Believe it or not, there are plenty of ways to learn photography that don’t necessarily involve spending a ton of money on a years-long career.
Regardless of your budget or gear, you will always find a way to take your first steps in photography. I started at 13 using my phone camera, so trust me when I say you don’t need anything fancy to get started.
So, in this article, I will share 21 ways to learn photography that I have tried myself over the years.
Can You Teach Yourself Photography?
Of course! There are many tools and online resources to get started in photography without spending much money on long and expensive programs.
Still, you will need a lot of discipline and commitment, as photography requires much study and practice to master.
You can start with photography blogs, videos, and books. Yet, I recommend you eventually sign up for photography courses to expand your learning and get real-time feedback from experienced photographers.
Is Photography Hard to Learn?
Yes and no. Photography might be a bit confusing at first because there are many technical aspects to consider. Yet, if you practice often, you’ll get the hang of it quickly. It will all depend on how much time you dedicate to it.
Photography is about understanding how light behaves and how you can manipulate it. So, to fully master it, you need to get technical and dive into a bit of physics— but don’t worry, you won’t have to memorize formulas for that!
In a very general way, there are two things you need to know to understand how a camera works and how light behaves so you can use it to your advantage:
These concepts are the basis of everything in photography, and you will come across them no matter which way you start your photography journey.
Now, let’s get to the fun part:
21 Ways to Learn Photography for Beginners
In this list, I include traditional and not-so-traditional ways to learn photography. I’ll go from taking classes and online courses to creative exercises you can do independently.
I have tried all the 21 things you’ll see here, so I can confidently tell you how helpful they’ve been to my growth as a photographer.
However, I do not see these 21 options as separate paths. Feel free to combine these recommendations and integrate them all into your training process.
That said, let’s get to the first one:
1. Enter an online course
Online courses combine the benefits of having a professional guide to accompany you on your learning journey with the flexibility of learning from the comfort of your home.
There are plenty of online courses to get started, even if you don’t have a DSLR camera— and some of them are free!
You can learn photography online on platforms such as Coursera or Skillshare or sign up for special courses provided by universities.
Additionally, many established photographers offer online courses and educational resources to help beginners and intermediates boost their careers. Karl Taylor is an excellent example of this.
2. Look for an internship
Internships are the best way to learn —and make mistakes— while you are still studying.
During my last year of college, I was an intern in the photography department of an advertising agency. There, I learned a lot about product photography, used studio equipment for the first time, and gained work experience while studying. Moreover, it allowed me to meet new people and start building my professional network.
3. Take workshops
Although you can learn a lot from online resources, for me, in-person workshops are essential for your professional growth.
I love workshops because they allow you to practice in real-time with your teacher’s support. Plus, they are great for meeting other photographers, making friends, and creating professional relationships that could lead to future job opportunities— seriously, that happened to me.
4. Become an assistant
Being a photography assistant is probably the best way to build a career in this field. Nothing compares to the chance to work hand in hand with an experienced photographer and learn from them to create a more solid foundation for your professional future.
Not only do you understand how to use professional photography gear, but also how to run a business, deal with clients, and solve problems or situations that no one teaches you in school.
Nevertheless, to become someone’s assistant, you must gain their trust. And for that, you need to show interest and commitment; that’s even more important than talent.
BTW, in-person courses are ideal for connecting with other photographers who may need assistants, so take advantage of them to expand your professional network.
5. Read photography blogs
As the internet lover I am, I can promise you there is plenty of valuable educational content online to learn photography from scratch.
There are many —seriously many— photography blogs with comprehensive and well-explained articles to take your first steps as a photographer. Moreover, you can find additional resources, quick guides, practical exercises, downloadable cheat sheets, and much more.
6. Watch YouTube videos
If you prefer to watch videos rather than read, you can also find a lot of valuable content on YouTube to learn photography online— and for free!
Here are some great YouTube channels I’ve been following for a long time:
Phlearn (for Photoshop tutorials)
7. Find a mentor
Some photographers offer portfolio reviews and mentoring, which can be an extremely rich process for your growth as a photographer.
A mentor not only acts as a guide to get you started in photography but also as an essential point of support and confidence to receive constructive criticism and help you shape your photography projects.
In early 2022, I started a personal photography project with the help of a mentor who opened up a whole new world of creative possibilities for me. That allowed me to see things I hadn’t noticed initially, giving my work much more depth. Besides, I got great advice on presenting my work to editors and other photographers.
8. Read photography books
A good book can be the basis of your learning process. There are hundreds of great photography books to learn, practice, and get inspired.
Need some recommendations? Check out this list of the 44 best photography books from Digital Camera World.
9. Learn from photobooks and online portfolios
As you see the work of other photographers —both historical and contemporary— you will nurture your visual culture and photographic eye. Thus, you will have many more tools and references when composing, editing, and presenting your images.
10. Start by reading your camera manual
No camera can take good pictures by itself, but if you don’t know your equipment in depth, you will never exploit its full potential to grow as a photographer. Therefore, you must take the time to read your camera’s manual so you can master it to the fullest.
11. Join a photography forum
Online photography forums are great places to learn, give and receive feedback, and get inspiration. Plus, it allows you to connect with people worldwide who share the same passion you have for photography.
12. Shoot with a fixed lens
Although zoom lenses offer many benefits, shooting with a fixed lens helps you better understand the focal length and how it affects the result. It also forces you to move around to adjust the composition, which inevitably leads you to develop a more agile photographic eye.
If you don’t have a fixed lens, you can use your regular 18-55mm beginner lens and take on the challenge of sticking to a single focal length (let’s say 24mm, for example).
13. Use Instagram as a learning and inspiration source
Although Instagram is a great place to see funny memes, selfies, and aesthetic food photos, I like to see it as an inspiration source. I even had a teacher that suggested having two accounts: one for family and personal stuff and the other for photography— that way, you’ll have two different feeds to avoid distractions.
Instagram can be a powerful medium to showcase your work while learning from the work of other photographers you admire. Plus, there are countless photography-related accounts that post educational content, behind-the-scenes, and how-to’s that can help you expand your creativity and train your eye.
14. Understand the histogram
This one is more like a tip to improve your photography than a way to learn from scratch. But I wanted to talk about this because it is a fundamental concept that not all beginners pay attention to.
A histogram is a graphical representation of the brightness levels of a photo. It is a powerful and illustrative tool for understanding how an image is constructed (at least in terms of exposure and amount of blacks and whites).
Understanding the histogram from the beginning will give you a helpful tool to optimize the way you capture and edit your photos, mainly because it allows you to avoid over- and underexposure.
15. Make self-portraits
I’ve been making self-portraits for over ten years, and I firmly believe they are an excellent way to learn photography while improving your relationship with yourself.
Self-portraits are a challenge for most photographers because we are used to always being behind the camera. Yet, daring to be on the other side is an effective exercise to understand how to photograph other people, do lighting tests, practice poses to direct others later, experiment with new techniques, and learn to see yourself differently.
What’s more, they work as a catharsis method to express your most personal emotions and reflections.
16. Use your phone camera
Today, everyone has a camera in their pocket, but not everyone knows how to use it properly. Take advantage of the potential of your phone camera and use it as a tool to be in constant practice.
Besides, sometimes it will be more challenging to get a good photo with your phone than with a DSLR— and trust me, it’s worth taking those challenges to train your eye.
17. Showcase your work online
One great thing about the internet and social media is that you have so many more ways to share your work with others.
Dare yourself to post your photo experiments or keep an online visual diary. That way, you’ll start developing a personal style, keep track of your progress, and get feedback to grow.
All of that leads us to the following point:
Invest some time in building a solid professional network. Surround yourself with people you admire and from whom you can learn to be a better photographer.
Social media is your best tool to connect with other photographers and artists with whom you can exchange ideas, tips, or even work on collaborative projects. It all adds to your learning process!
19. Make photography challenges
Have you seen those ’30-day’ or ’52 weeks’ photography challenges? These trends are fantastic ways to train your creative side as a new photographer.
When you start learning photography, you sometimes feel you have nothing to shoot around to keep practicing. Well, these fun challenges solve that issue! Plus, they can lead you to try new techniques or explore different perspectives you wouldn’t usually use.
20. Recreate pictures you like
Recreating pictures you like is a helpful exercise to understand how to handle light and composition in photography.
Imitating an image requires careful study to understand how it was made. That includes the camera’s position concerning the subject, the lighting scheme and type of lens used, etc. All those elements help you train —yep, you guessed— your photographic eye. Besides, it is super fun!
21. Practice every day!
You can read a hundred books and watch countless hours of YouTube videos, but none of that will turn you into a photographer without practice.
Shoot every day and make photography part of your routine. Try to keep a visual diary or set a bucket list of shots to keep you focused and constantly working. The more you shoot, the more you learn!
There are tons of ways to learn photography for beginners. The important thing is that you are constant. Keep yourself practicing and looking for new ways to learn and experiment; that’s the only way to grow.
Ready to learn photography? Check out our photography glossary to get started!
Andrea Rodríguez is a photographer and bilingual freelance writer from Venezuela. She started her photography journey as a teenager, always exploring visual arts from different angles. Her personal work focuses on self-portraiture and experimental photography, but she has worked on photography projects for brands, businesses, and NGOs. Since 2020, she has balanced her passion for photography with writing, collaborating for photography blogs, and working as a ghostwriter for content creators.