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01-13-2014, 12:43 PM   #1
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Wow. My first negative experience in a photography course

I've been experimenting with photography for less than a year and in that time, I've taken a dozen photography courses and workshops, both in-person and on-line. (A big shout-out for the first photography school I attended, PhotoUno, in New York. Undoubtedly, their teaching style supported and motivated me to pursue this hobby avidly.) I enjoyed all of the courses and workshops - some of them were wonderful. All of them were at least "good".

But I had my first disappointment this week. It seemed really interesting but I found the teacher's style really "clubby" (i.e., only interested in people in his club) and condescending right from the start. It could be just me - he has a lot of very positive reviews and I'm sure his style is really effective with some people. The course has a "rolling submission" style for homework - you hand in a couple of images at a time for feedback. So I handed in a couple of images - working in a style that's pretty different from what I normally do - to see what he thought. And he just sent me a one-liner for each, along the lines of "What's your point?" (By the way, the feedback was made visible to the whole class.)

Now, he could very well have a point that my images weren't very effective. I take that to heart and will think about it some more - I might try to reshoot the same concepts are do something very different. I've also experienced some strong constructive criticism in the past (e.g., in Arthur Meyerson's workshop - he can be pretty blunt), but it has always been framed in a way to encourage a discussion, not embarrass someone.

I don't think I've ever withdrawn from a course I've paid for after I started the course, except in the case of a major illness or similar life event. But I called up the school and dropped the course, and got my money back in full, no questions asked - so that was a good thing. Part of me is disappointed in myself for quitting. But on the other hand, I also know that if I feel embarrassed at the start of the course, I'm probably not going to feel a lot better as the course improves, and the negative energy I feel could be distracting. And I still have a 20-hour intensive lighting workshop to look forward to every evening this week.

Have any of you ever dropped a photography course or workshop because you didn't feel at ease with the instructor?


Last edited by frogoutofwater; 01-13-2014 at 12:50 PM.
01-13-2014, 12:52 PM   #2
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Hard to take sides since we don't know the theme and the actual images sent... but yea if the criticism is not constructive at all, is hard to understand what is wanted.
Maybe, go back and ask nicely if he can explain in more detail what was good and what to improve!? Stand up a little... you are paying for this after all . Don't be afraid or ashamed to ask for clarity when you need it.

In the end though, even if you are not comfortable with this different style of teaching (if there is one), I won't recommend to withdraw from the course. Even if the criticism is poor or harsh, in the end it can still improve your work. Don't take everything is being said to the heart and focus on what is important.
Is good to experiment with everything... including stuff that you are not fully comfortable with (talking about photography ).
01-13-2014, 01:00 PM   #3
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so...... you don't like honest and straight to the point opinion?

or you just want others patting your back on everything you do, because you pay them? that's is kindergarten, I think we all passed that stage.

Just kidding, from my experience, I usually learn the most with harsh/tough instructor/teacher/prof in college, and those instructors/teacher/prof are the one I appreciate most after many years (and regret giving them bad review at the end of semester).

Those who keep the course easy, I finally realize I didn't learn much from those classes (even though I gave rave review by the end of semester) after many years!
01-13-2014, 01:01 PM   #4
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You say you've taken a dozen photo courses. So, I would think you're in a good position to judge whether a course / instructor is a good one or not. And in this case you withdrew and got a refund--makes sense to me. I would have done the same had I been in your shoes.

01-13-2014, 01:29 PM   #5
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You should take Bruce Gilden's street photography workshop.
He will fry your ego so severely you will regret you ever took a camera.
What I wanted to say is that a teacher has a right not to be polite. That is equally important as a talkative and ego flattering teacher. They want you to toughen up and move up, which one will never do if comfortable only at a certain level of approach. In real life, real photographers often face such subjects, refusing to look in the lens and threatening them and threatening other people. The stress is immense and yet the photograph must be made and tell exactly the message. And yet, real photographers don't think using a 400mm lens instead of a normal lens will solve the problem.
That is also why per one photojournalist we have 100 wedding photographers.

Last edited by Uluru; 01-13-2014 at 01:38 PM.
01-13-2014, 01:30 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by LFLee Quote
I usually learn the most with harsh/tough instructor/teacher/prof in college, and those instructors/teacher/prof are the one I appreciate most after many years (and regret giving them bad review at the end of semester).
I think the OP mentioned that he had no problem with tough instructors, so that's not the problem. Basically, this instructor tried to make it about him, not the student. Sounds like he was showing off for the class. Dropping the class is no big loss in my opinion. There are plenty of instructors out there who actually know what they're doing.
01-13-2014, 01:49 PM   #7
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As a former teacher, I have to say, no, "What's your point." Is a bit sparse. She did pay for this course, did she not? and that means she's paying for his time, how is
"What's your point?" worth whatever she paid for this course? As a teacher, if you make a comment like that, you need to make sure when you're done, the student understand's exactly what you meant. It's not much of an explanation. Maybe a few images with a point as examples might inform the class what the instructor means by a point.

I wasn't there, so I don't know the exact circumstances, but, it's good to you left the course. Different students benefit from different teaching styles. Contrary to the above statement, not everyone learns from an abusive teacher. So what you did was the right thing. Find someone who suits your learning style. A conscientious self motivated student will not benefit from and overbearing ego-maniac. An un-motivated lazy but smart slob who needs to be kicked in the butt just to get out the door might.

There are over 40 different identified learning styles, find the teacher who's teaching style fits your learning style. That's not being a wuss, that's learning to get the most for your money. I fail to see what the point is, of toughing it out with someone who's not talking. It sounds like the guy didn't want her in his class.

The only way I'd reverse that opinion would be if the guys had some skills I absolutely wanted to acquire, and he was the only one that could teach it. Then you put up with whatever. There are very few teachers with that kind of knowledge.
01-13-2014, 01:56 PM   #8
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Thanks for the replies so far. It's interesting to see the different perspectives here. It illustrates that different teaching styles work for different people. In my day job career, I've spent a fair bit of time developing and delivering courses and I've also taken a lot of continuing ed courses since I graduated in different fields. My personal preferences as a learner would be:
- Tough is fine, especially for intermediate and advanced courses (sometimes a gentler approach is better at the beginning stages - for this course "tough" would have been just fine but it felt like "rude", not just tough);
- Rude is never acceptable (from teacher to student or student to teacher) in the teacher-student relationships I'm in, so I don't feel the same way as Uluru on that point (taciturn is ok by me; rude is not);
- As a student, I probably have a different tolerance level for teacher style for professional matters as opposed to true hobbies - my life is hard enough in my day job (as a teacher, though, I try to tilt toward the gentle/facilitative);
- I'm ok with a teacher taking a pretty strict approach to what I'd call the "protocols" of teaching: show up on time, bring the right stuff, do your homework and bring it with you, don't talk over other people in class, etc - I always admire the teachers who can manage one or more people who seem to be disrupting the flow of class in a way that is firm but not rude.

Do you have different attitudes toward courses you pursue in relation to a hobby versus those you pursue in relation to your profession?

01-13-2014, 02:15 PM   #9
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Positive thinking:"If you can make it out of this class, you will be great".
back in the days, my fluid mechanics class prof is a old guy, near his retirement, and he don't care how you review him. Tough as hell, homework every class. My first submission is a big '0' because I wrote my name on the paper on the wrong side. My 2nd assignment is also a '0' because he collect homework before he starts the class and I am a bit late to class that day.... devastating as homework is a big part of the grade. No he don't listen any excuses and he don't waste his time explaining why he do that. This is just his 'style', I would imagine when a very established guy see a crap photo he will not waste time explaining why it is crap.... well, maybe some will. Just take it as this is not his 'style'.

I decide to follow every instructions and decided I want to beat his 'game'. At the end of the semester, I have the highest score in the class (he posted them), and I don't have to take the final exam as I already have an A for this class. lol.

I believe you will come out learning a lot more and more satisfying when you finally get an "good shoot" praise from the instructor. I think you are taking this "hobby" pretty serious when you sign up for classes to improve your craft. So, stay and learn, I would say. everyone has something to learn from, even if all he/she teaches you is what not to be....
01-13-2014, 02:32 PM   #10
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Education as a profession has the unique opportunity to make or break some students. There are clearly some students who no matter the negative vibes from teachers or peers will go on to go from strength to strength in their studies. However, many students will be disheartened by a teacher who belittles or criticises students' work because he/she does not like them or employs a less positive teaching style.

Students just have to make that choice, seeing as though there are many courses available, to be taught their desired topic in the style they click best with.

As for comparing photography to another profession, I can easily say that as a hobby, photography gives me next to no gripes whereas in my profession there are days I even wondered why I got up out of bed in the morning. If I had decided to pursue photography full time (which I won't), I'm sure I'd find at least as many gripes as I do in my current full time occupation to be unhappy about. C'est la vie.
01-13-2014, 02:55 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by LFLee Quote
my fluid mechanics class prof

I don't think there's a fluid prof that was ever an easy grader.
01-13-2014, 03:04 PM   #12
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I think it's kinda rare to pull out of a course like you did unless you had good reason and, it seems that you did. Reflecting on my post high school education, I have to say that while in general it was all good, there were a few times when the instructor was difficult and I had to ask myself whether it was better to try to stick it out or try my luck elsewhere (if possible). Just on the general outlines of your story, I'd say that you made the right call - for you - and after all you are paying for it. If you aren't getting what you want or paid for, bail out!
01-13-2014, 03:22 PM   #13
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I think there's a diff in analogies here:

A professor in a college in a field in which you are attempting to get a degree has a little more latitude in terms of being a "jerk". It's survival of the fittest and the scars in some ways will make you a better candidate for a job. However that's really only viable in left brained skillsets like engineering etc.

Right brain learning is emotional and I would venture to say no artist in their studies found a snobby rude teacher to be enlightening or a mentor. I can see it as a judge in a contest, or something to that effect, and again a little more latitude if it's part of an accredited degree program.

BUT, in a non-credit, "hobbyist who wants to get better" environment, rude, condescending, I've forgotten more than you will ever know, alpha male pissing contest style of teaching is grounds for a filed complaint with the school. Chances are you aren't the only one who feels or has felt this way and his teaching style has NO business in that market. Especially with no follow up discussion in terms of point-counterpoint. Vague, indecipherable responses have no business in any educational environment, or business environment for that matter.

I think you should do more than just withdraw, you should discuss you experience with other students and then forward this information to the administration.
01-13-2014, 03:36 PM   #14
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So what was the point?

That is a pretty tough assessment, no question. But for someone to produce work that someone is willing to pay for, you better have an answer.

I would assume that a paid course is aimed at those who would like to make a living from the endeavor. Look on this site, there are many many shots that are outstanding, by hobbyists who have no intention of selling. If you want to produce work above the good hobbyist level, you might want to figure out what your point was.

This is why I tend to keep my hobby interest separate from lucrative endeavors.
01-13-2014, 03:42 PM   #15
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People pay for what they like, point or no point. Some people want a point, some just want pretty colours, to go with the colour scheme in their kitchen. It's all money, just saying.
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