The best way to learn photography? The Arcanum demystified

When Trey Ratcliff approached me and asked whether I wanted to be a master in the Arcanum, I was skeptical at first. The Arcanum? That sounded like a mystical place from a fantasy movie, rather than a cutting-edge photography education platform. So I started looking at their website. Sure enough, medieval fantasy metaphors were present wherever I looked. Masters, apprentices, cohorts, spheres…

Now, I have to admit that I have never been a big fan of the whole fantasy hype. I cannot really explain why. It just does not resonate with me. But when I dug deeper in the Arcanum, I found a thoughtfully designed set of concepts that revolve around a very old idea – the master-apprentice relationship – translated into modern times. This is different from all other forms of education you may know, and the first months of experience since the public launch have shown that this really works.

Arcanum blueIn this post, I will demystify the Arcanum for you. We will look behind the romantic cover of the “never-ending circle of love” as Trey likes to put it. And we will get to the bottom of the educational concepts and practices. If you are a fantasy junkie (unlike me) you may just skip the rest of this article and be perfectly happy to dive right into the experience. But if you need firm facts to back up your decision for spending your money on this form of education, continue reading. I will translate the concepts into our world and show you how and why they work.

If you want to join my new Cohort of Creativity Seekers at the Arcanum, scroll down to the end of this article to find more information.

The educational concept

Your educational path in the Arcanum is structured around the concept of levels and spheres. These are basically the stages of your development that you reach by completing certain tasks. Levels are small steps while spheres are major phases you are in while you complete levels. A sphere typically has 20 levels, and completing these 20 levels will usually take you between 3 and 6 months.

But what do you actually do at these levels? The topics you are working on, the depth of your work, and the speed with which you progress are totally dependent on you. You will be working very closely together with your master (your educator and mentor) and with your fellow apprentices (the students). The nature of the tasks you will be working on is decided between your master and you, and they will be very different for each apprentice. But the general structure of your work is as follows:

  • You create images
  • You get in-depth feedback from your fellow apprentices and your master.
  • You and your master define individual, realistic, actionable goals for your work. These are very specific things tailored to your photography.
  • You work on reaching these goals and you create a new body of work.
  • The cycle repeats.

As you proceed, your master will continuously level you up, until you can enter a new sphere. Sphere 1 (levels 1-19) is called the foundation sphere. When you reach level 20, you can enter sphere 2 (the first focus sphere). Your cooperation with your master will become even more intense in this sphere, and you will select very specific areas of photography to focus on.

Environment and culture

Now let us take a more detailed look at the environment that this process is embedded in and on the culture of the Arcanum. These are actually very important ingredients that make the Arcanum so different.

Creating a safe and friendly place

Your master’s cohort (team of students/apprentices) is exclusive and private. There are only you, your fellow apprentices, and your master. Strangers or trolls will never get access to anything that is going on in your cohort. This is a safe place for you where you can be yourself and be vulnerable. Exposing yourself to an extent that may seem uncomfortable at first is important for any form of learning to be successful. In your cohort, you can display images that you are not certain about. You can ask for help without having to fear rejection or humiliation. Everyone is in the same situations; the others appreciate that you expose yourself; and they are more than willing to help you improve.

Beyond the individual

Your cohort (your team) is a very important element in the Arcanum. This is not a one-teaches-many scenario. It really is a place where we all teach each other. You will probably learn as much from your fellow apprentices as you learn from your master. This is a much more effective and pleasing way of learning than the classical workshop or classroom situation. You get to know your team mates very well, and you can approach them if you have questions or problems. On the other hand, you can also help others improve. This is very rewarding. Moreover, helping others is the best way to improve your own skills, and it will help you improve as an individual.

Beyond traditional classrooms

In a classical class room scenario, everybody takes the same path at the same speed. If that path or speed does not suit you, it’s your problem. In the Arcanum, on the other hand, everybody takes their own, personal journey at their own speed. This is individual education, tailored to your needs. O, there is a common structure (the levels), but the way in which you complete these levels and the particular topics you want to study are totally up to you.

Making it personal

More often than not, your relationship with an educator outside the Arcanum is sort of one-way and temporary. You join a class or you take a workshop and after it ended, your paths diverge. The Arcanum, however, is different. You will be spending an extended amount of time, both with your fellow apprentices and with your master. This will build up relationships that are much deeper and that can last much longer. Even if you leave the Arcanum one day, these relationships will last, and you will get a lot out of them over time. Many of them will turn into friendships enriching your live way beyond the Arcanum and beyond photography.

Pacing yourself

The learning within the Arcanum is self-paced. That is, you define how slow or fast you want to move forward. If you are a slow learner, and if you are having difficulties keeping pace in a traditional classroom situation, this is perfect for you. If, on the other hand, you are fast and you have always been held up by fellow students who slowed down the curriculum, you will love this. Go as fast as you want.

Growing as an artist and as an individual

Obviously the primary goals is to give you the best support to help you grow as an artist and improve your skills. But your journey through the Arcanum will do much more than that for you. It will help you grow as an individual. You will gain self-confidence, learn how to be objective about yourself and your work, learn how to help others and grow your own abilities in doing so.

Exclusive content

Beyond the time you spend live, one-on-one with your master, there is also a large body of pre-existing educational content that you gain access to. This is not limited to stuff that your own master creates. The Grand Library (as we call it in the Arcanum) is a huge collection of video tutorials and other material from all masters and from all genres of photography. These videos are not public. They are for members of the Arcanum only.

Creativity-Seekers-Launch-Call-to-Action-v1.0Join my cohort

On May 15th, I will start inviting apprentices into my cohort. I have 20 spots available. If you would like to be considered, register at and add your application to their database. To help me find your application in this huge database, please add my name “Klaus Herrmann” in one of the free-text fields of the application form.

Make sure you fill all of the five available sample image slots with your best images and fill out the other fields such that the application represents you well. The more information you provide, the better I can judge your application.

Please understand that I only have 20 slots. Therefore, only the best applicants can be chosen. “Best” does not mean “best photographers”, but the applications that speak to me the most.


The Arcanum provides a platform and an environment for students to engage with educators on a level that is unique. No other (affordable) form of photography education offers such an intense experience, such an individual form of interaction, and such an effective mechanism for group learning. The medieval metaphor of the master apprentice relationship is successfully transported onto a modern and highly innovative platform. If you’re not a fantasy fan, don’t let the exterior turn you off. You will not have to dress up or use a secret language to be part of this… although it might be amusing. 😉

See you in the Arcanum!

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17 replies
  1. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    This is awesome Klauss. I’m so glad you’ve decided to step up and be a ‘master’ as I definitely see your approach to teaching fitting in. You certainly have the skill set and the experience to be able to provide the help that the lucky 20 will get.

    Myself, I’ve been on The Arcanum journey for a while now (just coming to the end of level 11) as I was one of the early testers and fortunately got selected early on. Had I still been looking for a master then I couldn’t think of any one better than yourself… here’s to seeing you aroud the place and jealous of those you do select 🙂

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hi Stuart,

      you are so kind. Thanks for the great compliments. I’d love to have you in my cohort. If you ever think about switching… 😉

      • Stuart
        Stuart says:

        Well thank you Klauss – that’s an honour 🙂 but I am happy with where I am right now. As a by the by .. if you want to see a cohort working to help each other then ask to be let into Robin Griggs-Wood’s one (as a by the by you’ll also find me there) as a few other prospective masters have done that to see the ‘lay of the land’.

  2. Peter Giordano
    Peter Giordano says:

    Wonderful summary Klaus – absolutely ecstatic to have you join The Arcanum and lead a new learning experience. “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves” — Steven Spielberg.
    Regarding the fantasy / sci-fi flavor … I guess that comes from Trey and I both being looong-time gamers. We love it so we built an experience that reflects what we love.
    Every Master can create their own unique character and culture of their learning community. The Arcanum is a platform that Masters and Apprentices stand on top of — the Members make it their own.
    Can’t wait to see what you create Klaus!

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hi Peter – thanks for chiming in. The “fantasy /sci-fi flavor” is a great metaphor, and it fits the master/apprentice concept perfectly. It also sets the Arcanum apart from the other platforms out there and gives it a unique character. I can’t wait either. It will be an awesome experience for my apprentices and me, for sure.

      BTW: If you don’t know Peter Giordano, he is one of the founders and the CEO of the Arcanum.

  3. Stephan Bollinger
    Stephan Bollinger says:

    Amazeballs, awesome that you followed Trey’s calling and join the elite 😉
    It’s great to have you on board, and I am sure your apprentices will be in for an amazing journey!

  4. Peter Scrimshaw
    Peter Scrimshaw says:

    Hi Klaus, thanks very much for this post and great explanation, as it was all the “swords & sorcery” talk which was putting me off joining the Arcanum (and this is from someone who used to play dungeons and dragons at school!). So, I have just put in my application and of course I would be highly honoured if you decided to pick me as an apprentice! Thanks again and all the best, Peter

  5. Kyle
    Kyle says:

    I just got your invitation to join the Cohort Of Creativity Seekers!! I can hardly believe it. I have been a fan of you/your work for some time. I subscribe to your newsletter and I watch your tutorials as much as I can. In particular you ones on Removing Halos and Tone Mapping in Camera Raw are two that stick with me.

    I am so excited to see what’s next!

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hi Kyle, I am glad we found each other. 🙂

      The very next thing you should do is to formally accept the invitation. Infos on how to do this are in the email. I am looking forward to get you up and running.


  6. Kingsley J. Burton
    Kingsley J. Burton says:

    Great summary Klaus, I’ve been watching your progress in Fastrack. Glad you are now onboard

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Thanks, Kingsley! I am glad too. It’s been a great experience so far. My cohort is already half filled, and the people who came on board are excited just as I am.


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