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Skillshare Classes Are Exactly What I Need in Order to Stay Relevant As A Creative Professional

May 5, 2017

Toronto-based street photographer Zun Lee as seen in his Skillshare class, "Portrait Photography on the Street: Connecting with Strangers."

By Brienne Walsh

Being a new mother, I barely have time to take a shower—forget about honing my professional skills. Lately, I’ve been feeling a lot of frustration with how tired I am and my lack of creative inspiration. I was excited to scroll through the offerings on Skillshare, an educational website that includes over 15,000 classes on topics ranging from illustration to marketing to game design.

PDN readers can try out Skillshare’s Premium series of classes for free for two months. Click here to redeem your trial membership and browse their extensive selection of classes today.

In particular, I was interested in the many photography classes. Currently, my Instagram feed is full of pictures of my daughter—but I realize that in order to keep my audience engaged, I have to stop posting every outfit she wears, and start looking to the greater world for inspiration.

The first class that drew my eye was “Portrait Photography on the Street: Connecting with Strangers” with Toronto-based street photographer Zun Lee. I first made a name for myself as a writer and blogger by posting images and stories I gathered from far-flung locations around the world, including Vietnam, India and Argentina. While I won’t be hopping on a 14-hour flight to the other side of the world anytime soon, luckily, I live in Brooklyn, one of the most ethnically diverse places in the entire world.

While walking around my borough, I see so much that catches my eye: street vendors on the Fulton Street Mall in downtown Brooklyn, for example, and the elderly Italian residents hanging out on benches in Carroll Gardens, where we live. Watching Zun Lee capture some truly extraordinary moments in Harlem gave me courage to start using my own surroundings as a canvas.

I loved what a quiet, calm presence Lee was on camera. I learned some practical tips, like choosing a backdrop that you know will create an interesting composition, and staying there until you get the shot you want. He also taught me a term I had never heard before—to “chimp,” which is to look at your digital back after you take a shot to see if you captured it. He warns against it if only because it breaks the connection you are making with a stranger.

The best part about the video was that I didn’t feel like a student; I felt like I was watching a really interesting documentary. I was actually disappointed that the lesson with Zun Lee ended after only twenty minutes—I could have stayed with him in Harlem for hours.

The next lesson, “Lifestyle Photography: Capturing Inspiring Visual Stories,” was no less enjoyable. I chose it because I feel a lot of frustration at how chaotic, random and visually ugly my Instagram and Snapchat stories have become. I know that Snapchat is the future, and I think that in order to remain relevant as a creative person, I need to approach my own stories with fewer whims and more craft.

Taught by London-based lifestyle and food photographer Marte Marie Forsberg, she opened with an assignment, which I loved, because it gave me direction. I learned some great tips from her, such as using my hand to figure out how the light will hit a composition and utilizing the “element of three” to tell a story. The latter requires that you focus on three elements in a composition to cut down on the visual noise. My favorite tip was that you should use your senses when you enter a space. What are you hearing? What do you smell? How does it make you feel? If you can pinpoint the elements that might not be obvious, you can capture a location’s essence.

I think this is a great way to live life, honestly. I spend so much time frantically responding to text messages, or refreshing my email on my phone. I think using my senses more would not only make me a better artist, but also would allow me to enjoy my life more.

I was really happy to spend the little free time I have on Skillshare, and I can’t wait to take more classes. For now, I’m ready to hit the streets with my camera tomorrow—I hope the old Italians outside of the bakery are amenable to being photographed.

PDN readers can try out Skillshare’s 15,000 premium classes for free for two months. Click here to redeem your trial membership and browse their extensive selection of classes. With a variety of in-depth, photo-centric classes, Skillshare is an incredible tool for photographers wanting to learn new things.

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