11 Best Free Online Photography Courses – Adorama

In this day and age, learning photography has never been easier. Thanks to today’s near-unbridled access to online education, aspiring photographers can learn the craft on their computers without having to spend a single cent. We’ve rounded up some of the best free online photography classes that will teach you everything you need to know. From image composition and camera settings to lighting and photo editing techniques, there’s an advanced or introductory course for you. No matter your skill level, we’ve got you covered! Here are 11 of the best photography courses offered for free online.

Photographer on nature photowalkImage via Shutterstock

Here are some of the most popular and highly rated online digital photography courses for beginner photographers and intermediate photographers. Most are available all year round and allow you to learn at your own pace. Others are available for a short period of time and offer more advanced lessons at a small price. We’ve also labeled them according to your skill level, so you can easily find the right course/s for you. Then, refer to our list as you level up.

Top Free Online Photography Courses Available Now:

Level: Beginner

This comprehensive, mostly-text tutorial by Lifehacker starts off with three sections that explain how a digital camera works, its automatic settings, and its more advanced manual settings like shutter speed, aperture, and more. The last two sections provide helpful information on compositional techniques and how to edit your photos during post-processing.

The course also offers additional digital photography resources for extended learning on each topic. And with a couple of videos included, it’s an easy way to gain a much better understanding of cameras and imaging before finally venturing into the world of digital photography.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Camera settings and how it works
  • Photo composition
  • Photo editing

Level: Beginner

The course, which is freely available to anyone through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) OpenCourseWare initiative, features video lectures from a semester-long undergraduate-level course at MIT. With the help of four photography teachers, you’ll learn the fundamentals of photography, and technical aspects of working analog and digital SLR cameras.

The tutorial also covers lessons on film imaging—particularly film exposure, film development, and darkroom techniques—aside from digital imaging and studio lighting.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Fundamentals of cameras
  • Film development and darkroom techniques
  • Studio lighting

Photographing a model with studio lightingImage via Shutterstock

Level: Beginner

This free Udemy course aims to make photography “simple”. It uses 10 lectures and a total of 31 minutes of instructional videos. Celebrity photographer and cinematographer Corey Reese provides in-depth information about shooting in natural light and understanding manual camera settings (like aperture and shutter speed) for a wide range of photography applications. As with most digital photography courses, you’ll need a DSLR or mirrorless camera to be able to maximize the lessons.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Natural light photography
  • Manual camera settings
  • Basics of camera

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

This free Strobist online course is for photographers looking to learn more about how to control and use light. You’ll learn from a trained and professional photographer who has completed 10,000-plus assignments and mastered the power of light.

Finally, you’ll learn off-camera flash, how aperture and shutter speed settings help in light control, and manual camera controls.

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to use your off-camera flash
  • Power of lighting
  • How to control light

Level: Intermediate

This free FutureLearn online course is for aspiring commercial photographers or assistants who are hoping to develop their skills and knowledge in new media. This involves exploring still and moving image photography. You’ll get to tackle topics on filmmaking as well as the use of CGI, animation, and more. It will also help you learn how to create winning commercial yet personal and individualized work for clients. All of this will be useful if you’re pursuing advertising, fashion, or editorial photography.

Based on certain elements of the photography courses at Norwich University of the Arts, these lessons allow you to learn from expert academics, as well as leading commercial photographers like Andy Earl and Tim Flach.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Benefits of personal work
  • How to develop creative work and get paid
  • How to create video for commercial projects

Photographer framing modelImage via Shutterstock

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Understanding the fundamentals of photography is essential to beginning the craft. The instructor, Sean Dalton is a professional lifestyle and travel photographer. Additionally, Sean gives a 90-minute intro to photography and will introduce you to countless tips and tricks to get you started. 

By learning some essential pieces of photography such as, focusing, in-camera settings, exposure, composition, and even editing, you can get your photography hobby, or even career, going with this class. If you are a beginner photographer and want to find a way to get a head start without breaking the bank, this is the class for you. 

What You’ll Learn:

  • Photo editing
  • Understanding your DSLR
  • Camera settings 
  • Finding a unique photography style
  • Getting the best composition 

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

CreativeLife mostly sells online photography courses, but they also have a wide range of free on-air classes (at least one per day). These classes cover topics such as video, art and design, music and audio, crafts, and others—including photography, of course. The site allows viewers to RSVP to different classes, which can easily be viewed by more than 50,000 students from around the world. Make sure to take note of the date and time of the on-air class you want to take. There are many different courses each day.

Finally, should you consider trying out their paid classes, you can catch celebrity guests and instructors like world-renowned wedding photographer Jasmine Star.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Photography styles
  • How to find a creative flow
  • Photo editing
  • Building a creative career

Level: Beginner to Advanced

Alison offers free online diploma and certificate courses in a wide variety of disciplines, which includes a handful of photography courses designed to help shutterbugs of varying skill levels take their photography to the new heights. Alison currently has certificate courses for beginners, intermediate-level photographers, and advanced shooters, as well as a diploma course on digital photography. If you want to learn more about exposure settings, composition techniques, or post-production tools, this is a good place to start.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Composition techniques
  • Photo editing
  • Digital photography

Modeling with mixed lighting and double exposureImage via Shutterstock

Level: Intermediate

One of the best free online photography courses for aspiring photojournalists, this MIT course from 2016 (also available on MIT OpenCourseWare) helps you hone your photographic “eye” and skills by exposing you to the work of some of the most successful shooters in the field. And by the end of the course, you will have gained expert knowledge in capturing the essence of a scene. Then, you’ll effectively convey meaningful messages despite the obvious limitations of a still photo. If you have a passion for extraordinary images that tell a story, this course is for you.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Finding your photography “eye”
  • History of documentary photography & the work of famous documentary photographers
  • How to make your own documentary photo

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

The course offers advanced yet very doable strategies for taking flattering portraits as well as tips on how you can make your subjects (young and old) behave in front of the camera. However, you’ll need to have a pretty good understanding of how cameras work in order to understand other lessons on image composition, exposure techniques, lighting equipment, and post-processing. The goal is for you to have a very good idea of how you can execute a pictorial—whether indoor or outdoor—for an entire family. In the end, you’ll produce a final product that they would hang in their living room and treasure for years or generations to come.

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to do in-home photo shoots
  • Ambient lighting techniques
  • Locations for family photos
  • Photo editing

In this free class, Karl Taylor will take you through some easy tips and tricks to improve your photography. By expanding your technical and creative education, you can take your craft to new heights.

Karl starts out by simply walking through your camera, covering proper settings such as ISO, aperture, shutter speed and anything else that will allow you to shoot in Full Manual Mode. In this class, you will cover composition, understanding the use of light, depth of field, which lenses to use and when, and much more.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Which lenses to use and when
  • Understanding composition
  • Manual Mode
  • Depth of field
  • Megapixels and sensor sizes

If you’re looking for specific topics or tutorials, then browse the 42West for comprehensive yet easy-to-understand articles and video tutorials on all kinds of photography topics.

camera and laptop learning photography coursesPhoto by Desola Lanre-Ologun on Unsplash

Tips to Choose the Best Digital Photography Course for You

With so many digital photography courses and workshops available these days, digital and in-person, free and paid, you may feel overwhelmed when searching for the ideal opportunity to expand your photography skills. Here are a few ideas to help you find the best options:

  • Start small. If you’re just starting out, the best online photography course for you may be very simple and focus on a few key photography tips.
  • Ask around. Talk to your friends and family who are interested in photography and have the same basic experience level as you. They may be able to recommend the perfect class or workshop.
  • Consult the local library or community center. Many local public spaces offer beginner photography classes to help you get started.
  • Read reviews. There are so many online photography classes available. To find the best courses for your interests and experience level, it’s a good idea to read reviews from previous students.
  • Get the right experience. Make sure the class you intend to take is at the right experience level. You don’t want to end up in a class for advanced photographers if you’re still learning the fundamentals of photography. Reach out to the instructor for clarification or placement questions.
  • Learn editing. Find online photography classes that focus on Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. Learning how to shoot is only part of the experience. Learning how to use programs like Lightroom and Photoshop will help you polish your work and solidify your photography techniques.
  • Research the course’s instructor. Professional photographers usually know their stuff and have lots of insights to add to the experience.
  • Find your niche. Find out if the classes you’re exploring teach the type of photography you want to learn. Landscape and nature photography lessons won’t typically be taught in the same course as portrait photography. If nature photography is your focus, find a dedicated nature photography opportunity.
  • Go hands-on. When you’re ready to advance beyond free options, consider a travel workshop with a professional photographer for mastering advanced techniques in the field. These hands-on experiences will help you get comfortable not only with the fundamentals of photography, but also with more advanced photography skills. One-on-one photography lessons are a great way to develop your skills further.

Regardless of the digital photography course you choose, becoming a photographer requires having the right equipment. We recommend looking into a DSLR or mirrorless camera such as a Canon EOS R5, Sony Alpha a7S III, or even a Nikon D500. Having the right equipment will ensure you can grow as a photographer as your skills develop.

How to Find a Photography Class Near You?

As things open back up post-pandemic, more and more institutions are returning to the classroom setting. This gives students an opportunity for a hands-on approach to concepts like shutter speed, aperture, and proper exposure.

Attending a weekly class in person will reinforce new techniques as you dive deep into the principles of photography to develop your creative eye. Photography gets easier to learn and understand the more consistently you do it. If you’re interested in growing as a photographer, signing up for an in-person class is a great first step.

When you’re ready for in-person classes, check out the available options at local community centers, arts centers, and independent photography schools. Beginner photographers will benefit from introductory classes and the ability to work directly with their photography teachers, who can answer your questions and troubleshoot any issues.

Additionally, if you’re having trouble finding a class near you, reach out to local community colleges and other academic institutions. They can advise you or even set you up with an ideal photography teacher for private lessons.

creator tools photography camera tabletPhoto by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Is Going to School for Photography Worth It?

Learning photography is easier in an academic setting. Experienced photography teachers know how to make concepts understandable. They can teach beginners in a way that helps you advance toward your creative goals. Developing your creative eye with a photography teacher’s help is a big step in the right direction.

Professional photography teachers also know how to use a variety of gear. So whether you have a Nikon camera, a Canon camera, or something else, they’ll show you how to set up your camera and get great shots.

If you’re interested in learning post processing and photo editing, working with a teacher in a classroom is a big help. Having a teacher track your progress and make suggestions will also help you get a handle on the different techniques. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Can you self teach photography?

Short answer: Absolutely. As many self-taught photographers will tell you, teaching yourself the craft of photography is more than possible. With so much access to information and education on the internet, you can teach yourself to do just about anything these days.

There’s a plethora of both written articles and online photography courses and videos that will instruct you on Photography 101 to become a full-time professional photographer. You will of course need to be committed and disciplined to learn this craft without the push of an on-hand instructor.

A great place to start is by learning about your specific camera. Look up articles and Youtube videos that will walk you through the different parts of a camera, then go out into the field and experiment with settings, lighting, and framing.

Once you have the basics of your own camera, find out exactly what kind of photographer you want to be. Figure out if you like portraits, landscapes, commercial, etc. Figuring out what you are passionate about will allow you to focus on a genre and learn and grow within that photography genre.

How much does a photographer make a year?

A photographer’s salary can vary depending on the volume of work they do, the type of photography, and geographically where the photographer is based can also be a variable.

Photographers are mostly self-employed creators, so the annual income will vary, but there is always more work out there for those willing to go find it. Another way to make good money as a photographer is to work full-time for a company, while also taking on more work on the weekends, even if it is in a different field than what you are used to.

Most professional photographers who do this full-time show that there are many way to make money with photography. By building up long-term continuous clients and knowing the value of your work, the sky’s the limit when it comes to what you can earn in this field.

Feature photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash

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Adorama’s 42West is the content destination for photographers, filmmakers, audio creatives and all things electronic. Check out our up-to-date editorial features on all the latest gear, how-to’s and interviews with today’s most relevant industry insiders.