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5 Excellent Free Lessons to Learn the Basics of Photography

Mihir Patkar 08-02-2020

We are carrying phones with five cameras built into them. But having more cameras isn’t going to make your photos better. To shoot good pictures, try these free lessons to learn the basics of photography.


These resources dive into what anyone needs to know before taking up photography as a hobby. There are a couple of interactive apps that show how changing settings can alter a photo and a full-fledged university-level course.

1. Photography Fundamentals: A Basic Interactive Short Course

Courserock's Photography Fundamentals

What’s the difference between DSLR cameras and smartphone cameras? Why do professionals take much better pictures than you, even with the same phone? Photography Fundamentals is an interactive course that explains the basics of photography.

The scrolling course works well on phones as well as computers. It will explain a topic in simple language with visual aids. For example, there are short videos to demonstrate a topic. And there are pictures with sliding bars for a before-after effect of any technique.

At the end of any topic, you’ll get a short quiz. Answer it correctly to show you’ve understood that subject and get access to the next topic. Right now, the course talks about aperture, shutter speed, lenses, and editing.


2. Anton Gorlin: Definitive Guide to Photography Composition

Anton Gorlin has an in-depth, clear, and easy-to-understand guide to photography composition

Ask any photographer what you should learn first, and you’ll get the same answer: composition. When they say a picture tells a thousand words, it means the picture has a story in it. Much like you carefully pick the right words and put them in the right order while writing a story, you need to carefully compose the visual elements of a photograph.

You’ll find plenty of explanations and guides for photography composition on the internet, and Anton Gorlin’s definitive guide is among the best. It is easily accessible for a beginner, explaining the major rules of composition without getting too technical.

For each explanation, Gorlin provides photographs to illustrate his point. Items like Breathing Space and Visual Storytelling aren’t easy to understand if not shown through accompanying pictures. It’s a lengthy guide, so give yourself some time to read it and understand it.

Meanwhile, also check out Gorlin’s handy set of photography cheat sheets. These printable guides concisely explain best photography practices.

3. Bastards Book of Photography: Open Source Guide to Photography

The Bastards Book of Photography explains the basics of how to work with light

Dan Nguyen says you don’t need a high-end camera, fancy equipment, or Photoshop skills. A good photographer should know how to work with light, have a natural curiosity for the visual medium, and be willing to learn and practice. If that sounds like you, you’ll love The Bastards Book of Photography.

The idea of the digital book is to depend as little on external equipment and post-processing as possible. Nguyen teaches you to make the best use of light in any situation while keeping the language as simple as possible. In the process, you’ll learn how to use a camera’s manual settings to find the best way to light any scene.

Naturally, he focuses on exposure in different settings, and that’s the heart. But the book is thoughtfully put together for every aspect, with Nguyen explaining what he means with his own photographs. You won’t get jargon and techniques in this. Instead, he tells you the best practices he himself uses, and how they help.

4. Photoskop: Interactive Player to Learn Camera Settings

Photoskop lets you change camera settings to see their effects on photographs, and tells you what to look for

Photography experts keep talking about how you need to understand and manipulate the manual settings on a camera. But even if you know the technicalities, how exactly do you figure out what’s the best setting? Photoskop is an interactive guide to learn the best shot.

You’re given a photo. You can change aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and focal length through a menu. Each change affects how the picture looks. Every time you change any setting, the photo gets new speech bubbles that explain what is wrong or right about the change. And that’s the key to understanding these settings.

Photoskop has 15 different lessons for the common types of photos you’ll click: portraits, close-ups, low-light shots, landscapes, action, sunrises, and sunsets, etc. Go through the guide for each and pay attention to every bubble to understand how to manipulate camera settings.

5. Marc Levoy’s Lectures: Free 11-Week Stanford Course

Get Marc Levoy's Digital Photography lectures he taught at Stanford as a free 11-week course

Marc Levoy taught a course on digital photography at Stanford University for 6 years. He then turned it into an 18-lecture series for Google and put the whole thing online for free. While you won’t get an academic certification, this is perhaps the best free university-level course on digital photography.

Levoy divides the 11-week course into introduction, how digital cameras work, ‘photos, pixels, and bits’, interregnum, color and lighting, and image processing. Follow the schedule to watch a video each week, download the lecture slides, and do the optional coursework. There are two recommended textbooks for further reading, which you’ll have to buy or try to get free textbooks online The 11 Best Sites to Get College Textbooks Online Don't let college textbooks empty your pockets every semester. Use these websites to buy or rent cheap college books. Read More .

Levoy also has a few Adobe Flash applets to demonstrate certain concepts and techniques. Now Flash player is pretty much obsolete and several browsers don’t even support it anymore, but if you can securely check out the applets, they’re worth the effort.

Best Online Photography Courses

Levoy’s lectures are only one set among the many photography courses available on the internet. In the age of online education, there is a variety of other courses to choose from, both paid and free.

Some are made by communities, like Reddit’s Photoclass, and some are hosted by acclaimed photographers like Annie Liebovitz. To make your choices easier, we rounded up the best online photography courses for beginners The Best Online Photography Courses for Beginners Are you searching for online photography classes to join? Then take your pick from these excellent lessons. Read More .

Related topics: Cool Web Apps, Hobbies, Photography, Smartphone Photography.

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