How to fly your camera


I made my first serious photograph in 1959, a portrait of my good mate Wolly.  In 1973 I started teaching photography to professionals. What have I learned in the ensuing years?

Firstly, I don’t think you can teach creativity or creative thinking.  You can’t teach the overused phrase ‘the ability to see’. You can show photographers inspirational images and point them in the direction of the setting sun.  You can show them your images and encourage them subliminally to copy your subjects and style. Unfortunately, that’s not teaching creativity.  It’s probably stifling true creativity.

Talented photographers are not always talented teachers.  The two most outstanding photography teachers in my life, Ted Barker and Mike Allman were not iconic photographers but they were outstanding teachers with infinite technical know-how, crystal-clear concepts and clear goals.  You could learn more in an hour from one of these teachers than a whole series of workshops with famous photographers.

What I can teach is photographic knowledge, skills and strategies.  Although there’s a wealth of photographic ideas, knowledge and techniques available on the internet and in books, nothing beats actually doing it yourself with someone looking over your shoulder.  Nothing beats experience; nothing beats failing, then rebounding and getting it right.

A few years ago I received an email from a young lady who had attended my weekend workshop. ‘Dear Dale, I want to say how much I enjoyed your workshop. It was well organised and efficiently presented.  However, I‘m a little disappointed.  I thought, after doing your course I would get a perfect picture every time I press the shutter’.

I replied ‘Dear Amy, I’ve been looking for a course like that all my life.  When you find it, I’ll enrol too.’

In Practical Photography (Beginners) I concentrate on three basic building blocks of photography – sharpness, exposure and colour.  You should gain knowledge and learn skills but I’m aiming for more.  I would like you to actually understand what is happening and develop photographic concepts.

I’m guided by the Chinese Proverb:   

‘Tell me, I’ll forget

 Show me, I’ll remember

 Involve me, I’ll understand’

Twenty years ago, Englishman Pete Smith taught me to fly aeroplanes. He was one of the best teachers I’ve ever experienced. He used a ‘surging’ technique. ‘Give the student confidence, then shoot them down in flames’. Every now and then Pete would put the Cessna into a tailspin, smile and say ‘Recover from this’. His philosophy was to keep me alive while flying.  I often adopt Pete Smith’s surging technique in teaching photography.

I once photographed renowned yachting coach Huck Scott. He spoke to his young Olympic hopefuls. ‘Get up at 3am, brave the winter chill, get soaked, face the raging wind, chafe until you bleed, knock skin off…… But, if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right’.  Photography is about making art, making memories, travelling, meeting and photographing people, recording visual history and above all, having fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right!  If you occasionally feel challenged, that’s good.

Dale Neill

Master Photographer AIPP

BA (Soc.Sc), Cert Photog, Grad Dip Ed Technology