How to learn photography

You’ve started to take some nice photos with your phone, and you get compliments from your friends and family… Now you feel like you would like to take the next step and learn how to use a proper camera to take even better pictures. As a photography school that educates more than 2000 students every year, we put together this guide of how to learn photography for you.

Many people give up after a while because they make choose wrong classes, too many “free” online guides and videos. Don’t repeat their mistakes! Read this article now to discover the best way how to learn photography.

How to learn photography

  1. Decide on your goal

    Do you want to start a new hobby? Become a pro? Exhibit your photos? Take better photos of your newborn?
    It will be much easier to make choices if you’re already clear on what you want. In many cases, it’s a good idea to start with a beginners workshop, even if you know some basics from past experience. This can help avoid one common trap, where people stall later in their photography journey because they skipped ahead, without ever mastering the technical skills that are taught in the beginner level.

  2. Decide online vs classroom

    We recommend a mixed approach: Learn from traditional classroom courses, which allow collaboration and practice with real people; then close gaps and address specific questions via online materials.
    Don’t forget: 97% of the people who buy online programs do not complete those programs: They get stuck, get frustrated and walk away. Why? Because people don’t learn from information alone. Instead, when people are confronted by too much information without someone else to curate it, their reaction is usually, “I don’t have time for this; I will come back to this later”. Thus the incredibly low completion rate.

    See our full article about online vs. in person trainings for a full comparison with pros and cons.

  3. Choose the right photography course providers

    People start photography with passion, and those who stop usually do so after bad schools and training sap their inspiration and desire to continue. An instructor who is not only good at photography but also great at teaching will increase your motivation and get you much better results.

    We recommend choosing a quality-certified institution to guarantee good structure and professionalism during your learning. For more perspective, see our full article on how to choose a school and factors to consider in Switzerland.

  4. Choose the correct sequence of courses

    Once you decide which photography school is right for you, you must then select which course(s) to sign up for. First, you must consider two factors:

    1. Determine your level.
    We recommend our online test to get an idea. In our observation, many people who think they are intermediate level still benefit a lot from a comprehensive beginners course. If you already know what you want, you can skip this step.

    2. Determine your availability & budget.
    Half / full day workshops usually take place on a weekend, in a very concentrated form. Choose this format if you’re already very busy and just want to check your interest level before committing more hours. You will learn a lot from a good one-day course, but they require you to practice regularly afterwards to retain what you learn.

    Evening courses cover more topics and propose homework assignments to do in between each session. This allows you to practice at your own pace, make mistakes, ask questions and get feedback from the instructor in the next session and try again the following week. However, they are a bit more expensive and require a bigger time commitment. Our program offers 2 or 3 hours every week over 5 weeks.
    Long term courses are ideal if you’re considering becoming a pro or want to maximize your skill level in the shortest amount of time. These require a significant investment of time and money, but offer the deepest and most efficient learning experience. Tailored for those who want to become a professional photographer, our long-term programs at SPC Academy include 4-week (112 hours), 8-week (224 hours) and 1-year programs.

    You can check the full list of our courses here. Also see our recommended order of courses for learning photography if you decide to take our courses.

  5. Get the right equipment and software

    Equipment doesn’t matter so much in the beginning. Start with what you already have.
    Usually a beginners’ level DSLR or mirrorless plus one or two good lenses are sufficient. For software, you need at least Lightroom.
    Check our full article on choosing photography equipment & software for beginners.

  6. Attend and complete your course, then re-evaluate your goal

    For all courses: Make sure to sleep well the night before, so you’ll be ready to learn and retain the information. Take notes only when necessary, as it’s much more important to focus on the instructor during explanations. At Swiss Photo Club, we always share the presentations via email after the course.

    For evening courses: Do your homework every time–make it a part of your weekly routine. Don’t be afraid to show your failed photos to your instructor too, so that he/she can tell you what went wrong. Offer to meet your classmates during the weekend to do the homework together; that can be much more motivating and you might even find a new best friend 🙂

    After you finish the course, check your original goal again. Is it still appropriate? It’s absolutely fine to revise your goal as you grow.

  7. Learn post-production

    Taking a photo is one thing—editing it to make it perfect is another. Programs like Lightroom and Photoshop are an investment, but if you really want to catapult your images to the next level, you need to learn how to use photo editing tools and post-production programs to bring out the full visual impact of your work. It’s no surprise that our Lightroom full day course is our second most popular after the beginners courses.

  8. Practice, practice, practice

    Nothing is going to help you more than experience – so bring your camera everywhere and shoot anything remotely interesting! You can take fifty photography courses, read every book about lighting and exposure and talk about it all day – but you won’t unlock your personal style or truly develop your natural skill without regularly taking photos.

    As hundreds of photos build up in your hard disk, you’ll see what needs improvement and where you excel. It’s good to keep some early evidence of your trials and errors so you can look back and see how far you’ve come!

    At Swiss Photo Club, we make it easy to practice with us:

    Practice workshops: These are 2-hour workshops fully dedicated to practice with an instructor. You can join them one at a time or become a member to join any of them for free & benefit from other member advantages.

    Photography trips: “Experience” trips are the new trend, and for a good reason. We offer trips to incredible locations focused on improving your photography. That means you will always be at the right place at the right time to take incredible pictures, continuously have challenges to complete to improve your photography, have a dedicated instructor with you at all times and spend quality time with other photography enthusiasts who are passionate about improving their craft.

  9. Enter a photography competition

    Photography competitions are a great way to get feedback on your work and meet other local photography enthusiasts. Some photography competitions can even have pretty valuable prizes, so if you’re looking to make money off your shots then this could be your chance. But be warned: a lot of photography competitions – especially free ones – are more of a rights grab for the host than a legitimate way to celebrate talent. Research well, and never enter a competition without first reading the terms & conditions to make sure you will retain the copyright over your own work.

    At Swiss Photo Club, we organize the popular SPC Photo Awards competition regularly. The concept is different from many other competitions: All photos are printed and exhibited in a prestigious gallery in central Zurich, Geneva or Basel. 50 photos are selected by a jury of our photography instructors to be printed in large size on ifolor Alu-Dibond, while all others are printed in a smaller size. Every visitor votes for their favorite photos (big or small) and the most-voted photos get fantastic prizes. Of course the photographers keep the full rights to their photos and gets a 50% commission if their photos are sold during the exhibition.

  10. Photograph what excites you

    At the end of the day, nothing makes photography more fun or rewarding than photographing what interests you. If you love dogs, take photos of dogs; if you love flowers, take photos of flowers… you get where I’m going. Finding inspiration from your favorite things can keep you motivated to continue shooting and learning for a long time.

So these are our tips on how to learn photography in the most efficient and fun way. Learning photography is a never ending journey. Following these tips should give you a great head start.

What are your experiences with photography? How did you learn it? Do you have your own tips or insights you’d like to share?

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Osan Altun

Osan Altun

Osan Altun is a Swiss photographer & instructor living in Geneva. He began photography as a hobby in 2008 with events and landscapes. Later he left his finance career to follow his passion and founded Swiss Photo Club in 2016. He can be found on instagram at @altuno and @altun_travel
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