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Best Online Photography Classes, The Definitive Guide

Welcome to Smart and our ultimate guide to local and online photography classes and, more specifically, Smart’s awesome online photography class.

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 online classes available.

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

The are of this page is to guide you through everything you need to know when choosing your photography class and of course, why you should choose Smart. We all knew that was coming!

We also want to give you a heads up and let you know that this page is all about our opinion. Everyone has different wants and requirements but we hope this guide will at least give you enough information allowing you to choose the class 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 round-up of best classes for beginners. Those looking 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.

If you love this page and are keen to sign up onto the Smart photography course then head on over to our homepage to find out a little more information.

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

feature image for online photography classes

Photography Classes: The Definitive Guide to Online Photography Classes

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What are online photography classes?

So where better to start than explaining what exactly a photography class is…

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 classes cover 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.

Our classes really do cover everything you could possibly need to learn on your photography journey.

Below are a list of what we believe are minimal requirements when selecting your class.

A place to learn photography

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

Most classes offer both study and hand’s on experience, for example, using your camera in a live session and learning specifically how to improve and take better shots.

Generally speaking, all classes 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 curriculum before you sign up. This way you will know exactly what the class will cover and whether it covers 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 photography class. Working closely with other photographers will allow you to share your experiences as well as encouraging personal development as 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 everyones different perspective on what make a photo good.

While Smart is primarily an online photography class 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 other photographers.

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

A place to receive photography mentoring and support

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

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 classes you may find don’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 class 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 class should cover.

Another heads up, if you want to know why that specific photographer may have only got 5 in focus then sign up the amazing Smart photo course…. Shameless plug alert.

What do your classes cover?

Ok so you’ve heard us mention the photography classes that Smart has to offer already but we thought it best to outline exactly what we offer in our course. Below is a short summary of everything that you will learn when signing up to Smart and its classes.

Everything from mastering your camera to marketing your studio

First of all we want to be clear, the Smart course covers everything you could ever possibly need to know about photography. From mastering your camera settings to learning how to increase sales to your photography studio. Smart has a class for you.

So why are we so convinced that the Smart course covers everything? Well that’s easy. Our 1 to 1 mentoring. While there may be specific areas that our classes don’t mention, we can help find the perfect solution to your needs. Just send us your question via our mentoring page and we give you the answer. Even if we don’t know the answer there and then we will reach out to our networks and help find you the solution allowing you to continue learning photography.

Our classes are designed to help take you from zero to hero. Even if you have never picked up a camera, we believe we are ideally suited to help teach you photography. No matter what your overall goal, our classes can help teach you the basics right through to becoming a master of your camera.

man adjusts camera settings for photograph

Choose a course that covers camera settings

Camera Settings

It’s important for you to know the in’s and outs of how your camera works and what settings work in any given photography situation.

Having an intimate knowledge of your camera can help you create awesome images and our classes delve into all the important camera settings.

We look at how you can set up your camera allowing you to choose the right ISO, aperture or shutter speed for creating the desired effect in your imagery.

Photographic Principles

Speaking of ISO, aperture and shutter speed (aka the golden triangle), our classes will look to cover the important photographic principles that you will need to understand in order to become a great photographer. From composition to lighting, all our classes look into everything that creates a photo and everything you need to understand to improve your current photographic abilities.

Niche Specific Topics

Our classes aren’t just generic to all forms of photography but go into very specific areas and niches. We have ‘101’ classes on various genres of photography including wedding photography, landscape photography even black and white photography. With a range of different niches covered we will make sure that you are able to advance in your desired genre allowing you to reach the top of your game.

Business Classes

A lot of our budding photographers are looking to turn their passion into their career and with our mentoring we can help set you on the right career path meaning your photography can provide for you and your family.

Our mentoring goes into such business specifics as choosing the right equipment, setting up your business the right way, whether to work from home or own your own studio. With so many different areas that you need to be competent in it’s great to have Smart by your side every step of the way.

Where to find your photography inspiration

Inspiration is a fundamental aspect of photography training and with Smart classes you will be able to learn how to use your inspiration to create you own amazing artwork.

With inspiration being all around you it’s great to know how to utilise that inspiration as well as knowing exactly where to find the best sources of inspiration for you personally.

A history of photography

One thing we are also passionate about is where we have come from. While having a deep knowledge of photography history really isn’t important in ensuring you can take great photos, we believe that it’s paramount to understand how your camera became your camera and how certain photo’s and photographers helped lead the way to where we are now.

This is more of a fun module but also a great exercise in learning all about photography.

collection of vintage and old photographs

Learn the history of photography

What camera will Smart classes cover?

One of the most common questions we get asked by our students is will the 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.


Our mentors and tutors are trained in the latest Nikon cameras such as the new Nikon D850. 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 classes to you.


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.

image of fujifilm camera

Fujifilm Camera


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.


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, 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 photos.

photographer taking photo using smartphone

Smartphone & iPhone photography lessons

Do your classes have any other features?

The Smart course is packed full of hundreds of features all aimed at making your photography journey as fun, interactive and efficient as possible. All our features mean learning photography can be easy for you.

Below is a few of our main features that you will have access to upon joining Smart.


If you sign up to Smart you also get access to our 1 to 1 mentoring. A feature that we have become renowned for over the years.

Once you have logged into your dashboard you can click on the mentoring section and choose of the option of how to get involved. The 2 most popular ways are contact via email or live chat via our facebook page.

Some mentoring questions may require a little bit more time to get the best answer for you but rest assured, our tutors will strive to help you in any way they can.

24.7 Support

Sometimes you may require a little bit of help navigating your way through our course and all the classes we offer.

Our support guys and gals are there all day long to help resolve any issues you may have. We want your entire Smart experience to be stress free allowing you to learn photography in the perfect educational environment.

Interactive Quizzes & Assignments

All photography classes have a combination of both practical and theory. Our quizzes and assignments as designed to help measure your progress so far giving you an insight into how you are doing in each class.

Fundamentals of Photography

The prime goal of Smart is to teach you photography. Our classes are designed to take you from photographer zero to photography hero.

The classes start right at the beginning, the fundamentals of photography. It’s an in-depth learning program with step-by-step modules designed at creating a natural progression for your photography abilities.

Resources & Downloads

As a member of Smart you also access to all the resources that we have accumulated over the years.

This includes all the freebies and discounts that you need to start your photography journey. Whether it’s discounts for website hosting, free editing presets or the latests offers available for camera equipment, we’ve got you covered.

Updated Classes

The photography industry is always changing and as a result so are the Smart classes.

We are constantly updating the course for the latest trends as we aim to deliver a photography class that moves with the time meaning you get the most up to date information and learning you can.

Lifetime Membership

When you join Smart you get access to all the features and classes for life.

There is no expiration on your membership meaning you are always learning as we add new and exciting modules to the course.

Why should you choose Smart and our classes?

There are so many reasons we believe that Smart is the perfect choice when choosing your photography class.

Below are just a few reasons why you should consider Smart.

Highly Recommended

Our students love us. Thats a fact.

When we developed the Smart course we knew that we needed to create something that our students loved. It was simple really, if they don’t like it, make it better.

Over the past few years we have accumulated a wealth of knowledge and now truly believe that we have developed a course that everyone will love.

We are lucky that a lot of our new members come from other photography students referrals. It’s great to know that Smart is so highly recommended.

Head on over to our reviews page to see thoughts from our students.

Created by Award Winning Photographers

Before we started creating the Smart photography classes our founders Tom and Mike were real life photographers. Wedding photographers actually.

Over their career they managed to pick up several leading photography awards meaning they could put all their know-how into making Smart a truly inspirational learning platform.

Part of the photography mentoring we also offer is specifically dedicated to teaching you how to win your own awards with your photography. We believe that with the right work ethic every photographer has the potential to reach the top of their chosen photography field.

The best photography classes alongside the perfect mentoring program.

Classes that are tailored to you

All our classes are designed specifically for you and your requirements. You learn in your own time and at your own pace allowing you to get the most out of the course.

With our mentoring program we lend advice on how everything you learn in each and every class can be applied in your chosen field. Everything we cover in the classes is relevant to all niches of photography

Always there to help

We believe that when you join Smart it’s a collaboration between yourself and us with the overall goal of allowing you to reach the top of your chosen photography field.

Whether it’s our advisors and tutors offering you 1 to 1 mentoring, or our course specialists guiding you through the classes; everyone at Smart is always there to help in any way we possibly can.

Will I really learn photography?

Well it wouldn’t be a good photography class 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 then Smart is the ideal place for you start.

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.

Smart is there give you the best facilities possible on your way to the top.

Designed to cover every aspect of photography?

The Smart platform is designed to cover every aspect of photography, whether it’s through our fundamentals of photography course, our library of over 400 videos or 1 to 1 tuition. Our classes leave no stone unturned.

Business or Hobby

We have a broad range of classes meaning you can pick and choose what you learn.

All of our students have different needs and requirements which is why we believe in tailoring the Smart learning experience exclusively to you.

We have numerous business related classes and will even guide you through the process of starting your own photography career.

We also have many more hobbiest style classes such as learning the art of photography.

Technical and Science behind photography

As well as learning how to capture awesome photographs we will also cover the technical aspects behind photography and your camera.

You will learn the science behind exposure and light, compositional techniques as well as even diving into how chemistry and physics affect your images.

How do I sign up to Smart and all their classes?

I think we have perhaps banged our own drum for long enough so just time to answer one more question before we continue with the rest of the photography course guide…

How do I join Smart? Joining Smart is easy, just head on over to our join now page and select your membership. After selecting hit the big JOIN NOW button, tell us a bit about yourself and you are on your way.

If you have any further questions you can always ask us questions via our contact page.

What are the best photography classes near me?

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

Having said that 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 pick up great photography class deals as well as other services that may help find a course near you.

How do I find photography classes near me?

Groupon – Believe it or not the renowned discount app 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.

University Degrees – If you really wanted 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 classes 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 enrollment procedures.

How do I find 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.

Community Centers – Another great way to learn photography may be classes and courses put on by photographers at your local community center.

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

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

Local Photographers – Many local photographers will also run workshops and classes specifically 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.

Services to find courses near me

There are hundreds of different platforms that offer services to help find the nearest classes to learn photography. In fact over the coming months Smart is going to launch its own class finder.

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.

Class Finders

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. – One of the most popular online search options is 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.

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

Classes are likely to be Nikon related but you may be able to apply what you learn to your chosen camera.

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.

Other Mentions

Today at AppleApples ‘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. Unlike the other services local photographer 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 to you straight away.

The history of photography classes

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

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

Classes 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 classes really are a great way to learn however we always recommend choosing a class that offer 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 marketing 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.

We went ahead and created a small list of the top photography classes in different niches. The classes we have listed are across the US, Europe and Australia and are all well worth checking out. See below for more information.

people sitting listening to photography lecture

Live Photography Workshop and lecture

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.

Another great reason to go on a photography retreat would be that generally speaking, each photographer talks specifically about different areas they have success in. Some photographers may talk about how to optimise your website for Google, or great sales techniques to help you book more commissions.

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

Below is a list of upcoming classes as well as some of our favourite photography retreats and conferences.

Recommended other classes

Wedding Photography

Landscape Photography

Commercial Photography

Fashion Photography Classes

Street Photography Classes

Food Photography Classes

Portrait Photography

Drone Classes

Are there any classes for beginners?

How does Smart help beginner photographers

Smart is specifically engineered for all skill-level photography students, especially beginner and amateur photographers.

We believe that the right with the right nurturing, even someone that has never picked up a camera before will be able to master the art and craft of photography.

The Smart platform is designed to make learning for beginner photographers easy. Our step-by-step program will teach the basics of photography and camera operations right through to mastering and controlling light.

Whether it’s as simple as turning on your camera or as complicated as bending the light to your will, Smart will help guide you through everything from start to finish.

Beginner photography classes

How to choose the right classes for you

Define your class requirements

Before you join up to any photography classes or lessons you should first note down you 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 understand on what you want to achieve and what are your requirements.

Write what you want to learn down

While course requirements are important, the most important 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.

person making notes when choosing photography class

Make a list of photography class requirements

I want my photography class to:

  • learn how to make sure my photos will be 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 out
  • 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 research 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 research 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 (other search engines are available). 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.

Below is a list of steps you could take to help find a great photography 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 beginner’ or ‘online photography classes with certificates’. Doing this allows you to get results that are ideal for your current needs and wants.

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 class 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 class 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 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 changes an image or just relax in the sun on holiday as you learn to master your camera.

Choosing a class with the right time commitments means you should be able to learn in manner that best suits you.

If the classes run weekly and you know you may miss a couple without being able to catch up then it’s worth thinking about learning online as these generally tend to be flexible in nature.

Free or Paid

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. However 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 set syllabus and you will learn exactly what you are told with limited feedback or hands on practicalities. Its for this 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 a flexible to you and your needs as well being interactive meaning 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 class is paid 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 before joining is of vital importance and can make or break your photography journey.

Smart is a paid online photography class 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.

Our classes are both flexible and set. You will be given a fundamentals of photography class 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 to the ever changing photography industry
  • Usually put together by experienced photographers
  • Flexible and intuitive in nature
  • Include some kind of support or help
  • 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 sorted 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. As a result we put together a list of free photography classes to consider.

Analogue or Digital Photography Classes

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

Nowadays many of the lessons on offer will be digital classes as digital photography has become the main type of photography over the last few years.

If you are keen on finding a film photography class you definitely do 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.

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.

fujifilm camera

Fujifilm Camera

Free Classes to consider

The list of free classes below contains online courses, youtube playlists and even blog posts. All are worth checking out if you fee free is the way to go.

Are online photography 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.

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.

computer and laptop with photography website

Online Classes offer a complete learning experience

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.

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.

Find 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 whenever you can and photography daily life as it unfolds.

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

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

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.

A wedding photographer may require a second shooter to help ensure the day is documented effectively. A studio photographer may need help setting up lighting. Portrait photographers may need behind-the-scenes shooters. Many photographers require seconds and find a photographer that encourages seconds in your chosen genre will help improve your photography.

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

Things to know when choosing a photography class

All photography classes are different. The all have different features and benefits and vary greatly in what they offer.

Below are a few points we believe you need to know when selecting your class.

Some classes offer both online and in person

Many classes, like Smart, offer both online and in person teaching whereas other classes tend to specialise in one or the other.

With Smart you get both the great online photography classes alongside monthly workshops and events where you can learn photography.

Many local classes will be in person rather than online and in a similar fashion to specific photographers workshops. These tend to be in a hands-on lecture scenario where a photographer/teacher will present and teach followed by a question and answer session.

Some workshops will also offer live shoot sessions led by a photographer. Here the photographer will show how he or she captures specific subjects. This is a great way to see how photographers have crafted their skills and how they react to different scenarios.

Sometimes more expensive will be better value for money

One of the most important things for you to know is that just because a class is priced cheaper it doesn’t mean that the course is right for you.

You need to consider many different areas when choosing your class to ensure that you are not left disappointed with your selection.

Some courses will be designed to specific skill levels

This is a big one. Choosing a class based on your skill level is of vital importance.

Attending a class for professionals when you are new to the photography world may mean you are quickly out of your depth.

Moreover, choosing a class for amateurs when you have several years of shooting experience may mean that you quickly outgrow the class syllabus.

Our advice would be to reach out to the class providers and ask exactly what is covered. Tell them about your experience and ask whether they think you would benefit from attending their classes. This way you should be able to ensure your photography learning progresses smoothly.

Some classes will be designed to specific cameras

As we have covered previously in this write up, some classes may be specifically tailored to camera manufacturers.

Obviously if you are attending a class by Nikon, chances are it’s going to be quite heavily Nikon focused. The same goes for photographers and their workshops. Some of the skills they are teaching may only be application to certain camera models and manufacturing.

That being said, don’t necessarily let this put you off. Many of the principles that these classes teach can be applied to all camera models. Even smartphones.

Certificate vs Degree vs Diploma

So one of the major things to consider is whether you are looking for a photography degree, diploma or certificate. While all three are similar, all have slightly different meanings and results.

Generally speaking most online photography classes will offer a certificate of completion rather than a degree or diploma. Your certificate is likely to state that you have achieved particular successes and are now well accomplished in a chosen photography field for example, a certificate of excellence in landscape photography.

A diploma is quite similar to a certificate however tends to be more in-depth and academic. Whereas a certificate may offer hands-on experience and diploma tends to cover both theory and practical while still be focused on a particular aspect of photography.

Finally a degree tends to be broad, covering a vast range of photography topics while including both theory and practical based learning. A degree is likely to cover various topics such as landscape and event photography rather than specifics. As a result, degrees tend to be more of a time commitment.

Theory vs Practical

A really good photography course will offer both theory and practical learning. Photography is, after-all, a hands-on, learn as you go, industry. Being able to put what you learn in the classroom into the real world with both improve your photography knowledge and make the entire learning process more rewarding.

Many classes only offer theory or practical based learning and with this in mind it’s best to check with course providers what format the classes will be in.

Questions to ask your class provider

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.

What’s included in your course?

Knowing exactly what the class consists of will help you understand exactly what you are about to learn. Always ask for the class prospectus for more information on the organisation and the syllabus for a detailed breakdown of learning outcomes.

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 in monthly installments.

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 class 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?

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.

What do you get at the end of the class?

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.

Always ask providers before signing up.

Is the photography school accredited?

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

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 and continue learning photography.

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.

Further Reading

Check out more photography related posts on our blog