My newspaper has had an intern for the last couple of weeks — a nice, young college kid named Ashlynd. She is very enthusiastic about becoming a journalist, and we can already tell she’s going to be a good writer.
Ashlynd told me she didn’t much care for her college photography classes, echoing a number of students who have come to me over the years needing help with very basic photographic skills — skills they should have gotten from previous instructors.
Yes, I understand that college is held to a different standard than other fields of instruction. At the same time, I wonder how college students get into photography classes without demonstrating some understanding of their prerequisites. I remember being vetted by an instructor in college before I was allowed to get into her class, though I don’t know how a lot of my classmates managed to get in.
Seriously. Students tell me all the time, “That professor didn’t tell me about aperture or shutter speed or ISO or…” You get the idea.
I appreciate the idea that the purpose of college is to educate at the next level, but I also appreciate that if you don’t learn the very basics, it’s difficult to advance. I also appreciate all of the really great college photography instructors who can set aside their egos and cater to their students. The students and their families, after all, are paying for it.
I’ve been teaching since 2007. When I teach Intro to Digital Photography at the Pontotoc Technology Center, I start at the beginning. That’s the only way it can work. Almost everyone in the class holds a camera set to shoot the way it was when they opened the box, attaches a lens, charges the battery and starts shooting. In the biz, we refer to this setting as “green box mode,” since most cameras have a big green box or icon on the exposure mode dial, often marked with an “A” or the word “Auto.” This setting essentially overrides almost all other settings, turning a potentially powerful camera into a point-and-shoot.
Is there a solution to college kids who don’t get what they need from classes? Is there such a thing as remedial photography?
I’ll marry this idea to one I experienced in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2013. The Oklahoman photographer Jim Beckel and I were photographing the historic plaza when we came across a group of photographers shooting with some very expensive, very new-looking equipment, who seemed to be struggling to express what they were seeing. They asked us to make a group photo for them and told us they’d just taken a class from someone (I don’t remember his name or the name of the class or school). They all rolled their eyes simultaneously as one of them said, “He was quite a character!”
I hope no one I teach ever refers to me that way.
Finally, I am a firm believer that students who are having fun taking pictures are dramatically more likely to remain engaged and retain more of the craft we are teaching.