In order to understand, learn about photography and become a better photographer, the best way is to go out there and shoot. No question about it.
The second best is to read expert opinions on the subject.
This can be achieved through books and articles in online or print publications.
Reading is indeed essential, however the Internet, as educational as it can be, is also packed full of self-proclaimed experts who aren’t necessarily very well informed or correct often because of insufficient research and opinions a little too set in stone.
I find that the reasonably large amount of research I do before writing any of my posts is hugely beneficial to me (and hopefully my readers) as it generally broadens my mind to other alternative ideas and possibilities.
I also feel that until I write something, I’m never that good at explaining my thoughts on a subject, whereas as soon as I put it down on paper, it seems to magically unlock something which enables me to explain and understand my thoughts more efficiently.
This quote sums-up my feelings perfectly:
“I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say.”
It may make little sense to some but I think anyone who writes can relate to it.
In the past few years I've written more and more on the subject of photography and this, or rather the research, has been my biggest source of education.
It is often the case that, when we read any article on a subject, it helps us form an opinion.
However this is only one perspective expressed by one writer and there is a risk of limiting our knowledge if we don’t delve further for a deeper understanding instead of taking all from one author as gospel. Whatever authority they have in the industry.
Think of it as if admiring a view of the city from only one observation point. The same view can probably be enjoyed from many different angles and locations, this doesn’t necessarily make one better than the other, they’re just different.
My advice as a writer but also as a reader is that it’s generally wise not to have a closed mind-set but instead keep an open one and be receptive to others’ view-points. Be thorough when gathering information on the subject by doing a fair amount of research on the subject and reading as many articles as possible to see the full picture, beyond your own preconceptions and knowledge.
It teaches you something very important and humbling: You don’t know everything. No one does, not even John Snow (sorry, it had to be done).
This way you can consider various views expressed by other industry experts and avoid plagiarism by developing your own opinion and bringing something of value to the whole conversation.
Never base your own conclusions on a single article you read, challenge everything but also respect people's alternative views and ideas.
Be open and accept the simple fact that you may just not know everything. Also keep in mind that it’s better to form your own opinion than letting others do the thinking for you and repeating it like a broken record.
If you do this you will not only improve your writing but also learn about photography in the best possible way.
Of course, never forget that in practice, being out there as often as possible shooting and making mistakes IS the best way to learn photography.