The 7 Best Online Photography Classes of 2020
Improve your skills behind the camera
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Over the course of the medium’s history, photography's main tool, the camera, has evolved from a massive box and lightbulb to the compact, efficient lens on your smartphone. Thanks to new technology, getting started and refining your skills is easier than ever.
Whether you’re interested in mastering the basics of shooting black and white or on film, setting up your own darkroom, getting an academic understanding of the medium, or learning from some of the most celebrated photographers working today, we’ve put together a list of the best online photography classes you can take at home. After all, picking up a camera is just the first step in showing others how you see the world.
The 7 Best Online Photography Classes of 2020
- Harvard’s Digital Photography Course: Best Digital Photography Technique
- Magnum Learning: Best Artist Guides
- Nikon School Online: Best for Nikon Cameras
- ILFORD Photo How-Tos: Best Black and White Photography
- Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom Tutorials: Best Digital Tools
- SVA i3: Images, Ideas, Inspiration Lectures: Best for Expanding Your Horizons
- Seeing Through Photographs From MoMA: Best Critical Thinking
Best Digital Photography Technique: Harvard’s Digital Photography Course
Harvard University’s “Exposing Digital Photography” class is accessible for free through the OpenCourseWare program. Since it’s a class once offered at the Ivy League university’s Extension School, there’s no need to officially enroll—you have the freedom to complete it at your own pace.
This is a course that attracts students with a wide range of photography experience. If you’re new to photography or have used a camera before, you’ll find something worthwhile here because the objectives of the course are to explore the scientific foundations and techniques of digital photography while allowing you to learn about photography as an art form, improve your technique, and get comfortable with editing software.
Along with a recommended list of reading and projects, there are 12, two-hour video lessons that break down the technical aspects of photography such as exposure, optics, digital cameras, and color. While the focus of this class is on photography, other disciplines related to the medium like film and video are also explored.
Best Artist Guides: Magnum Learning
In 1947 over a bottle of champagne, legendary photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, George Rodger, and David Seymour started Magnum Photos, an agency dedicated to supporting photographers worldwide. In the decades since, the artists’ cooperative has represented some of the most important photographers and visual storytellers in history.
In addition to managing their robust archive and day-to-day operations, Magnum Photos also has its own online learning platform called Magnum Learn, which strives to provide education through the lens of the agency's photographers. While the courses are more of an investment at $99, the price is worth it thanks to the expertise of the instructors. For example, Alec Soth, a photographer famous for his representations of Midwestern America and who has shown his work at the Whitney Museum and SFMOMA, recently led his own course on photographic storytelling.
According to Magnum, the courses include “personal advice through in-depth interviews, on-location shoots, and off-line workbooks with expanded interviews.” For example, The Art of Street Photography has 10 on-demand videos, featuring seven photographers—including the world-renowned Bruce Gilden and Martin Parr—who walk you through their own idiosyncratic philosophies and approaches to street photography.
Price: $99 and up
Best for Nikon Cameras: Nikon School Online
Nikon, one of the biggest camera companies in the world, has been making cameras for over 70 years. The company offers affordable photography education for all levels of expertise. Whether you’re a beginner, hobbyist, or pro, the Nikon School will allow you to refine your skills—most advantageously on a Nikon camera, but the classes are still good for any brand.
Led by a variety of professional photographers and content creators, the tutorials can be streamed on all of your devices.
The class offering starts with the building blocks: Getting Started with Your Nikon DSLR, Fundamentals of Photography, and Beyond Fundamentals of Photography. Depending on your interests and skill level, you can also stream Exploring Dynamic Landscape Photography with photographer Taylor Glenn, Photographing Children and Pets with renowned lifestyle photographer Tamara Lackey, or an environmental portraiture class with Joey Terrill.
The Nikon School also offers The Art of Making Music Videos, a crash course in how to bring your DSLR video productions to the next level.
Best Black and White Photography: ILFORD Photo How-Tos
ILFORD Photo got its start back in 1879 when Alfred Hugh Harman began making gelatin dry plates at his home in Ilford, England. More than a century later, ILFORD continues to be the authority on black and white photographic technology.
ILFORD offers a variety of information on its website, such as an accessible beginner's guide, and has an array of instructional how-tos available for free on its YouTube channel. It's best to start with the Introduction to Film Photography playlist, which features 11 simple, 60-second animations to introduce not only the terminology but also basic techniques used in film photography and darkroom printing. That includes How a Film SLR Works, a Darkroom Essentials Checklist, as well as beginner’s guides to film ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and processing your first film—all essential skills to getting the highest quality image.
Once you’re ready to move on, the How To playlist series focuses on darkroom processes. Browse from videos including Setting Up a Darkroom, Processing Black and White Film, Processing Traditional Darkroom Paper, Making a Basic Contact Sheet, and more classes designed to teach you the basics and then push you to the next level.
Best Digital Tools: Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom Tutorials
With a digital camera, there is a host of options to organize, alter, and enhance your work using digital software tools in post-production. That's where Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, two of the industry standards for photo editing, come in.
Both programs have a staggering amount of functions that are sure to overwhelm new users, but you can access free demonstrations from the brains behind the programs themselves to flatten the learning curve on the Adobe website. While Photoshop is a springboard to create and edit your photos, Lightroom, at its most fundamental, is a program you can use for organizing, post-processing, and exporting them. Both feature a powerful array of photo editing tools.
Adobe breaks down a variety of topics into bite-sized tutorials, most of them ranging from five to 20 minutes. For Photoshop, the introductory Get Started section will demonstrate how to change image sizes, work with layers, retouch images, and apply filters. Then you can move on to more specific courses about photo editing, selections, layer masking, and compositing.
The Lightroom tutorials also start with an introductory course, after which you can learn about photo editing, using presets to enhance your photos, and more. There also are projects for beginners and some inspirational content that you can use to inspire your next photo shoot.
Best for Expanding Your Horizons: SVA i3: Images, Ideas, Inspiration Lectures
Presented by the MPS Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City, the lecture series titled i3: Images, Ideas, Inspiration features presentations by a wide array of digital photographers, hardware and software developers, and photography industry experts.
More than 100 lectures are available to watch for free on SVA’s YouTube channel, and some are posted in Apple Podcasts for listening. The program itself, according to SVA, “addresses the technical, conceptual, and creative needs of professional photographers, photographic educators, and visual arts professionals who are looking to advance their skills in digital image capture, asset management, and high-quality output.” That means you'll get a rundown of all the problems a photographer might encounter, in-depth education on cameras, and a background in photography theory.
Browse through the options and start with a lecture that piques your interest. Guest lecturers bring their own expertise and unique point-of-view of photography to the table, whether it’s from a perspective of fine art, commercial, fashion, documentary, curation, or filmmaking. The program truly offers something for every style.
Best Critical Thinking: Seeing Through Photographs From MoMA
The Museum of Modern Art’s free online courses cover a variety of areas across artistic disciplines, but they have one devoted especially to photography. Taught by Susan Meister, a photography curator at MoMA, the course is designed to work with your own pace and time availability since its flexible deadlines allow you to complete it as you wish.
The course’s goal is to bridge the gap between just simply seeing and truly understanding photographs and photography’s role in art and our culture over its 200-year history. Using works from the MoMA’s photography collection, this class will dive deep into photography as a means of artistic expression, a tool for science, a method of documentation, and as a way to communicate, tell stories, and bear witness to history.
The course Seeing Through Photographs is divided into six distinct components, covering such topics as Documentary Photography, Pictures of People, and Constructing Narratives & Challenging Histories. You’ll gain academic insight into the medium and will come away with a new perspective of your own photography practice, thanks to a new understanding of the medium's history and classic works.
How We Chose
In selecting the best online photography classes, several factors came into play; most notably, however, was expertise. Offerings from highly regarded institutions —museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, photography authorities like Magnum Photos, or educational centers like Harvard University and the School of Visual Arts—distinguished themselves for knowing the craft and featuring expert instructors.
Affordability and timing flexibility were next on the list. While Magnum Learn’s course offering does come with a more sizable investment, that’s reflected in the caliber of the materials and the working photographers sharing their insights. But aside from Magnum Learn, the other courses on this list are free to access and can be completed on your own time.
Also important was the variety of classes offered, since successful photographers don't just have a grasp of how to work a camera; they also understand the theoretical background of composition, color, and lighting, and have a knowledge of the medium's history. Likewise, many of the courses can be adjusted to focus on specific styles of photography like landscape, fashion, or portraiture. And they cover several bases for those who know what type of photography career they are interested in.