Sunday, January 16, 2011

Four Levels of Learning

Recently, I read something on the Web that caught my eye. The person was criticizing the work of novice photographers. Well, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, for sure. What's more, what makes a good picture, or any piece of art, is subjective.

Also, when I hear someone needlessly criticizing the work of others, I think about what my mother used to tell me: If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything. (Want a good laugh? Click here to listen to my friend's Trey Ratcliff's dramatic readings of his negative book reviews.)

So, the negative comment got me thinking. Hey! We all had to start somewhere. Right?

When I think about starting out in photography (or any creative effort), I think about the Four Levels of Learning:
1.  Unconscious Incompetence.
We don’t know we are not good.

2.  Conscious Incompetence.
We know we need help.

3.  Conscious Competence.
We know we are good.

4.  Unconscious Competence   
The level we all want to reach in the things we care passionately about. We don’t really have to think too much about what we are doing . . . we just do it!

On my workshops, in addition to thinking about a photographer's learning level, I think about something else: the person's feelings . . . and what their photography means to them, that is, how very important photography is in their life.

So here is my question to you: At what level are you at in the learning process? Post your comment here, rather than on twitter and facebook so others can see a a whole.

Talk about what your photography means to you. Share your goals. Talk about your frustrations. Go for it.

Explore the light,

P.S. If you need some photo inspiration, check out my friend Dr. Richard Zakia's book:


michael wright said...

Conscious Incompetence all the way for me.

Kristin said...

Conscious Incompetence for me, but I am learning, and the instructor is taking the time to teach me, at my pace, in terminology I understand, already seeing improvements, Ultimate goal is to be in one of your workshops! the photography is for me

Loybuckz said...

I have started photography only last July 2010, at this point I consider myself to be under the Conscious Incompetence level. I know and I am aware that I am not that good and I really feel that I need help from professionals (that's why I keep on visiting this blog).

One of my most often frustrations is whenever after shooting, I download my photographs to my computer and see that my shots being soft or blurred (you really cant trust that small LCD at the back of the camera).


John said...

I'd like to think that I'm between Conscious Incompetence and Conscious Competence.

Carolyn Fox said...

My photography means a lot to me. It keeps me in touch with nature, but also gives me an artistic outlet. I never thought I was a creative person, but have found out, through my photography, that I can be. Everyone isn't born with creative talents, but they can be developed if you work at it. My primary frustration is that I'm limited in regards to when I can be outside to photograph the subjects that are most important to me. I've been doing some people photography lately, though, & am beginning to enjoy that as well. Best to you, Rick.

Susan Carroll-Seger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rhonda Holcomb said...

Conscious Incompetence-and I look forward to when I advance up to the next level. :D

paul said...

nice little writeup...

Jim Griggs said...

Well put, Rick. In my workshops I always mentioned the steps people evolve thru in photography:

1. Wanting to make it look just like it looks
2. Making it look the way I remember it
3. The image gives me the same sensory perceptions I had when at the location, and
4. Don't really care what it looks like, here is what I want it to look like.

Leslie Marsh said...

Hi Rick! Conscious incompetence for me although I'd add a sub-category for myself called conscious inconfidence. I rarely share my photos because I never think they're good enough. I am my own worst critic :o)

BrotherRidge said...

Conscious Incompetence.
We all work to improve are photo's.
Will I every be a pro ???? No
But I will have fun along the way where ever my photography takes me.
This is not a job. Its a love in my life that is for ever.

Will you be doing a show on Twit with Leo. in Feb. 2011

Christopher Johnston said...

I go between Conscious Incompetence(CI) & Conscious Competence(CC) depending on what I'm doing. For instance I think I'm at CC when photographing my kids but CI when I'm photographing wildlife.

Dru Stefan Stone said...

Unconscious Competence. If I am passionate about what I do, I have to be here. If I want a career in the arts I have to be here. While you have to have some competence in manipulating the medium, learning is endless, so that is really relative to know only by way of achieving expression. Sometimes I feel like creative blood flows through my veins and the medium I choose needs to express what is internal, so it will always be subjective but for my work to be evocative and expressive and accepted for what it is would be the reward. As you began your post, art is subjective. Always has been, always will be. Different people enjoy different art…good idea! It allows for the Rembrandts and Monets, Picassos and Rothkos, Adams and Sammons (and me too) all to be successful.

Gary said...

I'm a conscious incompetent but possibly on the verge of competence. Great point about encouragement. A very early workshop I went to included image review. The instructor went through several, and they were pretty good. He shared lots of compliments and some constructive suggestions. Mine came up - silence for about 30 seconds. It took him that long to find something good about the image. I wasn't surprised or upset (I almost started laughing). However, when he started, his comments all emphasized positive aspects of the image (which he had to work to come up with). I appreciated it and it gave me motivation to try to continue to improve. I even try to use that approach at work - find something good to recognize. People appreciate it. In a later workshop, a different instructor essentially said the images were useless. I knew that by then but I was looking for building blocks and didn't get any. I didn't mind the judgment - I knew they weren't good - what I found discouraging was the lack of useful information.

DJK said...

David Kenny writes:
I'm looking forward to reaching the level of Conscious Incompetence; at least then I'll have a starting point for my passion.
Thank you Rick for the great insight; inspires me to work even harder!

Roger said...

The learning process never ends; like a golf game, we can always do better. What strikes me is your concern about how we feel about our work, what does it mean to us..... too many instructors will only critique the work for technical issues, such as exposure and focus...or subjective composition issues.....such as cutting someone's foot off.... I think we all need to dig a bit deeper than that..... one has to have an eye and find their voice. That is what we strive for.

Dominic said...

Great Post Rick! I think I move around between the categories depending on the type of
photography, but mostly between

2. Conscious Incompetence.

3. Conscious Competence.

I love photography and take a camera with me almost everywhere. I listen to podcasts, yours included, read and take online classes and attend workshops to constantly improve my abilities.

Thank you for all your time and knowledge!

Mark Coons said...

Depending upon the day of the week I could be somewhere from level 1 to 3!

Very well said Rick, couldn't agree more.

TheResearchman said...

The more I know, the more I know I don't know!

ellens365 said...

Well said Rick.
I am mostly at the conscious incompetence level with a glimpse now and then at conscious competence.

Tracy said...

Very conscious incompetence...very rare occasion I might think I'm ok but I soon snap out of it.

justme said...

knowing i'm a member of the conscious incompetence group frees me up to keep learning from others whether it be by reading books, watching videos, taking workshops or joining photography clubs ...
when you swim with floaties there's no pressure to train for the olympics... just have fun! that's what i'm doing and it's been a blast!! better photos are just a wonderful byproduct of the experience!

JMartin said...

Like others I think I'm between Conscious Incompetence and Concious Competence.
Photography for me is a hobby. I have a high stress job which could impact on my home life if I let it. Loosing myself in photography and then postprocessing allows me to leave my work at work, and also exercises the creative part of my brain. So photography is a very important "life balancing" past time.
Now, if I could do part-time photography while keeping my day job, now that would be ideal.....:)

Gary Hess said...

Rick, love your concept of the 4 levels of learning.... and I would add that as we try to adopt new techniques or tools, sometimes we step down a rung and have to climb back up again. And, of course, there is the thing that keeps us all going in the end -- as the old saying goes, "sometimes, even a blind hog finds an acorn". Trey Ratcliff's reading was fantastic. Thanks for all you do for the photography community - you inspire us, and you teach us... and sometimes you entertain as well.

Toasty0 said...

I think I currently move between complete boob (trying something new, interesting, or unique) to lucky bast'd in my work. Maybe, with practice, practice, and more practice, I'll slip into the realm of craftsman. Good, solid work, but not necessarily inspired. From there I hope to transcend to artist.

Rick Sammon said...

Toasty)... Complete Boob. That's a new one! Good one and funny!

pat said...

I think I've reached conscious competence. I still need a checklist to run through each time I'm taking a photo... have I checked the DOF, is there sufficient lighting, do I have a good color or grayscale range, is the composition complete, is something crossing the picture frame, etc. I just started tethering my camera to my laptop, and feel the increased screen real estate is helping me.