If you think a photography course with assignments is for high school students, you’d be wrong. I think assignments are the best way to learn photography. Because they let you practice each concept before moving on.
It’s one thing to learn something conceptually and another to be able to use it in practice and see in real life how it trades off with other settings.
There’s something about using your hands and eyes that makes all the mumbo jumbo real and lasting.
When I started out, I actually took a darkroom photography class. Yes, film and enlargers and all that good stuff. I don’t even recall exactly why I took that class – I was out of university and working already so it’s not like it just happened to be an available class.
Anyway, I loved it. Being in the darkroom, working all that equipment, seeing images appear on wet paper. It felt kinda magical. Isn’t it weird how analog stuff feels like magic now that we’re so used to digital?
And that’s where I got the basics of photography. The best part was, all the things I learned operating a film SLR, transferred over pretty well to the digital world.
If you want to learn cheaply today, you could try with a film camera as they are easy to find on craigslist. But I think the film cost might offset the cheap cost of the camera.
Instead you can actually try with an old DSLR or even a point and shoot that has manual settings. Just make sure it has full manual.
If you want to buy something you can keep for a while and grow into, consider my favorite two cameras detailed in this post. Both are pretty affordable and excellent.
Learn Photography Step By Step
When you learn photography there’s a lot of stuff at play. And when you just try to absorb it at once, honestly, it’s pretty confusing.
So instead, the professor taught us one concept, and then gave us an assignment to shoot using that concept. Then we went off and shot a roll that week.
Remember rolls? 36 photos. In a little canister.
Because it was film, we had to make notes about what settings we used per shot. And the real feedback came after we got to see the results.
Now, you can just adjust all the things at once and see the results right away. So nobody wants to take it one concept at a time. But I’m still convinced that’s the best way to learn.
You want to learn say, what aperture means. Then you want to just go out and practice controlling aperture and learning how that affects your photography.
So what you need are assignments that go along with your learning.
Free Online Photography Course with Assignments
For that reason, I’ve collected here some excellent photography courses that do just that. And for a price you can’t beat – free!
Emma has an interesting format for her class. it combines teaching, assignments and community.
You get a weekly email with a lesson and an assignment.
You join a community of like-minded, positive, supportive photographers.
And you keep shooting.
I like Emma’s clear, motivating, jargon-free way of writing. Her site and emails are incredibly well-designed and thought out. And the facebook community is a gentle, supportive crew.
The first thing you do is make this promise:
“The only photographer I will compare myself to is the one I used to be.”
Best of all, her course is free over email.
Although if you like her content, she also has a set of excellent workbooks that go along with it to help you keep track of your progress on the assignments. You can either follow just the blog, or just the book, or even check out her video course.
Another option is the PhotoClass2019 subreddit. If you’ve used reddit before, you’ll know it’s a massive forum with many subforums where people can post, comment, upvote and downvote.
As with all things reddit, the demographic definitely skews young and male. The writing is very casual and not proofread, and the site itself does not lend itself to formatting. You will likely find a lot of general internet-speak that may not make a lot of sense if you’ve never been on reddit before.
That said, if you’re comfortable with that, this is a great class.
While reddit has a reputation for being a tough crowd, this photoclass and the moderators that run it seem to do a good job keeping everyone positive, polite and motivating.
This course is more along the lines of a college course, and actually has a focus on the science and technology behind photography.
This is definitely a class targeted at engineers or others who love tech. You’ll be seeing some equations and learn about sensors, optics, photons, etc… They have the familiar feel of watching an class in university, but an excellent university, with a great professor in Mark Levoy.
This is definitely the advanced option. There is no community associated with this class but if you like to dig deep and go it alone, this is the course for you.
Best Books to Learn Photography From
If all you want is a great book to learn from, there are a few good options.
The Complete Course book is one that lays out a plan to learn photography in 20 weeks. If that seems like a long time, know that you will learn plenty in the first few weeks and you can just keep going as long as you are discovering new things.
The course is also set up with assignments and tasks so that should be great for pacing your learning.
Bryan Peterson’s book is popular enough that it’s in its fourth printing. He goes through the basics with a lot of pictures and examples that should help everyone learn how to control their camera.
It’s definitely meant for beginners though so pass if you’re already comfortable with aperture, shutter speed and exposure settings.
Learn Photography on your Own
So I hope this has inspired you to take the time and learn about your camera and the art and craft of Photography.
As I mentioned in this article on the 3 key components of great photography, your skill and knowledge is a big part of that.
Take the time to level up your photography with one of these free online photography courses with assignments, or even one of the recommended books.