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.