In the fifteen years that YouTube has been around it has changed the way many people think about education. Now if you want to learn something new (such as how to become a better photographer) then you can just navigate to YouTube and find a video on just about everything you could ever want to learn.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about YouTube meteoric rise and the sheer volume of different videos that creators have uploaded is that it has democratised education. Learning and education has become free and is now for the masses, rather than something that is expensive and kept for just those that can afford it.
It seems like learning how to become a better photographer for free couldn’t possibly have any downsides. But that isn’t the case. So here’s the run down of pitfalls that you might encounter if you rely on YouTube for your photography education.
You learn their bad habits
As with any kind of informal education, there is the possibility to pick up the bad habits of the tutor, but this is often intensified on YouTube. Literally anybody can put up a YouTube video teaching you tips and tricks about photography.
In-person workshops involving multiple participants usually rely heavily on reviews and word of mouth referrals to be successful. This means that they tend to be taught by more experienced and advanced photographers. That’s also the case with paid-for online photography courses too. The review-centric structure of marketing these courses means that bad habits are often caught and commented on.
Courses delivered by educational institutions such as universities or colleges are often externally moderated by other institutions or examiners. This means that bad habits being taught by the tutor are caught before they spread too widely.
But these things aren’t the case with YouTube photography videos. There’s no external moderation and you don’t need good reviews to sell your educational content. There’s effectively no minimum bar to entry.
The lack of a minimum standard for photographers making educational videos on YouTube is both a positive (because it makes exciting new ideas spread widely) and a negative (because people learn bad habits that they then teach others).
Anyone can be an expert
It used to be said that running a successful photography business is 10% photographic skill and 90% sales and business talent. Well that’s the case with YouTube educators too. But with social media skills instead of business knowledge (although business knowledge won’t go amiss here either).
Gaining social media followers and shares is a completely different skill to being a good photographer. The two sometimes don’t correlate. Let’s be clear – you don’t get social media followers just by being a great photographer. You also need to work hard, have some knowledge about building a brand on social media. But there’s also an element of being in the right place at the right time.
That’s not to take away from the skill and talent involved in becoming a photography influencer – it’s hard work to get to the top. And many top photography influencers do have an awful lot to teach about photography to anyone who wants to learn. But be aware that on occasion, their marketing skills outweigh their photographic skills.
The education isn’t personalised
One of the great benefits of in-person photography education is that the tuition can quickly become personalised to the small group or individual. If a person is struggling with a fundamental then the tutor can address that point before moving on.
With YouTube, you can only learn what has been recorded. And even more of a problem is that you might not know what you don’t know. That might sound strange, but one of the skills of a great teacher is that they can quickly recognise what you don’t know that you don’t know. They can then help you to fill in the gaps of knowledge. That simply isn’t possible if you’re learning how to become a better photographer from YouTube videos.
Should you learn how to become a better photographer on YouTube?
If you’re learning how to become a better photographer on YouTube then be cautious. If any techniques seem particularly unique to the photographer you’re watching then just double-check with someone more experienced to you.
And make sure that you combine your YouTube learning with some teaching in person. Even if it’s just spending time a more experienced friend who might be able to see where you’re missing skills.
YouTube has changed the way that people learn how to become a better photographer. Photography has become so much more accessible as a result. But photographers still need to tread carefully and be aware of the gaps that might be emerging in their knowledge.