Learn Through Teaching

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"Stairs to Culture" by D. Travis North

The old saying goes:  Those who can, do.  Those who cannot, teach. I’ll admit that I used that quote many times to describe some of my less-than-ideal professors in college.  It’s typically not a compliment.  In theory, the same could be said about myself.  I teach the technical and philosophical side of photography day in and day out – through Shutter Photo and through my daily interactions with others – be it in a forum or in person.  Yet I don’t consider myself an exceptional photographer, nor would I expect anyone else to think of me in that way as well.  I’m sure part of that is humility – I’m potentially harder on myself than the general public.  But I will admit that my ability to educate about photography is, perhaps, a bit of a surprise.  My work is not featured in photographic journals all around.  My work is not on display at a local studio, not even a local coffee shop.  For that matter, I make very little money off of my photographic works.  So why would anyone expect me to be a photography educator?  It’s a question I ask myself always.

As you may know – if you’ve been with us for so long – I started Shutter Photo as a personal blog.  I was blogging about what I was doing, what shots I had recently taken.  I even had a gallery of my works here (my portfolio has since moved and is not directly affiliated with Shutter Photo).  It evolved into where we are now: A magazine (of sorts) discussing technique, philosophy, inspiration and photography gear and gadgets.  I never would have dreamed that Shutter Photo would end up here.

But I never expected that I’d learn so much by sharing my own wisdom, either.

I’ve been shooting photography for well over 15 years – and I’m not including those years I spent haphazardly capturing images with a point-and-shoot (trust me, those snapshots cannot be considered “photos”).  Fifteen years is a lot of time to gain experience.  I’ve seem some exceptional work from my peers with less experience and less equipment.  Yet I find that there was a big gap in there – a large chunk of time where I feel my own photography didn’t progress.  For that matter, three years ago, when I moved to digital from film, I felt I had taken several steps backwards, like I had to re-learn how to shoot.  But nothing has helped me more than the past two years when Shutter Photo was in existence.  Teaching has helped me to grow significantly as a photographer.

Teaching is a catalyst.  It’s a way to keep yourself in check.  If you’re advising someone, you hesitate if you’re unsure of something.  It forces you to go back and check your statements, to make sure that they are technically correct.  It helps you to refresh your mind when it comes to elementary concepts – yes, even experienced photographers sometimes forget those.

But there’s something else – interactivity.  As I review the works of my students, I am inspired.  I learn as much from you, my student, as you might learn from me. Learning is not a path – it’s more like an ocean of knowledge.  You can learn a lot from the wisdom that surrounds you – but you won’t learn everything unless you can come in contact with every drop of water in that ocean.  So while you’re learning certain concepts, you may already have a better understanding than me of other concepts.  There’s a give-and-take relationship.  You learn from me, but I learn from you.  And it would be incredibly unfair of any teacher to say that they cannot learn something from their students.  I feel that I learn just as much, if not more, from my students as I impart on my them.

At the beginning of this article, I quoted the saying:  Those that can, do.  Those who cannot, teach. It has always been perceived as a negative comment.  Now, I look at it in a different light.  There is always more to learn.  And teaching is a great way to make sure there is always something to learn.  There is, in my opinion, no better way to expose yourself to passionate, like-minded people than to teach.  So while such a statement is intended to be negative, I now think of it positively.

So for those of you who consider me a mentor, I thank you for my own education.  And I encourage you to find pupils yourselves so that you might also benefit from learning through teaching.

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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