How to Become a Better Photographer

| How-To

Part 3 - Online Resources and Training

The interwebs are replete with all kinds of photography-related stories, articles, resources and education. If, for whatever reason, you do not want or like to attend a class in person, no worries. You can find excellent sources of self-paced instruction, tutorials or other forms of online training on the web.

In the area of photography-related web sites and blogs for self-paced learning, if I have to recommend just one, it has to be the Digital Photography School. This site has been around for quite some time and is dedicated to teaching photography techniques to photographers of all levels and interests by way of numerous excellent articles and lots of example photos.

As for web-based photography training, I recently discovered an excellent online, real-time photography instruction program offered by a long-time podcaster. Shawn King of the Your Mac Life Show just celebrated his 20th anniversary as an Internet broadcaster covering all things Apple. He started his weekly show in 1994, way before podcasting was even heard of. 

Over the past seven years or so, Shawn has become an avid, advanced-amateur photographer. But, don’t let that "amateur" moniker mislead you; Shawn himself touts the fact that he is not a professional photographer. To which I ask, “what does the term ‘professional photographer’ even mean, anyway?” Making money with a camera does not a good photographer make. 

In past years, Shawn has offered day-long special pre-event photography workshops at Macworld | iWorld. He’s built-up a reputation for being an excellent photographer, knowing of what he speaks, and exhibiting a great teaching ability to boot.

Recently, Shawn began offering a two-and-a-half hour, on-demand, one-on-one (or small groups of five or less) photography training session on Google Hangouts for $50.

It turns out that Google Hangouts provides a unique, highly personalized platform for teaching just about anything; an incredibly valuable venue for learning. I hope to see a lot more of this type of instruction be developed for many subject matters.

Starting Point Photography logo

As part of his company, Starting Point Photography, Shawn teaches a course is called Photography Tips & Tricks. Personally, I feel he should give the course a title with a bit more impact because this is not a session where someone just tosses a bunch of lame tips and tricks at you – ones you can pick up for free anywhere on the web.

No, no… via this live, interactive and personalized class, the student is exposed to those truly important topics that helps him grasp those photographic principles of composition, light and exposure that take the novice – or even the more experienced shooter – to the next level… and beyond. This course is the perfect starting point – hence the name – for anyone interested in doing much more with their photography than the average shooter could ever hope for. The end result: outstanding images that make viewers look at least twice.

I was curious about Shawn’s course. I saw his offering as a unique door-opener to more interactive courses. I paid my $50, and rather than schedule a one-on-one session with Shawn, I wanted to be part of a small group of attendees just to observe the interactive aspects of this course. My participation was on a Saturday with Shawn and two other attendees, one of whom was from Australia.

I came away highly impressed, not only with the technical aspects of this kind of training and the Google Hangouts venue, but also the value of Shawn’s course to any budding photographer. 

The other students were clearly delighted with the session as well. In fact, they mentioned most emphatically that they came away with some awesome insights on new and different ways to look photographically at everything around them. They finished by expressing a desire to get out there and try out their newly-formed ideas thanks to the stimulating discussion during the course.

Shawn succeeds through his tips and techniques, and through many example photographs that he shows the students via screen-sharing. The overall thrust of the course is to show you how to take better photographs with the camera you already have. This speaks to the point that I have made here, as well as in several other articles here on TMO, that photography is more about how YOU see photographically, and how well you understand how your camera sees, rather than what KIND of camera you have. 

Once the two-and-a-half hour course has concluded, the students are not shown to the door and simply given a fond farewell. Those who have completed Shawn’s course are encouraged to participate in a members-only, on-going Google+ forum as well as in a private photo group. The Flickr group promotes reinforcement through practice of the principles learned in Shawn’s course.

Shawn, who says he is not a professional photographer but a "professional explainer," promises to make the next photograph you take better than the last one. I believe he delivers on this promise, and I believe that the $50 fee is reasonable considering the personalized and interactive aspects of the course.

If you are a beginner and/or frustrated photographer, this course is a great starting point for you. If you are a bit more seasoned, you can certainly use this course as that shot-in-the-arm you’ve been looking for in order to overcome photographer’s block. Shawn's course will help you get out there, flex your creative muscle by using your camera, and capture compelling images.

Visit the Starting Point Photography’s Tips & Tricks Class web page for more information.

Part 4: Conciusion

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To me, an iPhone IS an expensive “camera.” And yet, I agree with your argument that basic techniques are a huge determinant of great photos, rather than expensive equipment.  Thanks for the tips / referrals.

Shawn King

I tell students in my class, “I can give you Ansel Adams’ camera and put you in the exact location he took his shots. I *guarantee* your images won’t come out like his.” smile


I once read something that went like this:
If I used Ansel Adams’ camera, it’d look like I took the shot. If he used my camera, it’d look like an Ansel Adams.

Mr. EMan

I took a “beginner’s” course years ago in Regensburg, Germany while I was living there. It was essentially just an “adult ed” class, but that has had the most profound impact for my views of photography. It was two and a half days over a weekend. After two weeks, we got back together to look at slides of our photos. Both the examples from the teacher and the other students were fantastic. This has been a great foundation of learning for photography for me. I definitely recommend taking some sort of class.


Nice article, though I feel I must offer props to the man in the cover image - I’ve shot next to him and my brother knows him as one of the premier golf photographers. I think rather than disparage someone who I also thought had a rather over-the-top appearance when I first met him, what I found was he was the penultimate sports photographer. What was even funnier was when he pulled out an umbrella out of his armada of gear when it started to rain at the PGA Championship several years ago. After talking to him though, his understanding of photography was encyclopedic; from knowing every performance aspect of every one of the half dozen bodies and dozens of lenses he carried, to know how to most efficiently be there for the right shot at the right time. Sports photos can seem banal to some, but the art of the magazine-cover shot is undeniable. I’ve seen my brother do it time and again, and it is not just master skill at handling the equipment, framing, etc., but understanding your subject, anticipating the timing, and more than anything, busting serious butt lugging what you need farther than you thought, in weather or elements that turn almost everyone back to shelter. I think about Galen Rowell, and imagine that like me, most of his best shots were literally the most painful captures. Do get grounded in the chops of giving yourself the chance of grabbing enough good imagery to work with back home. Then let that inform and streamline your field work so that you have enough quality material captured that you can push the limits and - with a little luck - be at the right place and the right time to get that truly great image!

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