Skip to main content

Masters of Photography

Lesson 28 of 54

Creating still life images


Masters of Photography

Lesson 28 of 54

Creating still life images


Lesson Info

Creating still life images

(upbeat electronic music) You know, why do I do still life? Well, when I was starting out really as a professional photographer, I was in Los Angeles. That was when I really started as a professional working, trying to make money as a photographer. And of course, at that point, in Los Angeles, you did a little bit of everything to stay alive. And still life kind of came my way. And it came my way in the form of hospital appliance catalog. Now, I think somebody says, well, you know, we'll pay you $100 a shot, and you can do 20 shots a day, or something like that, of still life, then you're gonna jump at the chance of doing some still life, even though you have no experience really of doing still life. So, the whole thing was a learning curve to me. And the actual first object I got was a bed pan. And I actually wish that I could get that bed pan back to re-shoot it because I went down this very complicated lighting, light tent road of trying to do this bed pan, which was, of course, i...

n bright chrome. It wasn't a nice dull chrome, it was in a bright chrome. And, of course, every reflection of everything sure enough. Of course, I was supposed to be doing 20 a day and in the first four hours, I managed to eventually get a half-decent shot of this bed pan. So of course, I was in real trouble and the art director was worried and so on. But of course, I stayed late until about 10 o'clock and got the job done. When I finished that, I actually said, I'll never do still life again because it was just an absolute nightmare. However, the art director loved the pictures. That was what was rather strange. I hated doing them but he loved the pictures. And I think he gave me several other jobs of different things to do still life, and I actually persevered with it, and I actually got better with it the more work I did. It happens with a lot of things. If you just keep going, you can sometimes get better with things. You practice, you work, you persevere, and you need to have this love of photography, not necessarily at that point a love of still life, but suddenly, you begin to see the beauty of still life and the beauty of objects. And then at that time, I began to look at some of the still life of photographers at that time that I liked, like Edward Weston, who was, of course, famous for sand dunes and nudes and beautiful nudes of women like Tina Modotti, et cetera, et cetera. But then I discovered his still lifes and of course, I thought wow, he took just mundane objects, like a toilet or an eggplant or a pepper and he did these beautiful still lifes. So from that point on, still life was always a little part of my life. I would always fit it in and do some still lifes and every so often, people would ask me to do quite important still lifes 'cause I was not really a still life guy. And they would ask me to do a perfume campaign of perfume bottles, which are quite tricky to shoot, wine glasses with wine in them and so on. And I kind of always in my schedule made room for that. And I persevered with it until I actually got better and better. And in the end when I decided to do some projects on my own, I decided to do a few still life projects that were really my own idea, not for somebody. And one of the first series that I really persevered to get was the Tutankhamun series. Now, this was a very difficult thing to do. I was interested in the personal objects of Tutankhamun. The objects are too fragile to travel. And I found out that Tutankhamun had gloves and socks and all these different things made out of linen. And of course, you look at it and say, that's the oldest glove in the world, the oldest sock in the world. 3 1/2 thousand years old. And I thought I'd love to photograph them. It took me 2 1/2 years of perseverance, eventually using a U.S. government connection that I had with a U.S. senator to get permission to get into the Cairo Museum to photograph these objects. And in fact, I turned up with a couple of assistants at the Cairo Museum on the designated Monday morning and they said, you can't do it this week. You have to do it next week. So, I had to hang out for one week in Luxor taking some pictures down there, and then I came back up to Cairo, and I ended up doing these objects of Tutankhamun. And this started a series of objects that I did over the years where I was, yes I was interested in the texture of the surface tension of objects, but in the end, I felt that it had to go further. And this came from my graphics training and conceptual training that I liked that the object wasn't just an old glove or an old sock with nice texture, the kind of thing you'd pick up in the street, but that it meant something beyond that. So, I decided to shoot a lot of these objects in a very simple way, a very straight forward way. Usually against white, so it was a very minimalistic approach. And I went from the Tutankhamun series, which I loved doing, and I ended up at Graceland, strangely enough, photographing Elvis artifacts, and there was a wonderful moment when Colonel Parker dropped off at the Graceland Museum, he dropped off Elvis's gold lame suit. And of course, that was a perfect object for me to shoot. And once again, I shoot these things absolutely minimally. Careful with the lighting but not trying to do anything else other than almost record them like a passport picture. I then got a connection with the Smithsonian, and I found out that the space suits of Armstrong and Shepard and a lot of the space objects were in a hangar outside of Washington, D.C., and I got permission to photograph them. And there was a wonderful thing actually happen that I got to photograph the suit of Neil Armstrong, and it was in its raw state. In other words, it was not clean. And unfortunately, if you see it now in the Smithsonian, you'll see that it's like brand new, that it's just been sprayed or vacuumed or washed or something and it's gleaming white. And the original one that I have has got basically all the moon dust on it and so on. So, that was a very nice thing. So, the idea of all these kind of objects was to really just do a passport picture of them and try and say that this object has some mystery and it's my choice of the object that's the creative aspect of it. And another series I did, I did a lot of sexual fetishes that came when I was doing the Morocco project that I came across. And I almost treated them the same way. I liked it that there was a strange dead bird that was wrapped in an old comic wrapped in string and women were supposed to sleep with this under their pillow, and that was supposed to make them fertile. So, I liked the idea that the object had another layer, had another meaning to it. It wasn't just an interesting object in itself but that it did something, it meant something, it had some charisma around it. So, that was part of why I did all of these things. Another thing that I had collected over the years, a whole series of objects that I collected, I had a large collection of hat blocks that were English, French, and American. And hat blocks are obviously blocks that they make hats on, they form the hat. And a lot of these things were from 1880, 1890, and sometimes, the turn of the century. These are things that I chose that were interesting objects. So, here I am falling into the trap of something that's texturally interesting, but I still liked that the object wasn't just an object in itself, it was there for a reason. It was a hat block, you made hats on it. And I chose to do these in a slightly different way, slightly more traditional way, and I did these against a canvas. And I did these on an 8x10 camera. Most of the other ones were done on a 4x5 camera, 4x5 Horseman. Actually, going back to the Tutankhamun series, when I was in the museum, they of course said, you can't use strobe, which I thought might happen. So, I ended up using the modeling lights off the strobes. They were fine with that. Most times, you're using a strobe with these things, but in the Tutankhamun series I used what would end up being the modeling light, which is essentially tungsten on that. So, the important thing here is the conceptualization. Try and have another layer beyond. So, if you find an object that you find interesting, that's fine, but try and put together a concept of still life that you feel that it says something, means something, that it has another layer so that it doesn't become just a texture of things. So, if you find a bit of driftwood on the beach, you really have to go all out to make that something special 'cause it can sometimes just be textural. And at that point, it can be quite pretty, it can be quite nice, but it's never gonna go kind of to another level. So, if you are gonna photograph a piece of driftwood, it really has to be kind of an awesome photograph for it to work. (upbeat electronic music) The technique of photographing against white, there's obviously many ways that that can be done. Sometimes, you're just simply laying an object on a piece of white plexiglass. And I prefer, there's a plexiglass that you can get that's matte on one side and shiny on the other. That's a really great thing to work with because the matte side, of course, has no reflection, shiny side, you can get some reflection of the object, which you might want or may not want, as long as you're cognizant of that. And another way of doing it is that you can, if possible, if the object allows you to do this, to elevate the object above the surface of the glass. And that means that you're, and that way able to really isolate the object. Now sometimes, the object doesn't let you do that. The Tutankhamun series, I had to take them as they were. And I wasn't able to do that, the object didn't allow me to do that. So, you can elevate that object above the glass. It separates the object from the background, and you're not only eliminating, by doing that, some reflections, but you're eliminating possible backlight contaminating your front light a little bit. So, of course, there's another way you can do this. Sometimes, the object allow you to remove them dramatically away, maybe two, three feet, which, of course, sometimes is really ideal. It depends on the object. It depends, an object that lies down, is it a freestanding object. In the case of the hat blocks, that's far more lit. That's much more like lighting a person because the object's freestanding, it's head-like as an object, and I approach that more as a portrait of a hat block, as opposed to just a straight forward passport picture. So, that's more photographically driven, you might say, than concept driven but hopefully, there's a little bit of concept in there as well. (upbeat electronic music)

Class Description


  • Albert’s tips and tricks on landscape, fashion, portraiture and still life photography.
  • Simple lighting techniques using natural light and studio light
  • Simple tips on preparing for portrait shoots
  • How to create incredible portraits using just two $10 bulbs
  • Albert’s tips and tricks on landscape, fashion, portraiture and still life photography.
  • Simple lighting techniques using natural light and studio light
  • Simple tips on preparing for portrait shoots
  • How to create incredible portraits using just two $10 bulbs


Learn how Albert creates his amazing photographs on location and in the studio using simple explanations.

Albert reveals his shoot secrets on how he photographs Presidents, Hollywood stars, music’s greatest artists, landscapes, nudes, chimpanzees and still life. We follow him on location in Morocco, Paris and in his studio in New York. You will find out where he suggests you look to get inspiration, how to approach a portrait session, see how to light like Albert.

We show you exactly how Albert works on these images after the shoot, it’s all about Albert giving you his ideas and advice and helping you see and create better images for yourself.

It’s not about what camera to use, it’s about how to see and develop ideas, concepts and narrative to make stunning photographs.

As Albert says..."You have to stay switched on"


  1. Meet your Master

    Albert welcomes you to his course.

  2. Learn from the journey

    You will learn how to use your passion and dedication to get to where you want in photography. Albert explains to us how his own journey developed from early days in Scotland to creating the biggest photography studio in LA, and then establishing his studio in New York.

  3. Using inspirations

    Albert teaches you how to use inspiration from your past and present to form you work. Learn his tips on the relationship between technique and creativity, and how to create work that shows your own personality.

  4. Photography is stopping time

    Learn from Albert how he discovered his passion for photography and how to apply his "stopping time" ethos to your own work.

  5. Albert's library of ideas

    Join Albert in his own library where he shows you which books and artists he suggests you look at and study for inspiration and motivation. He also reveals his tip for buying inexpensive photography references.

  6. Tips on preparing for a portrait shoot

    Albert teaches you how to work with your subjects to get a great portrait shot. Learn his tips for putting people at ease when they are in front of your camera.

  7. Setting up the studio

    Learn to control the shooting environment. Learn how Albert begins to set up a studio session. Albert shows you how he begins to approach a portrait session in the studio.

  8. Understanding studio collaboration

    Albert teaches you about his different types of work ranging from test shoots to editorial shoots and advertising shoots. He explains his thoughts and techniques to help you understand how to make each a success.

  9. The importance of casting and hair & make-up

    Albert teaches you the importance of communication between yourself and a team. Albert also explains his tips on working with hair and make up to create a look.

  10. Foreground studio set up

    You will learn how Albert moves out from behind the camera while setting up for a shoot. He shows you how to look at your light from a variety of perspectives.

  11. Studio session with a model - set up 1

    Learn how to work with your subject. A unique insight, Watch and learn Albert working in the studio, explaining his thoughts and showing us exactly how he shoots.

  12. Studio session with a model - set up 2

    Learn how Albert creates his iconic beauty shots. See and listen to Albert as he explains his thought processes when creating this type of shot.

  13. Studio session with a model - set up 3

    Albert teaches you another of his lighting techniques. Watch and learn as Albert explains exactly how he creates a beautiful portrait.

  14. Picking the best shot

    Albert discusses and shows you his techniques for selecting the best shot from a shoot.

  15. Working with photoshop

    In this lesson you will learn how Albert uses post production to further refine his images.

  16. Creating a portrait of Alfred Hitchcock

    Discover the idea and thought process behind Albert's iconic image of Alfred Hitchcock and what it was like to photograph one of the world’s greatest filmmakers.

  17. The gigantic question... Colour or black and white?

    Which should you use? Albert explains his own ideas to you on how and why you might use one or the other.

  18. One day with Kate Moss

    Albert explains his ideas and how he created his iconic images during a day photographing Kate Moss.

  19. Learn to have your ideas ready

    Albert encourages you to have faith in your own creative instincts and how to always think creativity to persuade a client toward agreeing to your photographic ideas.

  20. Using Polariods

    Discover ways to go back and create projects and new images from your older work. Albert shows us the technique he used to create his iconic Running Man image.

  21. Creating beautiful photographs of hands

    Learn to appreciate the expressive nature of photographing hands. Albert explains some his most defining hand shots.

  22. Controlling natural light

    Discover Albert's tips on how to make the most of natural light and how Albert controls it in his images.

  23. Shooting a monkey with a gun

    Albert teaches you to always be on the look-out for new projects, and to recognise the power of conceptual thinking. Learn how monkey and a gun came to be created.

  24. Choosing your format

    In this lesson you will learn about formats. Albert describes different examples from various formats he has used as guidance, discover tips on how to use each type of format and his camera of choice.

  25. Composition and lens

    Get tips and suggestions on which lens to use and when. Albert gives you his thoughts on using the compositional elements available to you in order to produce a better photograph.

  26. Shooting landscapes. The Isle of Skye

    Albert teaches us how for him, its essential to raise landscape photography above the "picture postcard" shot and give the images more meaning. Albert explains the approach to his Scottish landscape series of images, one of his most unique, personal projects.

  27. Planning and ideas for a landscape shoot

    Albert details for you how he carefully prepared for his Isle of Skye project: taking care to be as organised as possible, whilst also remaining open to taking advantage of the unexpected.

  28. Creating still life images

    From shooting bed pans in L.A., to photographing Tutankhamen’s possessions, Elvis Presley’s iconic gold ensemble, and Neil Armstrong's space suit. Albert teaches you to persevere in the face of difficulty, and to always inject your still lifes with meaning.

  29. Photographing the Lost Diary

    Albert shows you how one simple idea can blossom into the creation of true art. An entire advertising campaign was based on his magical concept: that of an intergalactic anthropologist’s photographic diary, depicting tribes on earth 30,000 years ago. Discover how he brought this unique vision to life.

  30. Shooting album covers

    This lesson we go behind the scenes of a shoot with musician Sade. Albert reveals how he produced her beautiful Love Deluxe album cover, and how important it is to make your subject feel comfortable on set.

  31. The Strip Search Project

    Albert tells you how he prepared and created this immense project. He suggests ways for you to create projects and images that document your own corner of the world in images.

  32. Shooting Las Vegas landscapes

    Albert tells you how he prepared for the Las Vegas project, how he approached and shot his landscapes there. He passes on to you how the difficulties he faced helped him, and will help you, to develop as a photographer.

  33. Photographing Breaunna

    Albert tells you how to always be alert to chance encounters. He tells you how he met and was inspired by Breaunna. He explains how some of his most recognisable Strip Search photographs of her were created .

  34. Balancing daylight, God bless America

    Find out why Albert stopped to shoot a bill board. His serendipitous discovery reaffirms his main piece of advice: always remain “switched on”.

  35. Creating the Maroc Project

    Learn how Albert put together his exquisite Maroc book. You will be inspired to create your own projects and to look for potential in every aspect of a project, giving added meaning to your photographs.

  36. Creating the Maroc shoot

    Albert describes his own, personal methods and ethos in creating the Maroc project. Find out what equipment he used, how he documented his journey, and what he shot to create this iconic book.

  37. Photographing sand dunes

    How did Albert capture the breathtaking, rippling sand dunes of Laayoune, Morocco? Find out as Albert encourages you to be innovative; to always strive to add something new and different to scenes photographed by others before you.

  38. Photographing Moroccan children

    Preparation is not the death of spontaneity. Albert explains some his most breathtaking, impromptu shots of children in Morocco, Albert shows you how he suggests you intertwine careful planning and impulsivity to ensure you never miss your shot.

  39. Advice on making portraits

    Learn from Albert that the way you communicate with those you’re photographing is always visible in a shot. In this lesson Albert suggests tips to capture your perception of a subject into a single picture.

  40. How to be alert to finding photographs

    Learn to take advantage of chance situations and moments. Listen to Albert reveal how some of his most famous photographs were created by remaining flexible and alert to what you are seeing around you.

  41. Making a portrait of Mike Tyson

    Albert delves into the inspiration behind his famous Mike Tyson photograph, reaffirming that preparation before a shoot is often key to transforming your vision into a reality.

  42. Creating intense colour in a photograph

    Albert creates intense colour in an image. Listen to Albert as he takes you through his preparation process, and the techniques he used to construct one of his most well known images, Red Devil.

  43. Portraits of rap stars and a Golden Boy

    Discover the relationship between a subject and the camera itself. Legendary Rap stars and Albert’s Golden Boy photograph feature in this lesson. Albert discusses facial geography.

  44. Photographing Jack Nicholson

    A Jack Nicholson photoshoot for Rolling Stone. Albert explains how the legendary snowy shot came to be, and gives you an insight into how he photographed the iconic actor and filmmaker.

  45. Creating a portrait of David Cronenberg

    Be inspired to get creative. Ingenuity and inventiveness take centerstage in this lesson as Albert describes how he produced his unique photograph of David Cronenberg for Rolling Stone — the old-fashioned way.

  46. How to light only using two $10 bulbs

    This is a incredible lesson where Albert demonstrates to you that expensive lighting equipment is by no means a necessity! Discover how to use two $10 bulbs to create a dramatic, high contrast shot. Simply genius.

  47. Studio fashion set up 4

    See the fashion photography master in action as we watch each step of this shoot. Watch and hear how Albert manages the body language of the model and the simple set up and lighting to create a fashion shot.

  48. Studio session with a model. The geography of a face

    See how Albert creates art with the profile of a face. Learn how to work the geography of a face with Albert's simple lighting techniques.

  49. Look inside the picture

    Albert gives suggestions on how to progress and review your photography. Find out his tips on how to look "inside" the picture.

  50. Creating memorability in an image

    Learn Alberts tips on the skill of quick thinking and analysing your surroundings. Albert uses an example where he used his surroundings to create a unique and surreal shot for Italian Vogue.

  51. Combining nudes and landscapes

    In this lesson we reveal one of Albert's very latest projects. Learn as Albert teaches you how he created a stunning series of images by combining nudes with different landscape textures.

  52. A perfect print

    Albert explains where the passion began for printing his own work and how it has developed. Listen to his overview on how critical it is to print an image on the right type of paper in order to create the perfect print.

  53. The business side of things

    Learn how Albert runs each aspect of his business. We travel with Albert to one of his exhibitions in Italy where he explains the why and how of the prints on show.

  54. Conclusion and farewell

    Albert summarises some fundamental learning points he has acquired over his 40 year career. He leaves you with some poignant tips and bids his farewell, "onwards and upwards".


Richard A. Heckler

"Unless you're Mozart"...this course is an invaluable asset. I'm a pro, humanitarian/documentary photographer, & wilderness...and I've learned much from the 40+ sessions here. This is truly a Master best thing to being with Albert. And although I could watch studio sessions forever, this course offered a very balanced curriculum of technical information, artistic encouragement and guidance, and a open, generous window into the thinking of a gifted artist and photographer, sifted from decades of first class experience. Kudos to all involved. Excellent!

a Creativelive Student

I purchased my first CreativeLive class in 2011 and have continued to purchase many classes over the years. I have learned so much from the many great instructors. This one is not a technical class that will tell you to set your camera at f4, 1/60, ISO 400 and you can get this shot. If you are looking for that, there are many other options. If you have a solid working knowledge of photography, this class is so much more. The way it was filmed is like you are there with him in conversation or in the room with him watching him shoot. To see and understand the how and why he does what he does. Not to take anything away from other classes that have helped to give me a strong understanding of photography, this is my favorite CreativeLive class so far.