Why you should take a photography class — or something like it

My photography class ended last week, and Tom told me that, as a graduate of Photography 101, I’m not allowed to take any more bad photos.

I’ve never really used the Auto setting on our camera, but now I’m experimenting with even more — ISO, exposure, light metering. The unfortunate truth is that the more I experiment with settings the more likely I am to take 25 bad photos for each slam-dunk.  If my photography teacher read that sentence I think she’d consider the class a success.

I do, too.

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Like most artists, my photography teacher is very passionate. She sees art in photos that, to me, look average. She’s particularly amazed by the manipulation of light and movement. When she saw this photo of David jumping out of a slide, she reacted as if she had never heard of shutter speed and I had opened the door to Oz.

“That’s amazing! He looks like a ghost! That’s INCREDIBLE! BEAUTIFUL!”

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Plus, she has a thick German accent, which makes her comments seem even more emphatic.

Every week we had an assignment to take pictures based on that week’s lesson: composure, white balance, aperture, light metering, etc. I take these assignments really seriously because I want to do well. I try to be creative, and mostly just try to do the assignment correctly. 

Did you know that, when you open an image in editing software, you can see all the information about that image — the type of lens the photographer used, the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance. So even if you land a lucky shot on Auto, no one is fooled in your photography class.

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During one class, my teacher was reviewing my photos and realized that I hadn’t followed the instructions. The photo turned out fine, but I didn’t change my aperture, which was the assignment. She looked at me over her glasses and said, “Why didn’t you change the aperture? That was the whole point.”

I said something about having to move quickly because my kids were blah blah blah, but the truth is that I just forgot. And the photo was fine so I didn’t think about it.

Then she popped my thumb drive out of the computer and said, “It’s ok, we won’t see any Pulitzer Prize winning photos here.”

A girl shot me an incredulous grin from across the room, and I smiled back. It wasn’t a big deal. My teacher really wasn’t trying to be mean and, she was right! I hadn’t changed my aperture! What kind of photography student doesn’t follow instructions?!?

But it stung. More than it should have.

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Mostly, my teacher is really complimentary. She has called my photos adventurous, sophisticated, elegant. Those comments hit me just as hard. I usually text Tom from class because I CANNOT WAIT to tell him my teacher’s comments. Then when I get home I show him my photos, and I sound a lot like David when he gets in the car after preschool and shows me how he glued feathers onto a picture of a goose.

Even though I’m not doing this for a grade, her criticism, compliments, and other feedback really meant a lot to me. They made me work a lot harder than I thought I would.

I was driving home one night, brimming with questions to Google, and I realized I was getting a lot more from this class than photography skills.

There was something about getting feedback that I really loved; that was more meaningful to me than I expected.

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Here’s the truth: I get feedback all the time. I have great, encouraging friends and a wonderful husband who tells me how amazing I am all the time. Also, when I sing, David says, “Mommy, can you stop singing? I don’t like it when you sing.” I take that to mean I’m doing something right.

Encouragement from my husband is critical, definitely way more important that from some stranger. But it’s maybe like comparing the dinner you eat every single night to Thanksgiving. You’d die without your daily meals, but it doesn’t mean that special meal once a year isn’t important, too. Like pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, hearing feedback from a third party about something other than some art project I did with the kids was uniquely meaningful.

When you’re a mom you don’t get performance reviews or professional feedback from a manager. Hearing “job well done” from a professional or an artist — someone not in your immediate family — is somehow different.

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I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for over three years, and in that time my life and identity has been turned inside out, upside down, and slung around. And it happens in a moment, but I think it takes years to really realize. I’m other things, too, for sure — a wife, a friend, a sister and daughter, a freelance writer, a knitter. I’m a mommyblogger for goodness’ sake. But, still, my priority, my job, my ministry, my 24-hours a day is my kids.

Even though I am completely confident that I’m doing what I should be doing, and I feel so, so blessed to get to stay at home with my kids, I’m also grateful for the opportunity to do something else, to even be something else. (Even though I did take pictures of my kids for almost every assignment.) I’m not the type to seek out that sort of thing — I don’t like to be away from my kids, ever — I feel most comfortable when I have at least an eye on one kid and a hand on the other. So it was especially a wake-up call for me.

I don’t know if I would have had the same reaction if I’d taken the class a few years ago, but I do know that I enjoyed the class more than I expected. One night after class I realized that when Tom enrolled me in the class as a gift, he probably didn’t realize how much of a gift it would be.

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If you can, enroll in a photography class. Before I got pregnant, a friend invited me to dust off my jodphurs and take a riding lesson together, just for fun. I balked but now I’m like, “Why not?” Do whatever you want, maybe it’s an art class, or a cake-decorating class. Do the free lessons at Code Academy and help me redesign my blog. Or start your own blog, open an Etsy shop, read a good book that doesn’t have cardboard pages.

Take it from me, a person who is too tired and too busy to fit anything else in. You’ll be glad you did.

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1 Comment

  1. Jackie March 7, 2015

    This is great, Amanda! I’m glad you were able to get out and do something different.

    Reply

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