July 8, 2020

Learning Photography

Once you go beyond point and click what are the best ways of learning photography? This week we look at 7 ways to improve your photos

Photography is a great hobby, and for some, an enjoyable career. When you first pick up a camera, it’s easy to switch to the automatic mode and snap away. However, after a while, you’ll want to take more control of your camera. That’s when you’ll reach out to some form of learning to help improve your pictures. There isn’t one method of learning that is going to be right for everyone, but it’s good to know the various sources to help improve your skills and knowledge.

Learning Styles

As with many areas of academic study, there are a variety of definitions of how people learn. They broadly fit into four groups. Visual, where an individual learns by seeing. Auditory in which they learn by hearing. Kinesthetic, where touching and doing is vital. Finally, read/write, which places emphasis on the written word.

In reality, most people will use all four of these learning styles, but they may lean toward one or two as their preferred method. When I first began to get serious about photography in the early 2000’s, I was limited to reading books and magazines. It wasn’t necessarily my preferred style, but it was the only one available that suited the time I had. Today, we are going to look at different places where you can go to so you can develop your photography.

Books and Magazines

Back in the day, the budding photographer would have turned to the written word as their first source of learning. Once you had got to grips with the technical aspects of the camera, books such as Andreas Feininger’s The Creative Photographer were the reading matter of choice. It has to be said; it is a hard book to get into. A photography book with only 31 photographs means that you have to be a firm read/write learning style type of person.

Of course, books have developed since 1955 when the Feininger was first released. Printing costs have reduced, and so many photography books today are a combination of words and pictures to help guide the learning process. I have just launched an e-book, Photography Basics – Getting Started with your DSLR, that I hope gives a new photographer the necessary skills for taking better photographs.

Monthly and weekly magazines are also a great source of photography knowledge. If you subscribe to a magazine for two or three years, then you’ll start to see a pattern develop. Getting the most of autumnal colours will be in every September issue and there will always be a feature on indoor still life photos in April when we expect showers. Hopefully, the editors of the magazine are employing different writers each year so they can reflect the changes in technology that may have occurred since the last ‘version’ of the article was published.

Websites and Blogs

One step removed from books and magazines as a learning source are blogs on a website. If you’re reading the online version of this blog, then you’ll be fully aware of the benefits. A combination of words and pictures helps the learning process. The bonus is that you can carry limitless blogs on a small device such as a tablet or smartphone.

An online blog also brings you a step closer to the author. There are very often contact pages or comments boxes attached to a website, so if you don’t quite understand a concept, there’s an easy way to reach out for clarification. The downside of using sites for education is the sheer volume of choice. How do you decide from the multitude of pages the ones that will be the most benefit? Try searching for the phrase ‘Photography Help’ on Google, and it delivers nearly 7.4 billion results!

Videos and Vlogs

A logical progression from a blog leads us to the visual and auditory led vlogs and videos. Photographers flood YouTube and Vimeo with instructional videos on topics from the technical aspect of shooting through to editing tips and techniques.

I find that Vlogs are a great way to dip in and out of a subject quickly. If there’s a particular technique that I want to learn more about, then I’ll usually head to YouTube for some instruction. The downside I often find is that there’s often quite a lot of pre and post-learning fluff in the videos. I find that I am sliding the timeline indicator back and forth through a 20-minute video when I only need two or three minutes of actual information.


Losing the visual aspect of learning, and we arrive at podcasts. A podcast is much more suited to the subject of today’s blog. Hopefully, you are enjoying the fifth edition of the Edinburgh Photography Workshop podcast. Don’t also forget the recommendations we gave a few weeks ago on six other photography podcasts that are well worth a listen.

I find podcasts are a great way to have your interested peaked on a subject that you can then research in more detail using one of the other methods. If you’ve seen me walking to one of my Switch to Manual workshop in Edinburgh, then I’ll usually be wearing a pair of AirPods. Podcasts are great for a bit of multi-tasking, allowing you to walk and learn at the same time!

Friends and Buddy’s

People who work in photography often forget that photography isn’t just a job. For most people, it’s a friendly activity that gets you out with friends to enjoy the outdoors. There are plenty of meet-up groups where you can head out to take photos with a few like-minded people. Quite often, one or two will be knowledgeable and are quite happy to share some of their knowledge and skills with others in the group. It’s a free (or cheap) resource for learning, and you’ll have fun at the same time.

A downside of this method of learning is that it can lead to some bad habits, or in the worst case, misinformation. There’s no guarantee of the capability of an enthusiastic amateur and their reputation isn’t going to be tainted too much if they give wrong information. It isn’t saying you shouldn’t use this method as a way of learning, but treat it with care.

Workshops and Tours

A formal step away from heading out with friends is to pay a professional photographer to provide guidance and coaching in the form of workshops and tours. Now, just like the last learning methodology, there is no guarantee of the quality of advice you are going to get. However, you are more likely to have external reviews and recommendations to judge if you are going to be investing or wasting your hard-earned money.

My Switch to Manual workshop for beginners has over 150 reviews available to read on TripAdvisor. At the time of writing it is rated #1 in Classes and Workshops in Edinburgh. I’m also happy to share details of people who have agreed to chat with future attendees. Probably, the best way I can show the quality of training is right is the progress students have made. You can look back on the blog to see Sally, who is now regularly selling her photographs for publication in newspapers and Billy who recently gained the LRPS distinction for his panel of pictures.

A photography tour is a less formal way of learning but is another sociable way to advance your skills. You can use the Clik-Trip website to find different tours all around the world, and again you can check on the quality of the tuition by reading reviews.

Courses and Classes

The final learning method we’ll look at today is courses. You can broadly split these into two types. Formal training courses with a mixture of reading, practical and face to face learning. Informal classes that are usually online.

If you want to pursue a formal route to developing your photography skills, then providers such as the Open College are a good start. They offer a Foundation Course which aims to cover the fundamentals of creative, technical and visual skills of photography. The tutors are all qualified lecturers and teachers so you can be sure that the level of teaching will be right. However, they come at a cost. The Foundation Course is £900, and if you chose to carry on to gain the BA Hons degree, the price would rise to £3,000 – £4,000. Formal courses are for those who already have some skills and want to seek a proper qualification.

An alternative and slightly less formal are online class providers. Good examples of these are Lynda.com, Shaw Academy and Linkedin Learning. All these companies offer a range of courses for a monthly fee. The fee includes a gradual learning program with some practical tasks for you to build on the theoretical lessons. There may be some support provided, but it tends to be quite generic with some use of artificial intelligence to keep the costs down. There will usually be a certificate provided at the end of the course but don’t expect a formal qualification. It’s to show that you have completed all the sessions you paid for in the class – not that you have reached a certain standard

Listen along

If you don’t feel like spending time reading these blogs, you can now listen to them instead. Head to your usual podcast providers such as iTunes or Google podcasts and search for The Edinburgh Photography Workshop Podcast. If you do like listening, please subscribe to hear it every week and leave a review. That helps others to find the podcast as well.

Give us your feedback

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