Fundamentals of Photography

In partnership with
Joel Sartore,
National Geographic Photographer
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4.7 out of 5
729 Reviews
92% of reviewers would recommend this product
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 729.
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
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Excellent This a very, very excellent course in all sense, not only for beginner photographer also for those most advance!!. What makes it great? Besides the technical content there is passion in the way of transmission of knowledge and that aspect is priceless.
Date published: 2020-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course By A Great Instructor I am about 30 days into the course, and I am amazed about how much I've learned and how easy it has been to significantly improve my photography skills. I signed up for the CD's as I was home-bound for the CORVID - 19 lockdown, and it has been wonderfully rewarding. Joel Sartore is a National Geographic Fellow and a great instructor.
Date published: 2020-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic teacher! I am only half way through this course, but already have learned a great deal. Joel Sartore is a GREAT instructor, he makes you think about your photos, encourages you to experiment and gives you insights he has gained over the years. He includes humor where appropriate and his lessons stay with you. I have done each of the assignments and look forward to the next lesson. I've taken photos for over 40 years and wish I had seen this 41 years ago. I literally love the way he talks about light.
Date published: 2020-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fundamentals of Photography Thoroughly enjoying Joel Sartore! Easy to listen to and gives great, practical advice with lots of visual examples.
Date published: 2020-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great content This is a useful engaging course. I am a beginner at photography and this is a perfect course for me. The pace and information level are just Right. I can also see how it would be useful to more advanced photographers as they struggle with specific photographic challenges. I see aspects of my photos I never noticed before I took this course.
Date published: 2020-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Photography for the beginner The presenter was excellent, was well prepared, and spoke in untechnical language that was both enjoyable and easy to understand.
Date published: 2020-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative I have only gotten through 4 lectures so far but I like it very much. Joel Sartore knows how to lecture and knows his subject. He is not boring and you want to listen and watch more. He makes learning fun and is funny at times.
Date published: 2020-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great course I got this to inprove my picture taking so far it is good and i have in proved on pics. only listen two letures so far but very interesting and looking foward to finishint it with it two month
Date published: 2020-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good I'm enjoying the course very much. It's short on specifics, which is understandable given the vast differences in equipment and subject matter, but it is full of techniques and ideas. The professor is knowledgeable and presents the material in an interesting way that holds your attention. I strongly recommend it.
Date published: 2020-04-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good information Bought this course approx 3 weeks ago and still taking it. Pleased with it and thought I was getting a bargin at $60 but after I got it, it now sales for $34.95.
Date published: 2020-04-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Terrible Experience Course material is very dated. Company would not honour my gift certificate and I ended up paying far more than what the course was worth. There is better free information online.
Date published: 2020-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great learning tool. These videos have a lot of helpful instruction and a lot of photo examples that illustrate what Joel is talking about. He shows many creative ways to shoot pictures that are interesting. One of the things he stresses is all photographs need to be interesting. He does all of his teaching in a personable and engaging way.
Date published: 2020-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very helpful I am a beginning photographer and very much enjoying the course. I have learned a lot - and the information is presented in a friendly and useful manner. I do wish he had included some of the specifics of the photos used in demonstration (ie, shot at fstop X, iso Y, etc) so I can start to put the pieces together faster -- but overall, very well done.
Date published: 2020-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation, Great information This course has reignited my love of photography. Joel's style is easy going and you can tell he loves taking wonderful pictures. This course provides all the basics one needs to learn about digital photography and even showed me things I didn't know my camera could do. I look forward to applying his many techniques in lighting, composition, subject, and getting the right moment. I highly recommend this course for anyone who wants to learn or relearn photography. I guarantee you'll want to try his assignments to improve what you shoot.
Date published: 2020-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really informative! I am just getting started with my new SLR camera and I’m loving the step by step, easy to follow way Joel goes through everything I need to learn.
Date published: 2020-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great learning experience I am a novice photographer. I took the course to help teach me how to shoot more then just good pictures. That it did and I learned a lot more. Going to go back and do a few of the lectures a second time. So much great info that I don’t think I got it all the first time!!
Date published: 2020-03-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Poor on-line video quality While the information presented is good, the on-line video quality is not very good. I'd think twice before ordering again.
Date published: 2020-02-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great instruction This is my first online class from The Great Courses. So far it is everything the program claims to be. The course on photography is fundamental and taught by a photographer who is not only skilled in what he does, but has a passion for sharing his knowledge. I highly recommend this course to anyone who is just starting out in exploring this exciting art form.
Date published: 2020-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect, Just what I wanted I had been thinking about getting this lecture for a while since I can't actually go to a class locally. It has been everything I wanted it to be and then some. I'm learning a lot of technical information which will allow me to use my SLR more effectively. Bonus: I had no idea Joel Santore would be so likeable. He knows a lot about cameras, but he also has a very appealing way of sharing information. Thumbs up.
Date published: 2020-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great tips! I thought I was a good photographer. I’m watching this and I realize I have a lot to learn! Easy to follow and presented in a way that the information flows from one topic to the next. I also bought Master of photography.
Date published: 2020-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fundamentals of Photography I haven't watched it very much yert, but so far, so good, It has really helped me understand how the camera body and lenses work together.
Date published: 2020-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fundamental of Photography I really enjoyed the course by Joel Saltore. I learned a lot and would recommend this course !
Date published: 2020-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid, Easy to Understand Fundamentals Received a camera from husband that overwhelmed me. I felt like I had to be a mathematician to understand it. Joel Sartore put me at ease and made me feel confident about using my camera. He also made it fun and interesting. I love that he shares his own photos and work experiences.
Date published: 2020-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation! And he gave us lessons to do at the end of each new skill you learned!
Date published: 2020-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am only up to lesson 10 but have already learned so much that I am taking better photos with camera on my phone!
Date published: 2020-02-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from To soon to tell! I was trying to give you detail based on my experience which was none. I think you should have a simple question question asking if you have started the course yet. Or wait a while before asking for a review. What's the alternative, don't answer your request for a review?
Date published: 2020-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A touch of humor with a lot of information I've just been through the first three lectures, but Sartore packs a lot of information into each lecture, and does it in an entertaining way, with humor and lots of examples. He ends each lecture with an assignment designed to help you understand the concepts he is talking about, so you experience the lesson hands on. I've been shooting pictures, many for publication, for 50 years, but I knew I was basically an amateur with a lot to learn. I'm anticipating that this course will fill in a lot of the gaps I have technically and artistically. So far, I'm not disappointed - very entertaining and informative.
Date published: 2020-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Excellent photography course presented in an interesting, easy to understand format. Highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2020-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course for all levels Course covers not only the basics of operating various camera features, but how to visualize a photo prior to taking the shot. It has made me more discerning of what I want to shoot as well as more critical of the quality of my photos.
Date published: 2020-02-08
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