A picture is worth a thousand words, but should you pay to take a photography course? Like other art forms, photography requires ongoing learning, exploration, and practice to master. New techniques, trends, and equipment surface every day, and photographers must keep up if they want to capture the most appealing images. That’s where free online photography courses come in. Fellow photographers often make the best teachers, and many offer free lessons and advice to help you polish your skills.
Why Take a Free Photography Course?
Well, it’s free. You’ll invest only your time and effort. Many free courses cover just as much, if not more, material than similar courses that would charge you hundreds of dollars. Some dubious websites are known to charge your credit card and leave you with little or no material. Many free photography courses are taught by fellow photographers. These people have published their works in magazines, textbooks, and other widely circulated mediums. You’ll learn from the best without paying a cent.
Why Do Free Photography Courses Exist?
We live in an online era – the era of sharing. Even top private universities including Harvard and MIT now offer free courses that anyone can enroll in. Call it generosity, call it a paradigm shift; the fact is that free courses are here to stay, and many of them are quite helpful.
Where Can I Find Free Photography Courses?
A quick online search for “free photography courses” will reveal countless options. University-taught courses are always a safe bet and can provide a solid foundation of knowledge. Specialized photography websites also frequently offer free lessons or at the very least free web tutorials and resources. Reddit, one of the most popular social websites, brings together people from around the world, many of whom are photographers willing to share their knowledge and experience free of charge. Independent photographers often run their own blogs, where they offer subscribers free ebooks, software discounts, and lessons. Which course you decide to take depends on what you want to learn.
Why Are They Free?
Nowadays, the word ‘free’ often comes with strings attached. You might wonder how people can afford to teach photography courses without charging a penny. The answer is marketing. Be it a product or service, free attracts attention. People who take a free online course are likely to talk about it with their friends, share it on social media sites, and link back to the website from their blogs. The person or organization teaching the course then builds an audience who might buy a product or pay for a membership. Think of it as trading a service for another service.
What Is the Downside of a Free Course?
Like most things in life, there are negatives to taking a free photography course, and we’re not talking about a film strip. There’s virtually no quality control online; this means anybody and their 11-year-old kid can teach a free course. While you won’t waste your money, you might waste your time learning about things you already know. In the worst case scenario, you might learn improper techniques that can hamper your progress. Some websites may also sell your email address to third-party companies who then proceed to flood your inbox with spam. Always research a photography course before you sign up, even if it’s free.
Where Should I Start Looking?
With so many options, it can be hard to find a photography course that caters to your experience. But why choose just one? You can complete most online courses on your schedule, and some video tutorials are always available. Below are a few reputable courses and tools you can try:
- Coursera is the Internet’s premier source of free university courses. Simply enter the word ‘photography’ into the search bar and you’ll find an array of topics for beginner, intermediate, and advanced photographers. Notable courses include Georgia Tech’s Computational Photography for the advanced and MIT’s Introduction to Photography and Related Media for beginners. Keep in mind that while anyone can enroll, some courses expect students to have prerequisite knowledge in topics such as math, computer science, and physics.
- Udemy is another website that offers online courses, though the majority require an enrollment fee. However, the free courses taught by Karl Taylor and Jerad Hill have received hundreds of positive reviews and are a good starting point for beginners.
- Stanford University offers a digital photography course complete with interactive tutorials, weekly assignments, and practice quizzes. The course covers all the basics of camera operation and techniques. Like other courses, students can complete it on their own time.
- Alexandre Buisse’s Photo Class was a hit on Reddit, and the 30 sessions are now available in text form for all to see. The class provides a comprehensive overview of digital photography from equipment to post processing.
- Lifehacker’s Basics of Photography guide is the combined effort of several photographers and provides a broad overview of camera operation, composition, shooting technique, and post production.
Editing and Special Techniques
- Jeff Cable’s Pixels After Dark series on YouTube provides Olympic-grade advice on capturing stunning images at night or in dark locations.
- Adobe’s Lightroom Tutorial Series provides detailed video tutorials on virtually every nook and cranny of their Lightroom software. Adobe also offers tutorials for Photoshop and their other image-editing products.
- Phlearn is the go-to website for everything Photoshop. They have hundreds of archived videos and upload five new videos weekly.
- Peter Hill’s Tilt Shift Guide provides a comprehensive look at the popular tilt shift effect, when it works and when it doesn’t, and how to produce it.
Additional Archives and Resources for free Photography Courses
- The Digital Photography School provides a wellspring of valuable information, advice, and in-depth articles. They also offer a tutorials page dedicated to beginners.
- Best Photo Lessons offers 12 easy-to-read lessons to introduce beginners to the craft.
- Digital Photography Review is all about choosing the right equipment. You’ll find information about the newest gear and learn what each type of gear does and how to use it. DPR’s forums are also an excellent place to ask for advice from fellow photographers.
- Strobist is the Internet’s most popular blog for lighting tutorials. The posts tell how to create the perfect flash for any situation, from macro to landscapes to architecture and more.
- Creative Live Photography records monthly live video lessons, which can be a helpful starting point or supplement to another online course.
- Photo.net is one of the first photography websites ever created and is an excellent website to learn the nitty gritty basics.
- Tuts Plus is a blog with hundreds of articles ranging from camera tips to post-production and everything in between.
Remember, the value of a course comes not from its price tag, but from the quality of the material itself and the amount of effort you put into it. Learn at your own pace, and don’t take too many courses at once. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out to your teacher, classmates, or community members for help. Most importantly, be sure to keep up with all assignments and try to get in additional practice whenever you can. Combine what you’ve learned from various sources and create your own special techniques!