Online Photography Education: Where It Is and Where It's Going

Online Photography Education: Where It Is and Where It's Going

Over the years, education has taken a major turn. Shifting from in-person to online. But even now, online education is beginning to shift. After my recent experience at the Portrait Masters Conference, I heard a lot of good things from attendees about the Sue Bryce Education platform (SBE). So when I got home I decided to give it a try. It was here that I started to realize this shift in how online education is being organized and distributed. 

In the Beginning 

My first venture into online education was back when Creative Live was getting up and running. What these classes offered was basically a small intensive workshop in video form. You could sign up for a class from Zach and Jody Grey to learn the power of off-camera flash or you could take a class from the amazing Tyler Wirken on documentary photography. They even offered classes on business and marketing, Photoshop, creativity, and the list goes on. You could become a master of photography through these online classes. 

The Current Status

Right now, not much has changed. The production value of these classes has gotten drastically better though. And smaller, lesser known artists have the ability to self-produce and launch their own content without the need for big production budgets and teams of people. But for the most part, each online class is essentially an in-person workshop in video form. 

What they do offer though, is access to people that you may never be able to learn from otherwise. Classes like those found in our very own Fstoppers store give you access to people like Elia Locardi, Mike Kelley, and Peter Hurley. Not only that, but you get to see them work in locations that would be entirely unrealistic to cart around a group of students. So by no means am I knocking the current standard for online education. I think it's amazing the amount of knowledge you can gather from one of a kind industry experts for less money than it would cost you to simply fly to their in-person offerings. 

The Shift 

Circling back to SBE, at the surface, these offerings very much resemble the online classes I talked about above. There are classes that are basically videos of in-person workshop experiences. The difference is the structure and offerings. With Creative Live and other similar experiences, they have a ton of classes that will teach you various special skills and assets. With SBE, you essentially get everything you need to build a portrait business from the ground up. There is lighting, business, marketing, editing, pricing guides, and even templates for you to use. They even have an app giving on-the-go access as well as offline access to all the content. For you to get all this info from other course offerings, you would need to buy a minimum of 10-20 different classes. But with SBE, you simply pay a monthly, quarterly, or yearly rate. The good thing is that this yearly rate is similar to what you might expect to pay for just a single course from other instructors.

This is just an example of what's in the lighting section alone!

SBE isn’t the only education platform taking on this new model either. SLR Lounge currently has a Premium Membership plan that is very similar in structure. You essentially sign up for the year and then you get access to all the content they have to offer. The main difference between SBE and SLR Lounge is that they both are teaching different styles of photography. While SBE is primarily focused on studio-style portraits, SLR Lounge’s primary focus is on more location-based portraits (from weddings to headshots to maternity). Another key difference between SBE and SLR Lounge is that you can only access SBE with their subscription model. But for SLR Lounge, you have the ability to buy a single course outright if you rather not gain access to the entire catalog. This is great if you already have a handle on how to shoot a wedding but maybe want to up your game when it comes to lighting.  

One of the ways SBE handles this subscription-only model versus being able to buy an individual course is with their partner brand Portrait Masters. So while you can access SBE with the subscription, they also offer extra courses that you can buy individually. These courses are relatable to the SBE content, but are more so a way to have different subject matter experts share their expertise. Courses like Lara Jades Fashion Photography or Kara Maries Boudoir Series. Another example is that you can learn a ton of retouching through the SBE content. Enough to do everything you would need to do as a photographer. But if you want to learn what it takes to be a professional retoucher, the Portrait Masters content offers an in-depth class from the master retoucher, Pratik Naik. Similarly, while SBE has a general focus on studio-style portraits, they just released a new Portrait Masters course entirely about location lighting by Felix Kunze

Essentially, both SBE and SLR Lounge are giving users a one-stop-shop to learn everything you need in order to be a successful photographer. They are just teaching the material with different genres of photography as their focus. This is where I see the online education industry headed. I think these small workshop-style videos will become fewer and fewer. Instead, you will be able to pick a genre of photography and gain access to all the knowledge you would ever need to master that niche. Think of it as a fine-tuned college course where you are only learning what you need to know. So no more having to take a class on music studies just so you can put a checkmark next to that required elective. And no more buying 20 different classes from 20 different instructors in order to get a full understanding of what you need to know to become a successful working photographer.  

It Takes More Than Content     

Another key aspect that makes this full access content more desirable is that continued support is more attainable. Both SBE and SLR Lounge have dedicated Facebook groups where students can ask questions or get more details on a specific topic they may be struggling with. While SBE has a members-only group and a public portrait master group and lighting group, SLR Lounge has three separate public groups depending on the topic. There is the Mastering wedding Photography groupMaster the Business of Photography group, and the Master Light and Off-camera Flash group. And I know that other education courses offer Facebook groups as well. But I am in a handful of these groups, either from in-person workshops and some online ones as well, and these groups tend to fizzle out as the course gets older and the instructors start releasing new content. But with the full access membership approach, all the new content instantly gets released to older users which keeps the groups constantly active and engaged. 

There is also some added value to learning things in person. With SBE and their partner brand Portrait Masters, they have a yearly in-person conference that is absolutely amazing. Also, while not being in person, they have the next best thing. They have monthly and weekly live sessions where you get to interact with Sue, ask questions and get live feedback and advice. 

With SLR Lounge, they have a set of educational ambassadors that teach live in-person workshops. These ambassadors are also inside the Facebook groups starting conversations to encourage education as well as answer students’ questions. They also serve as an in-person way for users to learn topics without the worry of signing up for a workshop with an instructor that may not do a good job. Because SLR Lounge has chosen tried and trusted instructors to put their name behind.

Final Words

At the end of the day, online education isn’t going anywhere. But the form in which we consume it will constantly shift and evolve. I for one like this all-inclusive model. Not only does it give users more of what they need. It does so with a smaller price tag, more support, and better content. Being primarily a wedding and portrait photographer, SBE and SLR Lounge are the two main players I know of that are doing it this way. If you know of any others, make sure to share them in the comments.   

Jason Vinson's picture

Jason Vinson is a wedding and portrait photographer for Vinson Images based out of Bentonville, Arkansas. Ranked one of the Top 100 Wedding photographers in the World, he has a passion for educating and sharing his craft.

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Sue's site is pretty good, with lots of great content. Classes can be pretty long tho, some going over an hour long.
Pro Edu is good has both single buy and subscription. Overlaps both Sue and Creative Live. High production value and price tag to match.

Sue's site is good but classes can be reealllyyy long. I like the masterclasses at Masters of Photography - short, sharp lessons of really useful content that you can pick up and put down as it suits. It's less aimed at starting a business and more focused on developing yourself as a photographer. Not to mention, the courses are with the likes of Joel Meyerowitz, Steve McCurry and Albert Watson - so they know their stuff and there's a nice mix of styles to choose from.