Lifelong Learning

We live in the age of information. Because of that, the importance of “lifelong learning” has gone up greatly.

Learning in the age of google, online databases, and the interwebs in general, should be an easier task. Some people for-go traditional education altogether. Self-taught photographers are an excellent example of this. They’re everywhere.

Yes, in many ways access to the knowledge and materials is easier, but the crucial, undeniable thing that is forgotten, is that the quality of an education is always dependent on whether it is a priority to you.


So if you’re with me, let’s look at 5 ways to accomplish some learning.


5. Reading

Never underestimate the value of good ‘ol fashioned book-learnin’. For the low, low price of a library card you can access tons of info for practically anything. Owning a huge stack of books for your epic library is great, but don’t be stupid – try before you buy.

Here’s some personal recommendations




Mental Floss

Last issue I read an awesome interview with Bill Waterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, that taught me a great deal about how to maintain artistic integrity. Also, did you know that Cotton Candy was invented by a dentist??

The Economist

Sort-of intimidating, hard-hitting news on a global scale. Just read it sometime, you might be surprised.

4. Watching

This may sound like a contradiction, but videos are very helpful for audio-learners. Hearing things being spoken out loud by a lecturer can really make sense at times. You don’t have to go to University – hell, Yale, MIT, and Harvard have their own online video channels broadcasting lectures.

An extra benefit for using the web for this kind of material is the pause/rewind action. Here are a few resources we like.


Photoshop and Photography tutorials. Actually hitting the medium and advanced market instead of just showing beginner stuff. Aaron Nace knows his shit, but he does a great job of not taking himself too seriously.


Free online workshops shown live, taught by world class experts on topics including photography and photoshop, health and wellness, business, and more. Pay a fee to download and watch them over and over again. It’s a great new business model for the digital age.


I don’t think I need to introduce TED, do I? Technology Entertainment Design talks.

3. Conferences and Workshops.

For the same reason that photo school was really beneficial for me, conferences and workshops can be really great for putting you in a new place, surrounded by people that are interested in the things you are, but might have totally different perspectives about it. Learning isn’t just the absorption of knowledge, but the discovery of new ways to think differently.

The biggest take-aways from these events come from it either:

1.Being some great info you can’t get anywhere else

2.Facilitating live conversations/dialogues with people in person  (crazy, we know)

3. Involving travel to somewhere new.

For these three reasons we want to go to the Gulf Photo Plus Conference in Dubai.


Why is the location so important?…


2. Travel

Insight often seems to come from nowhere in a flash. In actuality, insight comes from your brain making these connections between seemingly unrelated things (and your brain might have been working on these thoughts in the background for a long time). The sum being greater than the parts with these connections.

How do we help our brain make these connections? Refer to tip #1. In Imagine: How Creativity Works, author Jonah Lehrer discusses the importance of an outsiders perspective.

“The reason travel is so useful for creativity involves a quirk of cognition in which problems that feel close get contemplated in a more literal manner. […] Consider a field of corn. When you’re standing in the middle of a farm surrounded by the tall cellulose stalks and fraying husks, the air smelling faintly of fertilizer and popcorn, your mind is automatically drawn to thoughts related to the primary definition of corn, which is that it’s a plant, a cereal, a staple of midwestern farming. But imagine that same field of corn from a different perspective. Instead of standing on a farm, you’re now in a crowded city street dense with taxis and pedestrians. The plant will no longer be just a plant; instead your vast neural network will pump out all sorts of associations. You’ll think about high-fructose corn syrup, obesity, and the Farm Bill; you’ll contemplate ethanol and the Iowa caucuses, those corn mazes for kids at state fairs, and the deliciousness of succotash made with bacon and lima beans. The noun is now a web of tangents, a vast loom of connections.”

In addition to being in a new setting causing you to think differently and approach problems in a fundamentally new way, travel is also going to expand your knowledge about other cultures. Reading about the culture of Samoa is going to be a little different than actually meeting a village in-person, and experiencing a day in their lives.

1. Play and Experiment

The biggest barrier to this method of learning is fear.

Fear that we will fail and look stupid. Fear that our failure will mean we’re not good enough to do this.

related post: Fear

That’s bullshit.

If you really want to learn something…fail. “Fail fast, and fail often” as they say.

Furthermore, don’t be afraid to be foolish and “child-like” and just mess around with something.

You could read books on Photoshop till you’re blue in the face, but you’re not going to develop your own style of working and editing until you just play around and see what happens.

…Like what happens when you make a curves adjustment without touching the RGB channel, but just adding contrast differently in the separate Red, Green, and Blue channels? “Huh, that looks kind of interesting.” *Put it on color mode blend layer..* “Oh, that doesn’t look like much of any change.. oh well”

Just let go of the trappings of it having to be useful and right all the time. You might stumble upon that “Oh my god, that just blew my mind!” combination of events.


Recently Cooper & O’Hara went to Fort Edmonton park, with NAIT’s Photographic Technology program, to do some demonstrations on Editorial Portraiture. They have an old carousel there, and volunteer staff carve the wooden horses. It’s a painstaking procedure. One of the volunteers was kind enough to stand in for a shoot.



We used High flash power to overpower the ambient light so that most of the scene was underexposed. That way the cool lightbulbs showed up more against the dark. We wanted the photo to be moodier still, and realized that it would feel more dramatic if it was shot at dusk or twilight. We decided to experiment with seeing how much we could get away with in Photoshop in making the photo appear to be shot at twilight. Just for curiosity’s sake, mainly.

the result:


Was it a complete success? Not really, but it’s acceptable. We have pretty high standards. We learned that you can go a long way with a good understanding of photoshop and how light and colour works, but it’s still no replacement for shooting at the right time of day (or night). We could pull this off if their were no other options though, since this is just a “first draft” attempt, so to speak. We could do a better job next time… and the next time, and so on. Practice after experimentation.


We hope you learned something about learning! Have any great resources you like to use? Share them in the comments below.


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