I recently dropped two new brand new courses with Cindy and Udemy: “Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Photography” and another ambitious course, “Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography Entrepreneurship” and learned a ton. If you were ever curious about teaching your own online course, here are some lessons I’ve learned, which I hope can also help you.
So first of all, let me share some personal lessons I’ve learned for myself in creating the first course, Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Photography:
- If you started learning photography today in 2018, it would be so insanely confusing. There’s a billion cameras to choose from, and so much contradictory information online how to make “better” photos. In creating a brand-new online beginner course was very humbling to me: making me appreciate all the specialized knowledge I (already) have in photography, but also the good reminder the importance of keeping the art of photography simple. I feel the best approach in photography, art, and life is to keep things simple.
- Trying to teach beginners photography is also good for you as an instructor: it forces you to think about “first principles” in photography, and helps you question, “What is photography, why is photography important, and what is the “best” way to approach photography?” I’ve learned that teaching is often as beneficial to the teacher as the student. Remember the saying, “When one teaches, two learns.”
- Ultimately when you’re teaching anything, realize it is all your personal philosophy and approach. Therefore there is technically no “best” way to teach anything. But the most important thing is for you to teach others what you wish you knew as a beginner; which means teach as if you were your own student.
Lessons creating my “Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography Entrepreneurship”
My second course, “Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography Entrepreneurship” was also a great learning experience for me. It helped me distill my personal beliefs and philosophies in business, entrepreneurship, and life. It also made me realize:
Entrepreneurship isn’t just about making money, or starting your own business. It is a way of life; of learning how to take risks, to Conquer self-doubt and hesitation, and to ‘be the change which you wish to see in the world.’
- If you share photos online or have an Instagram, you’re a photography entrepreneur. Not all photography entrepreneurs need to make money from their passion. But if we wish to print our own books, share our own work, have exhibitions, get sponsored, etc; then we are entrepreneurs.
- To me, “success” as an entrepreneur shouldn’t be based on whether you make a bunch of money or gain crucial acclaim from others. To me, success is simply following your own gut and intuition, and having the courage and tenacity to follow your heart. To me, success should be measured on your appetite for risk taking, and actually attempting something! To me, if someone attempts something huge and audacious, and fails, they are still a success in my eyes.
- Making money from photography or your passion is very difficult. It requires endless hours of work, creative labor, and a lot of whether you can earn a living from your passion is contingent on “luck” (which is manifested through having certain opportunities in life). But the harder you work, the more you publish and share your stuff, the more opportunities will come your way.
So the technical details of making your own online course.
1. Choose your platform
First, you must choose your platform.
For me and Cindy, Udemy approached us to make an online course, as they saw that I was an “influencer” in the online photography space. Udemy is a great platform, and anyone can make their own course.
Udemy is also probably the biggest online learning platform (like the Amazon of online learning), so I recommend them. Their user interface (for both teachers and students) is also excellent.
2. What do you want to teach?
When Udemy first approached me, the obvious thing was for me to teach a street photography online course. But instead, I wanted to do a beginner course on photography. Why? I wanted to make a course that would have a wider range; and I wanted to create a course I would have liked to take if I were a beginner. It took me probably a decade of pain and struggle learning photography on my own online. So I thought to myself,
“I am going to create the ultimate online course for beginner photographers; a course I wish I could have taken if I started photography.”
So my suggestion is this: create a course you would like to take.
3. Coming up with a blueprint for your course
I used Google Docs and collaborated with Cindy and Sonia (awesome Udemy course creator collaborator). We used the Google Doc to create the course outline, and Google Docs made it super easy to annotate the topic headings for the course, and give comments.
My lesson is this: when you’re making a blueprint or scaffolding for the course outline, 80% of it will remain, 20% will either be changed or removed. Therefore don’t stress out about making your course outline 100% perfect. You can always modify/evolve it during the course-creation process.
4. Recording the videos
I recorded all the course content with a Lumix LX 100, audio with a Blue Snowball microphone and synced the audio with Final Cut Pro (we used Adobe audition to record the audio into the laptop).
For lighting, we picked up LED constant on lights on Amazon, and put them on tripods.
We also has to soundproof the recording room, by putting up blankets on the walls, and covering the hardwood floors with blankets. Audio is essential for an online video course; more important than video.
Also, making an online course with two or more people is so much more efficient and effective. Cindy directed me, recorded me, and gave me suggestions as an actor. I doubt I could have done it all myself.
Also, I used Camtasia to do any screen recording for my lectures.
5. Short and intense is preferable
I learned for making an online course: give yourself a very aggressive deadline, and when you’re making your online course, don’t do anything else. Making an online video course is extremely difficult, has a ton of moving parts, and requires 100% of your creative attention and focus.
For our first course, “Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Photography”, we spent almost 3 months planning the course outline, another intense month of 12-hour recording days in our apartment in Marseille, and another month of editing and post-processing. Making an online course is a serious commitment.
Also, for our second course, “Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography Entrepreneurship”, we spent about a month with the course outline, and two intense weeks of recording and editing. Our second course we were a lot more effective and effective/productive, because we learned how to streamline our workflow (learning from the first course).
Generally with the online course making consider this:
Making an online course will take you 2x longer to create than you think it will, and probably 10x the effort you think it requires.
6. Being an actor
One thing that was very difficult and challenging (that I didn’t expect), was being the “on camera personality/actor”. If you’ve never been recorded before, it is actually really hard to be entertaining, friendly, and “remembering your lines”. After being recorded and directed by Cindy, I have so much more respect and admiration for actors. Actors are paid a lot for good reason.
My suggestion is when you’re recorded is this: drink a lot of water to not lose your voice, drink lots of black coffee (to get hyped up), and also have a camera person who is encouraging. When you feel burnt out from being recorded, go for a walk, or hit the gym. Making an online course is a marathon; conserve your energy.
6. Marketing and promoting your course
When you’re done making your course, congratulations. An equally challenging thing is marketing and promoting your course.
My suggestion is this: don’t feel shy about promoting your own course. It’s awesome, epic, and you’ve put in a shitload of work putting it together. Be proud of what you make, and shamelessly share it with the world!
In terms of “conversions”, I’ve found the best when promoting the courses on my own blog and email newsletter. Very few conversions came from Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
7. Pricing the course
Initially we priced the course $199 USD, and offered it to our audience to a discounted early access rate of $99 USD, while bundling free additional resources and ebooks. Our first round of heavy marketing for the course gave us roughly 20 students.
Later we enrolled in the Udemy “special promotions” program, where they discounted our course in the range of $10-50 USD. Udemy discounts the course based on their algorithm, which I think tries to maximize profits: you get more students at a lower price point. A lot of teachers and students don’t like this, because the price of the course is always in flux in the Udemy promotions programs. This is one thing to consider if you use Udemy to host your online course.
Once our course got processed by the Udemy algorithm, it started to discount our $199 USD course to first around $50 USD, later $10.99 USD, and later around $9.99 USD. This gave us a lot more students, but when Udemy promotes the course you as a teacher gets 50%. So for example if a student signs up through Udemy paid placement advertising, and the course is discounted to $10 USD, you get paid $5 USD in total for each student. However if your student signs up through your link, you get close to 100% of the income.
Is it worth it?
I think making an online photography course (assuming you’re a photography entrepreneur) is definitely worth it. Personally I am very bullish/optimistic for photography education, especially online.
Udemy has the benefit over YouTube because it is optimized and built for online learning. YouTube is a good platform, but the platform is too fragmented and cluttered, with random related videos which isn’t good for the student learning experience.
To learn more about how you can monetize your passion for photography or build a following, enroll in my “Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography Entrepreneurship” course. And of course if you want to respark your passion for photography, take it back to basics, or empower a friend or family member who wants to learn how to make better photos, check out my “Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Photography” course on Udemy.