I’ve been actively teaching martial arts for over 30 years. I had formal training from an instructor who was formally trained by his instructor who, you guessed it, was formally trained by his instructor.

Our strong martial arts heritage goes all the way back to the first instructor that created our style who was formally … wait for a second, he wasn’t formally trained. If he wasn’t formally trained, how did he create our style? It’s simple, it was a collaborative development that grew over the years and became the style we teach today. Photography is very similar.

I’m all for formal training, but I do recognize today’s formal training travels down a self-paced, self-taught path. My suggestion for anyone who wants to learn photography is to ask yourself how far do you want to go. I’ve taken cooking classes because I want to learn how to cook better, not to open a restaurant.

Ask yourself, do you want to make photography a career or just learn to take better photographs. Your answer will determine the path you take.

Formal training? No, I just want to learn to take better photos

Photography clubs or groups

This path is filled with many side roads to get you to your destination. The key, find the right road to take. Joining a local camera club or a meetup group will put you face to face with other photographers with a variety of skill levels.

formal learning
Photo by Lauri Novak

Research the club or groups. Are the leaders of the group humble and willing to help others or are they self-absorbed, thinking they are better than they really are? Observe the attendees. More often than not, they take on the same attitude as the leader.

A really good camera club or group will have everyone leave their egos at the door. This can be an incredible first step on your photography journey.

Online groups

Search for online resources for the style of photography you’re interested in. Facebook groups and online forums like the Photofocus Community or photo sites like Flickr offer a great way to interact with photographers all over the world.

Posting questions, taking on assignments and entering photo contests are fun ways to learn photography. Be sure when asking for advice mention your skill level and be specific with what you would like help with. This makes it easier for others to determine the level of critiquing or encouragement. An advanced-level photographer shouldn’t expect lavish praise for a properly exposed image. Remember to give as much as you take.

formal training
Photo by Lauri Novak

Online blogs, YouTube and free educational sites

There are many sites with a wealth of knowledge for new and experienced photographers. Of course, I favor Photofocus even before I became an author for the site. on killer editing tips before I met him.

Online classes and formal training

LinkedIn Learning, ThinkTAP Learn and Udemy are great places to find almost anything you’re looking for. You’re able to learn at your own pace and on your schedule. Once you find an instructor you click with, check to see if they offer workshops or seminars.

formal learning
Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

I want to make photography my career or a side business


Despite what others say, there are no shortcuts to success. Hard work, sacrifice and dedication are the cornerstones of success in any career field, including photography. Look into photography classes at your local college or university. If you don’t have time for schooling, take as many workshops and seminars as you can. Look at this as an investment in your career. Don’t make the common mistake of spending more money on new camera gear than your education.

If you are unsure of your shooting style, you may make the wrong investment in camera gear. A mistake I made early on. Photoshop World, WPPI and PhotoPlus are a few big named photography conferences worth looking into. There are also plenty of smaller regional conferences that offer great opportunities to also learn.

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Find a mentor

In the old days, if you wanted to learn to play golf, you became a caddie. You shadowed pro golfers as they taught you the game. In return, you were a grunt, carrying the bag, searching for a lost ball and so on. It was hard work, but well worth it.

Find a photographer that is willing to mentor you. In exchange for their knowledge, you agree to intern for free. Under the right instruction and guidance, you will excel at a faster rate and gain hands-on experience that could be more beneficial than formal training.

Most importantly, keep an open mind and a humble attitude. Learn the basic rules of photography before you take the liberty to break them in the name of creativity. Once you reach the level of success you have striven for, make sure you give back by helping others.

Good luck on your journey!