With the new year comes an opportunity to set some goals and make some decisions as to how to make improvements to your career. Learning new techniques and developing skills is a fundamental part of being a photographer and a filmmaker, and Skillshare has an abundance of classes that cover everything from frequency separation to bookkeeping.
Timed perfectly to coincide with all those New Year’s resolutions, Skillshare has a fantastic offer for Fstoppers readers: two free months of unlimited access to over 25,000 classes.
The more time I spend in the Fstoppers community, the more I’m amazed by other people’s work, and the more I’m inspired to learn how they are achieving their results. YouTube is a phenomenal resource, but sifting through the chaff in search of the wheat can be an arduous, time-consuming process. I have my favorite YouTube photographers, but I have to be a little lucky that they’re sharing the exact knowledge that I’m trying to attain.
By contrast, Skillshare makes high-quality content more immediately accessible, curating and commissioning lessons that don’t simply cover specific techniques but offer inspirational insights into the professional work of established industry figures. Some of the highlights for me have been spending a day shadowing photographers whose work I have massive respect for, and seeing their methods — whether its directing models, chasing light, working with strangers, or processing their images — has been eye-opening.Having spent a month immersed in its platform, I’ve also come to greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn things that I didn’t know I wanted to learn. For example, as my own photography suddenly starts to incorporate a little more portrait work, I sought out lessons on frequency separation, not realizing that dodging and burning could also help me to bring a whole new level of control and professionalism to my images. This realization steps outside of photography, too; from a short lesson on bookkeeping, I suddenly know whether I’m better off using single entry or double entry, and have a much better system for managing my deductibles. And it’s not just my professional life: I now have a great understanding of how to go about redecorating my new house. My next step will be to spend an afternoon getting to grips with InDesign in preparation for self-publishing a book. Having this enormous wealth of refreshingly accessible information available is a real luxury.
The consistency of the content, especially in the Premium section, is impressive. There’s virtually no waffle, and lessons are clearly structured so that you know what to expect, with the option to skip ahead if necessary without worrying that you might miss something critical. If a subject is moving too slowly but you don’t mind having your brain refreshed, it’s very easy to increase the playback speed.
Strangely, even the driest of subjects didn’t feel like work. Like most of the lessons, the class on bookkeeping that I chose was broken into small, manageable chunks. Similarly, despite being over four hours, my tutorials on retouching portraits didn’t feel like a huge undertaking. When I had a few different lessons going on at the same time, managing the videos was straightforward and it was handy to be able to bookmark other content to come back to later (my introduction to interior design is waiting for me as I type). If I wasn’t sure what to choose, each lesson has a two-minute preview to give you an idea of the content and the style. And if that’s not enough, the community members leave reviews, often mentioning the parts that they found the most useful.
Speaking of the community, one aspect that really differentiates Skillshare is the chance to ask questions, get feedback, share ideas, and submit portfolios of work. Many of the photography tutorials present you with a specific challenge, asking you to go and shoot, say, a portrait using certain lighting conditions. Based on what you’ve learned, you carry out the task and submit your images for feedback from your fellow students. In some classes, you even get a response from the tutor.What was also refreshing was the mixture of talking heads with on-location work, allowing you to get a genuine idea of how someone like Chris Burkard (3.3 million followers on Instagram) goes about creating his work. How else would you get to feel like you’re just hanging out with award-winning, National Geographic photojournalist Ami Vitale, watching her as she shoots while she also explains casually what she’s doing and why she’s doing it, all as part of a structured lesson?
Below are some of my favorite lessons from the past month or so. Being a photographer, most are photography-related, but there are a few from outside my field that I stumbled upon almost accidentally, a testament to the diversity of quality that Skillshare has to offer.
Vitale is a world-renowned former photojournalist and now a Nikon ambassador. She’s photographed in some incredibly tough situations and having the opportunity to listen to her talk about her work — both her photography in general but also seeing her in action out on a shoot — is a privilege. In this lesson she takes us to Venice Beach and sets some exercises in repetition, in staying in one place, and understanding how a location can change according to the time of the day, not just in the light, but in the atmosphere created by those present. All of this is informed by her huge experience which is explored in depth.
Vitale’s easy relationship with her subjects is born from her years in the industry, shaped by her time photographing everything from war zones to ecological projects. This is a lesson in inspiration rather than pure technicality, challenging you to understand how to make a connection with a place and its people, through repeated visits and familiarity, even if you end up photographing complete strangers. As she proves, there’s skill to knowing how to use your camera and editing software, but the soft skills of getting out there, communicating, connecting and relating with subjects and their environments is something that is incredibly difficult to teach. I came away from Vitale’s lesson enriched and excited to rediscover even the most mundane of locations.
At the other end of the scale when it comes to photography is retouching, and Marcin’s tutorials have to be some of the best that I’ve ever encountered. I rarely use Photoshop but as my photography changes, I know that I will be using it more in the future. Inevitably this is an incredibly dry subject but Marcin’s simple presentation style and avoidance of any unnecessary detail is a revelation. The lesson was really well structured and I know that if I need to revise any aspect afterwards, I’ll be able to find the relevant section without any problems. If the four-hour version is too daunting, he also offers this shorter version that’s less than half the length.
The pacing is perfect, and the short chapters make it digestible. The amount of information is huge without ever feeling daunting, helped by Marcin’s straightforward, structured delivery.
Like many of us, I’ve uploaded bits and pieces to various stock libraries over the years but never really had a system in place and nor have I had the patience to figure out how best to get my images out there. Michal has extensive experience in creating a passive income through stock images, and often making use of images that already exist in his archive. In this series of lessons, he talks you through how to start, what works, what doesn’t, and how to learn what these libraries want. There are also some tricks to help you to discover niches to give you a greater chance of generating sales. Stock is unlikely to make you a fortune but with a little effort it can be a great way to create a bit of cash from images that might otherwise sit on a hard drive and do nothing.
Emily Simcox somehow made one of the driest of subject seems manageable and accessible. I think one of the best parts of having access to Skillshare’s premium content is that I would never have otherwise sat down to learn about double entry accounting. Having a friendly voice reminding me that it’s better to catch financial errors sooner rather than later has nudged me into making sure that I'm top of things in the new year.
Much of my work uses natural light and I wasn’t expecting to learn a huge amount from Justin in terms of specific techniques, but I was interested to see how he worked. In the end, it was really beneficial to see how he went about undertaking an entire shoot, both in terms of understanding how the light is falling across the subject, to seeing how he then edited the resulting images in Lightroom. Portraiture is one of the weakest parts of my game so just knowing that I’m on the right track with my approach has made me feel much more confident about what I’m doing, and Justin’s easy manner made the entire lesson enjoyable.
What I Liked
- Searching for lessons is easy, and saving stuff for later makes this extensive library of content very easy to manage.
- The short overviews at the beginning of every lesson give you a very accurate idea of what's going to be covered, and in what level of depth.
- There's no waffle, no advertising, and nothing to distract you from your learning.
- The chapters make it incredibly easy to go back to something and remind yourself of something you might have forgotten
- The variety is a little crazy, and I keep taking lessons in subjects that I didn't realize I wanted to learn about.
- The combination of feedback and manageable projects make learning effective and more enjoyable.
What Could Be Improved
- A few of the older lessons use slightly dated technology, such as the Sony a6000 or Lightroom 5.
- For some of the older classes, accompanying files were occasionally missing. That said, typically there are more recent classes covering the same material.
I will be continuing to use this platform as the knowledge seems endless. Skillshare is a phenomenal resource and with two months of free access to its premium content, it makes sense to check out what they have to offer. You might be surprised by how much you want to learn, and the new year is a great time to get started.