Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

A Quick-Start Guide to Teaching Yourself Creative Software

“I really need to learn how to use Photoshop.”

“I don’t know how people do all that stuff with After Effects.”

“If I only knew Ableton…”

Does this sound like you?

Learning creative software can be intimidating, but it’s not as hard as you might think. An ever-growing catalog of high-quality, online video tutorials available on sites like Lynda.com and Kelby Training are making learning on your own both efficient and engaging. To give you the downlow on where to go, we’ve rounded up a handful of the best tutorial resources across various creative categories – and follow up that list with some tips on how to stay focused and productive when you’re learning outside of a standard classroom setting.

For Photographers and Image Editors

Kelby Training ($25/mo, $200/yr)
KelbyTraining.com specializes in Photoshop and Photography by having skilled professional photographers teach courses in HD video. It’s an excellent resource for photographers who want to get more out of a DSLR, and for designers and editors who work with Photoshop on a regular basis. You can view all the video on the site for a 24-hour trial before buying.

For Adobe Creative Suite Users

AdobeTV (Free)
Adobe provides a series of free tutorials for all of their creative suite products, including Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Premiere, and more. Each software has a set of 5-10 ‘Getting Started’ tutorials as well as specific tutorials for certain techniques and effects. These tutorials are excerpted from the full courses at Lynda.com  (see below) that require a paid subscription.

For Musicians, DJs, and Sound Engineers

Groove3 ($25/mo, $100/yr, $15-20/course)
Groove3 offers video tutorials of all the latest audio production software, and new tutorials are released with new editions of each software to help you keep up with the changing environment.

Ableton Video Tutorials (Free)
If you’re trying to teach yourself Ableton, get started with the free videos available on their website, or this list of 17 amazing tutorials.

For Videographers and Editors

Izzy Video Final Cut Pro Tutorial (Free)
Izzy Video provides a detailed free tutorial course for Apple’s Final Cut Pro video editing software with 2 hours and 40 minutes of total HD video, as well as the practice files used in the course available with a paid download. The site also provides numerous general filmmaking tutorials on topics ranging from lighting to audio, which are accessible with a paid membership.

For Motion Graphics Designers and Animators

Video Copilot (Free)
VideoCopilot.net has a terrific series of tutorials that start with a piece of film illustrating a motion graphics technique and then show you how it was done. There is also a series of 10 basic tutorials for After Effects beginners.

For Web Developers

W3Schools (Free)
W3Schools provides lengthy (non-video) tutorials for learning HTML, CSS, PHP, SQL, and other coding languages with frequent interactive elements that let you test what you have learned.

For Everyone

Lynda.com ($25/mo)
Lynda.com offers video tutorials taught by experts on just about every piece of software out there, from AutoCAD to ZBrush. All of the courses also have the option of downloading the files used by the instructor in the videos at the cost of a higher monthly subscription. A small number of videos on the site are available without subscription, or you can try to cram as much as possible into the 7-day free trial.

MacProVideo.com ($25/mo, $200/yr, $20/course)
MacProVideo.com is similar in cross-genre breadth to Lynda.com, but focuses entirely on products available for the Mac. MPV has tutorials on signature Mac-only products like Logic and Final Cut Pro, but also multi-platform software like Adobe CS5. It boasts an innovative learning platform called N.E.D. (Nonlinear Educating Device), which allows you to smoothly browse the tutorial content and use keyword search.

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Tips on Teaching Yourself

Now that you know where to go to learn your chosen software, you’re ready to start teaching yourself – which is no small task! You’re going to need a good dose of grit, and a plan. Here are a few tips for getting started:

1. Block out time.

One of the main reasons classroom settings are so effective is that they force you to show up and commit dedicated time to learning. Block out time in your schedule in advance for learning your software of choice, and then respect it just like you would a class where your grade could get docked for not showing up.

2. Use two monitors.

If you can find a cheap one, a second monitor empowers you to make much more effective use of video tutorials, by having the tutorial playing on one screen and having the application itself open on the other.

3. Find a forum.

There are going to be times when you just don’t understand how to do something in a tutorial. Fortunately, there are great support communities out there for most any type of software. Photoshop Gurus, Ableton User Help Exchange, and Creative Cow are a few examples, or you can just google your question and take it from there.

4. Give yourself a project.

If there’s anything that will help keep you on-track with your learning and provide a meaningful structure, it’s setting up a real, tangible project that you will execute with the knowledge you’re gaining. (It will also keep you from feeling overwhelmed about learning software features you may not really need.) Whether it’s building a small website, making a song, or creating a short film, use your new learning to create something real. That’s what’ll make it stick.

What Do You Use?

Are there any great software learning resources that we missed? How do you teach yourself new software skills?

Todd Anderson

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Todd Anderson is an editorial assistant for 99U. He is also an NYC-based performance poet and the producer of the Poetry Observed video series.
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