The photography world is veritably inundated with learning options, and it can be nigh impossible to wade through them all to find what's worthwhile. So, when Skillshare offered me the chance review their platform, I jumped at the opportunity. Here's what I found.
Skillshare is a subscription platform where photographers can take classes on almost any topic, beginner to advanced, with a massive catalog of offerings. The beauty of the Skillshare platform is that it’s all in one place with one format, allowing you to easily track your learning, keep notes, and design a customized curriculum, all while enjoying the comfort of a unified presentation format, which simplifies the learning process, making it both more consistent and efficient. The interface is straightforward and quite simple to use: I searched "photography" and was presented with a list of over 1,000 premium classes (as I said, you will not be left wanting topics). I could then filter classes by length, date of creation, related topics, or the teachers I was following. The beauty of the list is that below each title is the number of people who have taken it and the percentage of those who liked it; it's very easy to get a quick feel of which classes people have found most helpful. In fact, you can check it out for yourself with two free months of Skillshare Premium exclusively for Fstoppers readers. I ended up trying out three classes myself.
The General Class
I chose "Photography Masterclass: Your Complete Guide to Photography," because I wanted to get a sense of what a really comprehensive class was like. I was greeted with a helpful summary page that told me exactly what I could expect to learn in the class, which ranged from the history of photography to composition, lighting, and business savvy. It was truly comprehensive, and at almost eight hours of content, it seemed daunting, but the content was broken into 161 precisely titled chapters that made it very clear what I would be learning. This made it easy to jump past things I already knew or to return to topics I wanted a refresher on. My instructors, Phil Ebiner and Sam Shimizu-Jones, were well qualified, Ebiner having a degree in Television and Film Production from a respected university and a resume to match.
As a teacher myself, I'm extremely sensitive to instructional styles and nuances, and I have to say that I was impressed. Both instructors spoke clearly, avoided jargon, and explained the technical features of photography in an understandable way. They often engaged in the cyclic method, in which concepts were introduced at a broad level to familiarize them to the student, then repeated at increasingly proficient levels when appropriate. I personally think this method is far preferable (and we've had good success with it at my university) because instead of trying to understand abstract concepts all at once, you take small steps as you continue to build a stronger foundation. Think of it as walking up a staircase instead of trying to jump to the next floor all at once.
The learning interface itself is also usefully customizable. You can watch videos at up to double speed or as slowly as half speed, which I appreciated, as I normally listen to podcasts or YouTube lessons at 2x, and slow down to 0.5x if I'm trying to mimic a technique in Photoshop. You can jump backward 15 seconds with one click if you missed something that was said, go full screen, and there is a closed captioning option for some videos. Within the class are also the Community, Your Project, and All Projects tabs. The Community tab is particularly helpful: it's like a forum for each class in which you can interact with other students and the instructor of the class. You can see what questions have been asked and answered and leave your own should you have any. The Projects tabs are like homework: you're given a specific task to put the knowledge you gleaned from the classes to practical use. Once you've done that, you can upload your results, where both other students and the instructor can give feedback. It's really a complete virtual classroom environment.
I have to say I was wholly impressed by the class' ability to tie a wide, wide range of information together in a coherent, consistent, and digestible fashion. Each section (about ten lessons) concluded with a brief wrap-up video that touched on the most important points of the last block. The individual lessons were also well crafted. Instead of simply talking at the camera, the instructor would give hands-on demonstrations or use images to illustrate their points. For example, in lesson 73, "Colors: Think About How Colors Affect Your Photos," you're walked through why a careful consideration of color is important in an image and what your mindset should be when thinking about it, followed by a presentation of images and a discussion of why they're compelling. Similarly, in lesson 76, you're shown images from a photo walk as Ebiner talks you through his process in taking each image and why the color was successful or not. This was well balanced by the interludes of bullet points of important information and tactile demonstrations. I think the instructors did an excellent job creating an environment that welcomed all different types of learners and helped to bridge the gap between abstract information and practical implementation, which is rather important given the topic at hand.
Another great aspect of the Skillshare platform is the sheer scope of offerings. As of right now, there are over 1,200 premium photography classes alone, with 28 classes added in the last month alone. That's essentially a class a day. With that many options, you can easily find very specific topics you'd like to learn. Skillshare makes it impressively easy to engage in continuing education as a photographer, and we all know the importance of continuing to hone one's skills as time goes on. On that point, I decided to explore more specific offerings.
Levitation Photography: Exploring Magic and Portraiture
If you’ve ever read the highly lauded astrophotography site The Lonely Speck, you know Ian Norman. He’s a talented creative and technically apt photographer, which makes him an ideal teacher for something like levitation photography, which requires the vision to conjure unique scenes and the ability to navigate the tricky technical aspects to bring them to fruition convincingly.
Much like the previous class, Norman was an engaged, well-versed, and well-spoken instructor. The course was comprehensive and left no stone unturned, beginning with the required equipment, moving on through wardrobe, settings, posing, culling, creating the effect, color grading, and more. What I particularly appreciated was Norman’s attention to detail and and the completeness of the class. Whereas many YouTube videos or classes hone in on “the trick,” teaching you that one technique that is the draw of the topic, this class took you from beginning to end: shot conception to final edit. Why is this important? Well, as photographers, it’s our job to create the concept, shoot it, and bring the final, polished image to fruition. Sometimes, learned these tricks without context can leave them feeling a bit too niche and make it difficult to envision how they might be employed, sort of like learning a language in a country where no one speaks it. By seeing the entire process, you get a better feel for not only how to use the technique, but how it might fit into your repertoire, how to build good ideas around it, and how it’ll affect different aspects of your workflow. It’s a much more complete picture.
And because Norman provides a handy one-page outline that you can print and take with you when you attempt the project, you’ll have a quick reference in the field. After you try out your own levitation portrait, you can submit it to the projects page just like every other class, where your classmates and Norman can give feedback. Given the quality of some of the projects, it was clear that Norman truly was an effective teacher.
What I Liked
- Well thought out interface conducive to learning
- Carefully structured classes that make it easy to tackle larger topics
- Vast range of topics
- New classes constantly being introduced
- Effective teachers
- Playback controls make it easy to learn at your own pace.
- The ratings and follower counts make it very easy to pick out classes that are of the highest quality.
What Could Be Improved
- It would be neat if more teachers in the classes would use the file repository for students. For example, a class on Photoshop should contain a few raw files to download and edit along with the video. Although this feature exists, it doesn't seem to be utilized often enough.
Skillshare is usually $8.25 a month, but for a limited time they're giving the first 500 Fstoppers readers two FREE months of unlimited access to stream their more than 17,000 online classes. Just click here to start your two free months.