Prevailing wisdom says there are no stupid questions. But some questions are better than others, lead us to deeper inquiry, raise new, stronger questions, and better address the reason we asked the question in the first place.
I hear a lot of questions. In emails, at live events, on my blog, and through social media channels. I suspect, with few exceptions, that they all come from a genuinely curious mind and a good heart. People just want to learn and sometimes they ask the only questions they know how to ask, in the only language they know, and we get so much of our language, as photographers, from the prevailing culture of photographic education. As that culture leans towards a heavy commitment to gear, if not a downright addiction to gear (see how gently I worded that?), our questions about photographs tend to be worded in those terms.
What camera did you use?
What lens did you use?
What were your settings?
Do you shoot in sRGB or Adobe 98?
How many megapixels is the original file?
Did it really look that way?
I’ll give you 5 minutes and I bet you can come up with a dozen others. Some make you want to bang your head against the wall more than others. Learning photographers can feel so lost in the sea of technique and technology that it’s no wonder these questions beg for answers. But what if the technical were not the first concern? What if we asked, at least as our first questions, about more important matters? Here are my suggestions for questions that will get you more interesting, more instructive, answers. They’re the ones I would love to hear and could spend hours talking about, instead of the ones above.
What thought or feeling were you trying to express in this photograph?
What consideration did you give to the colour?
Why did you use the lens you did instead of something tighter or wider?
What was it about this specific moment that made you choose it instead of waiting a moment or two longer, or making the photograph a moment sooner?
Why did you use the combination of shutter and aperture that you did?
What considerations drove your choices when you processed and printed this?
There’s nothing wrong with the first set of questions, but most of us will learn more if we ask questions more along the lines of the second. In fact, these are the kinds of questions I encourage my students to ask of photographs they look at, whether or not the photographer that made them is there. How much more would we learn and grow as artists if we studied and asked better questions of the work in front of us, and of our own work? What if we asked these questions before we pressed the shutter? Don’t want to abandon your question about bit depth or colour mode? That’s fine, but try asking the other questions first. You’ll get a handle on the technical stuff soon enough if you go out and make more photographs.