A picture is worth a thousand words. But a blurry or overexposed one is not worth a single look. And it comes with a thousand excuses. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you have many photos like that. When you show them to others, you have to explain that your hand was shaky, the exposure was too long, or that you can’t really see all the glorious details that were there in front of you.
“Your first 1,000 photographs are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Fortunately, that’s something good online photography training can easily fix!
One of the reasons I got into photography was that it’s such an easily accessible medium – anybody can take a photo and everybody gets it. Not everybody can take a great photo and not everybody will appreciate its artistic value. And that’s the challenge of it, building up the skill to be able to tell the story, learning how to post-process the photo to take it further.
Speaking of anybody being able to take a photo, did you know that we now take more photos in a minute or two than a total of the photos taken in all of the 19th century?! Wow!
While most of those photos are surely simple snapshots, almost all of them contain emotional and personal stuff. And years later when we look at them, we will be handsomely rewarded. We capture special moments in our lives, we can look back and relive our journeys, remember people from the past, be reminded of sights, smells, sounds, and all those details that we completely forgot about…
“Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.” – Peter Adams
Luckily, even some of these less tangible skills can be learned in a course. Combined with the relatively simple technical know-how, we can vastly improve these visual records that can become important documents of our future and the future of our children and others that will come after them.
I started my photography journey on film and ended up shooting mostly black-and-white and color reversal (slides). You really needed to master the exposure to get that Provia stock to give you the most saturation. You had to know your filters, too. There were no previews and no do-overs so I always bracketed up and down. I also had plenty of fun with cross-processing and push-processing.
Most of those skills are no longer useful. But now I’ve become a damn good Photoshop user and I know that there’s a lot more that can be done in the post. Though I have to add that the level of satisfaction is not nearly the same. We took less photos more carefully and they had more value. Each photo took more effort.
Anyway, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be looking for the best online digital photography courses or not. It turns out that the essentials are the same as before. It’s just that some tasks have been simplified and handed over to the camera’s automation. Some of those old skills have simply been retired. So the “digital” in the name is a given being that you’re not likely to be buying a film-based camera.
I gotta be honest – I didn’t know what to expect when I went searching for the best online photography classes. I had some idea and I expected to find a zillion great courses. There sure are a zillion of them out there, but most of them are either not that great or they don’t cover everything a beginner or any level photographer would need to know.
If I were building a list of specialized photography courses, that list would certainly be longer. That’s why I included some of those at the end. But as far as finding a go-to course that can teach you everything you need to know to go out and confidently click that shutter button, I ended up with only two.
I had a few other contenders that could not compare to the value of these. You simply can’t cover as much ground in a 4-hour course that you can with well over 20 hours of lectures. So here he have two excellent courses with lots of material. Being that there’s only one set of photography fundamentals, most of their syllabus is relatively similar, but they have slightly different angles.
Let’s check them out!
Best Online Digital Photography Courses
Photography Masterclass: A Complete Guide to Photography
With this online photography course, you will learn how to take breathtaking photos with your smartphone, mirrorless, or DSLR camera. Whatever your experience level may be, this comprehensive course has everything you need to take your photography to the next level.
In its first incarnation, this course had almost 175,000 students although there was half as many lectures. After collecting almost three years worth of comments, the creators of this course decided it was time to fix up all the weak points and create a 2.0 version. So the course I am looking at right now is completely redone from scratch.
If there ever was a course that could be called comprehensive, this is the one! It is impressive in so many ways. First, let me wow you by the sheer size of it:
- 21.5 hours long
- 332 lectures
- 38 sections
But don’t let its volume scare you! That’s a good thing!
Everything is well organized – it starts with the easy and important stuff and builds up to more specialized uses. Apart from everything that all photographers have to know, this course covers a number of topics that you may not even be interested in at the moment. But watching all the lectures will give you an opportunity to learn about something that you may not otherwise seek out. And you never know what’s gonna stick or inspire you!
Whether you’re interested in taking photos of people or nature, a great photographer – and even just a good one – needs to know how to handle their gear, compose a shot, and use the light or set it up. In addition to that, in this digital age, you also need to acquire some photo editing skills, even if it’s just the basics to begin with.
So by sharpening all these skills, you will be able to sell your photos and turn your passion into a career. Even if you have little or no experience with photography, this digital photography training will help you capture profitable images that stand out and sell.
There are lots of photography classes out there, though very few of this scope and size. This course really covers a lot of ground and is a rare gem that teaches you both how to take exceptional photos and how to make money selling them!
All of this course’s sections are further broken down into lectures. Some sections have just a few and others have a couple of dozen lectures. And not all lectures are videos – there are also dozens of PDFs. They cover tips, charts, guides, as well as lists of articles and resources to help you go deeper into any particular topic.
Here are some of the course sections:
- Focus and Depth of Field
- Camera Anatomy & Settings
- White Balance and Color
- Lighting & Flash Photography
- Mobile Photography
- Equipment (3) – Cameras, Lenses, Accessories
- Types of Photography (13) – Portrait, Long Exposure, Landscape, Product, Sports, Architecture, Weddings, Aerial, Wildlife…
- Photo Editing (8) – Photoshop, Lightroom, Photos for Mac, Google Photos…
- Start a Photography Business
- Selling Stock Photography
As you can see, there is a wide range of topics here. And they’re all just the right size. Big enough to teach you something, yet not too big to bore you or overwhelm you. As someone who has gone through the photography learning curve, I know that there will be areas that you’ll find easier or harder to either comprehend or command.
There will also be topics that you may not be interested yet because you need to tackle something else first. But all that will develop over time and your photography will evolve during that time. This course will always be there for you and you’ll be able to revisit any current topics at any time in the future.
There is always that question of who the course is for, what do I need to know, will I be falling behind and playing catch-up. And for technical skills, there is often the question of equipment that will be needed.
I think I already answered the first question so I’ll just briefly rephrase it.
This course is for:
- Total beginners wanting to become skilled photographers
- Any level photographer looking to sharpen their skills
- Anyone (teens, parents, travelers…) who takes regular photos of their lives
- Amateur aspiring photographers
- Anyone considering photography as a business or part-time income
As far as the gear goes, again, this course is open to anyone. Ideally, if you have a DSLR camera or a mirrorless camera in any price range, that would be great. A camera with an interchangeable lens would be even better.
You could even use a point-and-shoot camera or a smartphone. This course has a lot of information that is relevant for any camera. Photography is mainly about light and composition after all. The main difference would be that without manual settings or lens options, you won’t be able to immediately benefit from some of the lectures.
On the other hand, once you realize for example what a difference the depth of field makes, you just might start saving money for a DSLR so that you too can start taking million dollar photos! This is exactly the kind of stuff that I was thinking about when I said that you never know what might stick with you or get you inspired.
And check this out! When I was going through student reviews, I realized there are plenty of people without a camera taking this course. Duh, of course!
Great class! I don’t have a camera yet but I took this to boost my knowledge before I decided what was best for me. This course had more info than I even expected.
There’s a whole exciting world of photography waiting behind this door.
There are three instructors running this course: Phil Ebiner, Will Carnahan, and Sam Shimizu-Jones.
All three of them attended Film and Television Production at Loyola Marymount University. Phil runs Video School Online, an education platform where he’s been creating online courses since 2012. He has over 80 (!) courses on Udemy.
Will and Sam both have experience as photographers as well as cinematographers. This includes working with 16mm and 35mm film and photo formats all the way up to the current high-tech Hollywood favorites such as RED and Arri cameras. The two of them have a production company called Will Call Cinematic. They do work ranging from weddings and music videos to commercials and numerous big brand corporate clients.
There’s lots of talent, knowledge, and real-world experience between these three!
I always feel like I’m repeating myself when it comes to Udemy, but I guess I am LOL Thanks to their super-competitive pricing model, we have a platform where we can educate ourselves in any topic known to man for as little as $10, depending on the current sale they’re running. This course is no exception!
Not only is Udemy a great platform, but you get lifetime course access and you also get a 30-day guarantee. There is simply no way for you to lose!
The amount of value, practical know-how and substantial information that you get in one place is hard to measure. I know that bigger is not necessarily better and that the course duration can’t be the only way to gauge this. And it isn’t!
I’ve already enumerated so many ways that make this course awesome and all-encompassing. I’m trying to refrain from saying “comprehensive” yet again, but it’s simply the perfect word to describe it.
Finally, here’s what some of the students had to say about it.
The course has been a great refresher of my basic knowledge, together with the post-production introduction of which I had no previous exposure too.
I’ve been dabbling in photography for 4 years and after graduating college a few months ago I decided to turn it into a business. Without any formal training, this class was really a great jumping off point for me and covered a good foundation of what I needed to start my business
This course covered everything I hoped for and more. It’s made me use my camera equipment in a much more creative way and given me renewed enthusiasm to take stunning images rather than just photos.
Fundamentals of Photography
This course is designed as both a very comprehensive beginner class as well as one for any photographer who needs to go back to the classroom and catch up with the basics to reach the next level of photography. The Fundamentals of Photography course will not only teach you the technicals but also how to realize your creative vision.
Here’s another mega class that will provide you with a wealth of evergreen knowledge you’ll be using for as long as your finger can press the shutter button. This is an incredible, complete, and thorough online DSLR course that will have you revisiting some lectures. And certainly not because the instructor is not clear! I meant that you can and will reference the materials.
One of the many things that stand out about this course is the instructor’s ability to explain what some people may find to be complex technical info in a simple and easy-to-follow manner.
If there is a better instructor out there, show me.
We have here a long comprehensive course that runs almost 25 hours. It consists of 107 lessons, ten of which are exciting quizzes. It is broken down in these ten sections:
- The Camera
- The Sensor
- The Lens
- The Gadget Bag
- The Art of Editing
- Photographic Vision
As you can see, the syllabus covers everything any photographer needs to know to take exceptional photos. And it spends more times on subjects that are more important for both beginners and photographers in general.
The course has a very strong composition section that ties in well with everything you’ll learn about using the manual mode to tell the best story and get the most out of your photos.
The course’s teaching style puts the emphasis on experiential learning and high-quality presentation and visuals. There are so many student comments about the slides LOL
Kudos to the powerpoint/keynote designer, because it helps John clearly explain complicated concepts. A useful balance of visual and verbal presentation.
How about a course on how to make such astonishing slides!!??
You will learn how to take a step back from your images and think critically about your motivations and goals. You’ll learn how to examine your vision and recognize where you need improvement. When you understand the difference between one world seen by the human eye and the other seen by the camera sensor, you’ll be able to use your photography tools to their greatest potential.
Finally, you will get plenty of supplemental materials, PDFs and cheat sheets, resources, a workbook, and those quizzes are super interesting, engaging, and fun!
What I enjoyed most was actually the quiz. It gave a chance to apply what was learned without being in the field.
Like my previous pick, you do not need to have any previous photography knowledge to attend this course. As a beginner, this will give you the best possible starting point before you had a chance to create some lazy bad habits that may be difficult to kick later on.
I’ve been taking photos for years but never had any formal training. I thought this would be a great course to take to get my technical skills down pat. This is one of the best foundation classes of any one I’ve ever had. I wish I had taken this course as my first one. You live and learn.
And John’s amazing knowledge has plenty to deliver to those with some mileage as well.
I am an experienced photographer, with fine arts education. I am stunned by how much I learned from this class.
John Greengo is an award-winning photographer with over 30 years of experience. His specialty is outdoor and travel photography. He has an unrivaled understanding of the techniques, tools, and art of photography.
John is also a teacher with 90 (!) other courses on CreativeLive. Most of his shorter courses are fast-start overviews of specific camera models and lenses, and his other courses are about different aspects of outdoor photography.
In 19 years of learning, I have never, ever experienced an education so profound, an educator so adept or an experience so inspirational. John Greengo’s steadfast objectivity, approachable clarity, precise brevity, and unwavering patience allow him to put a technical, albeit dry topic into the grasp of anyone interested.
OMG, yet another home run for John Greengo. He’s not only the best Creative Live instructor but the best I’ve seen anywhere on photography.
CreativeLive is a great online learning platform from the US West Coast. Like Udemy, they give you lifetime access to the courses you purchase or you can get yearly access. Their classes can be streamed to the computer or the phone and for offline viewing. They have a 30 day 100% satisfaction guarantee.
The more time I spend looking at different courses on different platforms, the more I am loving CreativeLive. Udemy has a lot of courses dirt cheap, but often that reflects on the course quality so one needs to be careful. Here, the courses seem to be of the highest caliber. This is especially true for creative subjects such as photography.
This course delivers such quality information in a very high-quality manner, it makes it difficult to put a price on it. Yet, here it is, and often on sale for less than what you might pay for a nice polarizing filter!
Word of warning about CreativeLive though – don’t just jump in and buy access to the course you’re interested in. There’s usually a bundle listed under the instructor’s bio, and I’ll mention that shortly. And also, you should seriously consider access for a year. There are numerous amazing courses on this platform. If you have time and desire to learn, the world is your oyster!
This photography course is a total winner, no question about that! If we had an overall category for “the best course about anything ever”, I’m sure John’s amazing teaching style would have him in the top 10 and probably higher.
If you have more interest in studio photography and digital editing, this bundle might interest you. Aside from my favorite, the incredible Fundamentals of Photography, it comes with three more courses:
- Understanding Light
- Adobe Lightroom Classic CC: The Complete Guide
- Practical Adobe Photoshop Basics
As John Greengo’s course gives you only the basics of editing and deals with outdoor lighting, this bundle makes for a complete package. And like I already mentioned, if you’re thinking about buying it, you should look at the Creator Pass that gives you full access to over 1,500 courses for the whole year.
This Coursera course is delivered by the Michigan State University, but it is not accredited – you would only get a course completion certificate, though it might look more impressive than others. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I am not a fan of taking a course over a seven-month period and paying more for it.
Then again, this might work for those who like a more academic setting or don’t have much time during the course of the year. I’ll let you decide. It is a highly rated course, but it’s not nearly as comprehensive as my top two picks.
Here are some topic-specific gems from CreativeLive:
- 28 Days of Portrait Photography
- Business of Commercial Food Photography
- Travel Photography: The Complete Guide
- Mastering Long Exposure Photography
This is a great time to be learning anything and photography is no exception. When I was getting started, I had to lug much heavier cameras around in a big bag over my shoulder around New York City.
I learned mostly from books, which was not nearly as fun and effective. I also took a course at FIT from an uninspiring teacher who wasn’t always easy to understand. We had a class once a week for three-four months and it included lots of time in the darkroom – a skill that I never needed before or after that.
You now get tons of particular and useful information from excellent instructors that you can consume whenever and however it works for you. You do live in interesting times. Lucky you!
My vote goes to John Greengo but I gave you options so that you can make up your own mind.
Whichever path you take, you will learn a lot and your photography will greatly improve.