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The most hated and most loved man in America, Howard Stern, has recently started getting into photography. He bought a D7000, an awfully nice little camera, and he's also taking lessons that he's talked about on-air. Now I'm sure his teacher is a great photographer and a nice guy, however I get awfully worried when I hear that Howard's being taught about 'The Rule of Thirds' and the compositional values of 'Geometric Shapes.' Why? Because the worst thing you can do to someone starting out in any creative field is get them thinking too much.
For example if you take a course on 'How to Write a Screenplay' they'll tell you all kinds of stuff about an 'Initiating Incident' on Page 3, a 'Major Turnaround' on Page 30 and similar rules. While such observations aren't flatly false, knowing them doesn't help you write a screenplay any more than knowing that a human body is seventy percent water will help you make a baby. If you've seen a lot of movies, you already know how a screenplay is constructed. Learning a bunch of rules will just tie you in knots and leave you constantly obsessed with banging round pegs into square holes.
Photography's the same. If you look at the work of as many different and varied photographers as possible you'll know a good photograph when you see one. Shoot on your own and display your creations to a group of local photographers or on a service like Flickr. If a lot of people tell you what you've done is great you can start to be confident that it's pretty good, or (as is much more likely) if no one reacts at all and you get negative feedback that means you're doing something wrong. That's okay. Keep at it. Take as much feedback as you can, but beware of anyone who starts quoting rules at you. Thinking about rules will lead to paralysis and that's about the worst thing that can happen to someone starting out. I've seen it happen and believe me, getting frozen creatively is about as much fun as being a character in Awakenings. The long-term outlook is also about the same.
Don't take this to mean that art is purely subjective. It isn't. Most people will recognize a great photograph and ignore a bad one. The takeaway is just that when you're learning don't think. Just work. And give me credit for not making one stripper joke in this entire post.
UPDATE: Encouraged by his photography teacher Howard now has a $5,000 Nikon D3s, which is the default camera for most Nikon pros. Yeah, it's a good camera.
UPDATE II: And if you're wondering, Howard's teacher is Doug Gordon. I'm not a fan, but that's just me.