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The Best Resources for Learning and Improving Your Photography Skills

Or, at the very least, what's helped inform my perspective :)

By: AJ Johnson + Save to a List

It totally depends on your learning style, naturally, so I think the more that you’re in tune with your own learning mechanisms, personality and tendencies, the better! Everyone’s different. Do what works for you. I’ll share what’s working for me ☺ As we know, the learning never ends. Whether you’re thinking about buying your first camera or are an experienced pro, hopefully you’ll find something useful in here.

Classroom, In-person Education, and/or Photography Workshops

Starting more traditionally, there’s probably no perfect substitute for an in-person class/orientation/tutorial with a live instructor, which, at the introductory level, provide some mastery over basic photographic concepts like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, equivalent exposures, and the like. Consider a community college, online class, or one-day/weekend workshop, such as those hosted by Canon. Build yourself a good base of technical knowledge. As in all things, it’s important to have strong fundamentals. Good news?? It’s 2018!!!! And introductory/intermediate/advanced information exists in bits and pieces and/or in full on the internet as well! Fo’ free. I’ve learned a lot about a particular (usually nuanced) photographic subject, for example, slow sync flash, just by Googling it and watching videos on YouTube. If you have some disposable income and are a good online/independent learner, consider a subscription based model like LYNDA. I’ve renewed and cancelled my subscription twice to take specific courses in topical areas that interest me, and can highly recommend the quality of their content. Well worth it. I’ve taken more than one Photoshop class using LYNDA (course length varies, but the ones I’ve seen range from approximately 6-20 hours total [on average], broken out into several learning modules so you can digest them at your own pace). CreativeLive is an amazing tool as well if you haven’t been exposed – grab a topic that interests you, like Lightroom editing workflow, and watch someone do it…live!!! Really cool. Digital Photography School is a wonderful resource, too, especially if you’re newer to photography. It has pretty solid overviews of basic (and beyond) photo topics, without providing too much info. Take advantage of all the learning resources you can get your hands and eyes on, especially in the online space.

Devour the Books

I’m kind of information greedy, and I like to read, so another way I sharpened up was by researching classes and curriculum online at various universities, and buying those used textbooks on Amazon. Pretty simple. If you can commit to getting through some of the literature, this is a great and pretty affordable way to go about getting your knowledge on point. It helped me a lot with Lightroom and Photoshop, amongst other things. Another tip? If you can even get your hands on assignments or photo prompts in your curriculum search (try iTunes University! They offer free and paid classes that might be worth your attention as well), try those out. Great way to stretch and practice without having to bear the full cost-burden of an instructor-based class. 

Finding Inspiration from Others

A lot of the info and resources above are good information for building a strong base of photographic knowledge – understanding the machinery itself, manipulating basic controls, editing workflow, etc. But I also like to look around the photo community to see what’s good! What are other photographers shooting? What sells (i.e. on stock inventory websites like ImageBrief)? Latest product reviews? Trends in photo gear? Upcoming competitions? Recent awards? As with the above, you don’t have to do this at all, by any means. I just love this ish. And am inspired by other people’s work. Some photographers I know don’t even look at other peoples’ images at all, with the idea that it will influence their unique style or voice, and that they’ll unconsciously succumb to some form of unflattering mimicry or thievery. That’s not me. Like, if I were a comedian, you’d definitely find me out there supporting and watching other folks’ shows. But I like to laugh, not just make people laugh ☺ Different strokes, breh!

www.popphoto.com is a quality online publication that is a mecca for all things photo (although they recently retired their regular print production after almost 80 years! #2017stuff #thelastblockbuster). Check it out. I also frequent and explore various photo websites that aggregate artist work, such as Flickr, 500px, Behance, Pinterest, and Instagram. I probably don’t need to make any follow up commentary on those. And then to briefly get a bit more granular, there are a number of photographers that I love, so I’ll peep what’s new in their portfolio! Some are friends – Jared Martinez, Josh Currie, Justin DeShields, Jason Hatfield – to shout out a few…and others are legends – Pedro McBride, Cory Richards, David Guttenfelder, you get the idea! (P.S. Most of my friends are also legends ☺)

The amount of available information at our disposal is both a gift and a curse. We have access to just about everything, but it can be a bit overwhelming at times, especially if you don’t necessarily have particular learning goals in mind. So yet another way that I’ve been able to lean into the information curve, especially when life gets busy and I don’t have a burning desire to explore color theory or studio lighting tips – newsletter/e-mail sign ups. One I like is the the guys and gals over at SLR Lounge. An LA bunch, they regularly serve up tutorials and discussions on a variety of photographic topics. They have a knowledgeable team. I also like a guy named Dave Morrow, who hustles his own instructional videos and is very knowledgeable on color theory. He produces incredible landscapes and astrophotos. Check them out, if inclined. Sometimes, getting something in my Inbox is a good reminder and/or nudge enough to keep my learning fresh. I can digest them along with my other e-mails, and it can help normalize my learning process and make the whole thing feel a bit less burdensome.

Last but not least, and this is the least necessary of all things housed in this article, but worth mentioning…A VERY instructive part of my photographic learning process involved shooting on a film camera and developing and printing my own film in the dark room. To me, it’s kind of like learning to do long division by hand (traditional film), and then moving to a calculator (digital). If you know how to use the calculator, no big deal, you’ll get the answer! But if you master the underlying process behind the little ‘divide’ button, you’re probably stronger in math, generally. 

As I continue to learn and grow, the overall subject matter tends to change, as does my individual style. I'm constantly experimenting, trying different things, and/or re-editing/re-shooting familiar photos and/or locations. Change is the only constant, so just trying to enjoy the ride. Oh, yeah. And some images to inspire your next adventure :)

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