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Masters of Photography

Lesson 17 of 54

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

Albert Watson

Masters of Photography

Albert Watson

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Lesson Info

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.


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Meet your Master Duration:01:26
2 Learn from the journey Duration:15:24
3 Using inspirations Duration:08:43
4 Photography is stopping time Duration:09:27
5 Albert's library of ideas Duration:08:30
7 Setting up the studio Duration:04:56
10 Foreground studio set up Duration:08:46
14 Picking the best shot Duration:03:36
15 Working with photoshop Duration:13:14
18 One day with Kate Moss Duration:05:06
19 Learn to have your ideas ready Duration:06:14
20 Using Polariods Duration:06:29
22 Controlling natural light Duration:05:38
23 Shooting a monkey with a gun Duration:06:27
24 Choosing your format Duration:07:13
25 Composition and lens Duration:04:47
28 Creating still life images Duration:13:48
29 Photographing the Lost Diary Duration:10:53
30 Shooting album covers Duration:03:09
31 The Strip Search Project Duration:10:28
32 Shooting Las Vegas landscapes Duration:08:24
33 Photographing Breaunna Duration:07:21
35 Creating the Maroc Project Duration:10:21
36 Creating the Maroc shoot Duration:08:11
37 Photographing sand dunes Duration:04:09
39 Advice on making portraits Duration:10:12
44 Photographing Jack Nicholson Duration:04:21
47 Studio fashion set up 4 Duration:10:48
49 Look inside the picture Duration:02:57
51 Combining nudes and landscapes Duration:04:52
52 A perfect print Duration:07:51
53 The business side of things Duration:06:51
54 Conclusion and farewell Duration:03:55

Lesson Info

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

(dramatic instrumental) There is a gigantic question, sometimes, that comes into a photographer's life; should I do this shot in color, or should I do this shot in black and white? And I get that question a lot; how did you know to do it in black and white, and how did you know to do it in color? And somehow, with a lot of my pictures that are well-known, they're in black and white, which is saying, I would say that 75 percent of the pictures I've done in my life are in color, and only 25 percent are in black and white, and a lot of the more well-known images that I've done are in black and white; if you really delve into a lot of what I've done, you'll find that there's tons of color there, and I actually love color just as much as I love black and white, and I have a great love of black and white, but I have a great love of color; partially, the black and white thing came from my deep love of printing, which I'll speak about later, and being in the darkroom printing; of course, you...

can print in color, but I just had this great love of silver-gelatin printing black and white; I just absolutely adored it. And I love silver-gelatin and platinum; these days, you sometimes don't have to, sometimes don't have to worry about whether your shot is in black and white, and having said that, there was many times when I'm working in film, and I would shoot things in black and white and color, that I would notice from a black and white Polaroid to a color Polaroid, that you would look at it and say, well, this doesn't quite work in color, but it worked in black and white, but sometimes I noticed that the reason for that was, especially in the studio, was that the lighting was different, so it's not quite as simple as shooting it in color and transposing it in black and white; it's not that simple. Now, sometimes it works, and we actually developed systems where we used a black and white style lighting, and I shot color film on it, and sometimes the black and white lighting was sensational in film, and sometimes it wasn't, so very often, it depended of course, what was I shooting, what was the subject matter? Was it a man or a woman? And sometimes, a raw light on a man is looking wonderful; a raw light on a woman can look good, it can also look terrible, so there's endless combinations of decisions that have to be made in this, so lighting is a crucial issue when it comes to deciding color or black and white; sometimes you get lucky, and one lighting system works for both; sometimes it doesn't work, somebody once said to me that black and white works better artistically, because it's surreal; in other words, we see in color, but in fact, we don't see in black and white, so therefore, when you look at a black and white image, it's more artistic; it's more like art, because it's removed from reality. And you can argue that, but also, you can argue the other side of that coin, where you say, we see in color, so therefore, why not shoot in color? So I think these are decisions that the individual has to decide as they go along the path; am I a black and white photographer, or color? Am I both? I love both, so for me personally, I love both, and I think color, sometimes it's superb, and wonderful, and sometimes black and white, and the beauty of things, is you don't really have to choose; you have to choose at the point where you hit the shutter, but later in life, you can show some of your work in black and white, and also you can show some of your work in color, and say, I'm hopefully quite accomplished in color, and you can say; I'm accomplished in black and white. So as long as you're aware of all of these questions, and that you question the shots as you take them, and sometimes you can change your mind, sometimes not. (upbeat instrumental) The decision, sometimes with color or black and white, sometimes I don't have a choice; sometimes I'm doing a job, where they expect it to be in color; of course, you can always cover it in black and white for yourself, and consider it a black and white for yourself, but for example, this shot of Denzel Wahsington, I was working on the set of a movie, the movie Deja Vu, where I met an old classmate of mine, Tony Scott, and he was directing that film, and I was photographing Denzel, who I'd photographed several times before, and actually got on very well with, and I'm actually a big fan of his; I think he's a tremendous actor, and here, I wanted to introduce; I didn't want to photograph his skin in a warm, brown tone, and I was more interested in a cold tone, something that was almost like he was getting light from a neon sign or something, and something that was slightly surreal in it's look, and I worked with him a little bit on expression, and what I thought the shot was, and of course, he's very good at that, so he's very good that you explain something to him once, and he gets it immediately. So that shot was for the movie Deja Vu, and was used in several of the international posters for it, and blue was really the dominant color that I chose for that, and why was it blue? I don't quite know, it was just what I felt like at the moment; I guess I was feeling blue, so I chose it, and it was a shot that he loved; as for the technique on the Denzel Washington shot, it was done by strobe; I had some gels on the lights themselves, and also some backlight, so it's a strobe shot; it's also not a four by five shot, which I was shooting a lot of at the time, but it's actually a Hasselblad shot, so it's two and a quarter, and the lens is a 150 lens, so it's a fairly traditional portrait, but the approach to his attitude and the color is not so traditional. When you do a shot like that, once again, you should have some of this prepared, planning, planning, planning; of course, you can do blue filters the correct way, unless you bring the blue filters with you, so if you don't have blue filters, you're not gonna be doing blue filters, and for those photographers that think, well, I can do it in Photoshop later, it's a different kettle of fish when you're adding blue later, as apposed to blue on the lights; there's all kinds of different magic happen when you begin to put blue on lights, green, red, pink, whatever on lights, than is opposed to putting that in in Photoshop, so I would recommend always to consider filtering the lights if you want some color in there, not absolutely necessary, but I would recommend it. (dramatic instrumental)

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"


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.