There is an old saying… “Smart people learn from experience, really smart people learn from other people’s experience.”

Looking back over the millennia we see ever improving communication technologies helping us build upon each other’s skills and knowledge. So, for example, instead of each generation literally reinventing the wheel, we developed highly advanced transportation systems to safely take us to the moon and back. Same is true of every complex human endeavor, from rocket science and brain surgery, to philosophy and art.

And yes, that includes digital photography.

Through the internet we can pick up techniques and ideas for better image capture and processing.  And, a constant stream of images provides inspiration for possible subjects. But, with so many tools and techniques to choose from, how can a beginner, all by him- or herself guess how a digital image is actually developed? One could try different ideas at random, in a  trial and error fashion, hoping to eventually discover effective ways to express their  inner vision. But, how much time is enough for such a hit and miss, mechanistic approach to learning?  Decades?

A smarter way (you guessed it) is to build upon other people’s experience. And, most of us who freelance in photography, computer graphics or other visual arts as our full-time occupation, are more than willing to share what we have learned.  Looking through pro photographer websites you will find  “workshops” and “field workshops”, ebooks, apps and tutorials, and private tutoring or mentoring services.

Which of these do I recommend? It all depends on the level of resources you may wish to invest.

If you can afford the cost of travel plus instruction for a week-long guided field workshop in the Grand Tetons, the Sahara desert, Patagonia, the Great Barrier Reef or other such exotic destinations, by all means go for it. At the other end of the spectrum, if your budget is severely limited, and you feel you can follow instructions without a ‘live’ person to answer questions or explain something in more detail, then perhaps ebooks or pre-packaged course tutorials might be your thing. Finally if your resources are somewhere in between, you might want to consider a private tutoring service.  This can easily be done via e-mail, giving you live access to an instructor but without having to travel away from your home base (Continued below)

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If you do pick private tutoring, you will get the most out of it if you take charge of the process.  Specifically, I’d recommend the following steps…

* Start with a list of full-time photographers, e.g.: the Google Plus list (link opens the middle of three pages).

* Pick one of these photographers whose work you like

* Contact them to see if they are interested in working with you, one-on-one, to help you develop your digital photography skills (most -but not all- will be open to that.)

* Ask them to explain their philosophy and practice. Do they see themselves as practitioners of a fine art, seeking to express their imagination through the tools of photography, or as photo-journalist / record-keepers trying to accurately capture and preserve “decisive moments” of reality? (This may sound nebulous, but, trust me, a matching ‘philosophy’ and ‘objective’ are major determinants of how much you will get out of the whole experience.)

* See if you can agree on an hourly rate, commitment level (how many hours minimum) and payment method that you are both happy with

* To start your study pick one of their images that you like, and ask them to go over the process, step by step, of how they developed it that way.

* Next, pick one of your own images, ask them to critique it, and what they might do to improve it further

* Continue working with the same pro as long as you both are willing and able, or pick another when you feel you’re ready to try other ideas (Keep your options open by not signing up for a lengthy commitment with any one pro.)

This kind of one-on-one tutoring  is a most effective way to learn and improve digital photography skills, even though the process is somewhat self-limiting in a couple of ways.

One is that you probably can’t pick the most famous pros to work with you. You can always try contacting them but chances are the big name photographers and artists will not have the time to take you on as a private student. (Or they may set a price so high that it will not be worth your while). The good news is that there are many others you could work with. They may not be as well known but that does not mean they can’t produce the kind of work you admire.   So, don’t pick a tutor by how famous they may be, rather pick a specific body of work that you like, and then contact the artist/photographer who created it.

The second limitation is that even a relatively unknown pro can only handle so many students. Again, you will find that there is no shortage of other highly accomplished artists who would be happy to work with you until your first choice of a tutor has an opening.

* Finally…

- don’t limit yourself to just the list of photographers that I shared above, since no internet list is ever complete.  If you can’t find a tutor in this list, by all means look around.  And…

- don’t limit yourself to photographers only. There is a lot to learn from other visual artists, such as computer graphics people, digital artists, graphic designers and traditional painters. Many are on Google Plus, and other sites, and they would be happy to work with you in creative ways.

The latest communication and networking technology that our species has developed (the web), gives us easy and unlimited access to so many creative people to network with, and from whose experience we can learn. Let’s employ each other to make the most of the incredible talent pool available out there.

Best wishes on your creative journey.