Learning Series part 2 – Learning Styles

“Imitation, integration, innovation”

I came across this phrase recently and it struck me as a good description of the way we often learn as photographers.

In the photographic world there are iconic shots. Think of the shot through the arch at Durdle Door or the pathway leading to St Michael’s Mount. There are much-photographed trees (like the one in the Robin Hood film near Hadrian’s wall) and archetypal fishing villages that appear regularly as images in books.

If you put your camera and your tripod where others have, you can imitate this shot, and I have done this. This approach of replicating what others have done can be the first stage of learning.

Once you have learned how to successfully capture images by imitation you can integrate this learning into your own style. This means that the skills you have learned in the ‘imitation’ phase become part of your photographic vocabulary. The image has more of a flavour of your own unique view on the world.

Finally there comes a desire to learn something new. Some people are happy to make a similar copy of photographs they have seen and leave it there, but it is good to drive yourself to be different. An example would be Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers or Monet’s lily ponds. They painted them many times, from many different angles, at different times of the day and by applying the brushstrokes differently. Be experimental! If it’s good enough for the artists of past times, how much more appropriate is it in this time of digital change that we change and progress our own personal style?

Visual, auditory and kinaesthetic
Anyone who has had a connection with the world of education will know that there has been much talk of learning styles with an accompanying emphasis on multisensory teaching methods. This is so students are not disadvantaged by a pedestrian teaching method e.g. ‘chalk and talk’. The concept remains somewhat controversial but has certainly been liberating for some learners realising they can play to their strengths when learning a new topic. No-one learns exclusively in one way but most people have a marked preference for one of the above learning styles. Online there are plenty of free tests where you can discover your own style.

If you are a keen photographer it is highly likely that you are, at least in part, a visual learner. Visual learners, as the name suggests, prefer learning by looking. This can mean looking at images, graphs and charts, watching demonstrations and films or even accessing information via the humble flip-chart. Information presented visually will be retained much more easily. A visual learner will remember faces rather than names and will ‘think in pictures’ with colour being a useful tool (keep that highlighter to hand …). A word about those with dyslexia – dyslexic learners usually have an advanced ability to see things in 3D and to think conceptually. What is harder for them is to read words to which there is no attached concept so, whereas they can be excellent visual learners pictorially, they struggle with wordy texts.

As the name implies, if you are auditory you benefit from listening to information. These are the people that would have benefitted from reciting their times tables many years ago or learning the alphabet to a song. Absorbing information from a lecture or You Tube talk or taking part in a discussion about photography would benefit you if this is more your learning style. Generally auditory learners like to talk things through, so a 1:1 with another photographer would be a natural learning context.

People with this learning style are ‘hands on’ people who learn best by doing, and are much better being an active participant rather than a passive observer. They are ‘tactile’ learners, happiest when using trial and error (rather than reading detailed instructions) and are likely to prefer a more sensory environment. Outdoor photography sessions and workshops, rather than lectures, are a more suitable environment for honing their craft.

I hope you find this post useful.



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