To say that the Web has an important impact on daily life would be an egregious understatement. The fact that we have such ease of access to the Internet and the endless, yet ever growing, stream of information disseminated over this labyrinth of networks has been nothing short of revolutionary. There’s virtually nothing that can’t be done virtually. You can shop for groceries, consult with a physician, lose at poker to a total stranger, start a movement, or find any number of ways to make a fool of yourself. But surely, the most profound element of this digital medium is its democratization of information; no matter where on the planet one might happen to live, we all have access to the same things.
A rapidly growing use of the Web is to engage in online classes. The opportunity to acquire formal training without having to stray from your computer is an idea that people are rather fond of. Online classes aren’t limited to more traditional academic subjects like history or math; you can complete coursework in almost any subject imaginable, including photography.
Of course, some people may scoff at the very thought of taking a photography course online, while others will jump at the opportunity without even thinking twice. But if you happen to be thinking taking an online photography course, it might help to take a few things into consideration before settling on one side of the issue.
- Course Quality. There are first rate courses out there that are well worth your money, but there are also some that just aren’t. It doesn’t make any sense to waste your time and money on a course that consists of 15 pages of very basic information. You’d be better off buying yourself two or three good photography books and studying them on your own. Don’t enroll anywhere without first asking to see some sample materials; any reputable institution should be more than happy to accommodate such a request.
- What’s Your Learning Style? Everyone has a learning style that works best for them. Some prefer reading, some would rather watch a video, others need hands-on instruction, and there are those who simply need to be told something and they can You will be doing yourself a great service by knowing what kind of learner you are. Online courses are going to be presented either in a text-based format (such as a discussion board or a PDF) or via video. If you need or prefer in-person instruction, then an online course will not be an option for you.
- What Do You Want to Learn? A number of online photography education providers offer highly specialized content. Instead of dividing time among topics such as exposure, composition, and lighting within the context of one generalized course, some places offer the option of a whole course focused just on composition or a whole course dedicated to food photography. So, to some degree, you have to know what it is you don’t know in order to enroll in the right class. You can learn all the important basics or you can hone specific skills. It all depends on what you need and want.
- Homework. A quality course will give worthwhile homework assignments — meaning you will actually have to submit photos. Yeah, I know, the dreaded h-word. But how else do you expect your instructor to check that you’re applying everything you’re learning? There has to be some sort of meaningful individual communication between student and teacher; while this is certainly easily accomplished in the traditional classroom setting, it is by no means impossible online.
- Community Feedback. One of the major benefits of being in an actual classroom is having the opportunity to establish a sense of community where you can share and learn from one another’s strengths and weaknesses. The way that a good online course would approximate this feature is by providing a dedicated forum where students can regularly submit photos and receive feedback from other learners and instructors. An honest, well-placed critique can play a major role in refining one’s technique and developing personal style.
Before you shell out a substantial amount of time and money, remember there is no shortage of free resources online; start with these. Lightstalking.com is one that suddenly comes to mind. Once you reach the point where you feel your artistic growth has been stunted or you are no longer able to push yourself in the desired direction with freely available resources, or if you simply want the satisfaction of formal training, then a photography course is your answer. Whether you choose to do pursue this online or in a traditional classroom will be determined, in part, by how you feel about the issues above. It’s a matter of choosing what works best for you and making sure you get exactly what you want out of a photography course.