Most of us probably have full time jobs that don't allow us to spend as much time learning about our beloved photography as we'd like. And, wouldn't you much rather spend your money on a fast new lens instead of textbooks? I know I would! Fortunately, there are ways you can save your money and still take on an Ivy League photography course. Here's a list of some of my favorite classes that I invite you to enjoy, too:
The official course description accurately describes this one as:
“An introduction to the scientific, artistic, and computing aspects of digital photography – how digital cameras work, how to take good pictures using them, and how to manipulate these pictures afterwards. Topics include lenses and optics, light and sensors, optical effects in nature, perspective and depth of field….”
For this specific course, you won't be working with an instructor nor will you have social access to other participants of the course. Stanford has, however, posted the entire coursework, including the required materials, texts, images, etc. You are free to work through the course at your own pace, skip sections you are not interested in, and take it upon yourself to complete the weekly assignments, which are one of the highlights of the course!
While it may not be directly about photography, this course from HarvardX does cover a topic that strongly relates to what we do. Copyright law is tricky and can be very confusing, but as artists who share their media online, where it is easy to have it “borrowed” by anyone with basic computer skills, you owe it to yourself to be in the know so you can protect yourself and your images. This course can be completed at your own pace. At the time of writing, no interaction with an instructor is available. You can, however, download all necessary course materials.
This is another self guided and self paced course that covers a wide range of topics covering everything from exposure and optics to different software options. All the course materials you will need are available on the website, including access to video recordings of all the lectures from the actual classroom version of this course. This course does place most of its emphasis on the technical side of photography, not necessarily the artistic aspect of it.
This course takes a more artistic path as it teaches students about the art of observation. It's also pretty hands on, which is a lot of fun:
“This course explores photography as a disciplined way of seeing, exploring landscapes, and expressing ideas…Students keep a journal of writings and images throughout the semester and develop a portfolio of photographs that explore the qualities of a particular place, sequenced as a web of narratives.”
Creating an excellent photograph requires more than just understanding all the technical aspects of photography such as how a camera works, fundamentals of exposures, white balance, etc…While all all those things are important, it's also crucial to have an eye for composition. Some of us are blessed with a natural gift to see things differently, but for those whose eyes could use a little training, this course could prove to be invaluable. It teaches students to explore symmetry, which, as we all know, is the basis for many, many brilliant photographs. By understanding symmetry a little better, you will be more apt to recognize it when you are our photographing, and as this course hopes it does, will inspire you to look for it. There is a free option for this course where students will be in contact with the instructor as well as other participants in the course via email and web forums. There are specific dates in which the class can be taken and students are required to keep up with materials and have all assignments turned in on time.
While completing the courses this way won't earn you actual college credits, these resources are still profoundly beneficial to those of us who just like to learn new things to expand our understanding and improve our skills. Most allow you to work at your own pace which makes it a little easier to fit into an already busy schedule. Many of these courses and others like them can also be found as podcasts in the iTunes U library, so you can learn on the go, too!
What We Recommend to Improve Your Photography Fast
It's possible to get some pretty large improvements in your photography skills very fast be learning some fundamentals. Consider this the 80:20 rule of photography where 80% of the improvements will come from 20% of the learnable skills. Those fundamentals include camera craft, composition, understanding light and mastering post-production. Here are the premium guides we recommend.