Edinburgh’s Transport Policy – Bad for Business?

Edinburgh's Victoria Street with queueing trafficBack in 1993 Edinburgh Tourist Board and the camera company Fuji collaborated to develop the Phototrail which gave visitors to the city a visual indication of 22 locations that gave iconic vistas of Edinburgh. You can see the original locations on a handy Google Map overlay although it does take a bit of hunting to find some of the plates and some have actually been removed following road-works and never replaced.

The introduction of the Phototrail possibly contributed toward the New Town and Old Town of Edinburgh being awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1995 and contributed toward the historic city becoming a massive tourist draw that brings millions of tourists each year to spend their various currencies in our shops.

I am a small business owner in Edinburgh and I profit from the amazing heritage that the city offers through running photography workshops. Over the four years the workshops have been operating though there has been a worrying trend which is making our city less photogenic through the addition of street furniture; roadworks moving traffic in the direction of roads that can’t cope, and parking changes that impact the aesthetic of the city. I now believe that we are approaching a point where visitors will start to question if they are coming to a city steeped in history or an elaborate car park.

I do recognise that as visitors come into the city that they need to move around and the various shops on the Royal Mile, Victoria Street etc. need to be re-stocked but with some simple traffic management this could be done outside of the hours when people will be walking the streets – how about a loading window from 6am to 8am and then the streets are cleared for tourists to enjoy?

However, there is a more radical action that Edinburgh could take that would increase tourism and give us some photographic pride in our city that would help advertise us at very little cost to the world. Edinburgh is renowned for its Festival month in August when the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival takes place. Fewer people know that there is also the Science Festival in April, Film Festival in June, Jazz Festival in July as well as the Christmas and Hogmanay periods through November to January so we are a festival city. There are gaps though, March or October, for example, has probably the best light quality of the year and is one of the fallow festival months.

This is where photography could fill a gap and increase visitors as well as restore the benefits of the Phototrail from 1993. Edinburgh should have a weekend (or even better a week) where we restore the Phototrail sites to a state where they can become photographic or artistic wonders and attract people who enjoy taking, drawing, sketching, painting to enjoy the city free of traffic and distracting street furniture.

I would love to get support from the photography and artist communities to petition Edinburgh Council and seek to reinvigorate and update a photo-trail of the city. To support this there should also be the introduction of an official period where we can capture Edinburgh’s updated photo-trail at its best, traffic free, free of annoying yellow signs advising that parking won’t be allowed over the period and free to take beautiful photographs of our city that can be shared and enjoyed.

Who would support me?


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Posted in Edinburgh

Fair’s Fair

Fair Trade Toolkit Launch

Launch of Youth Scotland Fair Trade Toolkit

I’ve recently provided photography for the Scottish Fair Trade Forum at the launch of their new youth pack, Fair’s Fair, produced in collaboration with Youth Scotland

It’s always interesting working with organisations like SFTF. Who would have known that there is a Fair Trade football available to buy and that you can buy an ethically sourced mobile phone!

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Edinburgh Riding of the Marches 2016

Edinburgh Riding of the Marches commemorates the return in 1513 of Randolph Murray clasping the Ancient Blue Blanket Banner with the tragic news of the defeat of the Scottish Army at the Battle of Flodden. 280 Horses traverse the boundaries of Edinburgh before culminating in a procession along the Royal Mile culminating in a ceremony celebrating the return of the flag at the historic Mercat Cross.

Photographs are available to buy for £20 for personal use on websites and social media. E-mail contact@richdysonphotography.com to purchase.


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Campaign – Photo-documentary launched today

My first book, Campaign, has been launched today and is available to buy as either a soft-cover book on Amazon (http://bit.ly/campaign_RD) or as an e-book (http://bit.ly/Campaign_EBook).

Campaign is a photo-documentary following a candidate for the final seven days of the Scottish Election Campaign. Iain McGill is not expected to win his constituency seat, yet the story that is captured in over 70 photographs unveils the Conservative party strategy that led to them gaining the highest number of seats since the Parliament was re-established in 1999.

A Foreword to the book has been provided by Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.




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Posted in Book, Edinburgh, Uncategorized

Edinburgh Tourists Guide to blocking streets

RDP_20160702_switch to manual__MG_7296My daily Switch to Manual Workshop (http://bit.ly/EPWS2M) has a short-break during August as it is pretty much impossible to walk the route with the Edinburgh Festivals bringing thousands of tourists to the city. A few years ago I wrote a light-hearted article on a concerted attempt by tourists travelling around Edinburgh to prevent the locals of Edinburgh from getting around by deploying several tactics to block the streets. In my research, I identified the top 11 (top 10’s are so passeé) tactics that I have seen working well.

1. The Walk Apart

This is the simplest of the tactics and involves the tourists walking side by side. There are two key elements to the walk though, the first is velocity which will be at dawdling pace and the second is spacing – it is key that the distance apart is just insufficient to allow the local to cut between the two tourists and also sufficient to ensure that the gap between roads and buildings doesn’t allow a sidewards overtaking manoeuvre.

Fig 1. The Walk Apart

2. The Chicane

This is a variation of The Walk Apart and is again a dawdling paced tactic. Here the tourists not only create a gap that is impossible to cut between, they also create an added dimension of one walking slightly ahead of the other, making the overtake much more difficult.

Fig 2. The Chicane

3. The Diamond

We are now getting into much more complicated patterns and using larger groups of tourists. I have noted that this one is particularly popular with the latin tourists (possibly due to the size of families) and is a combination of The Walk Apart and The Chicane. The tourists create a diamond shape which contains all the blocking difficulties of the first two tactics and brings them together into one of the hardest formations to beat.

Fig. 3 The Diamond

4. The ‘Look, Edinburgh has a Castle’

This tends to be a Princes Street tactic, and is most successfully deployed by the asian tourist. They lure the unwitting local into thinking that the tourist is ‘one of us’ by walking at a good pace – this is the case until they spring the surprise manoeuvre of stopping instantly to stand and stare at the Castle that suddenly appears from nowhere. The effect is almost impossible for the local to avoid.

Fig. 4 The ‘Look, Edinburgh has a Castle’

5. The Crab

A variant of The Walk Apart which requires the tourists to walk in the same slow pace, however, as the local approaches for the attempted overtake, the tourists start to veer toward the road forcing the local to either slow down or move into the road and face the wrath of the Lothian Transport driver.

Fig 5 The Crab

6. The 90 Degree

This isn’t too dissimilar to The ‘Look, it’s Edinburgh Castle’ but can take place on any street that contains the tourist tat shops. As the tourist is drawn to the shiny things (or more likely tartan and ginger things) in the shop window they create a much larger obstacle as they stop and turn. The key element here is that one of the tourists will stand in the middle of the pavement whilst the other one stares.

Fig 6 The 90 Degree

7. The Umbrella

Really only used during the Fringe period when the annual monsoon season arrives. Here the cunning tourist uses the umbrella as a weapon to prevent any local brave enough to attempt to overtake The Walk Apart. There are, of course, many variants of this tactic as it can be used with any of the other manoeuvres.

Fig 7 The Umbrella

8. The Child

Here the weapon of choice is a small child. The tourists look to have created The Walk Apart poorly and have left a gap large enough for the local make the cut-through overtake. However, at the last minute this is blighted by the appearance of the small child who will invariably undertake their own Look, Edinburgh has a castle and stop sufficiently quickly to allow the tourist to plough into the child who is able to deploy the head to the groin.

Fig 8. The Child

9. The Suitcase

This tactic tends to be deployed close to Waverley Station and requires the tourists to find the busiest time of the day and drag an over-sized suitcase through the streets. It is always good for the tourist to deploy this in conjunction with The Crab. This is another manoeuvre which can result in physical injury to the local and is therefore highly popular with the tourists.

Fig 9 The Suitcase

10. The Street Performer

The next two tactics are generally deployed on High Street (or Royal Mile as the tourists prefer to incorrectly call it) and are aided and abetted by performers. The first is the large crowd that will gather around yet another person creating a tight-rope by two of said tourists and then walking across it whilst juggling sharpened knives or fire. The tourists gather in droves to ensure that there is no way for the local who has to walk along High Street to perhaps collect a parking permit from the council offices (no local would choose to walk along High Street in August).

Fig 10 The Street Performer

11. The Drama Student

Again a High Street tactic, this time involving a second year drama student who believes that the most innovative way to hand out flyers is to lie in the middle of the street or stand on a bollard, after all, nobody has ever thought of that before.. The tourist will interact with this display and cause an impossible blockage for the council office attending local to pass.

Fig 11 The Drama Student

I am sure that now the tactics of the tourists have been revealed that there will be some new ones that will appear. I urge any resident of Edinburgh who identifies either a way to combat the above tactics or identifies new ones to be deployed so that I can provide a public service to the locals of Edinburgh.

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Posted in Edinburgh, Humour, Lesson Tagged , , |

Can you keep a secret?

One of the hidden attractions just outside Edinburgh is the labour of love run by Liberty and Hamish Martin called The Secret Herb Garden. This idyllic venture lies 6 miles south of the city centre and allows the owners to share their enjoyment of herbs along with home produced food and drink, vintage furniture and candles made from the wax produced by the on-site apiary.

Secret Herb GardenSecret Herb GardenSecret Herb GardenSecret Herb GardebSecret Herb GardenSecret Herb Garden

Entry to the garden is free of charge, however, it is difficult not to spend money with a huge array of herbs for sale – I never realised how many types of mint existed until they were lined up, each with their own particular fragrance or taste. You’ll also find it hard to resist spending some time in the cafe with a selection of cakes and scones as well as a very enjoyable lunch dish of Sweet Corn Quiche and Hand Picked Flower Salad.

When you have finished lunch head beyond the glass-house and take a look at the apiary where you can see inside a working bee-hive; the medicinal garden and some innovative plant pots, including a Volkswagen Beetle that has herbs growing from its boot and bonnet.

If you are looking for something a little different in easy travelling distance from Scotland’s capital city then The Secret Herb Garden is a great choice.


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Why use filters?

I have been asked by a few people recently why I use filters and what the advantages of them are so I thought I’d write a short article with a few examples to show the benefit of using graduated filters to improve the images you shoot in camera. Before we talk about the filters though we need to understand how fantastic our brains are.

When we look at a scene our vision captures an extraordinary amount of detail from the very darkest shadows to the lightest highlights. In fact we can see around 24 stops of light (a stop is either the halfing or doubling of the amount of light coming onto the sensor). In contrast our expensive cameras have a limitation of somewhere between 11 and 13 stops which means that we will see a scene better than a camera can depict it, especially when there are large differences between light and shade within the scene that is being photographed.

Lee Soft Graduated Filters

Lee Soft Graduated Filters Image source: http://www.leefilters.com

I use the Lee Filter system, primarily because the quality of the glass they use is so good that the image isn’t impacted by the extra piece of glass that has been put in front of the lens but the principles I am going to discuss here are the same for any manufacturer. There are a number of different types of filters that you can buy, however, today I am going to concentrate on soft graduated filters. As you can see from the image, a soft graduated filter has a dark area at the top of the glass and then it gradually fades to clear at the mid-point of the filter. You’ll see shortly how we can use this to help take a well exposed image in camera.

I have used a fairly typical landscape scene to demonstrate the use of the filters. When I was looking over Edinburgh I could see lots of detail in the clouds which is the brightest part of the image and I could also see the grass being lit up by the setting sun in the foreground and the detail of the Dugald Stewart Monument that sits on Calton Hill. However, if I took the photograph in the camera without any filters on I would either set the exposure for the sky in which case the foreground became very dark or I could instead expose for the foreground and the sky would be blown out and lose all that interesting detail.

Calton Hill - 1

Image exposed for sky f13, 0.4sec, ISO 100

By looking at the histogram of this first image we can see that the highlights (in this case the sky) are right on the edge, however, the shadows on the left hand side are losing some of the detail.

Histogram exposed for the sky

Histogram exposed for the sky

Alternatively, I took a second shot which was exposing for the shadow detail (in this case the foreground) and you can see that this one brings out the grass and the monument, however, the sky has now become blown out and all that gorgeous detail in the clouds has been lost.

Calton Hill - 2

Image exposed for foreground f13, 2.0 sec, ISO 100

The histogram really shows how much detail we have lost on the right hand side by trying to get all the detail we want in the foreground

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 08.07.02

Histogram exposed for the foreground

In order to get the picture that we are seeing with our eyes we need to balance the exposure we had for the sky in the first image with the exposure we had in the foreground for the second image and this is where filters help. You will see that the difference in the length of the exposure is equivalent to 2 and 1/3rd stops of light. As a rule of thumb I always add a filter with an extra stop that the difference between the two exposures, so in this case I have added a 3 stop graduated filter to create the final image which I am sure you will agree is a much better balanced image giving us the best of both worlds, detail in the sky and the foreground.

Calton Hill - 3

Image exposed with filter – f13, 0.4sec, ISO 100 (Lee Soft Grad 0.9ND)

The histogram for this final image shows us that we have a well exposed image with the highlights and shadows both contained within the boundaries.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 08.07.20

Histogram when adding filter

There are other ways of achieving a similar result where you can bracket images in the camera and then using software to merge the images after. However, I enjoy my photography when I am in the field, experiencing the location and would rather not spend time in my office editing to get the image that I can see before my eyes. I would much rather use a few seconds at the location to add a filter and save time in editing later.

Hopefully you can see the benefit of using graduated filters from this short demonstration. I like to spend time on my workshops exploring how we can use different filters to get dramatic effects and this is a taster of the kind of things we go over.

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Posted in Edinburgh, Filters, Lesson

A mystery solved

Who is the mystery artist?Just outside the centre of Edinburgh is a beautiful place called Dean Village. The Water of Leith flows through this small area which is lined by picturesque buildings that were built in the area toward the end of the nineteenth century. However, in the last week or so the river has had some new and interesting additions made to it that have stirred interest in both locals and visitors to the area. About a week or so ago two structures made of rocks balanced on top of each other appeared by the walkway that crosses the Water of Leith, then by the end of the week many more had appeared with the complexity of the balances becoming more and more impressive. I couldn’t help but take a photo of them which was shared on Facebook with a plea to find who the artist was that was constructing these gravity defying towers and since then nearly 100,000 people have viewed the image and over 3,000 people have clicked the Like button but despite a few snaps of the mystery builder, his identity was unknown.

Walking through Dean Village this evening the mystery man was stood in the river building yet more of these wonderful stacks and watched on in awe by countless passers-by. The man himself is Nick Hortin who lives in Dean Village and started to build the stone stacks after seeing a video on YouTube and thinking that it would be something that he would like to teach himself to do. He’s been building them up and down the Water of Leith over the last few months and loves that the process allows him to take his mind off day to day things and concentrating on finding the natural balance point of the rocks as they are stacked on each other.

If you get a chance to see Nick in action whilst passing the Water of Leith stand and watch the immense skill and patience he displays finding the right shaped rock and then balancing it, almost like magic, onto the rock below.

Thanks Nick for your chat this evening and for making a wonderful talking piece in an already fantastic location!

RDP_20150608_dean village stones__MG_5112RDP_20150608_dean village stones__MG_5075RDP_20150608_dean village stones__MG_5133

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Posted in Artwork, Edinburgh, Uncategorized

New Lightroom CC features

Tuesday saw the launch of the much awaited new version of Lightroom from Adobe. There have been two versions launched, Lightroom CC that has a subscription model and Lightroom 6 which is a perpetual licence. There are some differences in what you will get as future updates between the two products but I don’t intend to get into that discussion in this blog. I am using the CC version as I was already a Creative Cloud member and it meant that I received the new version of the software on launch day with no change to the value of my subscription and I also get the latest version of Photoshop too in the Photographers Package.

There are a number of features that have been updated but perhaps two of the biggest changes are the ability to merge images into a panorama without leaving Lightroom and similar functionality to create realistic HDR images again without needing to switch to Photoshop, Photomatix or HDR Efex Pro. I know that some people have an aversion to HDR due to its misuse in the past to create nausea inducing colours but there can be a place for it if used in the right way – however, as it is a Marmite type package I will leave this one to the end so that you can skip it if HDR just isn’t your thing.

I’m sure most people reading this are fairly familiar with how to take images ready for a panorama. Essentially you need to take a series of images panning across the scene ensuring that there is about a third of the scene kept in the then next pan from the previous one. It’s also good practice if you can to take the images in portrait on your camera as there is less barrelling in this format than landscape so you do get a better end image. Finally, use the spirit levels on your tripod to ensure the base of the head of the tripod is level so that as you pan around the scene the horizon stays level.

Once the images are in Lightroom it used to be a case of clicking Edit In and then taking the option to Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. This worked well enough but for me but there was always something I didn’t like with this approach – the benefit of Lightroom is that it is non-destructive to raw files yet by exporting out to another program it disconnected the image from the original and produced a brand new TIFF or PSD file. With the new Photo Merge option in Lightroom you can now process a panorama from within the software and the resultant file is a DNG with all the extra data that you get from the format so you now have a much more powerful image to work with. It’s also really easy to create a great looking pano;

Select all the images that you want to make into your panorama in the library module, remember that to get a realistic image any changes that you may make in the Develop module need to be synced across all the images before making the merge. However, remember that you are going to have a DNG output so you can make those kind of edits post-merge if you like and still have all the available data.

Images ready to be processed in Lightroom

Next, you can either press the Ctrl key and M or go to the Photo dropdown, click on Photo Merge and then click Panorama

Selecting the Merge to Panorama


In just a few seconds a new box will appear with a preview of the panorama image, you can manually chose which method or merging to use or you can let Lightroom decide which works best for the image. You can also ask Lightroom to automatically Crop any areas that are lost in creating the Panorama – that was another bug-bear for me when using Photoshop that you had to manually crop the lost spaces of the merged image – now it’s done at the click of a check-box, so much more efficient.

Preview panorama screen


Simply click on Merge and Lightroom then goes off to create the merged image. The really great thing is that Lightroom is now doing this in the background so you can move on to another image you may want to edit whilst it is joining the images together and creating the new raw file for you. My iMac is pretty old (please feel free to donate a 5k 27″ iMac if you feel bad for me) and chugs along  but it still only took four minutes for 10 full sized raw files to be merged in to one panoramic image and despite looking at 100% I am still struggling to see where the joins of each image are, the conversion quality is superb – much better than previous results I would have received from Photoshop merges and certainly much quicker too. I have add the three different merge options (Spherical, Cylindrical and Perspective) below so that you can see the different effects of each of the merges – I do think that the Lightroom suggested option of Spherical does work the best out of these three.

Spherical Pano

Spherical Merge Option

Cylindrical Mode

Cylindrical Merge Option


Perspective Merge Option


So if you don’t like HDR now is the time to jump to the last wrap up paragraph and skip this bit but I would recommend sticking with it and you may be surprised at what Adobe have done. As a little bit of background to the reasons for using HDR we need to look at the capability of a camera v the capability of our brain and eyes in capturing light. A pretty good DSLR can capture a range of around 13 to 15 stops of light from shadow to highlight whereas our brain can process far more stops of light (somewhere around 22-25) which means that we can see far more detail, particularly in scenes which have a mix of both bright highlights and very dark shadows. During my Switch to Manual workshops I like to use some of the Fuji Photo-trail locations to capture some of the iconic shots of Edinburgh, one of these is the entrance to Advocates Close opposite St Giles Cathedral, which has a great view straight down the close and frames the Scott Monument. This is one of these locations where our brain processes light far more effectively than our camera can so to see the image as our eyes do a solution is to take a set of bracketed images and then merge them in a HDR program such as Photoshop, HDR Efex Pro or Photomatix. This final step is where the hatred of HDR usually comes out as you are presented with a myriad of options, many of which produce an image that is overly saturated, has horrendous fringing around edges and generally looks totally unrealistic. The new functionality in Lightroom has taken away this danger and is only there to try and produce a realistic image that accurately captures the various shades from Shadow to Highlight as our eyes may see it.

For this test, I bracketed seven images, three stops either side of the base shot to give me as much information as possible to create the file. You can imagine it takes a fair bit of patience on a busy street like The Royal Mile to get seven shots that didn’t have people walking past but more later on how you can reduce time with this new functionality.

Bracketed Images

Just like the Panorama function it is is the Photo dropdown, under Photo Merge and HDR or click Ctrl and H and you will again be presented with a new dialog box which allows you to chose to Auto Align the images (why wouldn’t you have this switched on) and also Auto Tone, I actually think it is more realistic to leave this switched off as the end result is much closer to what my eyes could see. You can also get Lightroom to prevent ghosting which I have set on this image because there were a group of tourists at the bottom of the step getting to find out about the history of Edinburgh and they were moving slightly.

Merge HDR Box

Click on the Merge button and again Lightroom goes to work in the background creating the HDR image whilst you can get on working on another edit. I talked earlier about bracketing seven images and the frustration that can cause, however, Adobe have done some amazing maths with the HDR function and they can actually produce a better image using less images to start off with – it sounds unbelievable but I have merged just two of the images from the set, the three stops under exposed and the three stops over-exposed images to compare the results and there is really very little difference (if any) between the two images so you can actually save time by shooting less shots when you need to use HDR and obviously the processing time will be reduced as well when you are in front of your computer – a win win for sure!

To give you a comparison of the images using either seven or two images for the merge and Auto Tone being on or off I have added the four resultant files at the bottom of the post so you can see the difference (and by them being at the bottom the people that don’t like HDR may pop back up a few lines and see it is possible to create realistic HDR images that don’t look like a comic book). I have allowed you to click on the images so you can see them at full size to see the difference for yourself.

This is by no means an in-depth review of Lightroom CC/6 but hopefully it gives you a flavour of a couple of the major changes that have taken place in the update that came out this week. Lightroom is now pretty much at the core of my own processing due to a really great method for cataloging images and finding them quickly when you need them and I also really love being able to take my images with me using the Lightroom Mobile that means I can show my clients images on my iPhone or iPad and, for those that have them, Android devices too. These couple of functions have really brought forward Lightroom as being the tool that I will use to process my images 95%+ of the time and only occasionally  will I need to flick over to Photoshop now for some real detailed editing. You can sign-up to the Creative Cloud option at adobe.com where the Photographers Plan including Photoshop and Lightroom is just under £9 per month.

Auto Tone switched on - Two Image Merge

Auto Tone switched on – Two Image Merge

Auto Tone switched on - Seven Image Merge

Auto Tone switched on – Seven Image Merge

Auto Tone switched off - Two Image Merge

Auto Tone switched off – Two Image Merge



Auto Tone switched off - Seven Image Merge

Auto Tone switched off – Seven Image Merge







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Posted in Edinburgh, Lightroom, Software

The best way to learn photography(?)

City PhotograhySince I gave up my old job and became a photographer I am rarely kept up at night worrying about something. This is because I am lucky enough to be doing something I enjoy and doing enough of it that it is paying my bills. However, I responded to a question on a social media group from someone calling out they were new to photography and were looking for ways to learn. In true internet forum style, everyone gave their responses and it soon led to the usual rubbishing of other people’s views and the poor original poster is now even more lost and confused than when they started and I had a shorter sleep than usual concerned for them.

So what is the right answer? Well, to be honest there isn’t one! End of blog post, thanks for reading. Of course, that isn’t the end of the post – there isn’t a right answer because every one of us is different and has different priorities. Instead, I thought it would be good to share a set of options that I am aware of and my view of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Before we go into the options though I thought it would be good to regurgitate something I learned in my old corporate days but is really pertinent to this topic. When we are starting something new we don’t know what we don’t know – let’s use the analogy of learning to drive and then apply this back to photography later.

Unconscious Incompetence

In this stage of learning you know you want to learn to drive but you have no idea of how to start the car or the fairly complicated procedure of changing gear, when to change gear, why you are changing gear, how to park etc. You are either going to deny that you need to learn to drive or you are going to start taking lessons or have someone show you what to do. This then takes you into the next stage of learning.

Conscious Incompetence

You’ve had a few lessons and are now bombarded with all this information. You can guarantee that you’ll have a few stalls at traffic lights and it all becomes over-whelming. You kind of get the things you need to do but actually doing them is a struggle so you either decide that driving isn’t for you and buses are pretty good or you practice more and reach the next stage of development.

Conscious Competence

It’s driving test day and you’ve had weeks of practice and now someone is going to spend 45 minutes in the car with you after you sit a theory test and you are going to show them that you can drive. You’ll be concentrating so hard to prove that the things you have learned are demonstrable by you. You know what you are doing and you have to think hard every time you do it to make sure it’s right.

Unconscious Competence

Nirvana! Well not quite. You’ve been driving a couple of years and doing 10,000 miles a year, never had an accident. You’re now not needing to think about how you are driving, it is has become instinctive. There are dangers at this level that you become so used to not thinking you don’t concentrate and so it’s always worth taking yourself back to an earlier development stage and refreshing now and again.

OK, so that’s the theory – lots of words and hopefully you aren’t too bored and have kept with me. So how does that relate to the tools for learning? I’m going to look at a few of the responses to the post that got me thinking about this and you can decided yourself where things fit.

Online Articles

The internet is amazing, so much information that it is hard to imagine that you can’t find anything with a Google search or two. There are some terrific resources out there, Lynda, Kelby One, Creative Live and Phlearn are all great examples of sites that have comprehensive and reliable videos to watch.

If you know what you are looking for then you can find free videos that will get you the information you know you need but what if you are so new that you don’t know what to search for? Unconscious Incompetence – it’s going to take you a while to find what you think you need and the downside of the internet is anyone can post anything (look I have done it overnight for this article!) and it may be totally wrong – just as there are many great resources such as the ones mentioned earlier, there are just as many band and frankly wrong videos that you can watch.

The other consideration of online is that it is a one-way process. You can’t ask questions and get an immediate answer unless you are paying for the live courses and your answer is picked from the many going up on the message board.

Finally you are, by necessity, sat in front of your computer learning so if you want to then apply the knowledge you need to be able to retain that knowledge to put it into practice – imagine if you were told to learn how to drive online and then be given the keys to a car and to do everything you have just been shown what to do?

Workshops and Tours

There are quite a number of photographers who supplement their incomes by providing a workshop session to photographers that allow them share their knowledge with people willing to pay. The advantage of this is that there is a two way process involved here – you can ask a question and you’ll get an immediate response. Good workshops will usually use a teaching process similar to the ones that you have probably seen when you have attended a training course in your own job – tell, show, observe, review – where you are told how to do something, give an example, let the learner do it for themselves and review how thy did it.

There are things to be aware of here too. Anyone can set up a website and say they teach photography, you don’t need a licence to be able to do this so how do you know if what they teach is any good? Check the quality of their own photography, try and find reviews of other people that have attended.

This isn’t going to be a magic bullet solution, you won’t attend one of these sessions and instantly become the next Ansel Adams. You will need to put into practice your learning from these sessions so ask the workshop if you get any post-learning support or if they toss you back into the world after they have given you your allotted time.

Online Courses

I have never tried this option so I will limit my views on them. You will often see discounted courses that allow you to become a pro-photographer in just 10 weeks, usual price £499 now only £50 and at the end you will be certified as a pro-photographer.

There’s a reason I have never tried these – would you believe it if you were told that from being unable to drive in 10 weeks time you’ll be racing against Lewis Hamilton – that doesn’t happen.

I am sure that some of these courses are reputable but from the many pro-photographers I have met with, I have never heard one of them coming through this route.

Formal Courses

This is a traditional route for photographers to learn their craft. Some of these such as the Open University may well have an online element to them, others such as HNC, HND or Degree courses will need regular attendance. This is definitely going to give you an excellent grounding in photography, you’ll be learning from people who have had to be assessed for their capability to teach and it will give you lots of what you need to make photography a career.

The considerations for this style of learning are fairly obvious, it is going to be quite a time commitment and probably a reasonably hefty cost commitment too. You also need to think about whether you need to do something like this if you are happy to continue to be a hobbyist photographer – do you really need a qualification?

I have also heard from some people on this route that they became frustrated having to learn things that they didn’t think would be useful in the future. Be prepared for this and go into it with open eyes.

Finally, some of these more formal courses have restricted numbers so you will often need to show a level of competence to get onto them although there are often shorter courses that can be easier to get on.


Photography isn’t a team sport but it can be. If you have a group of friends that are all interested then why not head out with them and pick up what they know and apply it to your own photography.

Certainly nothing wrong with this route and obviously you will be limited by the knowledge of your friends. It’s nice and social and hopefully you’ll have fun which is really what it’s all about! Don’t forget though that some photographers become different when thy are taking photos – they are concentrating so hard on what they are doing that they aren’t the jovial chap that you recognise from ‘normal life’.

Camera Clubs

Throughout the world there are many clubs and societies dedicated to photography. Often they’ll have special interest groups such as Nature or Studio and the people running them will usually be competent.

The criticisms of Camera Clubs can sometimes be that they have a reputation of being ‘stuffy’ and stand-offish. It can be quite intimidating as there are often club competitions where everyone shows their work and a judge will give (hopefully but not always, constructive) criticism of the submitted photographs and it can be quite hurtful to hear your image being destroyed in public.

My own experience of a camera club has been that they are a good place to pick up some knowledge but you will rarely find someone that will help take you through from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence.

So which is best?

The right answer is probably a combination of most of them depending on what you want to do with your photography, how much time you have, and how much do you want to pay?

I’ll share you my own route but don’t think that this is the definitive right answer. I started off by going out with friends taking photos and in parallel spent six months or so searching the internet in frustration trying to find the way to do things. I eventually joined a camera club and gradually progressed to the ‘advanced’ section where I decided to work toward attaining the Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society with some assistance from some members of the camera club. Along the way though I have practiced every day and every so often I attend a workshop or a course on something that interests me. A mix and match will work but you need to think for yourself which mix works for you.


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