published in various reputed newspapers and journals worldwide like Nat Geo, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, etc. Astonishingly, he’s a self-taught photographer and very passionate about his work.”

Recently, I was touring Europe to meet some friends and this was the kind of introduction I got in their social circle. Even in my home country of India, this is a common way friends and family introduce me to someone.

Hasn’t the use of ‘self-taught’ become cliche in creative fields? It has become more like a marketing thing to promote yourself these days, even to an extent that artists with a proper college degrees have started calling themselves ‘self-taught’ to look cool on their social media profiles.

The term ‘self-taught’ makes me think of some of the great inventors like the Wright Brothers. In Dayton, Ohio, Wilbur and Orville Wright were working on their own airplane… only they didn’t have a lot of money. They didn’t have a team of world-class talent – not a single person on the team had a college education, let alone an advanced degree. They didn’t have the best materials. Heck, they were operating out of a bicycle shop. But they had the passion to experiment and to do everything from scratch and to turn their dream into reality. On December 17, 1903 the Wright brothers took mankind into flight for the first time.

Today, we are living in a very convenient world in which learning anything to everything has become very easy and on the go. Thanks to all the wonderful educators out there who spend hours creating written and video tutorials. It’s no longer rocket science if you’re willing to learn.

Well true, it’s kind of a self-driven study and one needs to be motivated all the time, but isn’t that true for all kinds of education? I don’t remember learning anything more from attending my MBA lectures than I did from researching on YouTube and Google. I don’t call myself a self-taught MBA, so why should I call myself a self-taught photographer.

I think calling yourself a self-taught photographer should mean that you bought a camera and began practicing on it without learning from all the content that’s available out there. Also, it shows an ungratefulness to your photography mentors!

So every time I got introduced as a ‘self-taught’ photographer, I objected and stated that I’m not a ‘self-taught’ photographer — that I’m learning photography every day by watching YouTube tutorials, researching great photography projects and great photographers, and studying powerful photographs.

Here’s a list of people from whom I’ve been learning all about photography. They all are truly my gurus of photography:

Ted Forbes: He runs a YouTube channel called ‘The Art of Photography’ through which he shares a great insights about photography beyond the golden triangle. I especially love his artist series in which he interviews photographers.

Chase Jarvis: He does a lot of things besides being a great photographer. I learn a lot from various interviews he has done for ‘30 Days of Genius’. Also he has given me my favorite photography quote ever: “The best camera is the one that’s with you.”

Aaron Nace: He’s my go-to man to learn all about Photoshop and Lightroom via his YouTube channel Phlearn.

Ian Norman: Everything I know about astro-photography is through his blog Lonely Speck.

Babak Tafreshi: His Instagram account is my source of all the latest news about night sky and about the importance of preserving the dark sky.

Eric Kim: He introduced me to composition in photography. I love his opinions and find his way of teaching photography very honest via his blog posts.

Steve McCurry: My daily inspiration for some powerful photography.

Martin Schoeller: The idea of my ongoing long-term project #WidowsOfVrindavan came from his portrait project ‘Homeless’.

Sanjay Narayan: He’s a Delhi-based commercial photographer. I assisted him for couple of times and I’ve never met a photographer as honest as him. He taught me a very important lesson about photography: that it changes with every inch.

Jimmy Nelson: I have learned a lot from his work on tribes and how he connects with people without even knowing their local language.

David Alan Harvey: If you dream of creating your own photobook someday, then just follow his Instagram stories and I’m sure you’ll end up making one soon.

Chris Burkard: He’s a true story teller and I learn a lot from his travel and behind-the-scene stories about making photographs. Plus he shares a lot about his personal life too.

Serge Ramelli: He’s the master of post processing. I mostly follow his Lightroom workflow.

A big thanks to all the brilliant photographers and educators who are not afraid to share their knowledge and spend huge amounts of time creating such easy-to-understand educational content. I feel grateful to all the wonderful people who have shared their knowledge with me both in person and in the virtual world.

About the author: Saurabh Narang is a not-self-taught photographer based in India. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was also published here.

Image credits: Header photo by Suganth 🇮🇳🇸🇬