Photo instructor and studentsSo yesterday, I’m minding my own business (literally) in my artist exhibit booth at the Valley Junction Spring Art Market in West Des Moines, Iowa, and suddenly there’s a commotion in the street and someone yells, “Hey Mark!”  I start to duck for cover, but then I realize, it’s only my buddy and fellow photographer Charley Starnes initiating an impromptu photography lesson with some photographers he’d met in the street, and he wants some back-up! 

Some of you reading this may know Charley as the Superintendent of the Iowa State Fair’s fabulous annual Photography Salon competition.  This juried competition has been known to draw some 5,000+ 11×14 print entries some years, from amateur and professional photographers from all 50 states, and always results in a fascinating and diverse exhibit of about 1,000 displayed prints.  For many of the tens of thousands of visitors to the Iowa State Fair each year, the Salon is a highlight of their visit.

Charley’s also a diehard photo educator, and he and I have collaborated on some photo education projects (more on that in an upcoming blog post).  I know many of you reading this are also aspiring photographers, as well, who have attended my own photo classes or field photography workshops (and you are among the key reasons I started this blog, by the way – thanks for following!).  And I also know others of you are photography afficianados who have visited with me at art shows or exhibits, and you are aware that I, too, am only too happy to use my exhibited photos as teaching examples to offer photo tips and advice to interested photographers.

Anyway, Charley had stopped by the Valley Junction show and after hanging out at my booth for a while, left to walk the show.  But before making it even 50 feet, he encountered Ann Brody of Greenfield and Sandy McCurdy of Bridgewater – two budding photographers who had attended the 2009 Living History Farms Photography Day, at which Charley and I had both taught classroom sessions.  Ann or Sandy asked Charley a question.

So what happens when you approach Charley on the street with a camera around your neck and ask a photography question?  Well, as Ann and Sandy discovered, you may just get a free hour of custom photo instruction, that’s what!  After covering basics such as aperture selection, exposure, and depth-of-field, Charley called me over to participate in a discussion of composition, and we briefly explored the importance of working a subject, making various compositions using an interesting neon-green doorway of a nearby business.

This ended up being a very fun part of the day.  In fact, due to it being a cold and windy day, visitor traffic at the art festival was quite slow, so it was a great diversion.  Before long, a couple other past workshop participants browsing or vending at the art market discovered the discussion, and joined in for a while. Even the fiber artist next to me, who had recently purchased a DSLR to photograph his artwork for jury submissions, asked if he could join!

So the moral of the story…

If you’re an aspiring photographer – and Digital SLR sales data in the US make clear that there are MILLIONS of you! – take your camera along when you go out, and don’t hesitate to ask experienced photographers you may encounter for assistance or pointers.  In my experience, most pro or semi-pro photographers are generally happy to help, and this can be a great way to learn!  Plus, if you happen upon someone like Charley, you never know when your simple question or two may lead to a full hands-on lesson – right in the middle of the street – custom-tailored to your needs!

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May 17, 2010

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Image © Mark S. Peterson Photography