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The Ultimate Guide to Online Photography Courses & ClassesJames Bold Author Avatar

by James – Last Updated April 12, 2019

Online photography courses and classes are seen as one of the best ways to learn photography in the modern world.

In days gone by more traditional methods of education such as expensive university degrees or year-long apprenticeships were the only way for budding photographers to gain experience and to learn how to take photos.

However, with the emergence of the internet, online photography courses found their place by offering amazing learning opportunities at an affordable price. Now bespoke online platforms make learning photography and earning a photography certificate possible for everyone.

Smart pride’s itself on creating amazing photography resources to all photography enthusiasts. From ultimate guide lessons on ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed right through to our 1 to 1 mentoring program.

Furthermore, we see it as our mission to give you most in depth knowledge on everything photography, specifically in this case, our ultimate guide to photography courses and classes.

The idea of this page is to guide you through everything you need to know when choosing a photography course. Find out useful information from how the learning process works, what are the benefits of learning photography, to what’s covered in most online courses.

You can use the table of contents below to quickly navigate to each section or just scroll throughout the article, continuing on your guide to everything photography course related.

Table of Contents

Introduction to our class guide

Over the last few years we have taken part in hundreds of photography classes, been lucky enough to teach at some of the world’s leading photography conferences as well spending countless hours researching what are the best classes available online.

Since launching our photography course we have been driven to create the best class experience. We have used all our photography know-how to develop what we believe is the best environment for you to learn photography.

We also want to give you a heads up and let you know that this page is all about our opinion. Everyone has different requirements and needs but we hope this guide will at least give you enough information allowing you to choose the course that is perfect for you.

Furthermore, we wanted to create a guide that can be read and enjoyed by everyone.

Some of the sections won’t be specific to you, for example, professional photographers probably aren’t interested in the beginner photography classes. Those looking for free photo class options probably don’t need to know about the classes that we believe are best value for money.

If you have anymore information you want to provide to this list then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

We would also love to answer any further questions you may have about photography classes. Head on over to our contact page and fire away with any questions you have.

Right, let’s get started on the ultimate guide to online photography classes.

feature image for online photography courses and classes

Photography Courses & Classes – Everything you need to know about learning photography online

What is an online photography course?

So where better to start than explaining what exactly a photography course or photography classes actually are…

Well in terms of Smart, we consider a class as a section of our overall photography course. All our classes add up to ensure you can learn photography from the very beginning.

Our course covers everything from learning photography technicalities such as the rule of thirds or choosing the right shutter speed for your event. Right through to where you can find inspiration when taking your photo’s.

Many of the online classes available will be designed to cover everything you need to learn photography.

Below is a list of what we believe are minimal requirements when selecting your course provider.

A place to learn photography

Obviously. A photography course whether online or on location must teach you photography. It may be focussed around a specific aspect of photography, however, if you’ve chosen a photography course that is teaching you the ins and outs of the internal combustion engine you’ve probably chosen wrong.

Most courses offer both theory and practical experience, for example, Nigel Flemings ‘Introduction To Flash‘ course takes a look at mastering both off and on camera flash techniques. This is classed as practical, ‘hands-on’ learning.

Generally speaking, all courses will be created by an instructor who is experienced and well known within the photography industry.

We will cover this in more detail later but it’s important to ask for the photography curriculum before you sign up. This way you will know exactly what the classes will cover and whether they cover what you are wanting to learn.

Community of photographers

As well a place to learn photography, a photography class should also be a place to meet other photographers, photographers at various different points of their photography journey.

In our opinion this is one of the most important areas when choosing any course or degree. Working closely with other photographers will allow you to share your experiences as well as encouraging personal development. An interactive community can help drive inspiration and innovation.

Learning together will help make the whole process more enjoyable and with photography being such a personal hobby or career there is no right or wrong answer. You will learn to understand different perspectives on what makes a good photo.

While Smart is primarily an online photography course it does have an active community of photographers. Once you join the course you have the ability to upload your images and request feedback from fellow photographers.

Furthermore, you will also have the ability to request constructive criticism of your photos by our photography tutors.

All feedback is constructive in nature and should always help you on your photography journey.

A place to receive photography mentoring and support

There are some things that a book can’t teach and you will need to reach out to a real person and ask for advice. Choosing a learning platform that offers mentoring and support is, in our opinion, one of the most important things to consider when choosing your course.

Mentoring and support can help guide you through the ins and outs of your class. If you get stuck, just ask. Need an opinion on your photos, just ask. Want advice on a specific problem, just ask. This is what books can’t teach you and why mentoring and support form a vital part of any class.

Smart offers 24/7 Mentoring and Support. Just reach out with your question and we will try our best to deliver expert advice and allow to you continue on your journey.

Classes that delve into photography specifics

Again this seems like an obvious requirement but some courses you may find won’t delve into specifics. For example, not just how to take a good photo but specifically what makes that photo great and how to be able to replicate that specific technique in another photo you may take.

The way we like to explain this is with a wedding photography situation, a bride and groom walk down the aisle after they have tied the knot, the photographer takes 30 photos on continuous shooting mode. 5 of those photos are in focus. 25 are out of focus or shaky. This time the photographer has been lucky, they have managed to capture 5 good photos however next time they may capture none.

A decent photography course will break down the specifics of what makes those 5 photos successful meaning that the next time the same photographer takes 30 in focus shots.

This same principle should be applied across all areas of photography including camera settings, business marketing, workflow etc etc.

Being a photographer requires hundreds of different skill sets and knowing exactly what to do in every situation is something that a good photography course should cover with it’s classes.

The history of the online photography course

Photography classes have been around for a long time, since the days of real film processing. As technology in photography has improved the number of courses has increased.

The accessibility of photography greatly improved with digital photography and as a result, digital photography classes were born.

Courses became much easier to host meaning they tended to be more specific to each genre. Your wedding photographers hosted wedding photography workshops with your portrait photographers teaching all about portrait photography.

Below we have noted some of the more recent changes in both film and digital photography classes.

Online Classes

The invention of the world wide web meant anybody could create their own website and photography experts rushed to offer online solutions to the demand for photography lessons.

The ease of online meant that students could get much better value for their money meaning they could learn in their own time with the flick of a switch.

Online courses really are a great way to learn however we always recommend choosing a course that offers practical as well as theory lessons. Putting your photography knowledge to the test will be one of the best ways to ensure you grow as a photographer.

Photographers Offering Workshops

In recent years established photographers started putting on workshops with the goal of teaching perspective students what they knew and how they might be able to use that knowledge to help further themselves.

They are a great way to get hands on experience from other market leading photographers.

Some classes may be more practical with live shoot sessions so it’s worth deciding exactly what you want from the course before signing up.

tutor teaching student photography looking at a camera

Workshops: Photographer discusses camera settings during workshop

Photography Conferences & Retreats

While photography conferences aren’t specifically anything new they have had somewhat of a re-emergence over the last year or so.

Generally speaking these photography gatherings bring together top talent from each niche. Each photographer then puts either a live-session class on or a presentation class.

A recent example of this would be the, Way Up North conference. The conference launched a few years back bringing together some of the world’s most influential wedding photographers.

Another great reason to go on a photography retreat would be that each photographer talks specifically about different areas they have had success in. Some photographers may talk about how to optimise your business for marketing, or great lighting set ups to help improve your product photography.

These conferences really are a brilliant way to meet other photographers and learn all about different areas of photography.

What do most courses and classes cover?

Most online courses are developed to take you from amateur to professional photographer. They will start with the absolute basics while guiding you on your path to become an established photographer in your field.

While all classes are different, it’s important to understand exactly what you will be receiving when you sign up for a online photography course.

Below is few of the modules and aspects covered as part of our learning platform.

Fundamentals of Photography

The main goal of our online photography course is to teach you the fundamentals of great photography. We achieve this by coaching you about a variety of different genres in order for you to become a well rounded and competent photographer.

Landscape Photography Course

An aspect of our course that we always receive great feedback on is landscape photography. Who doesn’t want to be able to capture great photos when visiting Iceland or New Zealand? Having the skillset available to be able to adapt to challenging landscapes in order to capture amazing images is our main goal with our landscape course. Capturing landscapes can be a really tough gig but, like these landscape artists, having a skillset to draw upon can be really rewarding.

How to master your photography composition

No matter what discipline of photography you are interested in, composition plays a massive role. Whether it is portraiture, wildlife or landscape photography, having a grasp of the fundamentals of a good composition can really take your photos to the next level. We aim to teach you simple methods which will allow you to produce more dynamic and visually stunning photographs.

Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed

Often referred to as the golden exposure triangle getting the correct exposure in camera is highly beneficial. Having the knowledge of what adjusting each aspect of the exposure triangle has on a photo is really important. Whether you are shooting in Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or full on Manual mode, it is good to know what each and every feature of your camera does.

Photoshop for Photographers

Probably a photographer’s most dreaded phrase ‘you can photoshop that right?’ well, it doesn’t have to be. Whilst we want you to get your images as good as they can be in camera, Photoshop can also have an important role to play in a photographers life.

Having the ability to remove distracting elements from a photo or blur areas that are overpowering can be a really good skill to have. Separating yourself from the crowd can be vital if you want your images to stand out and Photoshop can help you achieve that in subtle ways.

Everything Adobe, From Lightroom to Photoshop

Producing great images isn’t just down to the initial capture anymore. Similarly to the old darkroom methods, there is so much latitude to changing the feel of a photo in post-production.

Having an understanding of what is possible in both Lightroom and Photoshop to get the best out of your images is crucial. From cropping and colour correction to exposure and lighting, everything is covered in our post-production module.

What other courses do we cover?

Our photography course covers everything you would need to know to begin your journey into photography.

As well as basic photographic principles we also cover more advanced settings allowing get to grips with manual mode and artistic theories.

The Smart course is constantly updating as we work on new and exciting ways to make photography accessible to everyone.

Our blog posts are a great source of inspiration and provide free information for anyone that wishes to read them.

Important Course Features & Benefits

Choosing an online course can be a tricky job with courses offering an extensive range of features and benefits. That being said, it’s important to understand what features are truly vital to ensure a successful learning experience.

When you join up with the other Smart students you will have access to the very best in course features. Moreover, you can rest assured knowing that only features that directly help the learning process have been included. You won’t see any smokescreens from us.

We’ve spent time developing an in-depth, extensive course with features that you will love. Below is a selection of features that are included in our course and should be part of any other course you find online.

1 to 1 Mentoring

When looking for your online course the two most important features you should be looking for are an interactive course and 1-on-1 mentoring program.

Our 1-on-1 mentoring program is there for all aspiring photographers. No matter what the question or problem, we’re here to help and our tutors have more than likely experienced it all before.

Our Smart mentors are there to give guidance and support throughout the course and after you have graduated.

Photography Business Mentoring

Similar to our photo mentoring service, we also offer advice on making your photography a business.

Equally, if you already have a photography business but are looking for advice on how to improve sales and increase customers we can accommodate that request.

Recently we helped a wedding photographer acquire more enquiries by providing expert advice and guidance. His website was great and his images were spectacular but there is so much more involved with securing the trust of a couple.

We advised him to alter his method of reply to his couples as well as displaying his portfolio in a more user-friendly way. By reaching out to us for business mentoring this particular photographer was able to secure far more bookings with just a few simple changes to his customers’ experience.

Master Your Camera

Gaining full control over all the functions of your camera can really impact the quality of your images. Being able to set the correct Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO can make or break a photo. Equally, utilising other non-camera elements such as choosing the correct composition or working well with natural light all play an important role. There are so many elements that make up a great photo but having an understanding of how your camera works can get you half way there.

Fully Mentored Learning Paths

All our learning paths are fully mentored meaning we have tutors on hand to assist you no matter your query.

Each and every person will learn at their own pace and in their own particular style. For this reason, we don’t have one prescriptive method of learning but rather multiple options from individual mentoring to unique tailor-made assignments.

photographers looking at dslr camera

Photographer on learning path guided by photography mentor

Mentors for whatever you need

If you are interested learning more about a specific genre of photography we have specialists who can help offer support advice and guidance as your become proficient in that career path.

Our mentors have many years of experience in many different areas of photography. They can provide unparalleled knowledge of the industry which can aid you in becoming a better photographer.

Photography Classes Bespoke to You

Whilst we believe that you can learn a great deal from all aspects of photography we also understand that you might have a particular area you are interested in.

With this in mind, you can tailor your learning to better your specific requirements.

If you don’t want to learn about boudoir photography then you don’t have to. If you are interested in learning more about landscape photography then great you should focus on that. However, opening your world to different possibilities can be of great benefit during your road to becoming a photography great.

Easy to follow online modules and classes

Our course is designed to be easy to follow and understand. Step by step navigation ergonomically breaks down each section of the course making it easy to learn photography.

With module quizzes and end of course questionnaires, you can keep track on how you are progressing and what you need to do to boost your photographic knowledge. Take a look at the module overview.

Learn in your own time at your own pace

Our course is completely self-paced plus our end of course assessment isn’t time sensitive.

We believe that learning in your own time aids the entire process allowing your photography skills to evolve and develop naturally.

We understand that your time is very precious and whether you are logging on after work or before you head out to school in the morning, Smart will be there to help you grow into the photographer you want to be.

Join an active community of photographers

Our community of photographers grows with each new day. Every week we welcome a whole host of new students to the Smart family all eager to improve their photo taking abilities.

Having the option to receive constructive feedback on your images can be a really great way of learning.

Knowing what works and what doesn’t helps you grow as a photographer and our community of like-minded individuals is a great place to thrive.

Regularly Updated Course Classes

Choosing a course that is regularly updated with the latest photographic technologies is important.

Smart is constantly being improved with new and exciting modules, new features and different ways to learn photography.

Whether it’s our amazing online blog with the latest photography news, equipment reviews, and round-ups or our ever-evolving membership forum.

We designed our photography classes to move with the photography world.

24/7 Support

All students who join Smart have access to 24/7 support.

It’s a symptom of the modern world that technology can sometimes fail. For this reason, we like to keep on top of any potential problems with our online photography course.

Many online courses include 24/7 support as part of their packages as it is an imperative part of ensuring the learning process proceeds smoothly.

Always ask potential courses about their support before signing up.

Award Winning Tutors

Similarly to our 24/7 support our tutors are also always on hand to help in any way they can.

Are you shooting a particular event at the weekend and want some advice? Then don’t hesitate to get in touch and let us know what you are getting up to. Our award-winning team are there to help and assist in any way they can.

Our have spent years in the industry and won countless awards in that time. Their expertise makes them the perfect sounding board for your ideas and they love to see the progress of the Smart students.

When researching photography classes it’s important to find out who the courses are developed by. Being inspired by their photography can go a long way to motivating you to become a better photographer.

Free Course Certificate

It’s not all about the course certificate but it is sure a nice thing to have.

Our free course certificate is awarded to students upon completion of the ‘Fundamentals of Photography Online Course’.

This certificate proves that you have completed the course and can be downloaded and displayed as you desire.

Earning your course certificate can put you at a huge advantage when applying for photography related positions. It proves that you have a commitment to this craft and are self-sufficient.

You can find out a little more information on our free certificate by jumping ahead in this article.

graduated students throwing hats after earning certificate

Students celebrating photography degree after earning certification

How does the learning process work?

Sometimes the most important factor to consider when choosing the right photography course is how the learning process works.

Many courses only allow class access during the working day whereas some providers will go as far as limiting the amount of time you have to complete each module of the course.

We understand that this is unfair as everyone has different lives and knowing you can access your course whenever, wherever is very important.

Below is a simple guide to show how you will proceed with your learning process, the steps you will go through as you become the photographer you want to. Not the photographer your course says you should become.

Will you really learn photography?

Well it wouldn’t be a good photography course if you didn’t…

In all seriousness, this is a question we get asked a lot and we always give the same answer.

If you are passionate about learning photography, whether you choose Smart or any of the other providers out there then you should progress along your goal and learn to take great photos.

Every budding photographer needs to be driven to achieve their goals. If you love what you do then you are bound to reach the top of your game.

It’s our job to give you the best facilities and materials, making learning photography easy on your way to the top. It’s for this reason that we believe Smart provides the best online photography courses, our ability to mentor you from beginner to pro is what really sets us apart.

photographer takes a photo

Will you really learn photography? Photographer working to take better photos

Should you buy a camera before enrolling on a course?

It’s common place to assume that if you are looking to signup to an online course, you probably have a camera already. However, if you are really keen to get into photography but haven’t yet purchased you own camera then fear not. Many of the online classes are designed to be used with or without a camera.

Looking through the various options available will reveal that the majority of the classes are split up into practical and theory based learning. This means that you can begin to understand the fundamentals of photography right from day one.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that over 2 billion people own a smartphone meaning you probably already have ready made camera at the ready.

All the principles that you will learn on the course can be applied to any camera, meaning if you own a 2012 smartphone or the latest top of the range, mirrorless DSLR you can start to learn photography straight away.

Are there courses that cover specific cameras?

To answer that question, yes.

There are many different online courses that cover specific manufacturers of cameras such as Nikon School, EOS Training Academy or Sony camera tutorials.

Furthermore, many of the major course providers will cover all the top camera brands meaning you can purchase just one course that is applicable to all camera’s even if you change your camera.

One of the most common questions we get asked by our students is will our classes be camera specific. Well the answer to that is yes and no. We will help you setup your specific camera in the best way for the photos you are trying to take.

The classes individually won’t be camera specific but no matter whether you are Nikon or Canon, you will be able to get the most out of all our modules.

Below are some of the camera manufacturers that our tutors are highly experienced in using.

Nikon

Our mentors and tutors are trained in the latest Nikon cameras such as the new Nikon Z7.

Every time a new camera is released we strive to get hands on experience with the model meaning that if you have any questions we can offer great advice and guidance to you.

Canon

A lot of our photographers and experts shoot Canon and as a result have an intimate knowledge of how to get the most out of their cameras. We are fully versed in the latest Canon technology and will go along way to ensuring our Canon classes are the best around.

canon dslr camera

Canon Camera: Photography Lessons that cover all camera manufacturers

Fuji

Fuji has been around for a long while however over the last couple of years they have had a bit of a re-emergence as market leaders. Many photographers now choose Fuji over Canon or Nikon due to the excellent mirrorless cameras they have been making.

Our classes can teach you the ins and outs of mirrorless cameras as well as advising you on whether to go Fuji.

Sony

Some say it all started with the AR7 but over the last year Sony has pretty much been the camera of choice for professionals. With many photographers also exploring new avenues such as video, the Sony really is an excellent choice with its multi-function capability.

iPhone and Smartphones

Well if you are putting together a range of photography classes then really you need to cover the world’s most used cameras. Whether you like it or not, the Apple iPhone is the most popular camera in the world and our classes will cover everything smartphone camera related meaning you get the best shots out of your iPhone.

photographer taking photo using smartphone

Smartphone & iPhone photography lessons

How to find local classes near you

We would always recommend online courses over a one off photography class. Why? Well because most online classes give you lifetime membership and continue to update and develop as the photography world changes whereas a one time class is usually done within a few hours or if lucky, a semester.

It’s always good to learn in different ways and finding a class near you may be a great way to experience photography in a different way.

Below we have outlined a few places where you can find amazing classes as well as other services that may help find a course near you.

Places to search for great classes

Google “Photography Classes Near Me”

Sounds somewhat easy to say however you will be amazed at the amount of time the huge database of Google is ignored.

Just visit Google.com and search for “Photography Classes Near Me”. This should return hundreds of results of local photography courses.

Groupon

Believe it or not the renowned discount app, Groupon is one of the best places to find photography classes near you.

Simply head on over to the Groupon website or mobile app, search for ‘photography classes’, enter your postcode and you are away.

This should present a list of upcoming classes covering a range of different topics. It’s great for very specific courses such as ‘How to use your drone to capture awesome photos.’

University Degrees

If you really want to throw yourself in at the deep end you could enrol on either a full or part time bachelor’s degree. These are likely to be quite expensive and intensive but you will receive excellent tuition throughout the entire process.

A couple of brilliant courses to look out for are Falmouth University (UK) BA in Photography or the School of Visual Arts Photography Speciality in New York (US).

Many universities will have certain entry requirements so it’s best to check before starting any enrolment procedures.

Other local classes?

Colleges & Schools

Local colleges and schools will often offer night classes. With photography being such a popular subject these classes are likely to be quite regular.

The best way to find these classes would be to make a list of local educational institutes near you. Once you have put together a list and either do a Google search ‘[education institute] photography classes’ or give them a call and see if they have anything upcoming.

student learning photography online at college

Student learns photography at local college

Community Centres

Another great way to learn photography may be classes and courses hosted by photographers at your local community centre.

Most community centres run artistic classes quite regularly and it’s just about noticing when they are happening.

The best way to find community centre classes near you would be to check their bulletin boards or follow them on social media. We recommend a monthly visit to your community centre to see what’s on.

Local Photographers

Many local photographers will also run workshops and classes geared around their specialist skills.

Some photographers may be particularly well versed in flash lighting whereas others are great at marketing their business.

Classes are also likely to be genre specific rather than covering overall photography principles.

The best way to find local photographers putting on classes would be to join local photography groups on social media such as facebook. The photography community is often very active in these groups and it’s a great way to find out what’s happening in your local area.

Other services to find courses near you

There are hundreds of different platforms that offer services to help find the nearest classes to learn photography.

For now let’s look at what active services are best for finding classes near you. Most of the services require you enter your location before displaying a list of upcoming events.

Going Digital

This website is a great choice when searching for a photography class near you.

Its online filter system also means you can select specific classes for whatever you are interested in learning. For example if you want to take a class in photo editing simply select it from the drop down and Going Digital shows you a range of courses within your surrounding area.

The platform also has the option to filter by skill level meaning you get teaching and learning that is suited to your current ability.

Going Digital also uses Google maps meaning you can easily see how far you would have to travel to each class.

Lessons.com

One of the most popular online search options is Lessons.com. While it offers workshops in various different industries its photography class finder is second to none.

You need to enter a little bit of information about yourself before being issued with a list of instructors that suit your needs.

Its online review system is also a great way to ensure that the classes on offer are value for money and worth signing up for.

Nikon.com

Nikon is a huge name within the world of cameras but did you know that it also has a really handy tool for finding photography classes?

Classes are likely to be Nikon specific but you may be able to apply your newly found knowledge to whatever camera you own.

Simply provide your state/area or zip/post code and Nikon will display a list of courses specialising in various areas of photography.

This list can also be filtered allowing you to find exactly what you are looking for.

Notable Mentions

Today at Apple

Apples ‘Today at Apple’ is a new initiative launched by the technology company and while it’s not strictly all about photography they do have some brilliant guest speakers.

I suppose if you manufacture the world’s most popular camera then teaching users how to get the most out of it makes sense.

Meetup

Meetup is another online service that can be used to find great classes and courses.

Unlike the other services, local photographers will create a meetup, this is where they are running an event and want other photographers of different skill levels to join them.

You have to create a Meetup profile but after that, simply search ‘photography classes’ from the homepage to find local meetups near you. The website should automatically recognise your location meaning classes will be shown in your vicinity.

Beginner Photography Classes?

Are there any courses designed for beginner photographers or will a traditional course be suitable?

It’s a good question and definitely something you need to consider before enrolling on any photography degree. However, the majority of online courses will have been developed for beginners rather than pro photographers.

Many workshops and photographer lead sessions will presume you are a professional photographer whereas most online courses will assume you have never picked up a camera before and are starting out on your photography path for the very first time.

Perfect for Beginner Photographers

Our ‘Fundamentals of Photography Course’ is perfect for new and amateur photographers. Whether you’ve received a camera as a gift or decided to splash out, the Smart photography course is the perfect companion.

The course tackles all the elements necessary to take you from a novice to confident photographer. Coupled with our unique mentoring service we believe that anyone has the potential to take awesome photos.

Train yourself to become a professional photographer

The aim of creating a photography course was always to inspire and cultivate new and exciting talent.

As we have mentioned our mentoring service was designed to be a sounding board where our students can ask us anything.

One of our students got in touch about improving their sports photography recently and you can read Martins story here.

At Smart, we have created a community of photographers of all ages, genders and abilities. Our students inspire each other within the forums and competition is always fierce but friendly. Everyone is there to help each other become the best photographer that they can be.

professional photographer using expensive camera

Train yourself to become professional photographer

How should you go about choosing the right course for your needs?

Many online courses are expensive and, as a result, you should research each course substantially before signing up.

Putting in the effort in the research phase is vital to ensure you have a smooth, enjoyable learning experience.

Underneath you will find several tasks to undertake to help you find the perfect online photography courses for you.

Define your class requirements

Before you enrol you should first note down your class requirements and ask yourself a series of questions about what you need to know.

Defining your class requirements is the best way of choosing the right photography class for you. You know exactly what you want to achieve and can compare and contrast how the classes stack up against each other.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I want a more theory or practical approach?
  • Is this course for beginners, amateurs or everyone?
  • Am I looking for course with expert tutors and mentors?
  • Are the style of photographs that the experts create important to me?
  • Do I require interactive or book based learning?
  • Am I after classes that are very structured or ones that are flexible to my needs?
  • Do I want camera specific classes or generic?
  • What do I want included in the class?
  • What’s my budget? How much does it cost? Is that one-time fee or monthly?
  • What do I get after completing all classes?

Asking yourself the above questions will help give you a better understanding on what you want to achieve and what are your requirements.

Write down you want to learn

While course requirements are important, the most crucial aspect to consider is what do you actually want to learn.

Many students have a very specific learning requirement, for example, ‘I want to be able to take great photos of my children’ whereas some students prefer a more generic approach, for example, ‘I want to understand how to take better photos with my camera’.

Putting together a list of goals and requirements will help you when researching all the different courses and what they have to offer.

computer and notepad with list of course requirements

List of photography course requirements

I want my photography class to:

  • learn how to make sure my photos will be always in focus
  • take photos that are clear and nice
  • learn why there is dots on the image when it’s dark
  • make my photos pop
  • learn how to edit my photos to make them look better
  • understand how to operate my camera
  • understand which lens is best for each scenario
  • learn how to take photos of my children playing sport
  • understand the philosophies behind what makes a great photo
  • learn the difference between ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed
  • take photos that I can print out and hang on my wall

Research Courses Online

Research, research, research. We are big believers that one of the strongest skills you will learn as a photographer is research. Whether that’s researching how to achieve a specific look in your photos or how to edit photos like your idol. Every day you will research something new that will hopefully make you a better photographer.

We believe that you should apply the same philosophy to find the online classes that best suit you and your needs.

So how do you go about researching current classes online?

Well it’s pretty simple and straightforward, Google.

Google is potentially a photographer’s greatest tool. It can help solve nearly any problem. Using it to help you choose your photography class is a no-brainer.

Doing in-depth and thorough research should give you the best chance in finding your dream class.

Steps to take to find the perfect class

Search Online for Classes

Doing a simple search for a photography class will reveal a list of brilliant classes all offering different learning platforms, specialising in different areas of photography.

Rather than just searching ‘online photography class’ you could also add parameters that a specific to your needs such as ‘online photography classes for children’ or ‘online photography classes with certificates’. Doing this allows you to get results that are ideal for your current needs and wants.

Just a quick note, photography can be taught to people of all ages. Many parents use photography as a way to develop their childrens social skills or as a great way to learn new skills. You can find out more about photography for elementary school children here.

Make a list

Put together a list of your favourite classes from your research. Consider everything from how professional their website is to course offerings. Look into their modules and the features you get when you sign up.

Research Each Class Provider

Do further research online looking for everything from verified reviews to social media activity. Getting an understanding of how active and reliable these providers are will help you make a well informed decision.

Things to consider and look for:

  • Do they have a blog? When was the last time they posted?
  • Can you view student reviews on their website?
  • Are there reviews on external websites such as trust pilot or yelp?
  • How professional does their website look?
  • Do they have an active social media presence? Check out their facebook, instagram and twitter.
  • Do they have a student gallery so you can see exactly the type of photos you will learn to take?

Research Local Courses Near You

If you are looking for more local photography courses then you should research for different organisations offering classes near you.

In a section above we have put together a list of resources to help you find classes near you.

Once you have found a selection of local classes you should delve into what makes each class great.

Try and visit the class location and ask for flyers or more information from the members of staff.

If you are considering joining a class put on by a local photographer then reach out to them with a list of questions. They should be able to answer any questions you may have meaning you have the knowledge to help choose the best photography class.

Check out the class syllabus

One of the best ways to ensure you get the most out of your learning experience is to ask for the course syllabus. If a class provider presents a detailed and well ordered syllabus you should be able to breakdown and see exactly what you will learn if you sign up.

Many syllabuses will be broken down into sections such as beginner or professional. Here you will be able to see exactly what each class caters for. If they have a particularly strong beginner outline then you can take a guess that it’s more engineered to photography amateurs and vice versa.

Even if you believe your skills are better than amateur it is sometimes good to take a beginner class as well. This will ensure that you aren’t out of your depth in any advanced classes that you join or take part in.

Decide on Free or Paid

The big question, ‘Should I join a paid class or look for free alternatives?’, well this is ultimately a decision you will have to make however knowing whether a class is free or paid will help you narrow down your initial search.

Below we have put together a great guide to whether you should go free or paid but at the end of the day it all comes down to whether you want to spend money or not.

Think about time commitments

We are all very busy with work, family, friends etc and that’s why it’s important to either choose a course that fits your time requirements or a course that is ‘learn in your own time’ like Smart.

At Smart we believe that you should be able to come and go as you please. You are given a simple dashboard to help yourself progress on our step-by-step learning platform meaning you can check out a module on the train, spend 10 minutes learning about how ISO affects an image or just relax in the sun on holiday as you learn to master your camera modes.

Analogue Vs. Digital Courses

You should always remember to ask whether a course offers film and analogue lessons or is a more focused on digital photography.

Nowadays many of the lessons on offer will be digital camera based classes.

If you are keen on finding a film photography class you should research classes that specialise in film photography and development.

Many photographers who shoot different genres of photography will either specialise in digital photography or film photography. For example, Elisa Bricker regularly runs brilliant film based workshops that anyone can sign up to.

While many photographers will shoot a combination of both digital and film, photographers that have experience in film photography will often offer online classes and local workshops.

Online photography classes will often be better suited to digital photography. Film photography however is very much hands on, especially in the development process.

photo of a digital camera - dslr

Minolta Digital SLR Camera

Free Vs. Paid Courses

Learning photography can be easy. If you choose the right class for you then the learning process should be natural and efficient in manner. This will allow you to master your camera in an exciting way.

Before you start your photography journey the chances are you are going to have to make the big decision of whether or not you should pay to join a professional class or take advantage of many of the free alternatives.

In our opinion it all really comes down to one question. Are you getting value for money?

Yes of course, any free course has one huge plus point.. IT’S FREE. However sometimes the free alternatives are lacking in features and may eventually stint your photography growth.

Consider what you want to learn and what the course outline covers

Traditionally speaking a free class will have a set syllabus and you will learn exactly what you are told with limited feedback or hands on practicalities. It’s for these reasons that we believe the best way to go would be to choose a course that is great value for money.

A range of classes that are flexible to you and your needs as well being interactive means you can ask questions and receive real time answers.

If you can ask questions to your tutors then generally speaking you will have access to an already knowledgeable photography creative.

That being said, just because a course is paid, it doesn’t mean that it will necessarily help you learn photography or more importantly, achieve your photography goals. That’s where value for money and researching your class is of vital importance and can make or break your photography journey.

Smart is a paid online photography course and always will be. We use our tuition fees to ensure that we provide the latest photography teaching. All classes are delivered by the world’s best photography lecturers, mentors and professors.

You will be given a fundamentals of photography course to work through as we encourage you to interact with our active community, photography mentors and unique online learning platform.

If you still aren’t sure whether you want to head down the paid class route then we have put together a list of pluses and minuses for each. Hopefully it will help guide your direction.

Advantages Vs. Disadvantages

Paid Advantages

  • Up to date and constantly evolving with the ever changing photography industry
  • Usually developed by experienced photographers
  • Flexible and intuitive in nature
  • Include support or guidance
  • In-depth, covering a broad range of photography topics
  • Highly reviewed and recommended
  • Money Back Guarantee
  • Professional and well put together
  • Step by step learning platform
  • All modules categorised and put into one large learning program

Paid Disadvantages

  • Costs involved when joining
  • That’s pretty much it but it’s obviously a big call to invest your well earned money

Free Advantages

  • Completely free to join
  • Usually photography topic specific

Free Disadvantages

  • Rigid class syllabus with little to no support
  • Limited to part time staff with limited practical photography experience
  • Crowded membership communities limiting face-to-face mentoring
  • Simplistic in nature
  • Limited Functionality

Obviously this list seems a little one-side coming from a paid photography class however the big advantage of a free class is of course that it’s free.

Questions you should ask course providers

As part of the research part of sign up to an online course you should reach out to the course provider and ask question about what to expect.

Below is a rough guide of questions we recommend asking before signing up.

Can you ask questions to tutors?

Knowing you can interact with the class providers is very important. If you get stuck or need advice the ability to ask real-time questions will help make the learning process much simpler.

How much does the course cost?

Always ask the cost of the classes before signing up. Most classes will have a one-time joining fee offering you lifetime membership however some classes will require payment per diploma.

This may seem cheaper to begin with however in the long run can cost considerably more than the one-time fee classes.

Many class memberships also offer an option to pay via monthly instalments.

Learning photography has other associated costs that can be reviewed here.

Are classes structured or flexible?

Understanding the manner in which you will learn photography is very important. Will you have to attend classes with set times or can you learn in your own time?

Choosing a course that allows you to learn when and whenever you want means you won’t miss out on any important classes. This allows you to jump back in whenever you want.

You also need to ask about how flexible the course can be to your chosen field of photography. For example if you want to be a landscape photographer and the classes cover golden hour shooting rather than your preferred night time cityscape photography, how flexible can it be in order to achieve your goals?

Who runs the class?

Again a big question to ask, who actually runs the class? Is it put together by experienced photographers with a strong history of photography mentoring and teaching?

Knowing exactly who you are learning from means you can make a well informed decision on whether the classes are right for you. Do you like their photos? Is the style something you are keen to replicate?

Do you have any reviews from students?

Reviews and recommendations are very important in the online class sector. If a photography class has multiple, in-depth case studies then the chances are that what they are offering is reliable and well priced.

Finding highly recommended online photography classes means you should be in good company of many other members who have already experienced the classes.

happy photography course graduate

Happy photography course student that has recently graduated

What do you get at the end of the course?

Earlier in this article we discussed the difference between certificates, degrees and diplomas and knowing exactly what you receive at the end of the program should set you in good stead for your photography future.

Do you want to use your experience to apply for a new job? Are you looking to start your own photography business? Understanding your goals should help you decide which course to choose. Different classes may have different outcomes that many better benefit one student or the other.

Is there a money back guarantee?

Sometimes you may choose a class that just isn’t quite right for you. It’s good to know exactly what the providers money back terms are.

Generally speaking a photographer who has put on a workshop that you have attended is unlikely to offer money back. An online photography class provider may offer you a set amount of time where you can get a full refund.

Is the photography school accredited?

Accreditation is definitely something that needs to be considered before choosing your course.

Finding a selection of photography classes that have been credited by a well known organisation is a good place to start when looking for your photography classes.

One of the most popular accreditors is CPD. CPD often work with online education platforms to ensure the education being issued is up to a high standard.

How long does the course last?

Some classes have a membership scheme where you have lifetime access to all their classes. This ensures that you are also up to date with the latest photography techniques allowing you to continue to learn.

Many courses have a time limit or time commitments that are not flexible to your needs. In some circumstances this can be a good thing as it can encourage you to learn. Some students may require a more flexible approach.

You should always ask the class operators to provide information on time commitments. Ask how long it would take you to complete each class.

Learning photography can be quick and easy, or long and enjoyable. You can find out about how long it takes to learn photography on our ‘How Long To Learn’ page.

Free Certificate: Do most courses offer photography certificates?

One of the benefits of signing up to a photography course is that once all your hard work is done, you will receive a photography certificate showcasing your achievements.

However, not all online courses will offer a free certificate as part of their program. If a certificate is important to you it’s crucial ask a course representative their policy.

What certificate will you receive?

There are many different forms of certificates that you may receive when signing up. They include physical ‘hang on the wall certificates’, digital certificates or simply letters of acknowledgement more commonly in email form.

When you sign up to Smart the main certificate you will achieve is a ‘Certificate of Achievement on the Fundamentals of Photography’. This certificate confirms that you have passed our course and are accomplished with various camera functions and photographic disciplines.

It is a digital photography certificate however can easily be changed to a physical diploma meaning you can hang it on the wall and display it proudly.

The Smart learning platform is constantly adding diplomas and certificates to its archive. As your subscription never runs out you will have access to any future courses, modules or certificates that we release in the future.

How can a photography certificate help you?

Earning a photography certificate can put you at a major advantage when continuing on your photography journey.

Many of our photography students have used their certificates to form part of their resume and help them successfully stand out amongst the competition.

Your certificate can be used to help you in your current job role and potentially earn you a promotion. Many of our students have also used the certificate to help attract new customers to their own business.

Running your own photography studio it is sometimes hard to stand out. However, having certification from a trusted online platform like Smart really enforces your ability as a photographer to prospective clients.

Do you have to pay for your course certificate?

No. Not if you are part of Smart.

Once you had become a member of Smart you will be given full access to our learning platform and the assessments you will need to complete to earn your free certificate.

Our assessment is presented as a series of questions covering the basics of photography. If you pass, you will receive your free photography certificate.

The modules covered in our course are wide ranging and will benefit a beginner right through to a professional photographer.

As a result of passing the photography course you will receive photography certification from a highly acclaimed training provider. This certificate is 100% free.

Are online classes the best way to learn photography?

There are so many ways to learn photography from online classes, practical learning sessions and online ‘how-to’ videos.

Smart specialises in online learning but also tries to provide all of the below as part of its program. Combining all the different ways to learn allows Smart to offer the most comprehensive online photography learning platform.

We also have photography meetups and topic specific workshops meaning you also get great hands on experience as well as theory based learning.

While there is no ‘best’ way to learn photography there is so many choices and one of the ways may fit your requirements better than others.

silhouette of photographer learning to use camera

Silhouette of a photographer during a lesson

Classes & Courses

Usually a step by step program taking you from a photography newbie to a master of the camera.

Online classes and courses are similar to a full university degree without the time commitments and restrictions. Many classes also offer degree certificates for all graduating members.

While there is no best option, photography courses are definitely the most complete and detailed options of all the learning platforms. Most online courses aim to bring the best of online learning into one, simple to use program.

Online Tutorials

Many well known photography magazines offer tutorials for specific camera and photography problems. Most of these are often free to read as the websites earn their money through advertising. For example, DP mag has a great article on how to focus stack. It’s tutorials like this that are great for very specific requirements.

Because photography is such a vast subject there isn’t really one online tutorial to rule them all. Each tutorial tends focus a specific topic and is excellent at going into detail on the specifics of that problem.

Youtube Videos

Youtube is one of the world’s most popular websites and with over 100 hours of video uploaded every minute. This means there is bound to be some brilliant photography content for you to browse at your heart’s content.

Most of the YouTube channels will offer a range of photography related content, reviews and advice however once again tend to focus on a specific element of photography per video.

A lot of the time channels may be influenced by the users which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. If the channel has many experienced photographers they may request more advanced tutorials meaning the content is not right for you.

For example, Pixel Village often has live reviews and usage guides on specific photography gear.

Finding the perfect YouTube channel can be a real challenge however having access to such a vast resource will allow you to learn some brilliant photography techniques.

Getting out and about

Practical photography experience has got to be the only required way to learn photography. Theory is all well and good but until you put what you have learned into action you haven’t really learned photography.

Anything can be used as a practical photography lesson. Learn to take your camera out regularly meaning you can photograph daily life as it unfolds.

Use family and friends as your subjects, learn to put your camera settings into action when photographing pets; pull out your smartphone when you see something interesting and exciting.

Anything and everything can be your artwork. Learning to use your camera you can will give you the most rewarding photography experience and truly develop your photography skills.

photographer capturing shot of architecture

Photography Walk: Student gets out and about taking photos

Second Shooting

Another tick for the practical, hands on learning box here.

Second shooting is a great way to learn photography for two reasons; everything we mentioned above and also the fact you would get to shadow an already experienced photography professional.

Many photographers require assistants and back up photographers to help them capture certain areas of their chosen profession.

Try to second for a photographer that is willing to teach and is of a similar style to the photos you are inspired by. This will mean that you get the most of your second shooter experiences.

Thanks for reading our guide into online photography courses and classes. If you have any questions about anything above please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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