Photography and video have advanced to such a degree that any one of us, for a modest investment of capital, can own the requisite equipment to make productions at the same level of quality as the pros. And most of us already hold in our hands computers capable of producing and editing hundreds of rich still and moving images. What we may lack, what most of us lack, are the skills and experience of the professionals. No amount of fancy photo gear can make up the difference, but you can at least acquire the education—a very thorough, technical education in digital photography—online, and for free.
Taught by Stanford professor Emeritus of Computer Science Marc Levoy, the course above, simply called “Lectures on Digital Photography,” covers seemingly everything you might need to know and then some: from the parts of a digital camera (“every screw”), to the formula for depth of field, the principles of high dynamic range, and the history and art of photographic composition.
Beware, this course may not suit the casual Instagrammer—it requires aspiration and “a cell phone won’t suffice.” Additionally, though Levoy says he assumes no prior knowledge, he does expect a few non-camera-related academic skill sets:
The only knowledge I assume is enough facility and comfort with mathematics that you’re not afraid to see the depth-of-field formula in all its glory, and an integral sign here or there won’t send you running for the hills. Some topics will require concepts from elementary probability and statistics (like mean and variance), but I define these concepts in lecture. I also make use of matrix algebra, but only at the level of matrix multiplication. Finally, an exposure to digital signal processing or Fourier analysis will give you a better intuition for some topics, but it is not required.
Sound a little daunting? You will not need an expensive SLR camera (single lens reflex), though it would help you get the most out of complex discussions of settings. The topics of some interactive features may sound mystifying—“gamut-mapping,” “cylindrical-panoramas”—but Levoy’s lectures, all in well-shot video, move at a brisk pace, and he contextualizes new scientific terms and concepts with a facility that will put you at ease. Levoy formerly taught the course at Stanford between 2009 and 2014. The version he teaches online here comes from a Google class given this year—eighteen lectures spanning 11 weeks.
Find all of the course materials—including interactive applets and assignments—at Levoy’s course site. As he notes, since the course has “gone viral,” many videos embedded on the site won’t play properly. Levoy directs potential students to his Youtube channel. You can see the full playlist of lectures at the top of this post as well. For more resources in photography education—practical and theoretical, beginner to advanced—see PetaPixel’s list of “the best free online photography courses and tutorials.”