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How the Kids Are Learning Photography on TikTok


TikTok, the video-based social media app, usually conjures visions of teens mimicking the latest dance craze, but it’s probably better described as short attention span YouTube. In 2017, ByteDance, the Chinese-owned parent company of TikTok, acquired the Musical.ly app, which had gained a toehold with an under-18 demographic by becoming a replacement for the comedy-oriented Vine app along with a burgeoning lip-synching community.

Although the app still skews heavily towards music, it has predictably evolved as a youth-oriented, generic video delivery platform. As such, a whole gaggle of teen photographers has emerged as “experts” – delivering pop song-soundtracked mini-tutorials that are largely devoid of narration. TikTok limits videos to 1 minute, so creators can’t and don’t conform to the more loquacious online learning style of Lynda, CreativeLive or YouTube.

The short format has obvious limitations with creators often showing behind-the-scenes (BTS) video for a specific technique (e.g. making light trails with steel wool) and the resulting photo. TikTok isn’t the place for delving into theory or more mundane aspects of planning and producing a shoot.


How to create some killer light painting photos! With @jack.hirschman ##photography ##lightpainting ##afterthefunction ##photographytricks ##photomagic

♬ Lose Control – Meduza & Becky Hill & Goodboys

On the other hand, creators aren’t constrained by the typical talking-head format with a camera mounted on a tripod. Instead, the standard TikTok photography tutorial uses mobile phone video to move through a set/scene showing multiple angles of the setup. And occasionally, you’ll come across some real talent like @codiezofia whose product photography is on par with many contemporary beauty brands.


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♬ Beginnings – Hayden James

While a seasoned photographer could easily level criticism against these videos (e.g. “the kids are acting like they invented this stuff”), I tend to take a more charitable view. The creators and their audiences are mostly teenagers or young adults who are learning through mimicry and finding a creative voice. They are producing a level of work in their teens that is akin to a first-year college student ten years ago. Of course, their results can be cliché, but they’re experimenting and shooting.


Vibes🌴 1 or 2? ##music ##jordikoalitic ##guitar ##sunset ##chill

♬ Nature’s Beauty – Romero Lubambo

Some creators are repurposing techniques that older photographers might have forgotten. Here are two tweets from David Hobby that make the point.

I particularly like this TikTok by make-up artist @jazlmao:

Of course, photographers have known about reflectors for years. But how many of us have actually used our hands as a reflector for a selfie?

Every generation adopts technology in specific ways and makes it work for them. For GenZ the soup du jour happens to be TikTok – a place where they can learn the newest dance, laugh at some physical humor, and even learn photography.

About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter, which regularly publishes resources for photographers. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article was also published here.