portrait photography equipment
Credit: SheRae Hunter, SL Hunter Photography

Training is vital for portrait photographers.  Although you do not need any formal training to work as a professional photographer, learning the trade is both ethical and good practice.   Furthermore, training and a nice portfolio are ways for beginning photographers to gain legitimacy before starting their business.

An online search of photography training returns a large amount of results.  These different forms of education can cost anywhere from $25 for a course, to thousands of dollars to earn a certificate.  While you might be willing to pay this price, I would like to propose a different solution to fulfill your instruction needs.  Below are five unique ways to receive free photography training.

1. Work for a Retailer

When my wife first opened her portrait photography business she worked as a photographer for one of the major retailers.  Although the equipment the business owned was old, her employment had several benefits.  The job allowed her to receive experience in learning how to work with diverse clients.  She learned valuable skills in customer service, such as the knowledge of how to handle conflict resolution.  Additionally, she gained insight into how the sales process works.  The company even provided her with a small amount of technical photography training.  Although the photography instruction was not the most advanced, it did cover the basics. 

2. Volunteer with a Non-Profit

Before my wife owned her photography business she took photographs for a non-profit organization.  This experience gave her the ability to take pictures of live events a few times a month.  She was able to gain experience in posing families and working in unique lighting situations.  The good thing about non-profit organizations is that most of them are continually looking for volunteers.  Non-profit organizations sometimes have experienced photographers who volunteer.  You could gain valuable experience by working with a seasoned photographer while volunteering for a non-profit.  

3. Volunteer with a For-Profit

When my wife started her portrait photography business she volunteered at a start-up modeling agency.  She made a deal with the owner that she would give her time in exchange for training.  The modeling agency employed another more established photographer who taught my wife while she worked there without compensation.  This sort of arrangement might be difficult to find, but there are plenty of businesses that use photographers.  My wife has worked on contracts for magazine publications, events, and landscape photography.  It might take hard work, but if you are persistent you can find a business that will help you receive photography training. 

4. Assist a Professional Photographer

Early in her career my wife considered volunteering with another photographer.  A family friend who was a professional photographer offered her the chance to help him during his photography sessions.  Unfortunately it was not a good time for us so she had to pass up the opportunity.  Some portrait photographers do like to shoot with an assistant.  Offer to help a photographer for free.  I would start with the less awkward strategy of asking a family member or friend who is a reputable photographer.   If that does not work, find a local photographer whose work is good and offer to help him or her.  I am sure some of the more established photographers would not mind.  If my wife had someone offer such a service she would not hesitate to say yes.  Obviously, by assisting a professional photographer you can learn a lot.  

5. Learn Online for Free

Online education is my least favorite option.  I learn best when I am with someone and actually performing work.  This is not a good tactic for those who are like me.  There are websites that offer photography training that you can stream for free.  One company that has such a service is CreativeLive.

CreativeLive offers a variety of training sessions.  I have seen everything from lighting to newborn photography sessions taught on their website.  A negative feature about CreativeLive's free streaming service is if you want to view something specific, you have to wait until they add it to their schedule.  You also have to watch the training sessions entirely because if you miss something in the program you have to wait until it is on their schedule again hours later.  To avoid the hassle of watching the training sessions non-stop, you can pay to view them on-demand.  In my opinion the prices for their courses are too high.  My wife occasionally watches the free version, which is my recommendation.

These are a few ideas where you might be able to save money on photography training.  Get creative about your education, and you will help boost your profit while receiving invaluable instruction.