My Photo School are offer a family photography course to help your improve those photography skills - but what is it like? Does it work? We took it for a test drive....

I’ve always loved photography, would have loved to have made a career out of it if things had been different. At various points, I have taken some pretty good photos for my friends, my daughters’ schools,  etc. of their children.  However, sometimes life has other ideas about what you should be doing. I lost confidence in it, and haven’t really used my decent camera much for several years and have only really been snapping photos of my children on my phone and pocket sized camera. So when the opportunity came up to review a course from My Photo School on How to Photograph Babies and Children (RRP £145) for KiddyCharts, it seemed like a sign – and a perfect opportunity to rekindle my interest. I might even finally get some good photos of no 3 daughter, of whom we have far fewer images I’ve taken that I consider striking enough to go on the wall! ;-)

What is My Photo School?

My Photo School offers online photography courses in a range of topics, from “An Introduction to Digital Photography” , “Composition” and other general foundation courses to specialist courses such as “Architectural Photography” , “Flower and Plant Photography Masterclass”, “Making Money from Your Photography” and lots of others.

The “How to Photograph Babies and Children” course is taught by Sony World Fashion Photographer of the Year, David Handley and is aimed at parents and grandparents who want to capture better images of their children, as well as aspiring pros wanting to expand their repertoire.

It consists of four tutorials, each as a video clip, available a week after the previous one:

  • Week 1:  Achieving Natural Photographs of Babies and Children
  • Week 2: Techniques and Attitudes
  • Week 3:  Improving your Technical Abilities
  • Week 4:  The Secrets of Lighting

The course also includes lesson notes, an assignment to compete each week, where you also need to choose three of your photos to upload for each assignment.  The set up of the course & website means that all the participants in the course can see each other’s assignment photographs and comment on them with feedback, suggestions, encouragement, etc.

David, the tutor, also uses this means of giving feedback, so everyone can learn from and encourage each other.

What were my initial thoughts?

When I first logged in, the website was clearly set out and seemed easy to navigate, with the left hand side of the screen dedicated to comments and chat, the video clip available on the top right and details of the assignment below the tutorial, with clear buttons to be able to download lesson notes, submit your assignments and the course overview.  There were a few little foibles to get used to in terms of navigating where you wanted to be and clicking ‘back’ often took you further back than you wanted, but once I’d got the hang of it; it was all fairly logical and straightforward.

As someone who is particularly pernickety, I did notice several spelling mistakes, etc. around the site, which is a little disappointing on something where you’re expecting to be taught attention to detail in another fashion, but as I’m reviewing the course and not editing the site, this is the only mention it’ll get ;-)

My Photo School's designed to help you take better pictures of the kids. Week one looks at getting natural shots of the kids - what do you think?

The first week was a good start.  A fairly general introduction, encouraging the students to put their cameras on automatic and explore various ways of distracting children to achieve natural photos, using props for this as well as as an integral part of the photos.

David’s videos were clear and informative, each lasting 20-25 minutes long with plenty of information, examples and explanations.

All the participants on the course had introduced themselves and most uploaded their assignments within the suggested 7-10 days, commenting on each other’s photos, offering useful encouragement, support and feedback, as well as David’s professional feedback, help and advice

What did I think as the course progressed?

Week 2

Week 2 covered techniques and attitudes (of the photographer), focussing on the importance of the three P’s:  Patience, Positivity and Playfulness – and the assignment was to again upload three of the images you’d taken in practising these.

My Photo School course continues to help me take better pictures of the kids - this time using attitudes to liven things up a bit.

There was still a good amount of participation, encouragement and discussion between us all and you could certainly see an improvement in people’s photographs as they became more confident and deliberate in their photography and their images.

Week 3

Week 3 was what I felt let the course down.  It seemed to suddenly jump to a lot more technical information expected to be learnt in one week, with not enough guidance on each of the technical aspects, meaning I felt at sea with too much to try out and not enough time or knowledge to be able to do so.

I spent time on the internet looking up information on effects of apertures, shutter speeds, etc. and how they affect photos, which I would have expected to be covered enough in this course.  As a beginner at changing manual settings on my camera, this is something that takes a lot more time to work out and practise each setting, as well as how each of them affects the other settings, than the one week of the course that was allowed for it.

I felt that there were too many different things to learn and practice in this week of the course, while not really covering any of them in enough depth. Week 3 didn’t really flow with the other weeks and was in a sort of no man’s land – too much in one go for a beginner, but with not enough guidance or time to increase ability and confidence, but also possibly not detailed enough for someone who already has experience with manual settings.

Hand in hand with this was also one huge put-off: that was that you could see what was being asked for in the assignment before you watched the tutorial. The week 3 assignment asked you to shoot using different apertures, different shutter speeds, different focal lengths and different angles, again choosing 3 images to upload.

Up until that point, the course had been gently, but clearly, steering its participants through a good foundation to increase confidence and ability by practising manageable and attainable techniques, but suddenly, there seemed to be an awful lot more required very quickly.

I will admit that I panicked! One of the reasons I think I’d lost confidence with my photography is that I seem to give myself a mental block and don’t seem to be able to retain the technical information and remember what I need to change on the camera to change various results in the photo.  So I will also admit that it took me several weeks to stop procrastinating and watch the third week’s video clip!
The time in My Photo Schoolwe were getting technical with apertures, exposure and manual settings.

Unfortunately for these particular course dates, these requirements also coincided with coming towards the end of the academic year, which, as every parent knows, gets completely manic with not a lot of room or time for adding extra things into the equation. Definitely something to bear in mind for future course planning.

Once I had forced myself to stop procrastinating and telling myself I couldn’t do it, and watched the video, it made more sense and wasn’t quite as big a hurdle as it originally seemed, but for me, I think the damage had already been done.

Week 4

Week 4 concentrated on lighting, and felt much better than week 3.  There felt much less of a jump, while still being really informative, useful and I felt I learned lots in a more manageable way.

My Photo School - final week is all about getting the lighting right when you are taking those pictures - and how you can use lighting effects within your shots too.I had a go at taking my photos for week 3, but had struggled, and was not really been confident in, or pleased with the results or my progress.  So I then decided to bite the bullet and do both weeks assignments in one go, and was determined to do what I could.

I was really pleased with the results I got in the end – although I still don’t feel that I’ve achieved much more technical ability in terms of taking photos with different apertures, shutter speeds, etc. than I started with (and that honestly wasn’t much as I really did shoot pretty much everything on my camera’s automatic setting, just forcing the flash on or off).

I feel that’s a shame, as I really would have liked to get more technical ability and practice out of it than I think I did.

Whether this is also what the other participants felt and why they still haven’t uploaded any images for their weeks 3 & 4 assignments, I’m not sure, but I suspect it might well be a large part of it.

It’s now nearly two months after the course should have finished, but there are still only two of us who have submitted our week 3 & 4 assignments and no one else has been commenting on anything in the class chat forum or specifically on each other’s photos, like we all did in the first two weeks, which is such a shame when it started so well. The issue of the school year ending at the time of week’s three and four may also be a contributory factor here too. Without asking other participants, it is hard to gauge of course.

There have also still been no comments on my 3rd & 4th assignments from either David or any of the other participants; disappointing again not to have had any feedback as the other comments proved helpful to us all.

What did I think overall?

The tutor:  ( 9/10 )

David is clearly incredibly good at photographing children, the images of his that have been shown throughout the course are fantastic.  He’s obviously very knowledgeable and enthusiastic in his love of his profession and his stunning photos are a testament to that.  His feedback in the chat forums was great – constructive, positive, encouraging, informative and engaging – and I would have loved to see a bit more of his spark and enthusiasm come across in person in the videos ;-)

Course presentation: ( 7/10 )

The presentation of the course online was very good – a clear and well presented website, with a generally good layout (sorry, but it has lost marks from me on the attention to detail of spelling mistakes, etc. and a little faffy to work out what you needed to do where to start with…). The videos were clearly shot, calmly and well presented, with plenty of good examples of David’s work included, easy to pause and rewind, good lengths and information presented at a good pace – not bombarded at the viewer too fast, although could have been a little livelier. It has also lost marks from me for being able to see the assignment details before watching the tutorial, as I think this had a huge impact on week 3 and, therefore, the continued participation from the students.

Course content: 

Weeks 1, 2 & 4 were great – pretty much spot on with what they covered, how they progressed, what they expected from the participant and in how that was delivered, encouraged and the support and feedback offered on completion of the assignments.  The cross-participant feedback and support is a great idea, too, and was brilliant when it was in full flow. ( 9/10 )

Week 3 is my reason for the lower overall score :-( ( 3/10 )

I think it would be a great idea to split this one week into more than one tutorial, each covering one or two of the different technical aspects, so more focus (pardon the pun…) could be given to each. I think this would give more confidence to the participants that they are able to attack each one and practice and progress in each of them, particularly as the course is aimed at all abilities and a lot of people will have very little or no knowledge of apertures, focal lengths, etc. when they start the course.  I don’t think that anyone wanting to do the course would be put off by it being 5 or 6 weeks instead of 4.

The other thing that I think would have a very positive impact on the course, would be to make the actual assignment only visible once the tutorial has been watched.  This way there would be no preconception or judgement of one’s own abilities or self-imposed issues with what might be asked of you, until you’d been given more tools by David, in his presentations, to deal with them!

Overall:  7 / 10

With some adjustment to the content of week 3, to bring more consistency in terms of levels across all the weeks, I think this would be a great course for beginners, which participants would feel they learned a lot from, improved their ability by completing and which would give them the platform, confidence and desire to continue developing their photography further. I would say the course is more suited to beginners and those who wish to improve their photography as a hobby and get better photos of the children in their lives, rather than someone who wants to progress their photography to a higher level than that at this stage.

Overall I enjoyed the course and felt that it has helped me rekindle my love of photography, take my first hurdle in getting back into it and enjoying taking more ‘proper’ photos – and I won’t be putting down my decent camera for as long again! :-)

  • Skill Level: Anyone
  • Course length: 4 weeks
  • Course price: £145

 

 

 

Catherine Kelly

Mum of 3 & keen advocate of getting kids cooking & baking at home & in school. Usually end up doing quite a bit of gingerbread at Christmas and as a project with the Year 1's in school each year. Love baking and decorating cakes, dream of being organised, tidy & sorted - but our kids have other ideas ;-) Will at some point learnt to get to say 'no' to things, get to bed at a sensible time and make myself a priority once in a while. Or maybe not... I'm a mum, after all...! ;-)