5 Tips for Choosing Photography Instructors plus Mentors and Content Cost


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Matthew Jordan Smith and his subject at the Pennsylvania Hotel 5/24/17

If you’re looking to improve your photography, get yourself an instructor and a mentor. Actually, get 1 or 2 of each.

Finding Instructors

It’s easy to be bombarded by the hundreds if not thousands of YouTube videos on each and every aspect of photography and post-processing. You go looking for one thing and before you know it, you’ve spent hours looking at several videos on your chosen topic as well as a few others. As a matter of fact, you may have trouble remembering what you were looking for in the first place.

Here are some tips to streamline your photography and post-processing education.

1. Focus. Be as specific as possible when you’re searching out a topic on YouTube. For example, avoid searching for lighting. Instead, search for studio lighting, lighting in daylight or outdoor lighting, lighting at indoor events, lighting for sports, shooting in low light, shooting a concert, etc.

2. Once YouTube has given you a selection, watch a few seconds of several videos. Why? You want to watch and listen to someone whose tone, speed, and speech appeal to you. You don’t want to be 2 minutes into a video and realize the tone of the speaker is too flat to hold your attention. One problem I’ve noticed about videos and some live instructors is that they are so familiar with the material, they forget what it was like to be exposed to a new aspect of photography for the first time. For the learner, this can be very discouraging and lead to feeling inadequate. Don’t allow yourself to feel that way. Find someone to watch who appeals to you and teaches in a way that’s easy for you to learn.

3. Choose high quality videos. Choose videos that are well made with good lighting, and are easy to watch and easy to listen to. I’m not sure why some people think instructional videos without sound is a good idea. Same with videos with poor lighting, a lot of camera shake, or videos that are recorded from the back of a room making it difficult to see and hear the speaker.

4. Once you’ve decided on one or two good instructors, subscribe to their account or channel and choose to be notified when they post new videos. You may also want to look at videos posted a few months or years ago but take care and avoid instructional videos in which the technology no longer applies.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t look at other instructional videos, but you should develop a reliable foundation of 1 or 2 consistent photography and post-processing instructors who have developed a dependable library of videos, and who teach in such a way that you can learn very easily.

5. Here’s a tip that most people don’t want to hear: Watch the video twice: The first time, watch and listen; the second time, follow along. When you’re new to something, you can’t watch the screen and do what’s on the screen at the same time (Think Lightroom and Photoshop). If the video isn’t that long, watch first then watch again and follow along.

If you’ve found a video that is particularly appealing or that you know you will need to watch repeatedly, use YouTube’s feature that allows you to watch later or add the video to a playlist. When I was new to Photoshop and Lightroom,  I learned a lot from Anthony Morganti’s Youtube channel. He has a slower pace that works well for beginners and he gives detailed instructions at a rate that’s easy to follow. He also has more than 600 videos on his channel. As I’ve advanced, I ‘ve added PHLEARN to my collection of go-to instructions for using Photoshop.



Another great instructional resource that’s often overlooked are podcasts. Anthony Morganti’s podcast, Photography is My Passion is very popular.  The Improve Photography podcast provides a lot of instruction and information about all aspects of photography. Furthermore, there are a number of other podcasts under the Improve Photography umbrella including Portrait Session, Photo Taco, and Tripod, a podcast dedicated to outdoor and landscape photography. Improve Photography also has a Facebook page with additional information, instructions, and videos on many aspects of photography.

Finding Mentors

Mentors and instructors are not the same. An instructor teaches technique and skill. A mentor teaches you how to apply those techniques and skills effectively. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a mentor is a guide, a coach, and in some cases, a counselor.

In photography, a mentor is all of the above but also someone you follow because their style of work appeals to you on a deeper level. An instructor can teach the science of exposure-aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. A mentor will teach you the effects of exposure on the mood of the set, the subject, and on the viewer.

Choosing a mentor doesn’t mean copying that photographer’s style but somehow their work draws you in. Often you conclude that you want to be like that photographer in terms of the quality of work and to some degree, their success and their recognition as an artist.

Your mentor (s), like instructors, can be someone with whom you have actual one on one relationship such as a local photographer. Or, your mentor can be a well-recognized internationally known photographer.  At this level, many photographers tour and offer workshops in which attendees can participate, but far more ther own facebook-Posingan just showing their technique, these photographers share their life experiences and the journey that brought them to where they are today. More than this, they share their art moving beyond technique and skill. Even if you follow a mentor online, there’s a sense of connection on your end. Sue Bryce is a great example. Be it Creative Live, her website, or Sue Bryce Education, she offers far more than technique: she mentors photographers around the world and can be seen at live conferences such as Photo Expo Plus sponsored by Photo Plus Group. 


A few days ago I attended a workshop by Matthew Jordan Smith. When people say they don’t know who he is, I say yes you do. You’ve seen his work. He’s photographed some of the most iconic celebrities of our time in addition to photographing global campaigns and spearheading projects of social significnce.  Mr. Smith’s workshop is classic mentorship. It goes far beyond technique and delivers an understanding of photography as an art beyond the science.



If you’ve read my other blog posts, you know I believe in being economically savvy when it comes to photography gear. Well I feel the same about instructors and mentors. YouTube offers free instruction so take advantage. This is a great way to start learning and remains a constant resource for intermediate photographers. If you can think of it, someone’s made a video and put in on YouTube. Whether it’s learning about speedlights, your camera, or accessories, it’s on YouTube.

When you’re ready to spend money for content, there are several choices. If you’re going to pay, make sure it’s worth the money. If there is an opportunity to watch a free lesson before purchasing, or a free trial, take advantage. Also, look at ratings and read reviews.  As I stated in another blog, good or bad, it means something when people take the time to write a review. Don’t assume that because a photographer is very popular, their videos are great. Every once in a while, even the great ones miss.

Some instructional videos such as Matt Kloskowski’s Photoshop System are downloadable for a one-time fee. Some instructional videos can be streamed and require monthly fees (KelbyOne, Lynda.com). Although PHLEARN has videos on various Photoshop topics on YouTube, you can download more substantial instructional content such as Photoshop Retouching tutorials for a one-time fee. Craftsy offers a wide selection of photography and post-processing contents with lifelong access.

You have to make the decision about what you can afford and the value of that purchase to your photography. If you decide to pay for content from more than one source on a monthly basis, explore similarities and differences to ensure that for the most part, you receive different content from each.

You should also exercise caution in attending workshops that may vary in price from less than $100 to well over $1000 and that’s before adding the expense of hotel and travel if the workshop isn’t local. Again, ask yourself what attending the conference will bring to your photography. If it’s a workshop by a mentor with the chance to work and speak one-on-one, its value may be priceless.

A few final points:

  1. Look for sales. Throughout the year, particularly around holidays and national or international photography conferences, content goes on sale for a few hours to a few days. It’s a great opportunity to purchase content at a discounted price especially of it’s content you’ve been eyeing. Creative Live sometimes has pop-up sales offering significantly discounted prices for a few hours.
  2. Don’t be afraid to email someone at a company or a provider and ask if there are any discounts available. All they can do is say no. I’ve found that content providers are willing to provide a discount to get their products on the hands of photographers.
  3. This is related to #2. If you are a student in a photography program,  be it certificate program or a degree program, or you are studying an art medium other than photography you may qualify for a discount. You will only need provide ID and documentation of enrollment.
  4. Creative Live often has 24 hr broadcasts of some of their content. This is a great way to get a preview or if you have the time, to watch a significant amount of content without having to pay.

Quality photography instructors can make the difference in how fast and how well we learn the skills and the science of photography. A mentor–personal, online, or by just following their work, can help us become the artists we aspire to be. I hope you have mentor. If not, find a photographer who speaks to you and your art, and listen and learn.




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