No longer looking for n00bs (thanks!)


Edit: I’ll keep this post here for posterity, but I have all the help I need. Thank you all so much for your feedback and interest!

So, I’m a writer. I write books about photography. And I get a lot of e-mail from people, asking if I can recommend a good book for someone who knows absolutely nothing about photography. Sadly, I can’t say that I’ve found such a book quite yet.

The problem with photography books out there is that they are either too technical too early (I happen to find shutter times deeply fascinating, but it’s too hands-off for many people who want to get out there and take photos), or they are too tutorial-driven. Several of the most popular photography books for beginners are written in the form of ‘hey, see this photo? Isn’t it awesome? to take it, set your camera to X, Y and Z, and press the shutter’, without actually explaining why you need those settings, and what would happen if you changed them slightly.

Only today, a good friend of mine, Sally, asked me if I could recommend a book. that re-awakened the idea I had: Maybe the time has come that I write my own book for complete beginners. 

Why do you need newbies?

There’s a problem with wanting to write a book for newbies: Sure, I am a photographer at heart, but I’m entirely self-taught. I’ve red hundreds of books about photography, I’ve experimented for a few decades, and I’ve been blogging my way through my first fledgling steps to my current state, as a halfway competent photographer.

Through my work career, I’ve learned some interesting tricks. Specifically, I used to work as a producer for a big TV station, and one of the things we did was focus on user-centred design, test-driven development, and the mantra of ‘test early, test often’, with the idea that it is much easier to adjust a process early on, then to try and fix something six months down the line.

So, my idea is to write a photography book “the wrong way around”: I want to know what my readers want to learn (this would be equal to the ‘tests’ in test-driven development), and then I want to find ways of teaching them. Then, after I’ve taught them about a topic of photography, I want feedback. What was easy to understand? What was tricky? Did the examples and analogies work? And – perhaps as important as anything else – is it still fun? Did you enjoy learning this piece of photography knowledge, and do you feel you know it well enough to build upon it to learn the next lesson?

I want to participate, what do you need from me?

Bunny knows sweet fuck-all about photography, but his feed-back style is too aggressive for my liking, so I sat him down and explained that no, I wouldn't need his help with this particular project. I think he will grow to accept this. Maybe. Eventually.

Well, you need a SLR camera. I would strongly prefer if you had a prime lens, but a simple kit-lens should be sufficient.

You need to be a keen beginner. Perhaps you’ve had your camera for a few months, but you don’t really know what to do with it. Maybe you have a vision for what you want to accomplish, but you haven’t really got the skills to pull it off.

The important thing is that a) you have no formal photographpy training and b) that you know as little as possible about photography. I’ll probably admit a few slightly more advanced learners to the group, but the difficult part – from my perspective – will be to get through to the rank beginners: the ones who want to learn, but who don’t have anything to build on.

I’ve got plenty of other book projects at the moment, so I think this is going to be a very gradual project.

I expect you to be able to commit a bit of photography time, and to comment on each of the lessons (roughly every second week or so, I imagine). I also expect you to keep any discussions that happen in the virtual lessons to yourself – after all, if this end up being a book, I don’t want the world to know everything until I’m ready to unleash it! :)

Finally, I’ll do a lot of the feedback in ‘public’ to the group. If you’re worried about that: don’t be; I imagine that many people will be making the same mistakes, and it merely saves me from having to type up the same feedback again and again. If you’re particularly sensitive to criticism, however, this probably won’t be the project for you.

How do I apply?

Sorry, you’re too late! – Within 24 hours, I received a lot more applications than I had dared hope for. I was expecting about twenty people interested or so, but instead I received well over a hundred e-mails! I’m going to kick the project off and see where it goes, but I think I’m okay for people for now.

Stay tuned to see where this is going, and how we’re going with the book. I’m sure there’ll be a post once I’m sure what’s actually going to happen. Here’s to having my fingers crossed to find a publisher who might be interested!

So, what’s the plan?

I’ve created a private group on Flickr, and I plan to post the lessons as articles / discussion topics. To get access to the group, I need to invite you, so when you send me the e-mail, I’ll take a look at your Flickr profile, and then invite you if I think you’re good for this project.

I’m hoping to kick off with the first lesson in the beginning of March, and then try and gauge for how frequently we need additional lessons to keep you busy. I’ll also do individual photo critiques of your photos after each lesson, and use these critiques as part of my feedback to the whole group.

Oh and you know what? We’re going to have a hell of a lot of fun. It may even be the first time ever that a book has been written using XP methodologies. I know that makes me a geek, but damn if that ain’t pretty exciting!