I’ve been thinking a lot about learning. This morning I got sucked down the internet rabbit hole and wound up at this article, from Derek Sivers’ blog. It’s about memory and learning, mostly focusing on how fast we forget and what the optimal amount of time is before studying something again for maximum retention. Fascinating stuff.
But the thing that struck me about the article wasn’t so much that someone had figured out that people have an algorithm for learning; what I thought was interesting was that this understanding flies in the face of how we generally perceive progress. In a great post on Facebook, Derek explores the idea that when practicing something, it’s really when we sound/look/feel our worst/sloppiest/crappiest that we are making the most progress. If we’re doing it perfectly, we’re not stretching. No stretching, no learning.
Which made me think of another excellent post I read recently from The Communicatrix, about writing. Her post encourages writers to get better at writing by….wait for it…writing! Surprise! But I think (yes we’re getting to the point here) that what is challenging about writing as a practice for making good writing is that it’s really, really, really hard to see progress. Really. Hard.
That’s where photography comes in. I started taking photos a couple of years ago for this blog. I started the blog because I joined an online baking group called The Daring Bakers. That’s the only reason I started it, just to have a place to post the stuff I baked each month. I happen to live with a photographer who is both very patient and generous, and as I posted my monthly challenges, he started to make suggestions on how to improve my photos. And they worked! Going back through this blog, there are a lot of really bad photos. But moving along through them, there’s also marked improvement.
How did they get better? By looking at other photos I thought were good, by listening to my teacher and by…wait for it…taking a lot of photos! Surprise! But the great thing about photography is that you can see very clearly how you are improving. That’s harder to see with writing. But because the process is the same (exposure to other work, copying, having a good teacher, practice, making a lot of crap and throwing it out, saving the good stuff), practicing photography helps me have faith that practicing writing is actually making me a better writer.
Since this blog is all about food, most of the photography here is food photography (I wasn’t going to make you wait for that one). If you are interested in food photography, there happens to be an excellent blog – Learn Food Photography – that is jam-packed with info, interviews (extensive interviews), theory/philosophy and all kinds of references that can help you begin (although I also recommend just trying to take some photos). This blog is a great source of info for anyone who wants to take gorgeous pictures of what they eat.
That was long – but hopefully helpful. Good luck in your learning, whatever it is. I hope it gives you a lot of pleasure and blows your mind.