How Long Does it Take to Learn Photography?

Looking to dive into the world of photography but unsure about the time and commitment needed? Discover how various factors like your comfort with technology, previous experience with visual art, patience, observation skills, and motivation can affect your learning speed, and how you can accelerate your learning through professional courses.

Key Insights

  • Photography requires a variety of skills and usually takes 2-3 years to build competence, while mastery requires 10-12 years of study.
  • Comfort with technology, experience with visual art, patience, observation skills, and motivation are key factors that affect the speed of learning photography.
  • Modern photography extensively involves the use of digital cameras and photo editing software.
  • An investment in high-quality equipment, software, and training is required to pursue photography seriously.
  • Noble Desktop offers comprehensive photography training through in-person and live online courses, with the provision to retake classes for free.
  • The financial investment necessary to learn photography can include costs for a DSLR or mirrorless camera, lenses, photo editing software, and training costs, which can range from free introductory courses to full tuition at a four-year university.

Like many aspiringPhotographers, you might want to learn photography but worry that it will take too much time. Photography is a complex pursuit requiring a variety of skills, and it’s one of those fields whose experts tend to say that you are never done learning it. Most people take 2-3 years to build competence in photography. Mastering the skill, experts say, requires 10-12 years of study. Of course, this depends on several factors. Keep reading to learn about how you can learn photography and get some resources to help speed the process along. 

What is Photography?

Photography is the art of producing an image by recording light with a camera. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the first photograph in 1826. Photography was a revolutionary technology because it made it easier for images to be reproduced and widely distributed. The first cameras were large and awkward to handle, and the lengthy exposure times necessary to capture an image required photographic subjects to hold still for uncomfortable intervals. However, as the technology evolved, cameras became easier to use and more affordable.

For over 100 years, all photographs were captured on film and developed using chemicals. In 1975, Steven Sasson invented the digital camera, which dramatically increased the ease of capturing and distributing photographic images. Most photography today is digital: the device taking the photo saves the recorded image as a digital file. Smartphones capture 92.5% of those digital photos, but there’s still nothing like a dedicated camera for getting a sharp, high-quality image. 

Digital photography classes will teach you how to make the most of your digital camera. You can learn how to use all of your camera’s settings to the best advantage, how to work with studio or outdoor lighting, and how to adapt the choices you make as a photographer to the environment and goals you are working with. You’ll also explore the powerful, industry-standard software that allows Digital Photographers to edit and retouch the photos they take. 

Read more about what photography is and why you should learn it.

What Can You Do with Photography?

Since the first photograph was taken in 1826, creators have been using this skill to capture images of the world around them. Photography allows people to document events, moments in time, and things they have seen. It can also help human beings gain a better understanding of the world, in the case of scientific photography or photojournalism. Photography is also an artistic medium—the Photographer presents their interpretation of the human experience through what they choose to document and the perspective their photos show.

Another important aspect of photography is that photographic images can be reproduced, allowing them to be circulated and distributed worldwide. Even before digital photography, a film photograph was easier to reproduce than the paintings and drawings that had previously been the best way to convey an image. One early example of how the new technology of photography rapidly came to shape the world is the work of Matthew Brady. His photos documenting the American Civil War showed the brutality of the war’s impact, powerfully influencing public opinion about the conflict.

Now, with digital cameras, the distribution of photographs can be nearly instantaneous, and reproducing one only requires uploading a file. Also, the powerful editing software available to modern Photographers makes remarkable transformations possible. Social media has shown some of what one can do with the opportunities provided by digital photography, with photos of dramatic events witnessed by private citizens being rapidly distributed all over the world. However, the full potential of digital cameras and photo editing software may have yet to reveal itself.

Average Time it Takes to Learn Photography

Estimates of how long it takes to learn photography vary widely from expert to expert, and most expert Photographers are careful to specify that every person learns at a different pace. Some people pick up the basic skills in as little as 6 months, but most take 2 or 3 years to become skillful. To achieve mastery, you will likely need to study for 10-12 years. However, depending on the field you are looking to go into, you might be able to get work as a paid Photographer–or use your photographic skills to enhance your career in a different field—starting around that 2-3 year mark.

Other Factors

Several factors might influence the amount of time it takes you to learn photography. Aside from your own schedule and natural learning speed, the timeline also depends on how comfortable you are with technology, your degree of previous experience with visual art, the patience and observation skills you bring to bear on the process, and your motivation is for studying photography.

Comfort Level With The Camera And Software

Your existing level of comfort with technology will affect how quickly you learn. Photography is a skill that requires you to become comfortable with skillfully manipulating a piece of physical technology. You’ll need to learn all of its settings and how they interact. As a modern Photographer, you’ll also want to become proficient in the use of photo editing software, so it will help if you are already used to working with complex software tools.

Experience With Visual Art

How much experience you have with visual art—whether as an artist or a fan—will shape your development as a Photographer. If you’re already used to thinking about composition, contrast, and perspective, you’ll likely have an easier time picking up the artistic elements of photography. That means you’ll be able to focus on building your technical skills, creating a shorter overall timeline. However, you do not need to have previous experience with visual art to study photography.

Patience And Observation Skills

A big part of becoming a successful Photographer is learning to take the time to slow down and observe your surroundings carefully. If you are distracted or impatient, you are less likely to see the full range of photographic possibilities in the world around you. Having the patience and observation skills to notice everything you see will help you immensely in your photographic studies.


As with any skill, the reason you’re learning will also affect how quickly you pick it up. Students seeking a near-term career change are likely to learn rapidly because of this motivation. So are those who are learning photography to pursue a personal goal, such as documenting a trip or experience, bonding with a family member or friend over the skill, or wanting to enhance their life with a new artistic element. If, however, you are pursuing photography casually, as one of many hobbies in a busy life, it may take more time.

Personal Learning Speed

Every person has their own natural speed of learning. Some people pick up the basics quickly, then slow down as they get into the depths of technique. Others gradually but steadily build a strong skill base as they go. Being aware of your own natural learning speed may help you avoid frustration during the learning process.

Level of Difficulty, Prerequisites, & Cost 

Learning photography can be difficult because of the varied suite of skills you must acquire to become a successful Photographer. You’ll need to learn how to notice a scene that might make a good photo, employ the principles of photographic composition as you frame an image, and use your camera’s settings to select the correct aperture and depth of field. As a modern Digital Photographer, your photographic skills won’t be complete without a knowledge of photo editing software. There’s a great deal to learn with photography, and it takes most people 2-3 years of study to become skilled photographers.

To learn photography, you will need to be fairly comfortable with manipulating complex physical technology. You’ll also need basic computer skills before you can edit your photos, a key element of modern digital photography. For serious photographic study, you’ll also need to invest in high-quality equipment and software.

Learning photography can involve a substantial financial investment in your equipment, software, and training. To make a serious study of photography, you’ll need to buy a mirrorless or DSLR camera. These average about $850 and $500 respectively for an entry-level model. You’ll also want to buy at least one or two lenses. Lenses range widely in cost, from $150 to as much as $2000. For an intermediate lens, you’ll likely pay $400-$600. In addition, you should get photo editing software, ideally the industry-standard Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. As of November 2022, you can subscribe to the two together for $9.99 a month. Training costs can range from $0 for an introductory course covering the basics to full tuition at a four-year university.

Read about how difficult it is to learn photography.

Watch a Free Photography Online Course

You may not be ready to dive into a full photography course right away. In that case, an overview of photography can help you determine your next steps. There are quite a few free photography courses available online. Noble has some free materials that can help you get started. If you’d like an introductory course on the editing aspect of photography, try Noble’s free on-demand Intro to Photoshop video tutorial. You can also check out Noble’s free seminar on photo retouching.

Sites like Udemy and Coursera offer some free on-demand videos about photography, both on how to use your camera and the editing process. The camera-focused courses typically take you through the basics of using your camera's settings. They teach you about composition and how to frame shots. You’ll also learn to adapt to variations of lighting. And you can explore how to work with the principles of aperture and depth of field. Brief free courses on the most popular Photoshop and Lightroom techniques are available on these sites as well.

Read about morefree photography videos and online tutorials.

Learn Photography with Hands-on Training at Noble Desktop

Noble Desktop’s small class sizes and expert instructors make it an excellent environment for learning photography and related skills. Students can choose between in-person and live online courses, depending on which is better for their particular situation. Students can also retake Noble classes for free, which can help expand their knowledge of the topic.

Noble offers a certificate in photo retouching specifically, delving more deeply into critical skills that Photographers should have. Another option is Noble’s popular Graphic Design Certificate, which covers Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and graphic design principles. If you don’t yet want to commit to earning a certificate, you could take an individual Photoshop course to start with. You can also do a Photoshop bootcamp for beginners with Noble.

When you do a digital photography certificate at Noble, you’ll acquire foundational skills for photography and photo editing. Students learn to use manual settings to help them make the most of what a high-quality camera offers. They also discover how to work with different types of lighting, both inside a studio and out in the world. In terms of digital photo manipulation, students explore how to manage their photographs with Adobe Lightroom and edit them using Adobe Photoshop.

Key Insights

  • Factors that can affect your speed of learning include:
    • Comfort level with the required technology
    • Previous experience with visual art
    • Patience and observation skills
    • Motivation for learning photography
    • Natural learning pace
  • You can receive comprehensive photography training through an in-person or live online course with Noble Desktop

How to Learn Photography & Photoshop

Master photography, photo retouching, and Photoshop with hands-on training. With tools like Photoshop and Lightroom, you can easily edit, retouch, organize, and share your photos.

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