About Thomas Fitzgerald

Thomas is a professional fine art photographer and writer specialising in photography related instructional books as well as travel writing and street photography. 

Reverse Engineering as a Learning Technique

Reverse Engineering as a Learning Technique

When you think of photography, the idea of reverse engineering probably isn't something that immediately comes to mind. Yet the concept is actually a pretty powerful learning technique. By examining an image that inspires you and figuring out how the photographer or artist created it, you can learn a lot, perhaps even more than if you were just told the solution.

To be clear, I'm not talking about copying other people's work. I mean this as an exercise purely for educational purposes. This is something that's done all the time across multiple fields. In photography, using the concept of reverse engineering can be used in many different ways. For learning in-camera techniques, it's probably most useful when working out lighting or flash setups. It can also be useful if there is some trick involved.

Reverse engineering is also a very useful learning tool for post-production. If I see an image with a particularly interesting or original grade or effect applied, I'll often have a crack at trying to figure out how the artist may have gone about creating that image. By figuring it out for yourself, you will remember the solution in a much better way, and you will also be able to see other possibilities too. If you try several different approaches to come to a solution, engaging In that process of elimination and experimentation, you will learn far more than if someone just told you how they did it.

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All of the routes that you tried and failed along the way will each have their own valuable information, even if it's not relevant to the task at hand. Sometimes figuring out how not to do something is as useful as figuring out how to do it. This is why those blog posts and videos that are all about avoiding mistakes annoy me so much. Making mistakes is how you learn - not reading about other people's.

Of course, that’s not to say learning from your peers isn’t important either. The internet has made it easier than ever to get invaluable knowledge from other creatives and professionals. Sites like Lynda.com, KelbyOne and Skillshare are all invaluable learning tools, and even videos on YouTube can offer invaluable knowledge, (although you have to cull the information from the disinformation.) However, there’s no substitute for practice either, and the act of figuring out something for yourself can be gratifying too.


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