For Photographers, There’s Always Another Layer of Learning


After studying Tai Chi for the past 25 years, I’ve learned a few things about form, about discipline — and also about learning itself.

Specifically, I’ve learned that there is always more to learn. And I’ve learned that the deeper I go, the more subtle my learnings become.

This has been true of my education in photography as well.

A Never-Ending Journey

As a child, the first photography skill I learned was to expose and develop film. Initially, just getting a printable image was satisfactory. But then I wanted to master the intricacies of printing, such as brightness, contrast, shadow, detail and so forth.

Without realizing it, I had begun a journey that would continue for more than 40 years.

Today, I don’t think as much about the fundamentals; they’ve become second nature. I concentrate most on what is happening in my frame.

“Is it interesting?” I ask myself.

I know what interests me as a photographer, and I know how to take a good picture. But how do I avoid becoming a broken record with my subject matter and my approach to it? How do I maintain my creativity and keep finding new things to say?

That is the ultimate Tai Chi for photographers. It challenges us every day, and in doing so offers us infinite opportunities for learning.

Find Creative Life at the Cemetery

Recently, I became interested in photographing cemeteries in Vermont. There was something about the stillness and solitude of these places that got my attention.

My first attempts were quite ordinary, but I kept at it. At first I was only interested in the cemeteries themselves, but after a while the individual monuments drew my attention. Then I graduated to focusing on the writing on the monuments, or the mold on individual headstones.

Time of day also became a factor. I found that shooting at twilight gave the images a moodier, more somber quality that I liked.

I’m now exploring muting colors in the images, making photographs at night, and touring cemeteries in other parts of the country as well as Europe. Why stop with Vermont?

With photography, there is always another layer to strip away. There is always another place to go.

Photo © David Saxe


3 Responses to “For Photographers, There’s Always Another Layer of Learning”

  1. Great point! As a student of photography, retouching, and Kung fu I completely agree. Pursuing mastery of the ways we practice our art means there is always more to learn, to see and to enjoy.

  2. You are correct, there are so many things about photography to learn. I have been taking snap shots since 1985 when I picked up my first 35 mm camera, a Canon AE-1. I was given a few pointers but never any real instructions. I have always felt something was missing, so two years ago I went back to school to "learn" photograph. I have learned more than I ever dreamed was possible and it has awaken a part of me.

    One thing I have learned about photography there is so much to learn that you may never learn it all. That there are so many different doors to look behind and each door you could spend years behind. I think this is one of the joys of becoming a photographer.

    My photography has gone beyond snap shot, but not to the point where I can call myself a pro. But I will keep working at it and learning until I can.

  3. My outdoor photography is mainly concentrated around a stretch of coastline local to me and I return here time and time again to refine what I see and capture a scene I've not considered before.

    From day to day and hour to hour the landscape changes with the weather conditions, time of day and season so there is never a shortage of new things to learn when it comes to photography.

    I don't think you ever stop learning and just when you think you've cracked something and you're an 'expert' there's always some new technology or technique to try out and apply in our own unique way.

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