From playing guitar to picking up needlepoint, many are using their time in isolation to discover new hobbies (or rediscover old ones). If you’ve found yourself developing a burgeoning interest in photography or photojournalism, getting started could be as simple as purchasing a new camera (or digging up an old one) and getting out there and shooting.
But if your work turns out a little more Martha Stewart than Irving Penn, you may want to consider brushing up your skills with an online class. In fact, 11 photographers we spoke to told us online classes have been instrumental in developing their skills and careers. So to help you on your journey to becoming the next Bill Cunningham or Billy “Fundi” Abernathy (pictured above), we asked those same experts to tell us about the most useful, informative, and all-around memorable online photography courses they’ve taken. Their responses below range from free YouTube seminars to paid six-week classes, and include guides to everything from retouching to motion capture to printing at home.
For learning to capture your own neighborhood
This ten-part lesson in the history and styles of street photography, from legendary photo studio Magnum, came recommended to us by photographer Anya Broido. By taking the course, you’ll get (virtual) time with Magnum’s world-famous roster of photographers, who, according to Broido, “take you along with them on shoot days, providing you with insightful tips and techniques.”
The course, Broido says, is a mix of “interviews, footage, archival images, and practical downloadable worksheets with tasks, tips, and good reading material to explore.” Added up, all of that makes it the most “all-rounder” class of the many she’s tried, and the one that made her most want to get up and start shooting: “The class is primarily interested in engaging your imagination, and drawing you into street photography’s spontaneous charm, motivating you to shoot.”
For a primer on using Photoshop
Of course, there are many ways to learn how to use Photoshop, but what Broido says makes Bushwick-based BKC center’s online classes different is their “live feedback, and how they answer questions in real time.” In their postproduction online course, Broido says BKC covers “the ins and outs of Lightroom and Photoshop, and helps you understand how photographers can use the software to manage and edit their files artfully for publication.” She singles out instructor Justin Lin in particular as being “wonderful at explaining information from the very basics to the expert detail, no matter what level you are at.” You can also get your work critiqued by their experts, Broido says, adding that since completing the course she’s used its teachings to “accelerate [her] digital workflow, organize properly, and create more striking images.”
Photographer Boyz Bieber says that Deke McLennan’s in-depth online Photoshop classes, which are produced for many different skill levels and archived so you can view them at any given moment, are a “master class.” While each of McLennan’s packages contain more than 16 hours of content, those daunted by that length should know that the course is taught in ten-minute mini-lessons that each focus on a different, easy-to-accomplish Photoshop skill.
For a six-week intensive on the history of photography
A few weeks into the shelter-in-place order in New York City, photographer and senior photo editor at Time magazine Thea Traff began this free course, offered by the Museum of Modern Art in partnership with Coursera, which provides an overview to the history of photography. “It’s led by the museum’s photography curator, Sarah Meister, and uses images from the museum’s collection to guide you through the history of the medium,” Traff tells us. “It was enlightening to recognize that my art is not arbitrary; I have been influenced by my predecessors and contemporaries.” As for the experience of learning about photography online rather than up close in a gallery, Traff says she was worried that, as a visual and tactile learner, an online course wouldn’t sustain her attention, but that “the range of slideshows, videos, vocabulary lists, and book excerpts, all sourced from the museum’s collection, kept me deeply engaged throughout the entire six weeks.”
For a lesson in skin retouching
“There are very few tutorials on editing darker skin tones,” photographers Kahran and Regis Bethencourt told us. Which is part of the reason they loved this free, 15-minute YouTube course, which “gives an overview of high-end skin retouching” for all skin colors. “The video is straightforward, and even gives raw images to practice along,” and that being able to practice techniques on the same images that the instructor used helped them ensure they were completing the steps correctly. The Bethencourts mentioned that they still use several of the techniques instructor Prince Meyson teaches when retouching edits in their professional work.
For an understanding of what each button does
If you have a DSLR, but aren’t quite sure how to use it beyond the automatic setting, photographer Boyz Bieber tells us that this introductory course from Nikon is a “good starting point for instruction on basic digital camera operation.” While it’s targeted at Nikon camera owners, its teachings cover settings on essentially every DSLR, including shooting video, changing the aperture to draw attention to your subject, getting your focus right, swapping out lenses, and the various ways to use shutter speed.
For mastering wildlife photography
This free class, aimed at beginner to intermediate photographers with an interest in wildlife photography, came recommended to us by photographer Paul McKenzie. “It combines a photography course with an editing course,” McKenzie says, praising host Tin Man Lee, who is “very good at dumbing things down for beginners, which is where many photo educators fall short.” According to McKensie, Lee’s editing process “helps draw the viewers eye to where it should go in the image.” Lee has, McKensie says, “studied the works of great painters, and applied what he has learned to wildlife photographic editing.”
For ensuring your practice is truly inclusive
Photographer Nikia Paden told us about this new course by photographer, educator and advocate Dr. Tomayia Colvin, who founded her own online education platform in 2017 to empower photographers of color. “It’s an intimate and safe dialogue on how to be sure your photography is inclusive for all people,” Paden says. The course, which you can either enroll in and take live, or purchase archived, includes advice on avoiding tokenism, choosing models, and updating your portfolio.
For printing your photos at home
Particularly relevant right now, this YouTube channel features guides to everything you could possibly need to know about printing at home, according to photographer Carljin Jacobs, who tells us the instructor, Jose Rodriguez, is particularly excellent at dispensing photography advice thanks to his forty-year photography career, in which he worked as a photography lab technician for both NATO and the Pentagon. Since retiring, Rodriguez has created over 1,450 popular videos about different hyper-specific home printing techniques. While you may have to search a little to find the one specific to your printer and goals, Jacobs tells us that Rodriguez “is very responsive – if you have a question, he replies within 10 hours.”
For making the most of bright spots
Like Rodriguez and Meyson, Sean Tucker also came to fame on YouTube for his direct online teaching style. This class, one of Tucker’s most popular, came recommended to us by (another) Paul McKenzie, also a photographer, who said its lessons on how to keep your shots as bright as your eye sees them contained some of the best photography tips he’s ever received. “It shaped the way I meter my shots when shooting digital images, and has helped contribute to creating a consistent look to my images over time,” McKenzie says. He adds that Tucker is “thorough in his explanation of why protecting your highlights is critical (due to the way digital sensors save shadow data),” and proves his points through examples of how professional photographers and cinematographers use the same techniques to create their own art. “It really drives you to want to meter your shots this way.”
For finding studio-quality light wherever you go
When photographer Francoise Gervais decided to get more serious about her photography a few years ago, she turned to these lessons. While Gervais admits that the videos may seem a little dated, she insists that “the content is so important, no matter what camera you have.” The class teaches that no matter how good your subject and composition are, “if the light is bad, or you don’t know how to capture it, the photo will most likely not be great.” To combat this, Peterson teaches his students how to become “light hunters,” and “explains difficult concepts very simply with great practical exercises,” with hundreds of short videos like this one showing his ideas in action. As a result, Gervais says she now “runs with her camera” when she spots good lighting.
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