Fundamentals of Photography

In partnership with
Joel Sartore,
National Geographic Photographer
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4.7 out of 5
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Course No. 7901
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Learn how best to apply the fundamentals of camera equipment, including bodies, lenses, flashes, and more.
  • numbers Understand the modern photographer's workflow from shooting to editing to final product.
  • numbers Discover how to expertly wield the powerful tools that modern cameras are equipped with.
  • numbers Learn advanced methods for overcoming photographic challenges, like low-light, cramped conditions, and active subjects.
  • numbers Elevate your photography with expert tips and tricks for turning ordinary subjects into interesting compositions.

Course Overview

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
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 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

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 167-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 167-page course synopsis
  • Photographs
  • Suggested readings
  • Photo assignments

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Your professor

Joel Sartore

About Your Professor

Joel Sartore
National Geographic Photographer
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...
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Fundamentals of Photography is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 728.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Inspiring course, but takes a bit of work and time I very much enjoyed this course. It's true that in some ways the instructor's presentation is not as polished as many courses, and that his interjections can be a bit distracting, but as time went on I found myself enjoying his verbal mannerisms. The first few lessons, which deal with the basics of exposure, are not exciting, but if you can get through those you'll get to the fun lessons on composition, light, and more. You'll also be applying what you learned about exposure during the early lessons. Some reviewers seem to want more details about the example photos, and perhaps more of them. Yes, it might have been helpful to include specific exposure details more often, but I think there were enough photos presented. Another reviewer felt he was namedropping his work with the National Geographic. I didn't feel that way at all. I thought it was quite helpful to know a bit about the instructor's photographic background. As you progress through the course you'll get familiar with the instructor's favorite subjects -- his wife and children, and their dogs. That actually adds to the applicability of the course, since our family is likely to be our favorite photographic subjects as well. As a companion of sorts to the course I also read the instructor's recent book, Photo Basics.
Date published: 2020-07-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Product not fully delivered I was supposed to get the pdf version of class. I paid an additional fee for this. I did NOT receive the pdf. I am not happy with this situation.
Date published: 2020-07-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Badly Designed Course Badly designed course Rating 2 He’s a good photographer, he’s enthusiastic, he seems like a nice guy. So, what’s my problem? First, he’s the most repetitive speaker I’ve ever heard. And some 90% of what he says is just filler. The course could easily say all it does in half the time. Here’s a near-transcript of a sample speech: “Backgrounds are important. I mean, think about it. I can’t stress this enough. I think about backgrounds, all the time, believe it or not. You know what? I really do. It pays off. No kidding. If I’m out on an assignment for National Geographic, I’m always looking at backgrounds. Works out great. Try it, there’s no reason you shouldn’t do it. Of course. OK. All right. How about that?” If while he’s saying this you got a continual sequence of pictures with backgrounds that did or didn’t work, and he drew attention to exactly what made them good or bad, that would be helpful. Almost by accident, a few times he does this. His next-to-last lecture, on editing, shows what he could have done. But far too often we’re looking at just him, repeating the same idea over and over, instead of a photograph. Ideally, nearly all the time (85%) the screen should be filled with a photo. Now it’s something like 35%. There’s far too little analysis. Of course he’s proud of his work and wants to show us his best pictures. But we’d learn much more if he did more comparison with not-so-good ones, explaining why some were better, and how they were improved. He makes no mention of cropping, for example, which is an astonishing omission. A picture’s composition depends on the relative position of everything in the frame, and it’s impossible to fine-tune this when actually taking the picture. It’s easy when editing. All of his pictures are skillfully cropped. Most noticeable are those showing people, where legs and bodies are often minimized to put more attention on the faces. Cropping can also emphasize things like leading lines, and place important areas according to his “rule of thirds.” One final complaint: he assumes there’s just one set of criteria for a good picture, those for making pretty pictures for NG. But that’s just one kind of picture. With the digital camera’s ability to take unlimited pictures for free, with no delay for development, it’s also used as a tool for explaining things and selling them. Cars and houses, for example, are now offered on websites that rely almost entirely on pictures rather than written descriptions. So the emphasis is on convincingly showing the item as you’d see it in reality. Once I asked an expert photographer to take pictures of a car I was selling. He placed them at dramatic angles, used slanting light and shadows, applied all of his arts. His photos were useless; I had to throw them away. The car could have had scratches and dings all over it, and his photos would never have shown them. Too bad about this course. It could have been so much better.
Date published: 2020-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fundamentals of photography I am happy. I would like have a book about fundamentals of photography and course tell about parts of camera
Date published: 2020-06-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great content Loving the course and that you can go back and review lectures to hone your skills After practicing is wonderful.
Date published: 2020-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a terrific course!! The instructor put a ton of effort into this, and basically tells you everything he can about how to capture great photos. It's not so much about the technology - it's how you see, how you use light and more - and he really goes into depth to help you change the way you think when taking photographs. As the lectures progress they become more and more fun to watch, and rarely are you staring at the teacher in the stage room - you are in the photos and in the photo shoots. Thank you Joel Sartore, this course was top notch and worth every penny.
Date published: 2020-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love the tips to better my skills I got it a week ago and am completely pleased with the expert teaching and very easy to follow format.
Date published: 2020-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb examples I bought this course thinking I knew most things about the fundamentals and I would probably spend little time going through it. How wrong was I? Joel Sartore is the most competent instructor you could ask for. He is, after all a photographer for the National Geographic where pictures are a very important component of every story. He has kind of a folksy manner that I have grown to like immensely. One by one he goes through the fundamentals of photography as promised in the title but you will find that what you have learned in the past (everything has to be perfectly in focus) produces adequate pictures but not beautiful pictures. When Joel gets done showing you what you can do by sometimes violating the rules, what he has achieved is nothing short of an impressionist painting. In this course you will learn how to make a picture an exceptional statement. When he tells you about framing your subject, he actually takes a very ordinary scene and frames it various ways to illustrate how that ordinary subject can become something special. His use of the camera stimulated me to learn a lot of the modern controls on a digital camera I thought I might never has use for. Above all, he emphasizes how it's better to get a really good picture from the get-go than to get an adequate picture with the hope you can fix it on the computer. This is one of the very best courses I have purchased from the Great Courses and I highly recommend it. Two photos that blew me away were a highly endangered, newly hatched chick in the hands of the breeder with the photo lit only by a room lamp and a photo of a male lion in a tree lit by a floodlight. I'll never forget those two photographs.
Date published: 2020-05-18
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