Friday, August 14, 2009

Food For Thought Friday: Are You A Good Student Or A Bad Student?

Good Morning Everybody,

Panda 2Today marks our second to the last vacation day in the wonderful city of San Diego. Yesterday we hit the San Diego Zoo, but the topper of the day was seeing “Cyrano de Bergerac” at the Old Globe Theater at Balboa Park last night.

This has always been a favorite play of mine since I read it back in my early college days. Patrick Page as the lead was unbelievable.  Turns out Mr. Page has been in a number of Broadway productions as well – including Lion King and Sleeping Beauty.  He had the audience transfixed for 3 1/2 hours.  The play ending with a standing ovation – an exciting,fantastic theatrical experience for all.

Hey gang, just a few notes before we get to today’s post.  The Zumbrella special that’s been running for a few weeks ends Sunday at midnight – see the side bar on right. Thanks to everybody for the “Rave” reviews, by the way. Check out the Zumbrella in use at a real wedding in my “Love Lines” tutorial right here.

OK, everybody - time for today’s Food For Thought Friday – here we go. Lots of instructors teach lots of classes and lots of “students” attend lots of classes – myself included. If you have ever attended or plan to attend any workshops or seminars, I think today’s post is for you. ‘Nough said, please read on.

What Kind Of Student Are You? Are You A Good Student Or A Bad Student?

Bad Student - iStock_000003433238XSmall Over the number of years that I've been involved in this business, I've attended my fair share of one day, multiple day, and week long seminars and classes.

I have found them extremely beneficial and have always found much I could take home from my experience at these workshops. But, was I a good student at these workshops? The answer honestly, in the beginning, is that I was a terrible student.

Hit the “Read More…” link below for the rest of the story.

I can remember one instance where the instructor had spent all morning discussing a certain lighting technique. He then broke us into smaller groups and we headed off to the smaller studios within the facility to practice what he had patiently been trying to teach us.  I can remember being bored stiff until it was my turn to get behind the camera. I thought I could get in there, nail the "Ziser" shot and be finished.

Here is the point though. It wasn't the instructor's shot I was trying to make. I wanted to do my own thing completely ignoring what the instructor was trying to teach me and the other students in the class. I was putting my own ego in front of my education.

Have any of our DPT readers ever done that - maybe we have all been a bit guilty that kind of behavior a time or two in our careers.  Unfortunately, it makes for being a lousy student - I know from first hand experience.

I even remember one moment when the instructor came in to see how our group was progressing.  He caught me setting up some very strange pose, and asked me why I wasn't recreating what he had so patiently tried to teach.  I tried to explain away why I was doing something different from what he was teaching, but he made it clear to me that I was not learning what I had paid to come here to learn.  At that early age in my life I could really care less what he thought about what I was doing, I was caught up in doing my own thing - more "bad student" complex.

I remember another instance when I was studying with the then world famous wedding photographer, Rocky Gunn. In the early 80s, Rocky Gunn was considered to be the #1 top wedding photographer and top instructor in the country. I was lucky enough to be one of the class members in one of his last courses that he taught. Rocky passed away shortly after that class at the tender young age of 42.

Here's what happened the week, back in 1982, I spent with Rocky. I once again had brought a lot of my “ego” to the week long class. What that means is that I thought I knew it all. I was waiting for Rocky to get to the "meat" of the class.  I wanted to see some of the spectacular poses, I wasn't the least bit happy with what he was showing us so far - too much talking, not enough "showing." I had "tuned out" and was being a lousy student.

I started some rumbling through the class that I didn't think I was getting what I was paying for. So I NOT only had these feelings and was disgruntled, but felt entitled to infect the other members of the class. I was trying to spread my own dissatisfaction and gain some validation from my classmates.

Looking back at that week, I think about the monstrous disservice I must have been doing for other members in the class.  I was a negative force sucking the positive energy out of the class.  Here was one of the top photographers in the country and I was the guy trying to take the wind out of HIS sails - pretty selfish, I must say.  When looking back at that week,  I’m embarrassed and I can't believe I acted that way.

It even got to the point that Rocky announced that he had felt the negative vibes coming from a class member. Man, he nailed me.  He was planning to do a very romantic posing session with a couple during one of the evening sessions of the week. He made this announcement to the entire class that he had been feeling the negative vibes from a student or two in the class and he asked that they not show up. He was talking about ME!

Nevertheless I figured I had paid my money and was entitled to be at the evening session. At the same time I decided I better grow up a bit and take a more positive outlook on the class. Fortunately, my week with one of top wedding photographers in the world took a turn for the better.  I got my act in gear, checked my ego, and the week ended up with a ton of positive results including a lot of learning experiences.

In fact, everyone went out to dinner on Thursday to a local restaurant and I had the honor of sitting across the table from Rocky and we had a very friendly conversation during the rest of the evening. 

Because of my short time with him that evening and new found attitude, I gained a greater respect for the photographer he was and also for the type of teacher he was.  He had shown a lot of patience with someone like me and it paid off.

To this day I will say that Rocky Gunn has always been my favorite wedding photographer under which I have ever studied. Not just because of his patience but because of the outstanding wedding images he was able to create.

Thankfully over the years I've grown up and gotten a bit wiser. Now, whether it's a photography workshop, Photoshop or Lightroom workshop, or any other kind of seminar I might be involved in, I am generally always in the front row, notebook in hand, scribbling a ton of notes.  My ego checked at the door, I’m ready and eager to learn. I wish I had spent more time doing this in my early years of development.  Unfortunately, that might just have been part of the maturing process I needed and maybe we all need to work through.

So what kind of student are you? Do you come to a seminar or class willing to learn?  Is your mind opened to all the new possibilities the instructor is willing to give you? Do you approach the seminar with a totally positive attitude -  that in itself is beneficial for the entire class. If  the instructor says something  you don't necessarily agree with, do you let it slide knowing that maybe he/she has a different perspective than you do? Or do you continue to believe your way is the only way?

The best way to be a good student is to show up fully prepared, not necessarily to take better photographs, but to be fully prepared to learn, to be fully open to new ideas, to be fully prepared for a different perspective on how you might do things. The way to be a good student is to come to a class fully prepared to assimilate every word the instructor has to say and fully prepared to practice the lessons he/she is teaching.

Sure, we're all different, but I've found that most instructors out there are ready and willing to teach the full complement of students in their class. Each of us has to be fully willing to be receptive to the learning process in order to benefit from the teaching experience of our instructors.

I wish I had set my ego at the doorstep long ago before I had stepped into Rocky's class that week a long number of years ago. Without filtering his words, his images, his insights and perspectives, through my ego tinted glasses at the time, I might have gotten a lot more out of the class. I know I got my money's worth.  But as I look back, I think I could have gotten a lot more out of the class with a little less of David Ziser wanting to be David Ziser and a more little more of David Ziser wanting to study Rocky Gunn.

Food for thought--

Hey everybody, that's it from me on the fine sunny day in San Diego.  We head out on the red-eye tomorrow and then back to the real world on Monday.  That's a good thing too.  Can't wait to see my Cincy pixels buddies when we get home.  See ya' next week back in the great Midwest.  -David


  1. That was some eye opener about the class of Rocky Gunn. I think we've all had that feeling in class, but it takes a real pro. to admit it. All my respect David for that, and long may you teach.

    Dave Croft, 51 years pro. photographer.

  2. What do you do, as an instructor, when you get a modern day version of your former self in one of your multi-day workshops? Do you have any way to get them on track? Failing that, do you have a way to keep them from infecting the class?

    By the way, I was that bad student less than a year ago in one of Moose's workshops. While I came home with some favorite photos, they weren't much different than my other favorites. I missed out on a really great opportunity to learn from one of the industry giants by focusing on a few details I didn't like rather than on the wealth of opportunity he provided.

    PS I'm WAY past old enough to know better.

  3. Wow; my idol had a flaw in his earlier days, lol. You really were mortal at one time. Yes, I would definitely say that Rocky's patience paid off in big dividends. You are an amazing person, David. Brian F.