Learning Photography Online – A Road Map to Madness

The combination of the web and efficient search engines coupled with the crazy ease of online publishing has made one thing clear: learning photography can be easy and almost essentially free.  What follows is a breakdown and review of some of the best sites on the internet to learn photography and lighting.

Learning Photography Technique

Strobist: In my experience Strobist is one of the best photo lighting-oriented sites on the internet.  Interactivity between readers and author is taken to an extreme level.  Interaction on the internet generally means at best that readers are willing to comment on whatever your write, with Strobist it means readers buying flashes, light modifiers, and producing pro quality images based.  Readers are inspired organize Strobist get-together’s from Germany to Seattle.  The great thing about Strobist is that it teaches lighting – without which there can’t be any photography.  Gear is covered, but only to the minimal extent needed to produce excellent images.  Every type of photographer from portrait to landscape or commercial can benefit from this site, and if you’re a beginner, Strobist will probably take you farther than any other in a given timeframe.  Strobist isn’t just a cool site, David Hobby has started a movement and created his own adjective without even trying.  This movement has grown beyond the simple blog, and Mr. Hobby now teaches sold-out lighting workshops throughout the world.

Lighting Essentials: When David Hobby started Strobist he ignited a movement.  Maybe Lighting Essentials would have been launched without Strobist, but the connections between the sites are evident.  Both focus on lighting, both contain some of the most easily accessible and relevant information on lighting on the net, and both are not only websites, but portals for their owners to organize and lead lighting workshops from coast to coast.  One big difference between Strobist and Lighting Essentials is layout and presentation.  Lighting Essentials is the well-organized website that Strobist could be if organized and designed outside of the anti-CMS (Content Management System) Blogger platform.  Yes, this is a public plea for a redesign of the Strobist site and implementation of a CMS friendly system like WordPress, Joomla, etc.  Lighting Essentials and the partner Magazine site feel like they were built from the ground up to be the best online resource for lighting and photography around.  The author, Don Giannatti is extremely approachable and shares volumes of knowledge on the net, his Flickr (wizwow) account is filled with photos with some of the best lighting setup information around.

The Luminous Landscape: My internet photo education started here.  Published by Michael Reichmann, the Luminous-Landscape is probably one of the most comprehensive photography knowledge sites on the net.  Composition, discussions on perspective, and any technical aspect including Bokeh is included.  The site is so comprehensive that new material is rarely added (as it’s not really needed), the What’s New section is basically an update board for new super-expensive (the locations sometimes worth it) workshops and moderately priced tutorial DVDs.  Otherwise, thoughts of the camera industry sometimes embody the new content along side the occasional mini-dissertations by Alain Briot, which generally make me think he’s harboring some deep subconscious regret about not finishing his PhD.  If you need a good background in photography go through the Understanding Series and you’ll never need to buy a book on photo basics.  But once you get the basics, move on to more interactive sites like Strobist or Lighting Essentials.

StudioLighting.net: When you first visit StudioLighting.net you might be put off by the content-centered Google ads and brush it off as a me-too photo splog.  The format is simple, and the content unique; two guys who are learning about photography have built a lighting-centered site with arguably the best photo-niche podcast on the Net.  Every week or so they do a radio style podcast with a new photographer or similarly notable figure.  The archives include interviews with Michael Grecco, Dave Hill, David Hobby, Chase Jarvis, and a ton of people I’ve never heard of.  The great thing is that StudioLighting.net is run by guys who are developing their skills, and are more or less intermediate shooters, which means they ask questions which the thousands of photographers like me are interested in; like how different photographers work, how their businesses got started and what type of equipment, or lack there of is used in shoots.  There are other attributes to the site like video lighting tutorials and gear reviews, but the reason to visit is the podcast archive.

Learning To Expand

Chase Jarvis: An internet photography icon, Chase Jarvis is a full-time professional commercial photographer with the desire to share his knowledge and inspire the people around him.  His work is fresh and his blog is filled with good stuff to exercise the mental side of a photographic mind.  His commentary on the business and views on the art form mix with his business skills and philosophy university degree to be a unique voice which many photographers can learn from.  Plus, he’s just an all-around inspirational figure, well-spoken and energetic, he embodies the image of how a pro photographer should act.  There are a number of videos on his site, depicting photo shoots with ninjas, REI products, and the gear he uses.  Once you know what you’re doing with a camera, delve into ChaseJarvis.com and get inspired to push yourself further.

Layers Magazine: True it’s technically focused on all things Adobe, why should photographers learning technique care?  What does Dreamweaver and web publishing have to do with making great images?  Given the dominance of Adobe in everything including digital image manipulation, web publishing, Flash, and Lightroom, keeping abreast of the tutorials and random creative insights on Layers Magazine will keep the inquisitive photographer knowledgeable on many aspects of imaging from capture to print and publishing.  You can also buy the print magazine if you like.  The videos and written tutorials are excellent.  When you want to understand the tools of digital image manipulation head to Layers Magazine and delve into all things Adobe.

Photoshop User TV: Sort of a sometimes non-free companion to Layers Magazine, Photoshop User TV is one of the best pay-oriented video sites around for learning photoshop.  If you try do everything in-camera that’s great.  However, not utilizing Photoshop as a tool and learning how to use it well just seems so archaic.  Digital imaging manipulation isn’t just magic for graphic artists, Photoshop is a tool to communicate concepts via visual interpretation.  Of course you can do photography without it, but knowing how to use all of that power in your finger tips opens up worlds of expression.  Current videos are free, while the archived ones require a reasonable fee.

Russell Brown: International Photoshop guru and Mad Scientist-like personality, Doc Brown has one of the best Photoshop podcasts on the net.

Learning the Business

Dan Heller: It’s sometimes said that professional photography is 20% photography and 80% business.  One of the best places on the net to get the business perspective on photography is Dan Heller’s blog.  He writes nice long thorough posts focused on the stock photo industry, and if you’re serious about getting into the industry on any level Dan Heller has content and insight you won’t find anywhere else.

A Photo Editor: If you gravitate towards the business side of the industry the middle-person between the photographer and printed magazine is critical.  Photo editors find and hire photographers based on what the magazines want for visual interpretation of their magazine content.  Originally a blog by an anonymous photo editor at a national magazine, now the premier source on the net for getting inside the head of the person you need to please to get hired to shoot for magazines.  A Photo Editor is fresh and unique in an internet populated by imitators.

Avoid the Gear Craze

Many internet photography junkies either worship or curse Ken Rockwell.  His site is vastly popular and certain people will hang on his every word as gear gospel.  Although his site is basically a giant gear review site, and hence of little value to someone learning photography, he has some very relevant and interesting essays including: Your Camera Doesn’t Matter.

Don’t Feed the Trolls

I won’t mention any photo forums, mainly because their usefulness is defined by the members and active participation and your own motivations.  For example, Photo.net used to be the premier forum center on the net, and now is passé.  Dpreview is filled with thousands of people who are more interested in asking questions than taking pictures, and there are far too many forums to list and review.  If you need answers for specific gear problems, a number of forums will be able to answer your questions.  If you’re looking for ego boosting kudos there’s plenty of forums to post pictures where half the viewers will love and the others will decry your images as a bane on humanity.  If you have the determination to read through this article, your curiosity will no-doubt eventually lead you to the photo forum which is best for you if you search it out.  Experimenting with different lighting setups, locations, and subjects will push your craft farther and faster than any forum will.  In general, once you find one or two forums you really like, never speak of them or promote them to others on the net, lest they become diluted with trolls looking for attention.

Brass Tacks

Photography, like science, is best learned by doing and playing around.  I recommend the following course of internet study:

Learn the basics, just enough to be dangerous and then start photographing (or splitting atoms).  The means checking out the camera technique series on the Luminous Landscape as well as lighting with Strobist and Lighting Essentials.

Learn to Expand, delve into Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and the main Adobe programs.  Photography is basically light painting, and now that pallet exists on digital media more so than printed.  Understanding how images can be created and published on the Net expands how you view subjects and can open doors in your mind.

Never Stop Learning

Explore photo sites and try different techniques.  Listen to StudioLighting.net podcasts and develop your eye.  That’s really all photography is.  Check out blogs like ChaseJarvis and realize that there’s always something new to learn.  Avoid forums unless necessary, because if you need to ask random people on the Net which lens to buy then you don’t need it.  Photography can be very simple and cheap or needlessly complex and expensive, the choice is up to you.