Applying Training Principles to Teaching Photography

Ask open-ended questions such as: What did you like most? What would you tell your friends about this learning experience? What would you change or modify?

Before becoming a photo artist, my former life was Human Resources, with an emphasis in training and learning. I worked for several large employers with more than 3,000 employees. I am a certified facilitator.
I have been able to apply my corporate training skills and principles to achieve success as a photography trainer. Starting with my photography training results and student feedback, I use a 5-point evaluation scale.

1= Poor

3= Good

5= Excellent

My students evaluate me on seven items:

  1. Knowledge of subject area
  2. Effectiveness of presentation
  3. Preparation and organization
  4. Enthusiasm
  5. Materials and resources
  6. Allowed for student input and questions
  7. Knowledge or skill gained from instructor

 I also add open-ended questions: What did you like most? What would you tell your friends about this learning experience? What would you change or modify?

I believe in continuous improvement. I listen to my students. All of my courses/workshops have evolved as a result of student feedback. This is the main reason my average class ratings have never been below a 4, with most hovering between 4.3 and 5. I have received straight 5s on numerous occasions, which is difficult to achieve. I am challenged by well-educated students ranging from beginners to advanced photographers, in an age range between 30 and 60.

Now, those are the numerical ratings, on a sheet of paper, but what are my students saying about their learning experiences? You can read a sampling of my past students’ reactions and what they learned by reading some of their comments.

I had an older gentleman in one of my classes. I could tell he was a bright, intelligent, and well-informed man. One of the learning techniques I use to check on student learning is to go around the room after I cover each major topic and ask, “Please share at least one thing you learned from what we just covered.” When I got to this gentleman with that question, he looked at the other students, shook his head in amazement, then looked back at me and said, “The analogies you use are brilliant. I have never heard anyone explain things the way you do.” I humbly accepted his comment. He was referring to two non-photography analogies I use to explain a couple of the most technical aspects of photography. By using analogies that everybody can relate to, my students “get it.”

This sharing technique achieves several learning aspects. It allows me to assess if my students are learning. And by sharing, it allows all students to get a repetition of key learning elements built into my course designs. In other words, I allow them to learn from each other. Repetition sells, as they say in advertising.

I don’t share these stories to brag, but to emphasize that these techniques are effective in any training situation, whether we’re facilitating leadership development, customer service, or photography.

Facilitating Learning

This leads me to the various training and learning principles I apply in my courses and workshops. I don’t teach. I facilitate. My focus is on the learning process. My goal is to facilitate that learning, not teach.

Adult Learning Principles: I try my best not to be condescending toward participants. Sometimes they say, “Now, this might sound silly or stupid…” I immediately say, “Please, there are no stupid questions when we’re trying to learn something new. We don’t know what we don’t know.” That’s just simple respect.

Adults are autonomous and self-directed. I don’t teach down to my students. I share information. I tell them about photographic elements, what they are and do, and why they are important to create better photographs. I ask open-ended questions along the way to check for learning. I show them examples, photos, of what I mean. One woman said, “I am very visual, so this was helpful for me.” I have a learning exercise where I divide them into groups of Nikon users, Canon users, and “Other.” This helps them to work with each other, help each other, and enhance their learning by learning with and from each other.

Adults want to hear information that is relevant and practical. Everything I cover in my classes is connected to what results my students can achieve by applying any given tool, technique, etc. My analogies add an extra layer of learning.

Tell Me, Show Me, Let Me Do It: I talk (tell them) about key photographic techniques, buttons, dials, and other key items. I also convince them why it is important to learn them, by explaining what, where, when, how and why. I show several relevant photographic examples that help to “connect the dots.” They literally see what can be done when I apply everything
they learned in the course.

I also let them do it. In one exercise, they have to read their manuals and look for and find key camera menu items and buttons and on their cameras, as I explain what they are and what they can do to improve their photography. I get them kinetically engaged.

When I offer my one-on-one in-the-field lessons, I apply the following learning steps to my training. I always start by considering adult principles. I ask them, “What would you like to concentrate on today? What are your challenges?” Then, when we start walking I tell them what I am doing, and why I am doing it. For example, when I am explaining the relationship between f/stops to depth-of-field, I tell them to keep their cameras in their bags and to just listen, observe, take notes, and ask questions. As I am telling them. I am also showing them what I am doing. Then I show them the results.

I follow that sequence two or three times, then respectfully instruct them to try it on their own as I coach them—I ask them to do it. I then add an extra layer of learning. I instruct them to do it on their own, although they don’t know they really won’t be on their own. I ask them to tell me if they see something they want to photograph. When they do, I ask them why they stopped, what it is they are trying to “capture,” what f/stop they are going to use, etc. I force them to walk me through and talk to me about their composition, depth-of-field, etc. I repeat this process two or three times until they “get it.” They tell me what they are learning, which helps me to assess the effectiveness of the learning process.

One of my students once commented, “Eli, I took your class, but now being out here with you has helped me to connect the dots.” As I do in my classes, I also ask my students in the field, “What did you learn today?” Open-ended questions worked for me during my HR days; they work for me today.

Kirpatrick’s 4 Levels of Evaluation: By now, you have read about how I evaluate Reaction and Learning. I assess Behavior Changes both in class and during my field trips. It is critical that I can assess changes in behaviors and habits. I make sure that those behavior changes lead to desired results. I feel gratified when I know my students have a good reaction to my courses, that they learned something new and useful, that their behaviors have or will change, and that they are seeing results!

I hope my stories will help you in your training and development career. Feel free to contact me with any comments or questions.

Eli Vega runs a photography business, Eli Vega Photography, based out of Eureka Springs, AR. His specialty is education and learning, offering classes, workshops, presentations, and one-on-one lessons. He can be contacted at or



Training Top 125

2017 Training Top 125 winners demonstrated a strong focus on effective training and employee development tied to corporate strategic goals and business impact.

From the Editor

While editing one of the articles, “Lessons for New L&D Leaders,” for this issue, I read something that struck a chord: “When meeting with peers and up-line colleagues, ask: ‘How can I help you

Digital Issue

Click above for Training Magazine's
current digital issue

Training Live + Online Certificate Programs

Now You Can Have Live Online Access to Training magazine's Most Popular Certificate Programs! Click here for more information.

Emerging Training Leaders


Spectacular. Impressive. Dazzling.

Spring is—finally—in the air.

By Lorri Freifeld

ISA Directory