Alastair Arthur Photography


Photography by Alastair Arthur

More than just teaching: The Arcanum

Listening to someone talk is never the best way to learn. Watching is better. Trying it for yourself is better still, but still often amounts to doing what someone tells you to do.

There are many excellent resources online for learning photography. I've often taken advantage of the free CreativeLive stream, and KelbyOne and often similar libraries of good quality training videos. There are some very good YouTube channels too, such as Mike Browne's.

There's no interaction though, no feedback, nothing tailored to your own situation. That's partly why workshops are so popular. You can ask questions, meet other photographers, meet a professional and get feedback on your work. I've been to workshops and come away feeling challenged and inspired. They can be very effective, but the effect doesn't usually last that long.

The Arcanum seeks to take the best from both, and add to it. There is an online library of videos for members, but it's more about experiencing a community. There can be direct teaching, but it's more about coaching and mentoring. You might learn some new techniques but it's more about developing your vision and craft over a period of time. 

It launched just over a year ago and has already attracted thousands of members. I recently joined as a Master, meaning that I will be coaching a group of apprentices through the early stages of the challenges that the Arcanum sets out as a way to instruct and encourage photographers to further develop their skills or vision.

Why choose the Arcanum over other learning options? There are several fundamental aspects of it's design that I think it's founders have got spot on:

The Master-Apprentice model. A direct and ongoing relationship of guidance and coaching. The master gets to know the apprentice so can provide guidance based specifically on the strengths, weaknesses and goals of the individual.

Location independence. You don't need to travel or live in the same location as the master or other apprentices. It's likely that you'll be interacting and learning from other photographers from all across the globe.

The core values. Curiosity, Vulnerability, Humility, Rhythm, Fun, Collaboration, Respect.

Significant names in the industry. Trey Ratcliff is one of the founders and other well known and respected photographers have signed up.

A template for individual and flexible progression. It's all about improving your own photography and working on your own vision, so progression is based on your own individual goals and style not an arbitrary standard.

Collaboration. The apprentices get to know each other too. There is some light-hearted competition but the over-riding aim is to see apprentices encourage and help each other rather than purely relying on guidance from each master.


I've only just started with a small group of apprentices but it's already inspiring to see their images, enthusiasm and ideas, get to know them a little, watch them interact with each other, and consider how they might move closer to achieving their goals. This really is an exciting venture to participate in and already there are some great testimonies of how photographers have seen their work progress rapidly as a result. You can check it out at and if you're quick there are still a few places left in my cohort for new apprentices - drop me a note to let me know you've joined.

 One of the homepage screens, featuring an image taken by one of the Arcanum apprentices 

One of the homepage screens, featuring an image taken by one of the Arcanum apprentices