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Fundamentals of Photography

Fundamentals of Photography

Joel Sartore
National Geographic Fellow
In partnership with
Course No.  7901
In partnership with
Course No.  7901
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture

Photographs are more than just snapshots. When taken the right way, they become dramatic personal statements with the power to last forever. They can transport you to distant landscapes, capture fleeting emotions, recall cherished memories, reveal the beauty of daily life, and even change the world.

With recent developments in technology, we now take and share photographs almost instantaneously through online photo albums and social media-making this unique form of personal expression more central to our lives than ever before.

But when many of us take photographs, we simply point our cameras and click without being aware of what we're doing, what we're seeing, or how we can do it better. In reality, taking great photographs requires you to see as a professional photographer does; to train your eyes using the same fundamental techniques and principles the experts use to create unforgettable images from the grandest (and simplest) of subjects.

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Photographs are more than just snapshots. When taken the right way, they become dramatic personal statements with the power to last forever. They can transport you to distant landscapes, capture fleeting emotions, recall cherished memories, reveal the beauty of daily life, and even change the world.

With recent developments in technology, we now take and share photographs almost instantaneously through online photo albums and social media-making this unique form of personal expression more central to our lives than ever before.

But when many of us take photographs, we simply point our cameras and click without being aware of what we're doing, what we're seeing, or how we can do it better. In reality, taking great photographs requires you to see as a professional photographer does; to train your eyes using the same fundamental techniques and principles the experts use to create unforgettable images from the grandest (and simplest) of subjects.

With Fundamentals of Photography, you'll learn everything you need to know about the art and craft of great photography straight from a professional photographer with more than 30 years of experience. Designed for people at all levels, these 24 lectures are an engaging guide to how photographs work and how to make them work better for you. National Geographic contributing photographer Joel Sartore has crafted a course that will hone your photographer's eye so you can capture the greatest moments in nearly every situation and setting imaginable, from a field of flowers to a friend's birthday party to a grand mountain range. Taking you both inside the photographer's studio and out into the field, this course is a chance to learn, in a way anyone can grasp, the basic insights and hidden secrets of photography.

Learn How to See Just as a Professional Does

The first and most important lessons you learn in Fundamentals of Photography involve seeing and thinking just like the professionals who make taking perfect shots seem like second nature.

Mr. Sartore teaches you the three features any photographer needs to have in place before snapping a shot:

  • Great lighting
  • Solid visual composition
  • An interesting perspective on your subject

By paying attention to these aspects (with help from well over 1,000 dramatic photos from Mr. Sartore's award-winning portfolio), you'll be better able to take the kinds of photographs that surpass their original situation and actually mean something to you and others.

Peek inside the Photographer's Toolkit

In the first half of Fundamentals of Photography, you'll become better acquainted with the basic features of cameras and how each plays a role in creating great photographs. Using nontechnical language, Mr. Sartore explains essential tools such as shutter speed, aperture, and lenses.

In the second half of the course, you'll learn to apply the basics of photography to the kinds of photos that people commonly take-and how to take them better than ever.

With Mr. Sartore as your guide, you'll be learning from a master of the craft; a professional photographer whose work has appeared in prestigious publications. So start making your own photos more lasting and meaningful with Fundamentals of Photography.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    Making Great Pictures
    What makes a photograph iconic? What three things must every picture have to stand out from any old snapshot? These two questions form the core of Mr. Sartore’s introduction to the course. You’ll also discover that a great picture doesn’t rely on equipment—but on being able to see and think critically about your surroundings. x
  • 2
    Camera Equipment—What You Need
    To take a picture, you need to have good equipment. Here, get a no-nonsense guide to finding photography equipment—including cameras, tripods, and camera bags—that fits your needs. Also, take an in-depth look at a camera’s controls and settings for everything from aperture to shutter speed to ISO (your film’s sensitivity to light). x
  • 3
    Lenses and Focal Length
    According to Mr. Sartore, lenses are the most critical tools of photography. In this lecture, he takes you into the field and shows you different camera lenses in action. Among them: 70–200 mm (good for blurring out distracting backgrounds), rectilinear lenses (great for photographing things with minimal distortion), and wide-angle lenses (perfect for both landscapes and for shooting subjects in tight quarters). x
  • 4
    Shutter Speeds
    Your camera’s shutter speed controls how much light enters the lens in a shot. Learn how to become a master at working with this critical tool of photography. You’ll discover when to use fast or slow shutter speeds, study each speed’s unique effects, and uncover different techniques—such as panning and ghosting—that can add great artistic touches. x
  • 5
    Aperture and Depth of Field
    What do numbers such as f/1.4, f/2.8, or f/16 mean? Finally make sense of your camera’s aperture settings, which can help create eye-popping visual effects and solve specific compositional problems. Then examine some of Mr. Sartore’s acclaimed work to see the dramatic relationship between aperture and a photograph’s depth of field. x
  • 6
    Light I—Found or Ambient Light
    In this first lecture on one of the two building blocks of photography, learn how to tap into the power of ambient light, which isn’t created in a studio but is found around you. Look at how you should adjust your camera to make the most of found light, and learn the best kind of ambient light to shoot in and why. Explore front lighting, hatchet lighting, and even zebra lighting. x
  • 7
    Light II—Color and Intensity
    Continue exploring light and photography with a look at color—both the “color” of different types of light and colors as they appear in your photographs. Then, focus on the differences between hard light and soft light, and how to adjust your camera accordingly to maximize the potential of these key photographic elements. x
  • 8
    Light III—Introduced Light
    Mr. Sartore discusses a tricky type of light: man-made (or introduced) light. You’ll learn tips for manipulating different sources of light (including firelight, car taillights, reflectors, and spotlights). Also, you’ll start to see your camera’s flash setting as not a pesky button but a powerful tool for creating breathtaking effects in your photography. x
  • 9
    Composition I—Seeing Well
    How do you truly capture the beauty of the three-dimensional world around you? The answer lies within composition—photography’s second building block. In the first of three lectures on the subject, analyze a series of pictures to get a basic understanding of how framing works. x
  • 10
    Composition II—Background and Perspective
    Great composition also involves paying attention to background and perspective. Here, Mr. Sartore offers you numerous tips and strategies for finding the perfect background, examining the benefits and drawbacks of particular perspectives, and avoiding compositional mistakes that can ruin the power of even the most perfectly lit photograph. x
  • 11
    Composition III—Framing and Layering
    Frames. Leading lines. The eyes of your subject. Layers. Learn how paying attention to—and using—these and other compositional tools can isolate the true subject of your photo and add a strong sense of dimension. x
  • 12
    Let’s Go to Work—Landscapes
    Now start applying the information you’ve learned. Your first assignment: rural and urban landscapes. Some tips you’ll discover include surveying the ground ahead of the prime light you want to shoot in, using wide-angle lenses and a little height to suggest grandeur, and focusing on a subject you can get repeated chances at capturing. x
  • 13
    Let’s Go to Work—Wildlife
    Explore techniques for photographing wildlife, whether it’s birds in your backyard or lions on a safari. Learn how to set up a blind to conceal you from your subject, where to find the best places to photograph flora and fauna, common mistakes that wildlife photographers should avoid, and more. x
  • 14
    Let’s Go to Work—People and Relationships
    Using touching photographs of family and friends, Mr. Sartore demonstrates how to use your camera to best capture joy, sadness, anger, and other emotions—without interfering with your subject’s behavior. x
  • 15
    Let’s Go to Work—From Mundane to Extraordinary
    A key skill for any photographer is the ability to capture the special aspects of even the most mundane subjects. Focus on developing and strengthening this talent alongside Mr. Sartore, who teaches you how to make great frames in seemingly “boring” places from hotel rooms to hog farms. x
  • 16
    Let’s Go to Work—Special Occasions
    Special occasions come loaded with moments that beg to be captured with a camera. Taking the knowledge you’ve gained from previous lectures, investigate ways to anticipate and better prepare for candidly photographing the range of emotions, moods, and scenes that can be found at any wedding, party, or holiday event you attend. x
  • 17
    Let’s Go to Work—Family Vacations
    Transform the way you think about and take photographs during vacations. How can you avoid taking the same dull pictures like other tourists? What are some good ways to capture the story behind a famous landmark? Who can you ask for help about the best places for photo opportunities in your destination? x
  • 18
    Advanced Topics—Research and Preparation
    Despite what you may think, researching is an important part of any well-planned photo shoot. In the first of several lectures on advanced topics in photography, learn from Mr. Sartore’s own diverse shoots around the world about ways to research and prepare for photographing in more complicated situations. x
  • 19
    Advanced Topics—Macro Photography
    Examine how to capture the remarkable (and often overlooked) beauty in miniature subjects such as insects, flowers, eyes—even a pile of money. Learn the best equipment to use, lighting techniques to capture specific features of your miniature subjects, and common mistakes to avoid (such as not getting enough depth of field). x
  • 20
    Advanced Topics—Low Light
    Low light used to be the bane of Mr. Sartore’s profession. Now, it’s all he wants to photograph in. Learn how to take advantage of low-light situations by picking the right gear (including lenses that give you wide apertures) and techniques such as using objects to block bright spots in your frame. x
  • 21
    Advanced Topics—Problem Solving
    In order to be a better photographer, you need to be a visual problem solver. Mr. Sartore, using his own career experiences, takes you through varying levels of difficult situations—such as shooting in Antarctica, on a snowy road, or throughout a massive city—to illustrate the importance of mastering this skill. x
  • 22
    After the Snap—Workflow and Organization
    Regardless of whether you’re shooting with film or on a digital camera, you need an effective system to organize your pictures. Here, get practical tips on everything from storing film negatives and naming your digital pictures to touching up your shots and archiving all of your work. x
  • 23
    Editing—Choosing the Right Image
    Hone your editing skills by combing through groups of images to select the ones that stand out. It takes time and practice—but once you can narrow your photographs down to the best of the best, you can sharpen your critical eye and improve the way you shoot in the future. x
  • 24
    Telling a Story with Pictures—The Photo Essay
    Close out the course with a fascinating look at telling stories with your photographs. Using his photo essays on Alaska’s North Slope; people at Leech Lake, Minnesota; and dwindling biodiversity, Mr. Sartore leaves you with a greater appreciation of how photographers are not just observers but actual storytellers. x

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Joel Sartore
Joel Sartore
National Geographic Fellow

Joel Sartore is a professional photographer and a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine. His assignments have taken him to some of the world's most beautiful and challenging environments and have brought him face to face with a diversity of wildlife in all 50 U. S. states and all seven continents. He was recently named a National Geographic Fellow for his work on The Photo Ark, a multiyear project to document the world's biodiversity in studio portraits (see www.joelsartore.com and photoark.com). His photograph of a lion in a tree was voted the best picture by National Geographic magazine in 2011, and also won him a 2012 Veolia Environment award for wildlife photography. In addition to his work for National Geographic, Mr. Sartore has contributed to some of the most prestigious and widely read publications, including Audubon Magazine, Time, Life, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated. Mr. Sartore and his work have been the subject of national broadcasts such as National Geographic Explorer, NBC Nightly News, NPR's Weekend Edition, and an hour-long PBS documentary, At Close Range. He is also a regular contributor to CBS's Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood. A noted author and public lecturer on photography to audiences around the world, Mr. Sartore has written several books that highlight his craft and his work. Among these are RARE: Portraits of America's Endangered Species, Photographing Your Family, and Nebraska: Under a Big Red Sky.

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Reviews

Rated 4.6 out of 5 by 127 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by one of the best courses here This is an excellent course! It goes over the basics without assuming much prior knowledge, but it's really not about technical details of photography. Mr. Sartore does a great job of helping the viewer see photos on a higher plane. It's not just about getting the light right and the correct exposure (which he addresses), but about moving around and arranging the subject of the photograph in a way that conveys a message. And he provides lots of tools for doing this, from how to blur a cluttered background to providing layers of depth to really give a sense of where a picture was taken. This lecture provides a great toolbox, with all the essentials needed to take great photographs. What I love most about it is that not only am I taking much better pictures than before but I'm also seeing how bad even these improved ones are. I'm looking at the photos in a new way. I certainly need more practice and have a lot of different issues to work on, but these tools make it possible for me to analyze my photographs critically and improve. Mr. Sartore comes across as the nicest person you could meet. He's like a friend and a mentor. I've experienced over a hundred courses on this site, and Mr. Sartore is one of the very best teachers and certainly the most likeable. There are a couple others who have an extreme level of passion or other attributes that help draw students into the material. Mr. Sartore seems to have had a life filled with adventure as a photographer and he uses that to his advantage in relaying stories and personal details about the images he's showing to make it more personal. I highly recommend this course. It's easily among the top 5% I've experienced. It's right up there with "Origins of Life" and "Understanding the Inventions that Changed the World." I'm happy that Mr. Sartore chose to share his knowledge and experience with us. September 28, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 Truly a GREAT course I love taking pictures but always used a point and shoot camera. My schedule doesn't allow me to attend night classes as a local community college of High School to learn how to take better pictures but this course allows me to work when I have the time and at my speed. Excellent choice, so glad I purchased it. October 16, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 Great course for homeschooled highschool senior We purchased this course for our daughter as an extra curriculum. She loves the classes and looks forward to each class. She's learned a lot and is taking great photos. October 16, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Fundamentals of Photography Practical, fun, down to earth is how I would describe this series. Very helpful and very well thought out. Presentation is a nice mix of things that keeps your attention. Practical assignments are given. October 14, 2014
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