Trey Ratcliff of the travel photography blog Stuck in Customs has some good words about learning and understand:

Have you ever noticed, for example, how much trouble people have with learning F-stops? Understanding them is goddamned confusing for any normal brain. You mean, the number goes up and the hole gets smaller? And that makes everything in focus? What? No wonder people are confused…

Let me tell you a story. I was speaking in a class a few years ago about photography. One of my photos came up on the screen and a gal raised her hand. She asked, “What F-stop did you use there?” This made me pause for quite a bit. Because, at THAT point, I realized that I learned everything in my very own way. Her question was, in a sense, completely ludicrous. I could have said, “F/5.5”. And she would have nodded, as would everyone else in the class. OR, I could have said, “F/16”. And she would have nodded, as would everyone else in the class.

What this tells me is that people have such a fragile understanding of photography. Is this how people learn? I do not know. I don’t understand how they learn. But I can tell you this for sure — I’m not totally sure they understand.

The best way to learn is figure it out, not by rote memorization, but by rote curiosity. That is, let your inner child come out. Curiosity should lead not straight to a book — but straight to experimentation.

As that curiosity manifests itself, guess, wonder, fail, guess again, forgive yourself, then keep on guessing. This is how children figure out how to navigate the world — and this is how you should learn to navigate your photography.

Your complete lack of interest in photography?  That’s OK. Substitute whatever it is that you’re interested in for the word “photography” and go re-read the last three paragraphs. I’ll be here.

It’s all about getting your hands wet, falling on your face, and trying again.  That’s the learning process. We’ve created the word “fail” to keep people from moving up in the world, but really, failure is essential to this process.  Embrace the failure. Fail every day.

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