When the Teacher Becomes the Student

When I go out in public to shoot, people often approach me and ask questions. Many times the initial query is about my camera or lens. From there, however, the conversation can go anywhere and, invariably, the individual will share a personal anecdote or pose a question based on their own experiences.

Since I’ve already revealed to you that I’m an introvert by nature, you might think I would attempt to avoid such encounters. On the contrary, I’ve found that I’ve gained as much wisdom from these exchanges as I’ve imparted.

An Impromptu Tutorial

One Fourth of July evening, I set up a Mamiya 645 (film) on a tripod and waited for the local fireworks display to begin. As others in the crowd passed the time until the sparks flew, a number of them gathered around me to ask questions.

“Are you shooting for a newspaper?”

“What kind of camera is that?”

I noticed, as the people gathered, that some in the crowd became my protectors. They took it upon themselves to create a circle around me and my tripod, keeping others from bumping it or tripping over it as they passed.

This happened as if by magic — nobody said anything.

I got some good images that night and removed the film from the camera’s film holder. But I had to wait for the crowd to clear before going home.

That’s when one of my self-appointed protectors asked me how to shoot fireworks. He had a new camera and had wanted to bring it to the display, but he didn’t know where to begin.

An impromptu tutorial and question-and-answer session ensued. And somewhere along the way, the conversation began helping me, too.

As I thought through the answers I was providing this gentleman, I realized I would need to make some changes in one of my upcoming shoots.

Learning from Unlikely Sources

That’s the moment when the teacher becomes a student. The Socratic questions, in this dialogue, sparked some ideas and techniques I hadn’t considered, or had tucked in the recesses of my mind.

Even though I was holding court, so to speak, I was also learning something. That’s why these opportunities are golden — and should never simply be dismissed as a nuisance or inconvenience.

Obviously, you can find news and tutorials all over the Internet. You can go to trade shows with some of the best teachers available, and you can take courses in person or online.

But furthering your photographic education is not always through books, seminars and workshops. It can also come from the most unlikely sources — such as a chance conversation with a stranger.

2 Responses to “When the Teacher Becomes the Student”

  1. Very refreshing post, Dennis. I think it's great that as a working professional you're able to admit to learning something from a complete novice. It's also nice to hear that you took the time to offer some advice to this complete stranger. I lead workshops and it never ceases to amaze me how much I learn from my clients, whether spoken or unspoken. Thanks for sharing this moment with us!

  2. This is an amazing post, very perceptive. Thank you 🙂

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