Debunking the Myth that Gear Makes the Photographer: Part II – Level the Playing Field

(This is Part II; click here to read Part I first!)

In this article, we discuss why classroom seminars AND field sessions are synergistic learning tools – don’t skip one in favour of the other! Remember we are using our upcoming Montreal weekend event as a case study to exemplify our point.

Level the Playing Field

So you arrive at your photo destination. As you come into the present moment, you tune into your senses and your mind is engaged. Photographic possibilities start to jump out at you. You take out your camera and begin exploring.

Or…you arrive and have no idea where to start, what to shoot. If this is you, make sure you read Part I and get thee to a seminar on Learning to See, like the one we are giving in Montreal on June 6! Taking a course on perception is your top priority. Don’t register for any field session photography workshop until you practice learning to see!

Are you ready for the field? Have you honed your ability to 'learn to see"?

Are you ready for the field? Have you honed your ability to ‘learn to see”?

©Darwin Wiggett - There are alwys photos beyond the obvious if you know how to see.

©Darwin Wiggett – There are always photos beyond the obvious if you know how to ‘see’.

Ok, you’ve arrived, you’re starting to get in the photographic groove…and you’re struggling with the assignments we’ve given you after our seminar. That’s good! We believe in helping cement the information provided in the full day seminar with targeted assignments designed to develop the three key skills that make a good photographer. Since we concentrate on field technique over digital darkroom work, we ask everyone to shoot JPEG (either raw + JPEG or just JPEG). This levels the playing field in that everyone is working on the same skills at the same time. We want to know if you’ve understood everything we discussed about seeing the nature and quality of light and how it affects tone in, for example, our Montreal seminar Harnessing the Power of Tone. And we want to see you build advanced compositional patterns to convey your photographic idea as demonstrated in Montreal’s Working Advanced Compositional Patterns talk (we are also giving this seminar in Black Diamond, Alberta, May 31). There’s usually a bit of whining when we make photographers hand in their JPEGs without benefit of digital processing. But the danger to be aware of is that ‘fixing’ your images on the computer makes you lazy. If you do most of your creative work on the computer, then you’re a digital artist, not a photographer. There’s nothing at all wrong with this. But we are teaching a photography course, so we want to see your field skills. You might be surprised and invigorated after a session spent focusing on your field skills! And the good news is that when everyone is shooting in-camera JPEGs it really shows that equipment does not matter; great images are often made with the simplest and least expensive cameras.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Shooting JPEGS is hard, you need to get everything right in the camera - are you up for the challenge!

©Samantha Chrysanthou – Shooting JPEGs is hard; you need to get everything right in the camera. Are you up for the challenge?

There’s a reason why we encourage photographers to attend our seminars as well as our associated field sessions and that is because it’s a two-part strategy to learning. You receive the information and then you head out and test your learning. Attending just a field session without the benefit of the Saturday seminar puts you at a disadvantage. This is true for all our workshops, and we structure them this way because we’ve found that people learn the most with this format.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett – You learn most by stretching yourself!

So if you have registered for a field session in Montreal but are saving money by skipping the seminar (you know all that stuff, right?) we strongly advise you to register for both. Did you take the quiz in Part I? Seriously, compared to what most photographers spend on their gear, this seminar costs pennies compared to most photographers’ gear expenditures but will give you more than a year’s worth of education.

And this goes for any photo educational offering you’re considering…how much instruction is offered? How large are the class sizes? The field sessions? Is there a constructive feedback session afterwards to review your learning? Does the instructor build upon concepts taught in class or does the instructor just ‘show up’ to the field sessions? Does the instructor actively engage with you after the seminar either through social media commentary or answers to your email questions? Also, remember photo tours are about location and being guided to photogenic spots, whereas workshops should teach you to be creative no matter where you find yourself. Are you up for being creative?

North Saskatchewan River, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada - Rokinon 85mm lens at f11

©Darwin Wiggett – Always evaluate your instructors in terms of their care in follow-up.

Nourishing Feedback, not Pablum, Please!

Speaking of feedback, let’s make it count. While it can be gratifying to get ‘likes’ on social media, these are vague and unhelpful. What did the viewer like? What did the viewer even think the image was about? What could be improved?

In our field sessions, we always try and schedule a feedback session after each outing. This not a time of criticism but rather a chance for you to see your work on the big screen and receive suggestions from your peers as to ways to improve and what they liked about your image. We also provide our comments but encourage class participation. Many students have told us that they learned the most during this constructive session. It’s a perfect way to cap off a full and fun weekend of photography!

Investing in a photo event like Montreal’s Learning to See: Developing Your Creative Vision is about you getting the best value for your buck. It’s about truly becoming a better photographer. So consider your educational options the next time you are thinking of upgrading your gear.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett – Sam says Get yer creativity on June 5-7 in Montreal!

About the Author

Photographing the incredible beauty of natural things, filming quirky videos, trying new foods with unpronounceable names, curling up with a good book, sharing ideas on how to live lighter on the Earth...these are a few of my favourite things!


  1. John Bradshaw
    May 25, 2015

    You know, I’ve only been able to afford beginner cameras and people have loved the pictures I have taken. They may not be as high quality, but you are forced to do your best in the field.

    • Darwin Wiggett
      May 27, 2015

      I hear you, I take the exact same photos with my $400 camera as I do with my $4000 camera… what gives? 😉

  2. Allison George
    May 26, 2015

    I enjoyed seeing our Marion on the blog

  3. Dave Williamson
    May 26, 2015

    I want to offer my personal experiences in support of practicing and learning. I bought my first DSLR 6 years ago and that’s the one I currently use. The quality of the images I capture have improved over the last 6 years because of practice, learning and critiques of my own images as well as others. I will confess I have upgraded some lenses but the seeing and composing were not improved by lens quality.

    • Darwin Wiggett
      May 27, 2015

      Ah lenses are better investments than camera bodies and practice, practice practice is the best investment of all!

  4. Markos Berndt
    May 30, 2015

    I agree about practice. The more your out taking pictures the better you will get. Learn from mistakes and never let a bad shooting day make you give up.


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