|The atrium area in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts on the Avenue of the Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
When it comes to polishing your craft, there’s nothing more helpful than acquiring a mentor. In the Middle Ages, nearly every craftsman and artist spent some time as a journeyman under the tutelage of an elder master with a raft of experience and credentials.
As a rookie newspaper photojournalist in north Jersey in the ’70s, I was adopted by a master newspaper shooter, Al Paglione. Al taught me how to function as a photographer on the rough-and-tumble streets of Jersey City, Bayonne, Hoboken and Hackensack. I watched the way he handled the cops, criminals, politicians, street people, nuns, junkies, kids and animals he came across during the course of his assignments. It was an invaluable photographic and life education that no school could ever duplicate.
Fast-forward a few decades, and my fieldwork has progressed to the point that I’m now mentoring students in workshops and seminars. Then the digital age was ushered in, and in terms of back-shop work‚ Photoshop, file management, etc. I’m back to square one again. I try reading books on the subject, but somehow it doesn’t help me to translate into step-by-step moves on screen. I get help from more digitally savvy colleagues, but can’t afford the time or money to have a full-time digital guru at my disposal...or so I thought.
Thanks to the Internet, QuickTime movies, DVDs and a host of talented instructors, something resembling live, live-in help is possible. These virtual mentors save me from doing a digital defenestration, and I pass them on in the hopes that they can do the same for you.
For learning about analog photography and fieldcraft, how-to books were fine for me. But somehow, when trying to learn to maneuver around a software program, I found books would, well, fall flat. Here’s where video helped me enormously. Much of the material I learn from my digital gurus is on DVD or the web. In my early digital days, I’d set up my laptop to the side of my desktop. I’d insert the DVD in the laptop or connect it to the Internet, if that was the source of the lessons. On my desktop, I’d open the program and go through the steps with the instructor. These days, I have twin LCD displays, so I simply put the instructor on one and do the lesson on the other.
Not all teachers are created equally, of course. There are a lot of virtual instructors out there who, although they know their stuff, have a hard time organizing or presenting it. Here are a few of my go-to gurus, the people who helped me make the transition and continue to grow as a digital photographer.