(49/100) On Learning

Sometimes all you need is a good teacher.

During the end of August I used the long weekend to attend a literary and arts festival. I was invited to speak on photography for primary and secondary students from all over the Cordillera region. It went fine, to cut the story short. I anticipated how the kids would respond to the topics since essentially, photography is a combination of science, math, and art.

The participants in the Literary and Arts Festival.

A little over an hour after the lecture I returned to the hall and was handed the printed entries of the contestants for me to judge. I was to select the top five. On the alley I sat on an armchair. Minutes after, Sir Dave, the speaker on photography for college students sat next to me. He’s a good one. I look up to him mainly because I took photography sessions with him back in college.

He made a comment on my lecture. He said that it was too technical to which I couldn’t agree more. Further, he explained that he wanted his lecture to be more practical because that’s how photography works. I got no problem with his strategy, heck, he’s a professional photographer.

What he did was send his participants out to shoot. One by one, the students presented their picks. He then commented on the pictures, pointed out the good and the bad, and suggested things to improve. Those were some good tips, by the way!

I was at the back of the hall listening. I saw myself in the participants — all trying to capture dramatic moments to tell a story. However, all of them were explaining too much to a point where their photos became useless. I could imagine the picture just by listening to them.

I continued scanning the pictures on my hand. I would have done the same thing but I learned (by theoretical means) that good photo-essays, to be good, should consist of some necessary elements to tell the story. There’s the establishment shot to describe the situation or place, the detail shot, the portrait shot, and so on.

I didn’t see those.

What happened was learning in a circumstantial way. The tips they got mostly applied to that particular topic. And judging by the participants, I think they could use a little more by-the-book knowledge for future use.

After that I was convinced that if I have to do my lecture all over again, I’m sure I wouldn’t change a thing.

Back in 2009, I remember asking Sir Dave how to do panning in photography. I remember that quite vividly. The answer I got was to just point the camera to the subject and shoot to infinity. Thinking about it now, I realized it was something I couldn’t use in setting up the camera.

***

When we set out to learn things in a practical way, it’s very exciting and challenging. Minutes turn into hours, hours into days and years and we’ll suddenly realize we’re better at it.

Not so bad, right?

In the years of practice we can assure people that we can be counted on because we’re good at what we do until the time comes when someone wants to learn and asks you how to do it and you just couldn’t sum it up in one hour.

I am one of those who set out into practical ways. I learned photography mostly on my own. However, whenever someone would seek out an advice, I couldn’t be as much of a help as I would want to. This is because the things I know are very personal to me. These are things that one has to experience with the same context to be able to comprehend. It’s something I can’t give in an hour’s worth of discussion.

This is why school and formal training exist. We need theories and concepts to guide us and put us in a certain trajectory that will get us ‘there’.

I learned this the hard way.

I work as a designer for one of the leading publishers here in the country and throughout my professional life, I’ve stuck onto things that I know are good, or are of best practices because those things worked for me. They’re mostly random and all over the place.

When friends ask me to give them an outline on how to do good design, I fall dead-blank. I wouldn’t know how to start sharing. I can just teach them bits for every instance. This frustrates me because a part of me has always wanted to be a teacher.

Surprisingly, when attending a conference and formal training I’ll encounter the same principles in a formal way, validated and presented the way I would want them to be presented to me. There’s a question and answer portion and the instructors give insights related to the topic.

There’s a reason why we have certificates. There’s a reason why not everyone can just be astronauts, or lawyers, or doctors, or writers, or case in point, photographers (even I don’t consider myself as one).

***

The day after, I headed to La Union to catch some waves. I’ve been in and out of the shore for the past years trying to see if surfing would strike me the way mountaineering did. On the first session, I went to the afternoon lineup with a friend.

We decided to go without instructors. We knew we had to read the waves, and paddle, and eventually ride but we couldn’t get the timing. We were just there being left out by what could have been are great waves to ride. We ended up exhausted on the shore laughing while covered in sand. It was there when I realized I still need an instructor to tell me when to paddle and when to paddle harder.

The next morning I awoke to the air of the nearby sea and stretched my arms to the sky as if breaking my joints would somehow help with the ridiculous ride I got the day before. It was high tide and waves shifted from one area to another. The instructor said sets were frequent and so getting back to the lineup would be a pain in the ass for a beginner.

True enough, I had my right foot raised just to get a boost getting back to the lineup and my shoulders were sore. I didn’t find the time to complain because I got to ride at least ten waves well. The ride-less session from the previous day turned into a euphoric, stoke-filled glides. I even extended for another hour just to get back at it.

I do see myself being able to do it on my own. Obviously, that’s a little far from today! A good teacher will get me there.

***

I do believe the best way to learn something is to have a combination of both theoretical and applied learning. Read the books and try it out or listen to people who’ve done it and try it out. People have failed in the past and people will still fail but the lessons we get out of these failures is what makes up for the theoretical aspect to it.

This is not to say we should avoid failing (God, no!). Experimenting with wisdom is okay and failing in the process is even better. Above all, enjoy the learning.

P.S.

As I’ve once read, there’s more than one way of doing something but as long as you’re smiling, you’re basically doing it right!