Being a ‘Self-Taught’ Photographer Really Means Always Learning

I have one overarching tip for you today and it’s a big one. The only wrong way to learn photography is to stop learning. Whether you’re classically trained or self-taught, the key is to always be learning and growing.

If you stop learning and growing, eventually your creativity will dry up along with your passion. You can know all of the composition and framing techniques but there’s something about being willing to try something new or different. I consider myself a self-taught photographer in the sense that I didn’t go to school for photography but it’s undeniable that I have had numerous teachers over the years.

In this article let’s talk about being self-taught and how to learn photography. We’re going to acknowledge all of the potential teachers available to us, how to stay teachable and curious, and when you might want to invest in yourself. Whether you’re just getting started or looking to grow I can’t wait to see what the next step on your photography journey is.

The Benefits of Being Self Taught

One of the top benefits of being self-taught is really the idea of learning by doing. When you dive in and start doing something, you’re bound to learn a lot of lessons along the way. You could also call it learning by failing which since it’s so memorable is a great way to learn.

Another major benefit of being self-taught is that you don’t have to wait for anyone or anything. You can start and you can grow at your own pace. Additionally, you can grow in the direction you want to grow because you get to choose which aspects of photography to work on and when.

And finally, my favorite benefit of being self-taught is that you actually can have countless teachers. You’ll find yourself devouring books, tutorials, workshops, or articles like this one. And you can take the information that is helpful to you and ignore the rest, you can decide what interests you and focus on that rather than whatever someone else tells you you’re supposed to learn.

The Importance of Being Teachable

As I’ve started to establish, being self-taught doesn’t mean that you don’t have teachers. It’s actually a strange thing to say because we can’t actually teach ourselves something without first learning how to do it. While you may not have a teacher that’s by your side cheering you on, it’s important to still be teachable.

What do I mean by being teachable? I mean that you should be willing to try something new, different, or outside your comfort zone. When we’re self-taught, we’re often independent, scratching and clawing our way to learn something when we would be better off taking some shortcuts by learning from others’ mistakes.

One of the disadvantages to all the free or accessible content out there that we have access to is that there’s no guarantee that it’s all good advice. But that’s ok because the more teachable you are the more you’ll quickly learn how to distinguish good advice from the bad. My trick is that if the advice gives you something actionable, just try it, versus if it makes you think there must be some secret button to success, ignore it.

How to Stay Curious and Stay Passionate

The other main aspect of being teachable is never thinking you know everything. Once you master one topic, look over to the side and see if there’s something you can learn somewhere else. You may not ever use certain lighting techniques but learning them, knowing them, and trying them might help you with the ones you do use.

Stay curious. Find something to keep learning, and set goals that keep you growing and stretching. When your work starts to feel stale or repetitive, it’s time to try something new and mix it up.

If you stay curious you’ll keep learning new things thus expanding and diversifying your skill set. That’s one of the secrets to staying passionate. Learning about video or editing or fine art might help you reconnect to your passion for photography in a new and different way.

Sometimes You Still Have to Invest in Yourself

I am a huge proponent of being self-taught, experience and just doing the thing and doing it a lot are super important. I don’t always have the patience to learn at someone else’s pace and I feel more inspired if I get to give myself assignments around things that I’m actually passionate about. However, at some point you’re going to need someone else’s eye on your work.

There might come a point where even though you’re self-taught you stop making progress or you run into something that you simply can’t learn from a YouTube video. At that point maybe it is time to invest in yourself. That doesn’t mean you need to go to school but maybe you hire a coach or attend a workshop.

You can learn a lot about photography for free. But time is valuable too, sometimes it’s faster to learn something by investing in yourself, and there is an ROI on learning new skills. I’m preaching to the choir here because for my entire career I’ve told myself I value education but when it comes to hiring that coach or signing up for a course, I’m trigger-shy.

How to Always Be Learning as a Photographer

Let’s review the ideas we discussed for how to always be learning as a photographer. Remember, if you’re self-taught you probably have a lot of teachers even if no one is holding your hand and giving you assignments. I’m grateful for the incredible photographers who have inspired me either by sharing their knowledge directly or just by putting great work out there into the world.

  1. Learn by doing, failing, and gaining hands-on experience
  2. Learn and grow at your own pace
  3. Focus your learning on the topics that interest you most
  4. Don’t be afraid to learn from the mistakes of others
  5. Be teachable and willing to try new things
  6. Learn how to distinguish the bad advice from the good
  7. Try things outside your specialty
  8. Set goals that keep you stretching
  9. Diversify your skillset
  10. Get someone else’s eyes on your work

Don’t stop learning, growing, or creating!

About the author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” they are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.

Image credits: Header photo from 123RF