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A Year In The Arcanum

The Arcanum

I was speaking with my wonderful photography mentor Laurie earlier and realised it’s been a whole year since I joined The Arcanum! Happy Arcanum Birthday to me! Or should that be Arcanum-versary? Either way, I can’t believe how much has happened in this year!

This one-year milestone seems like a great time to do a write-up of my experience so far. Quite a few people I know who are into photography haven’t yet heard of The Arcanum and I’d like to help spread the word about it because it’s wonderful! :)


What Is The Arcanum?

The Arcanum was founded by Trey Ratcliff, Curtis Simmons and Pete Giordano. They’re taking a different approach to learning by using the Master-Apprentice system. Each Master specialises various photographic areas, from portraits to landscapes, street to wildlife. Similarly, each Apprentice specifies areas of interest and goals when signing up, along with example photos they’ve taken. Then they go into this big mixing pot of hopeful creatives waiting to be picked by a Master. If they’re picked and accept the invitation, they’ll join that Master’s cohort. Each cohort is capped at 20 people. Since it’s such a small group, this means you get plenty of 1-1 guidance from your Master.For example, my mentor Laurie is a wonderful wildlife and nature photographer. I was super excited to be picked by her because I love wildlife and landscape photography (which I mentioned in my application). We’re a great match and have since become great friends too. She’s taught me so much in the past year and my photography has improved dramatically as a result.

Learning and Levelling

The Arcanum is split into “spheres” of learning, with each one comprising of 10 levels. Once you’re in a group, you go through your first two spheres (20 levels) with your new Master, learning many skills and making friends along the way. Once you reach level 20, you have the option to join a different Master in the next “sphere” which goes up to level 30. I’m sure there will be more spheres to come after that too. As an example of what levels are like, check out the levelling guide for levels 1-9. That gives a good indication of how it works.

People seem to progress through the first 20 levels (and their first cohort) in the Arcanum at varying speeds. We’ve had some people in our group take only a few months to reach that level. I, however, am still loitering at level 13 a year in, and that’s totally fine.

The Arcanum lets you level at your own pace and I really love that. My last year has been so full of travelling and game dev work that I’ve been unable to progress as fast as some others. I’m actually very glad for that, because when I look back at my progress over the year, the difference in the quality of my photos and editing is amazing. I’ve learned so much in that time. I think taking my time has let my style and new found knowledge really develop.


The Many Benefits of Joining The Arcanum…

The Arcanum is obviously wonderful for improving your photography skills but it has so many other benefits that you might not realise at first…


I never expected to make so many wonderful friends in The Arcanum. Since each cohort has regular Google hangouts and its own community on Google Plus, you end up getting to know the other people really well. Various levels will encourage you to chat to the people in your group and help each other out, so not only do you learn from your Master, but you also learn from your fellow Apprentices. It’s basically a lovely group of awesome people sharing photography knowledge.

Meeting Mandy in Sydney
Meeting Mandy in Sydney

In the past year, I’ve become good friends with a ton of people through The Arcanum. In February I visited Sydney and one of the ladies in our group, Mandy Creighton, offered to take me on a trip to the zoo! We spent a wonderful day together photographing the animals, and since she was a regular, she knew all the best places to go and which displays to watch! It was so lovely to meet her face-to-face on the other side of the world!

Then a few months ago, I was visiting Scotland and asked if anyone fancied meeting up. A few people suggested I contact Stu Davidson, one of the Heroes of the Arcanum. I randomly messaged him, and before I knew it, he’d sent me a detailed itinerary of places to visit! We then spent two wonderful days doing road trips photographing remote parts of Scotland. I would never have known those places existed without him being a super awesome tour guide! I’m hoping we’ll be able to meet up on my next trip to the Highlands :) P.S, Stu, you totally need to start doing proper photography workshops/tours there!

More recently, Laurie invited our whole cohort to San Diego for a workshop. She gave up her whole weekend to show us around the zoo, safari park and various sites in the city. Quite a few of us were able to attend and it was so lovely to finally meet my friends in person! We all had a wonderful time and got thousands of photographs. It’s going to take a while to edit those!

Cohort meetup in San Diego

With so many google groups, Facebook groups, real world meet-ups etc, you make many wonderful friends all around the world. I’m super thankful for that.

The Grand Library

The second big benefit I want to mention is the Grand Library. This is a BIG and ever growing resource available to everyone who applies. Even if you’re not immediately picked to be in a cohort, you can view the content of the grand library. This is where all the Masters add various video tutorials and critique sessions. Watching other people’s critiques is a great way to learn. I’ve often found myself watching critiques in subject areas I don’t usually photograph (such as street or portraiture) because they’re fascinating and you learn a lot from stepping out of your comfort zone. There are tutorials on everything from composition, to lighting, to post-processing. I’d say it’s worth signing up just for this content because it’s super valuable.

Helping You Find Your Passion

The Temple And The Kite (Burning Man 2015)
The Temple And The Kite (One of my images from Burning Man 2015, edited using skills learned in The Arcanum)

Another unexpected benefit of The Arcanum is how it helps you find your passion and focus. I’ve always loved photography. I still remember getting my first film camera for Christmas from my Grandad as a child. I’ve had a DSLR for quite a while and always enjoyed taking photos but never quite knew how to improve my skills or what to focus on. Since joining The Arcanum I’ve learned that my little hobby is actually my passion. It’s grown into something bigger than just a thing I want to do at weekends. Nothing makes me happier than exploring the world with my camera, photographing wild places and majestic animals.

The past year has given me much more than knowledge: it’s enabled me to fully realise my passion and given me the confidence to actually try it out as a Real Thing. It’s very difficult to say “I want to be a photographer” when your career is in an entirely different subject area. People seem to have mixed views from “go for it!” to “but why would you leave the lucrative world of game dev?!”. I’m just excited to try something new while I have the opportunity! I guess I’m not leaving the game dev world entirely just yet, more taking a long vacation from it with no idea if I’ll return. :D



So, to summarise…The Arcanum is awesome! I wholeheartedly recommend it if you’d like to improve your photography skills and meet incredible people. It’s completely changed my life and has given me the skills and confidence boost needed to make the leap into the photography world. How often can you say you get THAT from a mentoring scheme?! :)If you’d like to find out more about The Arcanum, check out the website as it has tons of information on how to sign up, how it works etc.

If you’d like to see some images I’ve worked on during my time in the Arcanum, please do check out my portfolio.


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