I’ve said many, many times that photography is a never-ending learning experience. Even the best of us will still find more and more new things to remember as we traverse this art form. And as photographers, we are well aware of the fact that we’ll never stop learning. But, one thing that you might struggle with is the mechanics of learning.
You see, learning is not the same for everyone. Different people use vastly different ways to learn more efficiently. Experts across the field of education agree that there are three main styles of learning. I’ll explain those learning styles — and some examples of how to apply them to photography — so that you can learn all about your particular learning style and how to work with it.
Someone that is a visual learner does best with things like diagrams, pictures, videos, charts and more. If, as you are learning, you find yourself saying “show me that,” you could very well be a visual learner. Rather than reading text or listening to lectures, visual learners what a list of instructions, some diagrams to illustrate the new knowledge, and most of all, hands-on access to the tools they are learning to use.
To subdivide this a little further, there are two types of visual learners: visual-linguistic learners and visual-spatial learners. Visual-linguistic learners tend to do a lot of reading and making marks with a highlighter, or note taking, while visual-spatial learners are more likely to want conceptualized knowledge like charts or diagrams.
A visual linguistic learner, when learning how to use off-camera lighting, will want to read about the subject first. The reading materials they choose will be rich with diagrams and other illustrations, and once they feel they have a firm understanding of the material, they will want to experiment with the lighting themselves.
A visual-spatial learner, however, is more likely to dispense with the books and instead watch an instructional video about off-camera lighting. Perhaps they will look up diagrams that show where to place lights for different effects, or they’ll want to see light levels displayed as graphs. As with visual-linguistic learners, a visual-spatial learner will want to get his or her hands on the equipment to complete the learning process.
Auditory learners are vastly different from visual learners. Rather than relying on books, images and videos, they learn best when they can use their ears to learn. Lectures, podcasts, videos with great explanations, speakers at seminars or workshops — these are all things that will help the auditory learner to learn more efficiently.
Let’s say that you are an auditory learner that wants to learn all about composition. Visual learners will want to look at diagrams showing compositional rules, and they’ll want to read plenty of books about it. However, you, as an auditory learner, may do better by listening to an audiobook or engaging in a conversation with an expert on the subject matter.
This is often referred to as “tactile learning” because a kinesthetic learner is all about the hands-on approach. Forget the books, the lectures or the diagrams. Kinesthetic learners have little patience for these things. Instead, they want a quick overview and then they want to snatch the camera for themselves so that they can experiment with it.
Instead of saying “show me that,” as a visual learner might, they will say “Give me that. I want to try.” This is the “learn as you go” style, and as such, kinesthetic learners benefit from quick reference materials in case they get stuck while they’re experimenting with the tools that they are learning to use.
When first learning how to use a camera, a kinesthetic learner doesn’t want someone to point at buttons and explain what they all do. They want to press the buttons themselves and find out. When it comes to composition, they’ll look at a few examples, and then go out and practice creating their own images following the compositional rules they’ve seen.
When it comes to learning styles, we’re all different. Some of us may even use a combination of learning styles. But we could all stand to follow the example of the kinesthetic learning style.
That isn’t to say that we should all be hands-on learners. We should each follow the learning styles that work best. However, kinesthetic learners tend to jump right in to projects so that they can figure things out as they go along. Sometimes, I think that is the best way to force yourself to learn new things.
Let’s say, for instance, that you want to polish your skills with lighting. Perhaps you should come up with a project idea that will help you accomplish that. Rather than waiting until you’ve accumulated the knowledge you need, just get started on the project. As you run up against gaps in what you know, then you’ll feel the urge to start filling in those gaps in whatever way works best for you, be it books, graphics, hands-on experimentation or a combination of these things.
Think about it this way: If you have a stack of books or DVDs that have been sitting around for weeks, or if you just haven’t quite had the chance to go out and experiment in a hands-on way, then the temptation is there to continue to procrastinate. But, if you simply jump into a project, you’ll be able to set goals and increase your motivation. Before too long, you’ll be going through all of the learning material that you have neglected simply to gain the knowledge that you need to finish your project.
Sometimes knowledge comes easy, and sometimes it is a struggle to understand various concepts. If you find yourself struggling, take a look at the three learning styles and see which fits you best. Then apply those tactics to your art, and make sure to motivate yourself by doing projects, even if you feel that you don’t know how, and you soon be surprised by how much more you are learning.