Learning to photograph is not much different than learning anything else. Photography is the study of light and how that light reflects a scene taken in by the eye of a photographer. Recording it to digital or film formats is a technical exercise handled by the camera but regardless, whether a lit scene unfolds in front of the eye or you dream up the scene and how to light it, the photograph is still totally dependent on light. It starts there. All the f-stops and shutter speed stuff comes later as you strive to create the photograph but first you HAVE to see it. I'll just say it now, and probably tick a lot of people off - well not a lot since not too many read this blog - but all the f-stop, ISO and shutter speed metrics are all subjective. They mean little except to the person using them for the effect or way they want the scene they are recording to look. Thats why its so stupid to hear people ask for recommended exposure information. You should decide, not someone else. Its your picture!
But you MUST understand light and this means you have to learn more about light. What it is, how it works, and probably why it works like it does so you can solve problems. You can't truly understand how aperture and shutter speed or ISO affect a photo without understanding the basics of light. If every thing our eye took in was the same then we could develop a script and be done with it. Want a photo? Do this. But everything changes, light can change within minutes. So your exposure changes, maybe your composition too. There are no checklists, no "how-to's", there is just learning it. Figuring it out. Seeing something unfold in front of you, taking it in and figuring out how you think it needs to look as a photograph. Sometimes, you just walk into a photo, just round a corner and there it is. BLAM! But you still need to access the lighting to work on the exposure parameters and probably work out some composition stuff. You need knowledge. You have to learn it.
How you learn is somewhat unique. Unique in that some learn faster than others. Nothing wrong with slow or fast learners, its a function of how you are wired. But there are some very common practices applicable to fast or slow learners. Everyone learns by doing. You have been doing it since you were born and its a natural process. You don't even know you do it usually. Anyone that says they can't learn by doing is lazy and wants the "EASY" button. Easy buttons are things like checklists, or being told to go forth and take a picture using these parameters. They want to be told how something should be done, not learn it. Learning by doing and repetition go hand in hand. We all learn at different rates. As a kid I remember sitting in a science class listening to a teacher explain to the class how an airplane and helicopter can fly. Chalkboards with pretty good drawings but I still didn't get it. She did a good job on the narrative too but I was lost. Later, I was in the library determined to figure it out and reading other books and encyclopedic treatises on flight and suddenly the light bulb came on! I got it. Getting that light bulb of comprehension lit is different for us all but the common thread for it to happen is to keep at it until you understand it. It takes time, it can take effort, its probably a pain in the ass, but there just are no shortcuts. If you do not want to put the effort in to learn photography then you need to sit down and evaluate just what you want to do with your camera.
We all have busy lives. Technology has made things accessible that we dreamt of only 10 years ago. We have sports and interests that were not popular or didn't exist when many of us were growing up. As adults, the world is our oyster. The internet brings things at you full speed now. Our whole society is shifting to a "I want it now" mode not wanting to wait because mostly we don't have to. Except when it comes to acquiring knowledge and learning how to do something. Even then, you have those that want to take shortcuts, maybe learn just enough. The business of photography (which is vastly different from the act of photography) is suffering greatly from those that have learned "just enough" or "not enough". Other businesses are suffering as well from this malady but photography is worse off because cameras are accessible by all, and there is the ability to publish photos quickly online. Something like billions of uploads of photos per day. Everyone is a photographer. The photos are 90% crap but still, its not politically correct to say that to the person on Facebook calling themselves a photographer. Or, if the subject is a child, baby, cat, dog, puppy, flower or whatever...the "Online Law" states that all photographs of said subjects must be proclaimed as outstanding and great. I think this just fosters false hope. If a photo, or a song, or a painting is crap, that needs to be relayed to the creator of it. Errors need to be addressed, possibilities explored. Even photo portfolio reviews are starting to be subjected to this "if you can't say anything nice, say nothing" rule. Its stupid. It retards the learning process. How are you going to make a better photo when you are told everything that comes out of your camera is wonderful? Trust me, everyone who is a full time working photographer produces far more crap than greatness. You just don't see most of it. Which is the way it should be. I just finished a family shoot and took 396 photos of the six of them. I'm delivering 31 photos. I would never think to deliver most of the others, and I knew that when I took them but thats for another subject and discussion. What I'm saying is if you go on a hike and take 43 photos why do they all have to be posted somewhere? I'm betting all 43 are not keepers. Written and published word should not have grammar errors, misspellings, and lack of punctuation and the same rules need to apply to photographs. If its not exposed right, composed right, or just not interesting why show the world?
What does this have to do with learning? Well, I hope you can see in roundabout fashion that good, solid critique is a decent tool towards improving and learning your craft. You are learning by doing and using repetition in many cases to help. You are probably taking more that one picture - repetition. Having someone that can offer meaningful words about your pictures and perhaps guidance is a huge help. You do have to work with others that follow a similar path. A critique from a landscape photographer is not going to mean a lot to a wedding photographer. Or portrait or food photographer. You need too to find others that follow a similar style. Best is to find an open minded, don't mind getting out of the box type. Use these persons as idea and conceptual springboards. Figure out how to improve your work. LEARN. Share work, see what each other is doing. Maybe collaborate. Develop projects together. Make mistakes. Interact in clubs or groups but don't be afraid to share information. No one is going to steal your clients and work. We can all benefit though from helping each other out. Thats one way to promote healthy learning and letting us all call ourselves "photographers".