William Beem Photography is a reader-supported site. We sometimes use affiliate links and may earn a small commission, but there is no extra cost to you. In some cases, we can provide a discount when you use our affiliate links.
Everyone needs photography training and you need it at different stages of your photography experience. The important thing to keep in mind is to get the right training from the right mentor at the right point in your journey.
I'd love to tell you that a workshop from your favorite photographer will turn on all the lights in your head so you understand the mysteries of how they achieve their spectacular results. That's what you have a right to expect.
Not every great photography is a great teacher, though. So choosing your training is different than admiring the work of a great photographer.
Photography Training Has More Than One Path
If you're in some photography training and it seems like you just aren't getting it, don't worry. You're not a dummy. There are reasons why some lessons may not resonate with you.
Remember why you liked photography in the first place. If you're getting training that goes against the grain of what you like, then it's time to look elsewhere.
1: You Don't Need a Photography Degree. You Can Learn In Multiple Ways
When I was a kid in high school back in 1981, I was sure that I wanted to be a photographer. The only way to do it was either to have a photographer offer you an apprenticeship or go to a photography school.
The Internet didn't exist, but now we have a lot of options online. We also know about a lot of opportunities for training in person.
Even when I thought about going to a photography school, it was never about earning a photography degree. It's education that's important.
People who hire you want to see a portfolio, not a degree proving your photography training.
They want results, not proof of education.
2: Not Everyone Who Hosts a Workshop is a Good Teacher
Teaching is a skill, like any other. Being a great photographer doesn't mean you have the ability to explain what you do.
There's a sad truth about photography workshops. Some photographers host them because it's a way to make money, not because they're interested in helping others improve their photography.
There's nothing wrong with making money, but you have to provide some value. Before you register for training or a workshop, do some research to see if others found value in their photography training experiences.
3: There Is Usually More Than One Right Way To Get The Result You Want
One of the things I love about photography is that there are multiple paths to the same, or similar, results.
Don't have a flash? Perhaps a reflector will work. Need a correct exposure? Does it matter which combination of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO you use? Sometimes it does and other times it doesn't.
Look for a photography training class or workshop that suits your style of photography. There are times when you want to try something that's the opposite of what you normally do just for a different perspective.
Know what you want before you register.
4: Photography Isn't About Formulas And Recipes
I know one photographer who is adamant about using a light meter and lighting ratios in his work, and that's what he teaches.
Nothing wrong with that at all.
Formulas and lighting ratios are a good place to start, but never trust they're going to handle every circumstance. Keep your eye on the result.
If the formula or recipe isn't right for your subject, don't be afraid to switch to something else or experiment on the fly.
5: A Workshop Is A Safe Place To Experiment And Fail
Workshops are hands-on photography training. You don't have to get a great photo. Instead, you're there to learn how to get a great photo.
That means you're free to experiment and try different ideas. If they fail, then you've learned what to avoid.
Failure is the greatest teacher of all, so don't be afraid to use it in a safe place like a photography workshop. It's the best place to learn from failure.
6: YouTube Is Great For Quick Lessons
I love YouTube for finding out how to do a specific task. In fact, I have my own YouTube channel for teaching how to use photography software.
The problem with relying upon YouTube alone is that it's not good for covering bigger concepts or lessons. You find different videos from different people and they often contradict each other.
Use YouTube for quick “how-to” videos, but find a course or workshop when you want to dive deeper into a subject.
My recommendation for in-depth photography training is KelbyOne.
7: Sometimes It's Easier To Learn When You've Traveled Just To Learn
I love traveling for a photography workshop. At least, I loved it before some pesky virus turned the travel industry upside down.
The advantage of traveling for photography training is that you eliminate distractions and immerse yourself in the subject you want to learn.
You don't have to do laundry when you get home, deal with calls from work, or anything else. The other people who attend have similar interests, so you can make some new friends who do what you want to do.
8: Try Different Genres Of Photography And Learn Something From Each Of Them
Different genres of photography make use of different techniques and skills. It's a good idea to branch out to see what you can take from one genre of photography and apply it to another one.
We all work with light, and there's more than one way to visualize how light impacts your subject. Think about new ways to use color, shape or movement in your photos.
If you want to be better, or different, than the other people in your genre, learn something from another genre.
9: Learn Your Skills. Develop Your Art
Photography is both a skill and an art. You learn the skills first so you can create your artistic vision.
Go beyond the technical aspects. That's hard to do when you're a beginner, but you ought to think more about advancing your art once you're comfortable with the technical aspects of your camera.
Photography training isn't just about how to use the gear. When you're ready, look for courses that show you how to see compositions, colors, and shapes.
10: Share What You've Learned. We All Train Each Other
As you learn, share. There are always people who are beginning new phases of their photography journey. You don't have to be a master to help someone else with their photography training.
You just need to know something they don't. Share that wisdom and experience with others.
One of the fun things about photography is that there are a plethora of ways to learn how to do it. You think it would be simple. All you have to do is point it towards something, put the camera on auto, and click the shutter and you're done, but it turns out there's a lot more to learn. And we're going to talk about not specific things that you need to know.
Our top 10 secrets about photography training. I'm William Beem. Welcome to I Like Your Picture. The show that helps you improve your photography with visual storytelling. What is visual storytelling? It's a method of approaching your photography with a knowledge of who you're trying to serve with your photos and what emotion you want to make them feel. We encourage you to concentrate on your subject,
light and background to create a photo your audience loves. I'm glad you found us. Hi, my name is William Beem and we haven't done this in a while. We took December off. So we could be with family and do Christmas and all those other fun things. But now we're back. And I want to let you know, there's three things to take away from this. First,
there are many ways to learn photography. So don't get stuck in the idea that this is the one true path. You can find that people have done wonderful photography, learning from different methods in different ways and different mentors. So don't feel that there's only one way you can learn photography. There's a lot of different ways. And quite honestly, you aren't dumb.
If you don't learn, you just need a different method. And our third point is, remember why you liked photography. When you're learning photography. Even if you've been doing it for a while, if you're learning from the wrong source or something, that's just not, I'm going to say just not you. It doesn't mean that you're dumb. It doesn't mean that you have to throw your camera in the ocean.
Remember why you like photography. What do you like about it? And then choose the path that works for you. All right, Lee, I always like to pick on you for the first one because well, Lee, and Tové pick on me all the time at home. So this is the only time I get a chance to pick on Lee. All right.
So the point number one is you don't need a photography degree. You can learn in multiple ways. Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I would argue that having a photography degree is going to cause you to have a really, really hard time with the creative aspects of photography, which really is the stuff that shows up in your results. When I was in high school,
I knew I wanted to be a photographer and I knew that I needed to go get a photography degree, more likely I needed. I knew that I needed a course that I needed the piece of paper at the end of it. And there were two places I was looking at. One was Brooks in California, which has since closed down. The other one was closer to home.
I lived in Orlando and just a little bit north of us is Daytona Beach. At the time it was Daytona Beach Community College. Now it's Daytona Beach State College. And they had a photography program that was far less expensive and really had a very good reputation, probably as good as Brooks did at the time. And I didn't go to either one because I got into computers and that became my career instead.
But the idea in my head was, I don't know anything. I need someone to teach me and train me. And back in that day, I graduated high school in 1981, there wasn't an internet to teach us. We didn't have all of the workshops or we didn't have connections to understand about all the workshops. We didn't have online training. A photography degree for someone in my generation back then seemed like the only path.
Now I think there are a lot of options. I agree. First of all, you don't need a piece of paper because nobody is going to ask for a piece of paper. They're going to ask for a portfolio. So that's the first thing. Secondly, you also touched on something that I think really sums it up. Not getting a photography degree is not the same as not getting any photography training.
And this is where I think courses are really, really good. Especially reasonably short courses are something you can do in your own time. Most people who are brand new into photography and invest in a camera, will start with some basic photography course, which is going to be general. And a lot of it's going to be letting you know that you need to learn how to do things on your camera and you will.
But once you start playing around, you will become either interested in a certain genre, or you will find that you've got stumbling blocks with certain things. And that causes you to go and look for another little course that is going to help you with that. And I think the benefit of this is that you learn some and then you do a lot and you learn some and then you do a lot.
And most of the learning is actually when you're doing things and doing things, you enjoy it. It's like little children. They learn through play and photography really is the same thing. And you are kind of playing when you're learning photography. It's not like you trying to build your portfolio. If you go to a workshop or a course, the photos you take there are meant to teach you things.
They aren't meant to be your portfolio pieces because someone else has set up the scene for you and helped you with the lighting or whatever it is that maybe they've taken you to this wonderful place. Go there and learn, concentrate on learning. Even if you're looking online, concentrate on learning and then take the lessons that you've learned and go off and take your own photographs.
And that's part of the learning process itself is you're going to take them. You're going to come back and analyze them and say, what could I have done better? Did I make any mistakes? Even the ones that you're proud of today, you're going to look at it in five years' time and say, yeah, that wasn't so great. Yeah, I've done that all the time.
There was a photo that I used to love, and I''d show everybody. And I look at it and I was like, what was I thinking? All right. Number two, not everyone who hosts a workshop is a good teacher. Look, I'm not trying to beat up on anybody in particular. There are some really wonderful photographers, but that's different than being a wonderful teacher.
You may go someplace and learn the secrets that somebody uses to put their own photos together. But how well they convey them is a completely different task. That's true. And I think one of the little signs to look for, and you've got to sit back and be honest. Most of these people have some kind of preview of their course or they've got reviews on their,
their course, or what would you call it? The, the workshop and something to look for is, is this person using their workshop to really just showcase all the things that they can do or are they breaking it down and making the students do it themselves? And I think that that is key. First of all, to making sure that somebody at least is trying to be a good teacher and then there's other things.
Well, and there's more to it than that even that you need to watch out for. I've been to a couple of local workshops. So these are not big-name photographers. What they've realized is that they can get a bunch of photographers together, charge them money, and then just turn them loose to go take pictures. So for example, they might organize the location.
They might organize a couple of models or one of the subject is that you're going to be photographing. And then when it comes time to actually learning something, you're not learning anything. You're just kind of out there in a free for all taking pictures for the length of the, the workshop. So be careful when you sign up for a workshop that you know,
what you're getting. Is this just somebody who's organized things and is collecting a fee, or is this someone who is actually teaching you a concept that you can then apply later? Because if you go to a workshop where they just give you a location and some subject matter, well, maybe that's what they're good at. They're good at organizing things, but they're not good at teaching.
And you may not be able to replicate that because they're not going to teach you how they got the location, how they got the subjects. So if you're not learning anything well, that's the problem with some of these workshops, particularly ones I've found on a local level. Usually people who have more of a national or global reputation don't want to damage that reputation by not putting on a good educational experience. And you'll pay accordingly for It.
Yeah. So that's something to keep in mind, not everyone who hosts a workshop is a good teacher. Number three, there's usually more than one right way to get the result that you want. Now, what I mean by that is some people will teach you. This is the way I do it. And they think that's the only way. Or they say,
that's the way it works for me. It does not mean that they are wrong. It just simply means this is their way. If it's not your way, then you might need to think about, are you learning from the right person? Are you learning the right thing? Or can you think about another way to accomplish the same result? Like you say, there's almost always another way.
Cause when people say this is how you should do something, my knee-jerk reaction is I'll find a different way. And she does that with me all the time. Look, Lee does wonderful photography and she prefers to do it with sunlight coming through the window. I set up flash for her a few times and I think you enjoyed it a couple of the times,
but if you were on your own and you said, I have to set up this flash or I can just wait for the right time of day and go to the window. Which one are you going to choose? Wait for the right time of day. Because it's something I'm familiar with. And also the time that I would spend set at look, I love the flash.
By the way, I loved the photos with the flash. I don't think that my photos with the window lights are necessarily a whole lot worse so that it's distinguishable to somebody unless they're really scrutinizing, which I didn't really care about that. And, but the time that I spend would spend getting a flash out and setting everything up and you know, for the flash and then packing it away again,
I'd rather just wait for the sunlight to be in the right spots and use that time, doing something else productive. I guess it depends on how much free time you have, like, Well, and also you're not doing this as a commercial venture for somebody else. You're not doing this for clients. That also makes a difference. If you're a photographer working for clients,
you don't necessarily have the luxury, I would say, of waiting for the right day, the right light. They're gonna expect you to get the shots done on a schedule. And that usually means pulling out a flash and modifiers and so forth. Yeah. But keep in mind what we said. There's more than one right way to get the results that you want.
And sometimes that window light gives you exactly what you want. And if you don't have the gear to set it up with a large softbox, that's the better light for your subject. Particularly if you're doing food photography, you put on a nice pie up against a window and somehow it just looks magical. You know, it's not that you cannot replicate that with a flash and a softbox or a scrim or something of that nature,
but you've got to have all that gear. And sometimes, you know what? I've got a window, I've got a table that works. Exactly. So there's more than one way to get the results you want. Number four, photography Isn't about formulas and recipes. I know a lot of people who will give you a lighting formula. In other words,
put this light here at this angle, put this light here at that angle. And then they're going to be lighting ratios like, you know, two to one on the main light. And then, you know, some other ratio on the back, I've never worked with lighting ratios. Formulas, I think are good to explain what somebody is doing. That's not necessarily what I would call creative photography.
If you're doing the same thing over and over again. Now here's a good example of when you should do formulas. Let's say that you're called into a school to do class pictures. You want to set up a scene, you've got your backdrop, you've got your lighting. And you're going to rotate those kids through there one at a time. And you're going to get,
you're going to get consistent photos for every student. And that's, what's really important. Now there are times when consistent lighting isn't good for one subject or another. I'll give you an example is let's say that somebody has a heavier-looking face than another person. You don't want them to look bad because you put too much light and you're amplifying the fat side of their face.
That's where you may want to do short lighting, which is the side of the face that's closest to camera is more in shadow. And then you've got a light off the angle going in on their face. And it's a much more flattering look for someone that's a bit overweight. I know this because I've had other photographers do this with me. Yes.
We've all had it happen. Even if it's been with a phone. So there were still recipes there, but the recipe changed based upon the subject. That's why I say photography isn't about formulas and recipes. It is about what is best for your subject. And it doesn't hurt to have recipes and formulas in your back pocket that you can pull out and use in different situations.
But you've got to look at your subject. You've got to flatter your subject. You've got to make it look appealing to the viewer. Well, recipes and formulas, I think give you a starting point. Yes. But honestly, if you are glued to them, you've left yourself no room for flexibility. I mean, outside of the creative challenges,
that that may cause that you also have a problem. What do you do when something alters that formula? And it has to be adjusted. Maybe the weather is different. Maybe something is different, but a formula is really a guide. I think you have to adjust it. It's a starting place. As Lee said, sometimes circumstances dictate a better approach than the formula or the recipe.
And that's when you need to understand when it's time to put those things aside and come up with a new solution for your subject. Just keep that in mind. A formula and recipe can get you so far. It can definitely get you started, but you might have to leave it behind sometimes to do your best work. See, I like recipes. I just take a photo and go,
whoa, that's too dark. And then I adjust the good, that's getting a bit closer that that's better. And then I'm good to go. Yes, no formula. Number five, a workshop is a safe place to experiment and fail. I've been to workshops and fail I did. Because I wanted to know what happens if I tried this or that. So one example is I went to St.
Lucia. Joe McNally had an advanced flash workshop. We were in the fire department. And for whatever reason, there was a fireman there in front of the truck. And I said, I wonder what this would look like with a 35-millimeter lens. Well, the truth is it looked like crap. And Joe said, so he said, yeah, I would've gone long with that one.
In other words, he would have used a longer focal length. The nice part is this guy, wasn't my client. He wasn't someone I was trying to help and give him a photograph. He was there so that I could try things out. And that's the nice thing about a workshop. You have to remember what I said earlier. Don't expect these to be your portfolio photos.
So this is where you've got people out there. You've paid for your location. You've paid for your subjects, experiment. See what works, see what doesn't. And that way you also understand why something does not work and you fail with that. And it wasn't just that workshop where I failed. I've also screwed up in front of Scott Kelby and a few other people. Making mistakes is not a problem. It's when you fail to learn from your mistake,
go ahead, experiment, fail, and then ask yourself, why did this fail? And if you've got a good a facilitator, a good instructor, ask them, why did this fail? And you'll learn more and you'll get more value from your workshop. You can also bounce it off of other people as well, because often with any kind of workshop or conference,
you have regular people who go year after year or season after season. And they just enjoy being part of it. Most people will often have a lot of experience. So you've got other people to bounce things off of for a second opinion. Go there, get to know the people who are at the workshop. I've got friends that I've met on those workshops years ago,
that we still stay in touch. So that is good for their experience. And it's also good for your own little social interactions. Number six, YouTube is great for quick lessons, but I wouldn't say it's great when you need a longer course level lessons. In other words, if I say I've got a problem, I need to figure out how to do this.
YouTube is great for that. You can go look that up and you can find a quick solution. Yeah, but if you want to say, I need to master portrait photography, you're going to be searching all over the place for different people with disjointed lessons and conflicting information on YouTube. So I'd say YouTube is great for quick lessons. How do I do this?
Number seven. It's easier to learn when you've traveled, just to learn. So this again is going back to a workshop. And when you've traveled someplace, like I mentioned, the workshop in St. Lucia. I'm away from home, I'm away from distractions. I don't have any communication coming from anybody like work isn't calling me up, you know,
while I'm on this trip. It's easier to learn because you're among people who are all invested in the same thing. There are other people there who are providing the workshop. There are the people there who are attending the workshop and you just immerse yourself in it and your discussions are about photography. There are about whatever type of photography that you want to learn.
And I think it's just easier when you have disassociated yourself from the rest of your life. And also everyone around there is thinking photos and talking photos and doing photos. It sort of gets you into photography mindset. Yeah. And you're completely into that mindset because that's what everyone else around you is talking about. And it doesn't mean that you won't have any other discussion at all,
but everybody's going to come back around and we're here for photography. We're going to talk about what we did, why we did. You know, one of my friends that I met in St. Lucia was talking about the autofocus system on the camera that he had just bought. And he was explaining things to me. He was like, why it was so great.
And it started making me wonder, it's like, do I need something here? Or am I good with what I've got? You never know which way the conversations are going to go, but you'll learn something from each of those conversations. So that's why I think get away, travel someplace, learn something. And I know travel at the I'm recording
this is not necessarily a wonderful thing to endure, but sooner or later, when you can travel someplace for a photography workshop, I think it is a good experience. If you've joined the right workshop. Number eight, try different genres of photography and learn something from each of them. Yeah. Cause there's crossovers from one into another. I mean, it is basically all photography.
There are some things that are totally different, but there are definitely crossovers. There's crossovers because you're looking at again, the same thing you're looking at, how am I going to use light to make the subject good? Well, you don't always have control of every aspect of light. If you're doing tabletop photography, like I said, Lee does that. She prefers using a window,
but then she will block light in order to focus your attention on a part of her scene that she wants to. Now, if you're out doing travel photography, you may have a similar circumstance. Maybe the scene that you have is larger, but can you walk around and then maybe find a building or a mountain or a tree or something that blocks the light on your subject and gives you the look that you want.
But also the same thing with flash, you could be out there in the mountains and then you've got a subject and they're not getting the light that you need on them, so they stand out in the photo. Well, maybe that's when you add some flash to it. Even in something that this is something I've thought about when at the Venetian, in Las Vegas inside of the lobby,
they have this enormous metal globe above a fountain. And I thought, all right, everybody goes there and they stand and they take a picture of that one. If you hit that sucker with a flash and you get some sparkle off of that thing? Ooh! See if you don't know how to use a flash, because all you do is, you know,
outside travel photography, you wouldn't have thought of that. But if you had done some experimentation with some different genres of photography that used flash, you might have to start thinking, how else can I use this? How can I direct the beam where I want it to go? So different genres of photography teach different skills. And then you can combine them,
learn from each of those genres and use them in ways that other people may not have expected. And that might be the thing that makes your photography stand out. Number nine, learn your skills, develop your art. Lee, you're the artistic one. It's not really that. I think learning your skills by practicing it, you start at the basic level and you practice the things that you need to master,
but you also get into a genre or a certain type of photography. And I think that's where you really build your creative personality or you let it show. You develop your style. And I think that's really what it is. You develop your style as you develop your art. And that comes from doing the same type of photography and trying to find different ways to do it over and over.
Not saying it's the only thing that's easy to do or that you should only ever do one thing. But you know, just, it's kind of basic principle. That's something that you do over and over is the thing that you're most likely to get good at. Joel Grimes had a statement that I remember years ago, he said this at Photoshop world, when someone showed him a picture,
he said, look at this. And what, tell me what you think. That's great. And the person was all happy and that. He said, now go do it 200 times. And you're well, look, the idea behind it was you do it once or twice. You're a technician. You know, you've set things up and just the way you have technically taken a nice photograph.
Do the same thing 200 times and you run into more problems and you have to overcome them. And that's been going beyond being a technician or a skill. That's when you start becoming an artist because after you've done it 200 times, you've maybe get bored with what you've done. And you start thinking of more creative ways to draw the eye. More interesting colors,
more interesting concepts. So you do need the skills. And this is why a lot of people who are in IT are attracted to photography, there's a very technical aspect to it. But if you really want to become much better at it, you need to start developing your art. And that way you're looking at something that is a part of you, that only you can bring to the photograph that other people wouldn't.
And that's not to say they can't develop their art and they do it in a different way. I've seen artists that I look at and think this is wonderful. I've seen artists I'd look at, I think I would never, ever want to do this in my life. That doesn't mean that their art is bad. It doesn't mean that their art isn't technical.
It means that their art is their art. And I want to take photos that represent my vision of things. And I want that to become known by people. So when they see it, they might think, oh, did William Beem take that photo? Yeah. And that's when you start getting to developing your art, because there are maybe recurring concepts,
recurring themes, whatever it is that you want to call it, that's when you're going beyond your skills and developing your art. All right. The last one is number 10. Share what you've learned. We all train each other. Yeah. That's really true. And also when you sharing something to help somebody else, it's amazing how many times you learn something while you're trying to help someone,
because they'll ask you questions. And I think that is the thing. Once you get used to doing something that you do, and you know that you've mastered it, it's easy to stop asking yourself questions because you know, you got the attitude. Well, I got it, which you probably do. And then somebody asks you, well, why or what if?
And it gets you thinking and possibly trying something else. So I think it's, you know, it's, it's, two-sided. You can learn, you learn from others, but you also learn from sharing what you know with others. I think that's absolutely right. When someone asks you a question that's a little bit outside of what you've done. You don't want to give them a flippant answer like,
well, this is the way I do it. That's it. That's it. You want to think. You want to say, all right, what if I did what they were asking? Is it going to result in something good or something bad? Either way you learn something from the mental exercise of answering that question. And so do they. So that's why,
if it's something you haven't experienced, those questions are gold because that means that you have an opportunity to learn. And you also have an opportunity to share that with someone else. Thank you so much for joining us on I Like Your Picture. We will have some show notes available at williambeem.com/episode275. Look forward to our next episode. That's coming up and that will be episode 276, 10 Secrets about photography etiquette.
You can imagine what I'm going to say about that. Thank you so much. We'll see you in the next episode.