I am looking to getting started with the "SLR-Photography". I just purchased an SLR camera (D5100) but I feel I'm taking pretty poor photographs.

Now I think the fault lies in the fact that I lack the understanding of digital photography. So to understand stuff, I am looking to learn (obviously). I need to decide if I should go for free tutorials on the web (Example) or should I go for the paid online photography courses (Example). The course looks pretty much similar in both the examples. However I haven't taken anything like that yet so I'm not sure what are the perks of the paid one as opposed to the free one, etc., etc.

Lemme know what you think.

  • Welcome to PhotoSE Gaurav. Start from here: What are your easiest beginner tips?
    – Regmi
    Apr 11 '13 at 22:32
  • 1
    I don't think that this is a duplicate at all. Yes, the cited question helps, but it does not answer the question. Apr 12 '13 at 10:10
  • @GauravWadhwani You are learning about 'D'SLR. :) Apr 25 '13 at 5:39

The free resource you point to (digital photography school) has a great reputation and produces quality content. Start there and don't think about spending money until you start feeling like you you find yourself unable to push your craft forward with the resources available. When you're ready to start investing in being taught, take a look at resources like Creative Live (www.creativelive.com) and Craft and Vision (www.craftandvision.com) for teaching that has a great value for the cost. Creative Live will let you take their classes free if you watch them live; you only need to pay if you want to watch them later or have a copy to rewatch. Get on their mailnig list and watch their calendar for classes you might find interesting.


I have no doubt that the information you need can be found on the internet for free. It's a matter of you knowing what you need to learn and going and finding it. You won't find the best articles on every photographic subject on one site, nor will you find it in any course. If you take the time to look around you can find the information from a number of sites with experts in different topics of interest. If Cambridge in Colour is too technical for you, you can try Scott Kelby. If his jokes put you off, you can try someone else until you find a style that suits you.

A paid course has one main advantage and that is that once you pay for it, you'll have everything in front of you, and you'll hopefully be motivated to work through it.

A few things to consider:


I have looked at course materials for a number of paid courses. I found them to be fairly poor quality overall - from a few pages to maybe 20 pages on a topic - nothing you couldn't get from reading free materials online, and far less that you'd get from a good book on photography. That isn't to say there aren't worthwhile courses out there, but you should definitely ask for some sample materials before enrolling.

What kind of learner are you?

Some people can learn by reading, others do better watching video, and others need hands-on practice. A lot of online courses seem to be geared towards reading a module (online or a PDF). If that suits you, fine. But that same information can be found in numerous websites for free. You just have to be self-motivating to go out and find it, and I guess to some degree you have to know what it is you don't know, so you know what to look up!

Besides free video on Youtube, Lynda.com and Kelbytraining.com offer very lengthy training videos on photography basics, Photoshop and Lightroom, and also advance topics like food or wedding photography. You can sign up for about $29/month, and watch all you like at a fraction of the cost of a paid course. The videos are high quality and usually 1-2 hours each.

Or if you want hands-on, look and see if there are any night courses or seminars in your area. Having someone who knows what they're doing show you (on your own camera) what to do, and giving you instant feedback, is invaluable.

What do you want to learn?

Many online courses seem geared towards learning to use the camera - basics like aperture, shutter speed and so on. Topics easily learned online. While that is important information to learn (and possibly exactly what you need at this point), does the course also instruct you on the artistic aspects of photography? You can read your camera manual cover to cover, and know all the settings and what they do, and still take rubbish pictures if you can't see the light or have an eye for composition. Does the course survey any well-known photographers or talk about the history of the medium? In my opinion, if it mainly just teaches you camera settings, and costs hundreds of dollars/pounds, then I think you can do better with a 2 hour session at a local camera club, camera shop, community centre, or whoever might offer shorts beginner training sessions

Practical assignments

Does the course give you homework? I would expect they'd want you to apply what you've learned and take some pictures and submit them for feedback. If the course just consists of written materials and no interaction between you and the instructors, then it's just an expensive set of materials of unknown quality. Buy a good photography book for a fraction of the price, or surf the net or watch some videos.


One of the most important things you can learn from is critique from others. Most online courses provide a small degree of that (the one you link mentions you can submit three photos for critique). I'm doing a full diploma course part-time, and I guess I've submitted hundreds of images by now, and received feedback on all of them. This not only gives you an insight into what others think about your work, it also helps you self-critique and develop some self-confidence and style. I don't think feedback on three images is going to make a big impact. I'd want to enroll in a course where I was expected to be submitting work throughout the course.

You can get feedback from various sites and forums. There is a question here that covers many of them: Where to get community-based feedback on my photos online

So again, the questions I would ask before enrolling in any online course:

  • can I view a sample lesson?
  • besides written materials, what practical assignments are there?
  • will I get substantial feedback on submitted images?

So unless you feel overwhelmed and want a nicely packaged set of materials to work through, I don't think there's much value in these online paid courses. There is honestly far better material in the answers on this site than in most of the course materials I've had a look at.

  • Thanks a lot @MikeW ..it was a fascinating read..and helped me a lot..Thanks again :) Apr 12 '13 at 23:49

I can't speak from personal experience on the topic of paid vs free web seminars, but I have been a business analyst for 30+ years, where these sorts of decisions are daily challenges. Nearly all business is about making decisions with lots of unknowns.

I suggest you rephrase your question a little bit: As a beginner, with limited funds, how do I most effectively spend my budget of X dollars to move from taking all bad photos to occasionally taking good ones?

(I've been shooting for 40+ years, my ratio of good to bad photos is improving but I still take losers.)

The basic problem is that you need to practice, shoot a lot of photos and look at them critically. What do you like about each one, what do you not like.

If your budget is $100, I'd start by buying a copy of Lightroom. The ability to crop, rotate, and adjust exposure can make up for a ton of rookie mistakes. Plus it has lots more capabilities, fixing flaws and adjusting saturation are the big ones for me.

If you have another $100, I'd buy a 50mm F1.8 lens, and take a few hundred photos with it.

Of course, while doing this, do as many free tutorials as you can. But don't over do it, you will get better faster by shooting than reading stuff on the Internet.

After this, if you feel you still need more, then I'd look at paid-for help. Either online or in meatspace.

  • +1 "..I suggest you rephrase your question a little bit: As a beginner, with limited funds, how do I most effectively spend my budget of X dollars to move from taking all bad photos to occasionally taking good ones?"
    – Regmi
    Apr 12 '13 at 19:24
  • "meatspace" - never heard that before. :)
    – Regmi
    Apr 12 '13 at 19:25
  • Thanks @Pat Farrell, That was really well written and explained. Apr 12 '13 at 23:36

There are many excellent online sources for learning different aspects of photography. What I've yet to find offered free of charge (though it may well be out there somewhere) is a good methodical course that begins with the assumption you know little to nothing about photography and systematically covers everything from the ground up. We all learn differently, so this may or may not be the best way for you. For me the best way to start learning about a new area of interest is to purchase a highly reviewed book that covers the subject for beginners. Even if you're not attending a college course on photography, most of the textbooks used for "Photography 101" are excellent in this regard. Or start with a book such as Peterson's Understanding Exposure, then move on to a good all around treatment of composition such as The Photographer's Eye.

I've read a lot of the material at http://digital-photography-school.com/. A lot of it is very good. Some of the articles, though, make me want to shout, "You've got to be kidding me!" The level of expertise and mastery of the subject, as well as the ability to communicate the material, varies greatly from one contributor to the next. The other thing you have to be wary about with such sites like DPS is that they are constantly trying to sell you an e-book on a particular subject. If you're the type vulnerable to this kind of sales pitch, you can very easily spend $10 here, $14 there, $8 over yonder and before you know it you've spent more than what a systematic course like the other link you cited would cost. On the other hand, just because a course charges you for taking it doesn't mean it is great. Always read independent reviews before selecting an online course.

Another aspect to consider: How well are you at being self motivated? If this is one of your strengths, then the free courses that allow you to progress at your own pace can work very well. Many paid courses also allow you to proceed at your own pace, but they often include a deadline for you to complete the course. Some of us may need that extra incentive to encourage us to keep moving and set aside a regular time to devote to the course.


Some photography stores offers free basic photography, if you have it, then better to take it. I started learning the basic in photography through surfing the net then later on, i enrolled on a formal photography school.

  • Can you compare and contrast the two? If you'd do it again, would you still start with online courses, or would you go straight to school? (Or, would you skip the school?) What about paid vs. free online courses?
    – mattdm
    Apr 25 '13 at 10:36

Every nikon user gets a free crash course about basic photography on the purchase of Nikon camera. try and consult your retailer he may provide you with some detail . or if it is not available at your location, you can learn basic photography from the nikon website itself.


  • Can you please give me some more information about this crash course from Nikon? I mean something on Nikon's website. I am very interested in that.
    – Farhan
    Feb 11 '14 at 18:14

This is a dilemma most of us face when getting into photography. I would suggest that you start reading some books or visit the innumerable sites available in the internet for learning the basics of photography.

Understand the terms and techniques and put it in practice by taking pictures. Again read a different topic and practice it with your camera. With this mode of learning u can really go a long way to becoming a good photographer.

You can check out my blog, which is aimed at helping newbies with terms and techniques of photography. http://photographypoints.blogspot.in/


There are a lot of available online photography learning resources on the internet, but one of the first steps in learning photography is to be familiarized and understand your gear/s. Its functionality, settings, etc, which is found on the product's manual. It's important because most of the free tutorials on net or on actual, it covers the technicalities of the gear. Also, before advancing to higher degree of learning photography, you should have to understand your gear.

  • 2
    This is good general info but I don't feel it answers the question on paid vs free websites on photography.
    – dpollitt
    Apr 12 '13 at 1:31

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.