We live in a world of excessive options, often leading to crippling cases of “analysis paralysis.” This reality is particularly prevalent in the world of online learning. I can’t even count the number of YouTube videos I have to search when I want to learn a particular skill, before I finally find a half decent one or give up and teach myself. So when the folks over at Skillshare reached out to see if I was interested in checking out their library of classes, the answer was obviously yes. Spoiler Alert: Skillshare is offering our readers two free months of Premium classes. Read the review below then check out Skillshare for yourself.
Some quick background: I’ve been working professionally in photo/video/design/media/etc for about seven years now, and I’ve yet to reach a point where I think “Yup, I know enough, time to stop learning.” Early on, I had a membership to another learning site, which was fine, but it was a little intimidating if I’m going to be honest, classes were often very long and I would have to click around a lot to find the stuff that actually applied to me and, once I finally did, it became more like frustrating homework to try and sit down and watch rather than something exciting I looked forward to.
My first impression of Skillshare was that I was simultaneously intrigued and not overwhelmed; both great things. The interface is very clean and straightforward, I simply searched “photography” and was greeted with this grid result of matching classes. Each class has a screenshot of the lesson, along with the total length of the class, number of students who have taken it, and its overall rating.
One of my favorite Instagram follows is Benjamin Heath, and lo and behold he has several classes on Skillshare! So boom, I just tapped the “Save” button that appears on every search result and added it to my classes to take later.
I feel like this is a good moment to talk about what really struck me about my experience using Skillshare, and how I think it sets itself apart from other online training courses. To try and sum it up in a sentence, other training programs I’ve tried have felt like classes, while Skillshare classes feel like conversations. The shift in mindset is almost jarring if you’ve grown used to the “Hi, my name is Steve, and today we’re going to learn about Lightroom while you watch me use my computer and drone on at you for an hour” style of learning. Imagine you got to assist and hang out with some of your favorite photographers for a while, that’s what Skillshare feels like. There’s this pleasant mix of a documentary-style video combined with the traditional “watch how I do this” that I think really elevates the user experience.
Skillshare also combines a really great interface with some solid community building elements. You have the option to play the videos at .5x 1x, 1.25x, 1.5x, and 2x speeds, which I found incredibly helpful as 1.25-1.5x seems to be my sweet spot for podcasts and audiobooks, and was also a good (if sometimes amusing) speed to help me zip through classes.
Each class has “Community,” “Your Project,” and “All Projects” tabs for you to explore. “Community” is where you can have discussions with other students who have taken the class, and often have your questions answered directly by the instructor. Every class includes an optional project to help encourage you to go out and implement the lessons you learned from the class. You can then come back to Skillshare and upload your project to get feedback from your instructor and fellow students. So you aren’t just getting lessons to watch alone, you have the opportunity to engage with, and be challenged by, an entire community learning along with you.
I’ve primarily focused on the photography classes since that is where the majority of my own work is spent, but Skillshare has loads of classes in almost any discipline you can think of. There are several cooking and wine focused classes in particular that have caught my eye and that I have already added to my list of saved classes. Here’s a quick rundown of the classes I took and what I learned.
Benjamin Heath is a fantastic photographer and, as I mentioned before, one of my favorite follows on Instagram. I was quite excited when I saw that he has several classes on Skillshare so I immediately added them to my class list.
Altogether, the class is 40 minutes long. Ben introduces himself and the gear he typically uses, then talks about his philosophy and mindset when shooting environmental portraits. I then got to “accompany” Ben on two different shoots; one on location and one in studio. This style of teaching really emphasized that sense of getting to be there with the photographer rather than just sitting and listening to some lecture.
One of the things that really struck me about this class and that I will take with me on my own shoots, is how laid back Ben is. He doesn’t seem to obsess over setting up the perfect scene, rather he takes the environment as-is and finds the way his subject fits into it. You also get a quick walkthrough of Heath’s editing where he again emphasizes simplicity over trying to do too much. He also showed great ways to utilize natural light, even in settings where it might seem like the light is lacking or less than ideal.
Well-known Instagramer Trashhand currently has three different classes on Skillshare and I took two of them for a spin. The first one was specifically focused on shooting brand lookbooks, an interesting assignment that I think can really help you grow a lot as photographer due to the variety of images that can be made working on that kind of project.
All of Trashhand’s teaching in this class is top notch; from prep, to choosing wardrobes and locations, to editing. But, what I really took away from this class was the importance of paying attention to details, not just in your photos but in your prep. During the bit on choosing the wardrobe for your shoot, Trashhand points out things that might seem obvious, but that I imagine many of us have not realized until later when we’re editing a shoot. Things like, steam the clothes to get out wrinkles, use a lint brush first so you don’t have to clone things out later. Small details that can become big irritations if you don’t bother to pay attention from the get-go.
The second Trashhand class I watched was just as informative. It really was quite like getting to walk around town with the photographer as he made images, and hear him talk about his approach and style when documenting a city. I found this to be an extremely informative class, at an hour and a half it was one of the longest classes I took and every minute was worth it. Trashhand basically deconstructed his own work by first showing and talking about several series of prior images, then going out and filming as he shoots a whole new series, then a final bit where he walks you through his editing. This class was the complete package and definitely inspired me to get out and spend some time in downtown Houston to see what sort of images I could make.
My last class was this one from fashion photographer Justin Bridges teaching about all of the possibilities available when shooting with, you guessed it, a single light. Justin does some really killer fashion work, so I was really intrigued to see what sort of setups he preferred when only employing one strobe. While I thought that all of the classes I took had plenty to offer to both seasoned photographers and to those just picking up their first cameras, this class in particular had some great lessons to shooters who want to learn more about some of the classic lighting schemes and how to achieve them with a simple setup. Justin even spends a section of the class talking about incorporating good lighting techniques into your iPhone photography, and how easy it is to use reflectors or flags to shape and control natural light for mobile portraits.
What I Liked:
Great user interface that makes it easy to find new classes and give them a try.
Classes seem more like a conversation, and less like a sterile, boring classroom.
Wide variety of subjects and disciplines available.
Projects allow you to implement your new skills in tangible ways.
Community aspect encourages interaction and allows you to give and receive feedback to help accelerate your learning.
Generally high production value for online classes.
Only $12/month for unlimited access to classes.
What Could Be Improved:
Some classes seem to be outdated in terms of instructions they offer or software they teach on, which will sometimes get mentioned in some of the student comments. However, Skillshare’s constantly growing teacher community ensures that there is a steady stream of new classes being produced and shared with students all the time.
There does seem to be a decent number of “low end” classes in the Premium offerings as well, which is probably a result of the fact that Skillshare enables anyone to teach. On one hand their open-submission community creates many more great classes that wouldn’t exist if the platform was closed, but on the other hand some less than stellar classes might slip through. I think the huge catalog of quality classes more than outweighs the select low-end ones, however, and creates a platform for people to practice and improve as instructors just as they practice and improve as students.
I came away from my time with Skillshare thoroughly impressed and highly recommend it to photographers of all skill ranges. Their emphasis on real-world lessons and access to instructors through comments and student projects is a welcome shift from the frustrating and unengaging lecture-style of teaching that seems to permeate YouTube and other training sites.
Now’s a great time to take Skillshare for a spin because they’re offering Fstoppers readers the chance to try out their Premium series of classes for free for two months. Go here to redeem your special trial membership and start learning today.