Teaching Photography

Teaching Photography to a Friend

After viewing some of my photos my friend Jay expressed interest in learning more about photography. I told him to go for it and that I would help. He replied he had to save up and get some better gear. I told him I would help him decide what to get. That was a mistake. My response was anchored in the 70’s when I first started teaching photography. I should have told him to always carry his camera and take lots of pictures.

Photography Has Changed Since Then

In the 70s I started by teaching the processing of black and white film. It was the most economical way to make a lot of images. The first key to learning photography has always been to take lots of pictures. Fast forward 40 years and everyone has a digital camera or a smart phone. The cost of taking pictures has been reduced to the time you spend doing it. On the plus side you can take lots of pictures. On the negative side having to pay for processing and materials drove you to improve faster.

The First Question

The very first to ask yourself is: What is a camera for?

The most obvious answer is taking pictures but it is not the answer I’m looking for because it is totally inadequate. Expand your thinking until it bursts the box. Think about the entire history of cameras starting with camera obscura. I’n not going to reveal the answer yet because it’s important for you to contemplate what a camera is for. If you come around to this way of thinking it will make a great difference in the quality of your images. 

My New Way of Teaching Photography

The second step in learning photography in the modern world is to always have a camera with you. Start with the one you have. If you maintain your interest then and only then should you consider buying new gear. You should base your gear decision on my first step, to always have a camera on you. That will help determine your gear. If you are comfortable carrying 25 pounds of gear every where ever you go then go ahead and get a fancy DSLR and some lenses. I think a smaller, more compact camera would be a better choice. A wide range of features is available but will you really know which features you want until you’ve learned about what the features are about?


A key factor in photography is composition. There are many methods of composing and you will learn them all eventually. Start with the most basic which is the rule of thirds.  Imagine your view finder has a tic-tac-toe board superimposed on it, some cameras actually have this feature. The lines intersect at four dots, align the subject with one of these.  Horizontal lines should usually align with one of the two horizontal lines on the grid. As your eye develops you will find other methods. 

Rule of thirds grid

Rule of thirds grid


You can learn very little about photography by reading, it’s a hands-on kind of job. So here are your first three exercises. 

  1. Formulate some answers for the question what is a camera for. Do this exercise concurrently with the other two.
  2. Review many images you like, hopefully some of mine, to see how the rule of thirds applies. It won’t always.
  3. Finally, tomorrow put your camera in your pocket and use it to take lots and lots of pictures. Then show them to me and we’ll discuss how you are doing.

Don’t worry about how interesting the subjects are just take photos of what ever catches you eye.



copyright © 2016 Michael A. Ament
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