(The following is excerpted from Inspired Photography: 189 Sources of Inspiration For Better Photos, a new book from the editors of Photopreneur.)
It’s where so many photography ideas begin — and where so many end, too. Aspiring photographers think nothing of hitting the classroom to learn how to use their camera, get the most out of their equipment and pick up the basic techniques. But having done that, they often stop taking classes, believing that the rest of their photography exploration is up to them.
But a photography class — or, in fact, any class — can be an important source of inspiration for your photography thoughout your career.
Not Just for Beginners
Photography classes aren’t only for beginners and they don’t just supply techniques. They also offer assignments, the company of other photographers and plenty of inspiration. The key to turning enrollment in a photography class into new direction for your photography is choosing the right class and taking an active role in it.
There are all kinds of classes and workshops available for photographers. Some are aimed at helping professional photographers build up their portfolios and position themselves to find clients. The curricula might include business strategies and marketing advice that’s more likely to boost income than generate inspiration.
Others, though, are aimed at improving a photographer’s skills, whether that’s the ability to shoot landscapes or the techniques needed to capture portraits. Once the class is over, it will be up to you to build on those skills and to look for ways of creating unique compositions that your former classmates might not have thought to shoot.
And that’s one of the other benefits of taking a photography class. Not only will you be learning new techniques and feeling inspired by the creations of your classmates; the friendly competition with them will give you new motivation to think out of the box and make sure that your shots are original and attractive.
Lots of Choices
You can find photography classes in all sorts of places. Community colleges often put on short-term and part-time courses in addition to their certification programs. The hours are often more convenient for enthusiasts with day jobs to hold down, and the participants tend to be older and possess a more interesting range of skill sets and life experience. They’re good places to look for general photography classes and are often taught by local pros.
Community and adult education centers also tend to put on courses which are often subsidized, taught on the weekends and may include trips to local parks and opportunity-rich sites.
It’s also worth looking at workshops. These tend to be more specialized, giving you additional skills to play with in your particular field of interest. National parks, for example, often put on free workshops sponsored by camera makers and taught by leading professionals like nature photographers Jeff Vanuga and Darrell Gulin.
Wedding photographers such as photojournalism pioneer Denis Reggie also offer exclusive workshops that can mark the start of a whole new field of photography exploration.
Beyond Photography Classes
Sitting through a photography class will obviously do wonders for your photography. It will give you new techniques and help you to get more out of your camera — all important ways to get you thinking about subjects to shoot and images to create.
But any class you take should give you new photography ideas. Whether you’re learning to create something with your hands, speak a foreign language, improve your bookkeeping or pick up a professional skill, you’ll be forced to think about a subject that can be recorded in images as well as on the pages of an exercise book.
Think about something other than photography that you’ve always wanted to do. If you’ve dreamed of cooking the perfect soufflé (or even just cooking), sign up for a kitchen class. If you’ve ever thought you could arrange flowers better than your local florists, take a course in basic flower arranging. If you’re dreaming of a trip to Italy, Spain or Peru, sign up for a quick language class.
It doesn’t matter whether you discover you’re a whiz with a blender, have fingers greener than a well-watered lawn or can soak up new languages faster than a three-year old in a foreign land. Or whether you find that you shouldn’t be cooking anything more complex than toast or planting anything trickier than a cactus. The only thing that matters is that the class is enjoyable, entertaining and makes you feel inspired.
Put the lessons you learn to use and you’ll find that you want to combine your new passion with your old one. You’ll want to photograph your pies as well as eat them. You’ll want to shoot your flowers as well as display them. And as you’re learning how to order a pizza in a piazza, you’ll also be thinking about the kinds of pictures you want to be creating once you get there.
A Range of New Subjects
While a photography class will give you the techniques to shoot a whole new series of pictures, a class on any other topic will give you a whole new range of subjects to shoot as well.
Just as photography magazines try to inspire photographers to create beautiful images, so other hobbies have their own publications that are also filled with attractive pictures shot by professional photographers to make the results of their hard work look good.
Your own finished product — whether it’s a salad or a new sideboard — should inspire you to pull out your camera and get shooting. The pictures in hobby magazines should give you the inspiration to make your own work even better.
For students learning skills whose results are less photogenic — such as languages or programming — there are always travel books and commercial photography to supply images to inspire and build on. If other people have shot a topic related to your new field of study, you, too, can create inspired photography.