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A Harvard Photography Class Is Online For Free, But I’ll Pass & Here’s Why You May Want To

By Kishore Sawh on January 14th 2017

A big evolution of education is coming, and the rise of Khan Academy and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are indicative of that. Just a fortnight ago Oxford University, which ranked first in the 2016-17 Times Higher Education World University Rankings put it’s first MOOC out in the wild (From Poverty to Prosperity: Understanding Economic Development), and thus it joins other hallowed institutions the likes of Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and CalTech who have been doing so for some time. None, however, have really focused on photography until Harvard decided to share, and share they have in their course Digital Photography, open to all on the platform Alison. You can find it here, but maybe, just maybe, you might want to skip it.

Now, in case some of you or your children, or parents, or spouses call Harvard your alma matter, hear me out before you cut me down. First off, the class is from 2009, and while the syllabus is a fatted calf in its own right, it’s dated, and those at the tip of the spear of digital photography and education know that 2009 was then, and now is a very different world. One only needs to peruse Module 8: Introduction To Software Tools, to get a sense of that as you’ll see Aperture is still there big and bold and Lightroom is nowhere to be found. But more than that, some of the advice comes with an old understanding or at least without the necessary asterisks to explain the exceptions.

Furthermore, the class is delivered through 12 modules via a series of videos (which are each prefaced with advertising unless you pay to remove it) with accompanying slideshows which are, really, a bit uninspired. It’s not that there isn’t value to be had, because there is; the technical insights into the basic mechanics of cameras, physics of light, histogram reading, and particularly artifacts, are bases I think too few photographers are well versed in today, as many labor under the misinformed idea that such ‘frivolities’ won’t make you a better photographer – they will. I’ll say here for the record, a solid technical foundation is a gift you should all give yourself, but the problem is the course doesn’t really show you what you’re learning it all for.


I can hear the cynical minds ready to relieve themselves all over my opinion because they feel it’s tainted with bias due to the fact we offer educational products, but everything is contextually dependent. The fact is, yes, I think there are more effective ways to learn photography and better resources abound, and while the class is free your time isn’t. I’m just trying to save some of it.

Oh, but there is another open source of info from Harvard I do wish everyone would read, this article that informs all about creative commons and proper photo appropriation. I think we can all agree on that.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Chelsea Harding

    It`s really incredible that they open such a nice place for education in this sphere. A big evolution of education is coming, and the rise of Khan Academy and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are indicative of that. But if you want to find more doof things for your studying, you need to use which is a research paper writing service. So check it and use for your study. 

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  2. Tom Greg

    Hi, nice to critique objectively, and indeed Lightroom not being there is too bad if you wanted a how to use Lightroom class, but this course is full of technical details about the how of digital photography. It will however make you a significantly better photograper if you are new to the art or interested in the science or diveations from film. Too bad about the ads, that is truly unfortunate.

    Disclaimer: I took this course at the Extension school and Dan was a fantastically pationate lecturer and was open that the artistry or eye of the photographer was never the focus of the course. This was a computer science class using digital photography as the lens to the sensor.

    Love, Light, and Dust

    Tom G. Class of 14

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  3. Test Test

    Great article. Alternative suggestions?

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  4. Thomas Starlit

    Good point on training price vs. the price of one’s own time. We have probably all fallen into the trap of thinking the price of training is important, but that the time spent on irrelevant or outdated training isn’t

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Thomas, and yes I’m all with you on that. It can sound rather cliché, but our time is just too sparse to waste on a ‘lesser’ option. Cheers

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