Randy’s Experience – The Challenge of Getting Motivated to Learn

I’m hesitant to sound too academic in the blog but a comment by a reader recently reminded me of an idea I think I should share that may point out a real difference between some of us. It is common for us to assume other’s motivation is similar to ours and we wonder: why others choose to join challenging workshops; or why others don’t get out of bed in the morning for a great shoot; or why others get defensive or have hurt feelings about our feedback. Let me share a story I told the students in my class on educational motivation.

Imagine you are a fourth grade teacher and you are concerned about one of your students. Bobby never participates in class and when you ask him questions he always says, “I don’t know.” He has never turned in a homework assignment. On tests he simply puts his name and doesn’t answer any questions; he just puts his heads down on his desk. What do you think is Bobby’s problem? Why doesn’t he do any of the required work in your class?

If you are like my students you probably are thinking Bobby isn’t motivated.  When I asked my students how Bobby’s behavior led them to that conclusion, they said it was because he didn’t do anything in class. When I suggested that maybe Bobby was motivated but that his motivation was keeping him from getting involved for fear of failing, they didn’t believe me. But as long as Bobby didn’t try in class, his lack of effort was the excuse for his “failure.” And when he didn’t answer questions his classmates wouldn’t say he was stupid, rather they would say he was lazy or hated school. Bobby didn’t want to put himself in a situation where he would look bad and the best way to do that was to disengage from class as his excuse.

So what does that have to do with amateur photographers? How can Bobby’s disengagement in school be related to the photography challenges you are facing? Why do you have problems getting out of bed in the morning to go to a photo shoot? Why don’t you want to bring your photos to the photo club critique or enter your photo in a competition? Why were you so crushed by the “mean comments” that a skilled photography friend made about your photographs?

Let me share my own example of my fear of “not being good enough.” The biggest change I’ve had in my photography occurred in January of this year. When I learned about the Teton Photography Group and the Informal Critiques I was worried that my photos were terrible. I knew I should have brought my best photos to the meeting but I was scared (yep, scared is a good way to describe it) that people would rip my photos to shreds. So I went to the meeting without any photos and even considered lying if they asked why I didn’t have any photos.  I hate to admit it but I was afraid of failing, just like Bobby was afraid of looking stupid. Ever feel that way? Have you ever avoided trying something new ‘cuz you might look stupid, or clumsy, or lacking artistic skills? Almost all of us avoid putting ourselves in situations where we will look bad. Unfortunately, that avoidance typically keeps us from learning.

So what did you do Randy? I was very fortunate at my first Informal Critique to watch a number of other amateur photographs get really constructive feedback on their photos. Many of the people around the table were very skilled “amateur” photographers (they seem like pros to me) who were very constructive in their comments. The gave positive feedback to each person (e.g., “I like the contrasting colors.”) with suggestions that were constructive (e.g., “I think this photo would be improved by cropping out the tree on the left.”) I left the meeting feeling comfortable and convinced that the leaders at the meeting were there to help us improve our amateur photography. So the next month I brought some photos.

So how do others impact our motivation to improve our photography? For many of us our concerns about looking bad may get in the way, unless we trust those around us. I left that first Teton Photography Group meeting feeling that I could trust the people who were there; their comments focused on what the amateur photographers could do to improve their photos and they had positive comments about each of the photographs. Their support and “gentle critique” brought me back with my photos for the next meetings.

Since some of you have suggested that adding photos to the blog made it bit more interesting, I’ll give you an example. But I must add that these are not the first photos I brought to the critique. I know, some of you are probably thinking that I am ashamed to show them 🙂 but the truth is my original thumb drive is broken (I know that sounds like “the dog ate it” excuse.) So here are the two photos I shared at the Informal Critique at the next critique and the feedback I received.

This photo of a pair of pronghorns was received quite well. The feedback I received was the pronghorn on the left (in sharp focus) and the pronghorn on the right (not in focus) moved the viewers eye to the sharp pronghorn and his eyelashes, which is what I wanted to do. They also said that the brush between the two pronghorns was distracting and could be removed in Lightroom, which led me to want to learn more about Lightroom.

Pronghorn 2

This photo received a lot of feedback and all of it was very helpful. I can’t remember the exact comments but we discussed whether this should be a photo of a sunset or one that was more abstract. We talked about it for quite awhile and I felt I really learned a lot about composition, color, and ideas I never thought of exploring.

SSR Sunset

Some Suggestions to Consider for OUR Blog

That leads me to suggest a few things WE can do with this blog. I am pleased to see that we have about thirty followers of FirstanAmateur.com and that each post is receiving some comments.   I hope that this post will encourage more of you to make some comments. I suspect that I’ve got some of you to think about what might be holding you back from improvement (e.g., Are you hesitant to share your photos with others because they may shoot you down?). I also hope that if you realize that those concerns are getting in the way that you may share more of your photography IF we can build a supportive community of learners.

So here are a couple of suggestions.

First – What if I can add a page to the blog where you can share your photos with all the readers so they can give you some feedback? I know, for some of you that would be quite threatening, just like that first TPG Informal Critique was scary for me. If there are a number of you that are interested, I think I have someone that can help me create a webpage for the blog that will allow you to share your photos. Please note, I am admitting I cannot do that myself so I hope our FirstanAmateur.com community will be patient with me.

Second – What if I were to offer a Peer Mentor Photography Program? The Informal Critiques were very helpful to me and I think something like that could be helpful to many of you. What I’m thinking of doing is creating monthly informal critiques that include identifying a partner that you can work with for both the critique and a monthly photo shoot. You could identify your own partner (maybe someone you know who is also interested in improving their photography) or find someone at a group meeting. Lots of possibilities here and I am certainly open to your suggestion.

And one last request for comments. Does it help for me to share my experiences (successes and failures)? Has it helped you to read that I left the scene early at Little Redfish Lake when staying would have resulted in getting great photos? Or that I was fearful that my photos weren’t good enough to be critiqued by members of the Teton Photography Group? It feels a little awkward sharing my mistakes, but I’m thinking it is good for me to share my mistakes since we are all First an Amateur.

6 thoughts on “Randy’s Experience – The Challenge of Getting Motivated to Learn

  1. Randy, I like the idea of a posting pictures to receive critique from other photographers. And your method of sharing personal experiences is helpful as well. Be sure to include some of examples of tips and techniques that you have done that produced particularily good results.


  2. Mike, thanks for the comment. I’m looking forward to sharing some successes 🙂 to go along with my mistakes. I’ll be working soon on developing a page on my website that will allow you and others to share photos for critique. I’m thinking that one approach would be to have readers share two photos and ask others to share which one they like the most and why. I did that on my Facebook page and the comments/explanations were quite interesting. It also tends to encourage the positive comments (“I like the first one better because of the way it is framed.”) rather than inviting potentially nasty comments. Personally, I don’t mind the nasty comments anymore but I want to encourage constructive feedback and the pair-approach seems to work a better.


  3. Curtis Leggett

    Peer Mentor….Now where did that come from?? SMILE..

    I missed the moment earlier to share a comment on ‘motivation’, so I will add it in now if that is OK. Your story of the young student who was not participating in class is classic. It has always been my belief that any of us only have so much motivational energy at any one time. Where we act is driven my the focuses, pleasures, and stresses at the moment. As parents, educators, friends, or colleagues, it is important for us to try to understand those factor at play in others (AND IN OURSELVES!).

    In the context of your photography hobby and your growing love of the mountain west, I might make the following observation from my own experiences:

    Whatever ‘focus’ you had on the morning you decided not to get up at 4:45 was just stronger than getting up and going out. It might have been wanting a little extra sleep, or some unfinished chore; who knows. The motivational energy was just not there that time. The fact that you may have missed a good picture may help you get more related focus for some other time, but only you will know that.

    It is obvious that you are getting a great deal of pleasure in photography and particularly in the landscapes in your western environment. The pleasures of learning a new skill and of being able to share it with others is very powerful. Then when you capture a special moment and get the opportunity to share it with others and YOURSELF, that can be an emotional (and motivational) reward. That, of course brings up the concept of reward. Taking a note from some of your stories of disappointing photo outings , I might share that you have chosen a difficult subject. Over the years I have found that Mother Nature in not a ‘whore’ who can be bought off with our wishes, our efforts, or our equipment! She will do what she wants to do: wind, storm, or sunshine! To raise the odds of pleasure we must find it in the simple cohabitation with her. When she gives us one of those special moments of light and texture, just consider it a blessing and enjoy it!

    Often our ‘stressing’ about that special moment or that special outcome can get in the way of our own desires. Focusing on this current photography discussion, it can be possible to not see the specialness of a moment because we have too narrow of a focus on what is special. Sometimes if the fog has the distance closed in, we need to find the magic up close! Sometimes the magic is just BEING THERE. The stress of expectation, when not fulfilled, will suck out the pleasure and motivational energy faster than anything I know of. In a more global sense, when we have stresses in any part of our life it will effect everything else. It is fine to not get up one morning when your motivational energy is being pulled on some other direction. It is important to just know the difference.

    If I am right and each of us at any given moment only have so much motivational energy, then it is up to us to try to sharpen our focus and attention on those activities which are truly rewarding and bring us pleasure, and maybe most important, that serve to either reduce stress or at least do not add any to out lives. When those motivational factors are all in line it is time to… “enjoy the day”!


    1. Glad to have you on-board Curtis. At the risk of sounding defensive, let me say that I didn’t “decide” not to get up at 4:45 am; the alarm didn’t go off. Mike (chipitin) hassled me about it because he was on the other end waiting for me.
      OK, on to our different perception of motivation. I would agree that “focus” is important; my concern is that “focus” can be impacted by those around us depending on how we feel about our skills, general self-esteem, etc. When a student, photographer, or anyone else is concerned about how others feel about them they will often adopt a protective strategy. Creating a safe environment where our “success” is not dependent on comparing ourselves to others can be very important when a student or amateur photographer is learning something new. That certainly doesn’t happen for everyone. There certainly can be a “reward” associated with taking good photographs of Mother Nature but there is the added problem of the subjective nature of art; the evaluation of any artwork can be very subjective and leave us wondering if it is really great, good, mediocre, or … The value of the “reward”can be impacted by an unkind comment.
      Your comment about stressing when a better approach would be “enjoying the moment” is very true. As I have more and more experience doing nature photography, I become more and more willing to enjoy the moment even when there are no “great shots” available. I think I will be sharing this in my next post since I spent a full day with a pro-photographer and two fraternity brothers. We had a great morning shoot in the fog and then the afternoon light died down. But the experience was wonderful and en-lightening (sorry for the pun) and a pleasure. We all enjoyed the day ! I was never disappointed in not getting a great photograph (I think a couple of them in the morning were good) but I suspect that was from past photographic “success”.
      By the way, Peer Mentoring is part of my DNA 🙂


  4. Randy, I do find others’ perspectives interesting – thanks for sharing yours. When it comes to the natural world, you never know what is around the next bend, if that bull moose will get up five minutes after you have waited four hours, etc. Posting photos for critique is something i would participate in. As for a peer mentor, I will think about how to go about that locally. 🙂


  5. Ruth, thank for your comments. I’ll be addressing more about motivation in the near future. The comments in this post (The Challenge of Getting Motivated) were in response to a comment by one of the blog followers who was concerned about how others reacted to her photos. My experience as a teacher, and to a lesser degree as a photographer, have taught me that some of us (maybe all of us amateurs) can be impacted by the comments of others, especially when the comments are “simply” evaluative and negative. When we become more confident (or older and don’t give a hoot) we can move beyond being “protective” and move on to the beauty of what we are photographing. At least I find that to be the case with landscape photography. Again, thanks for your comments.


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