Skip to main content

Masters of Photography

Lesson 10 of 34

Cape Light

Joel Meyerowitz

Masters of Photography

Joel Meyerowitz

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

10. Cape Light

Lesson Info

Cape Light

(contemporary chamber music) (waves rushing) (crickets singing) This book changed my life. I'm sure all of you hope that some day your work will be in a book too. And it took me 15 years to get to making this book. And it came to me because I was going through a change in my work. I needed to move away from the small camera, 35-millimeter camera on the street, to a larger format camera, in this case an 8 X 10 inch wooden, Deardorff camera. I wanted all the detail that that camera could deliver, the photographic detail. And so I made a switch, but a large format camera doesn't work so well in the city. So I took myself to Cape Cod. Not very far from New York, probably 4 1/2, five hours drive from New York City. And one of the lessons is that you don't have to go to an exotic place far away, halfway across the world to make a change in your life. You can do it almost locally, as long as you're open to the things that you could learn and as long as you have questions that are challengin...

g questions. And my question was, how could I photograph in color and get as much information packed into the frame so that I could make large prints? So I had to give up working on the streets of Manhattan or any other large city, where energy and the kind of jazz riff was the subject of my work, and somehow work in the slow and quiet atmosphere of Cape Cod, where the subjects were completely different. I found myself photographing architecture, and seascapes, and sunlight, or portraits. And over time these things developed in a way that, it completely surprised me. (sparse New Age music) I think one of the lessons for everyone to take from this kind of change is that when you accept a challenge, and acceptance is really a great part of everybody's growth, when you accept that challenge, you have an opportunity to reinvent yourself and to see the world in a fresh way. One of the very first things I discovered was that a large format camera sees into the oncoming darkness. It's as if time adds light to the photograph. And I found myself struck by how beautiful the dusk hour was and how this big camera could stand there like a faithful partner, and look into the oncoming darkness and show me all the information that was in there. And so I began to make photographs of very simple things: houses by the beach or porches in the evening or sometimes just a pole with a light on it or a telephone booth with a glowing light in it. Telephone booth, they used to exist (laughs) in our lives before the cellphone. Anyway it was one of those challenges that once you rise to, you begin to see new possibilities. And I developed a whole body of work that I call "Between the Dog and the Wolf," and that's a French expression (speaks foreign language), between dog and wolf, which really means between the known and the unknown, or the tame and the wild. And somehow that blue hour suggests to all of us a little bit, sometimes it's a little scary; remember those Walt Disney movies where it gets dark and the trees seem to have spirit and they threaten you a little bit? Well that blue hour offers that kind of ambiguous sense of, what's going on here? So I started to make these pictures, and I realized (gasps), I'm developing a whole new body of work. And then after a while, carrying a large camera around, people would see me, and suddenly the invisibility I had on the streets of New York was blown; my cover was blown! And people would say to me, "Hey why are you using that big camera?" And as soon as I tried to explain it, I realized I was looking at them and I was dumbstruck. Wow, how beautiful is she? Or how interesting is his skin coloring and his curly hair? Or the clothing they were wearing, and how they fit in their clothes. Suddenly human beings as individuals became powerful for me. And I found myself making portraits. So you can go from one thing to another with a kind of slow evolution. You just have to trust that this evolution is important to you, because you're going through it. It's a kind of transition or a growth spurt, or call it what you will. It happens to every one of us if we just give ourselves the room to develop that kind of openness about our work. There was a period where I found myself stunned by the simple fact of sunlight sliding across the surface of a building. And I remember that the great American painter Edward Hopper once was asked "Well, what are you really painting? "What's your subject?" and he answered, "I'm painting sunlight on the sides of houses." What a simple thing to say. But when you really take that in, you realize he's saying simple things have profound effect on us if we just give ourselves over to them. So, by doing that, and by accumulating a variety of things, I was able to make enough work to gather them together into a book, and this book, Cape Light, has served me incredibly well over the years. As I served photography, as a medium that I believed in, as a medium that would give me messages from the world at large and from my instincts, so this book has served me and given me a way of going forward, a way of finding myself once again through the means of photography, and developing other bodies of work and other books. And I know that every one of you hopes that some day you're going to accumulate enough work, of consequence, work that you really believe in, that you could then find a rhythm for, a form for, that will develop into a book. And I urge you to follow your instincts and believe in yourself that much. Because really, each of us, as an individual, can make work that speaks to everybody else. It's the universal language; that's what photography has become. We're all speaking in images now, and we learn to read all of our companions' work as we live on this planet, whether you're in America or China or Great Britain or Africa, you're making images about the world you live in, and we understand these images; they come to us with all of their power intact. And the only way you can do this is by being persistent, believing in the work that you're doing, trying to increase the quality of your work and your commitment and connection to it. Really, this talk we're having now is about believing enough in yourself so that the work that you draw into yourself can ultimately come out again in a new form and all of us can see who you are through the mute, silent power of photographs. (contemporary chamber music) Let me try and show you something; look at this. This is five photographs of a very simple subject: it's the bay and the sky with a horizon line in the middle. When I was making these photographs, I was really living in one place right on the water, and every day I faced the same place: water below, sky above, line in the middle. Every single day was different, no matter how constant the horizon line was, I was seeing weather systems, change of light, a slow shift in the seasons, winds and storms coming through. Things were constantly shifting even though the basic place itself was exactly the same. And I found myself making a record, really a simple record, not a complicated strategy for anything, but the simple record of the local beauty of a single place if you look at it day after day after day. It doesn't get boring; it actually becomes more and more interesting because you begin to see more. It's almost as if, after the first two or three pictures, you strip away some blindness that you have or some prejudice even about making these kinds of pictures. And you get into the rhythm, the cycle of seasons and weather, of a place where you're spending time. And that sense of familiarity gives you a confidence that allows you to go deeper into it. And at a certain point with these pictures, and the cover of the book is actually one of these pictures, these pictures seem to me to be like paint chips, when you go the paint store, and you pick out a blue and a blue-gray and a blue-gray greenish slightly, and blue-gray lavender a little bit, and you keep on finding the subtle changes in these tones. So I thought of these things humorously and to myself as sort of paint chips that nature is developing just for me. And by doing that, I learned something about the color vocabulary of film, and light, and my own interests. So there's lots to learn. That's part of the joy of photography, is it's always giving you lessons, even if you think you know it all, and sometimes we do and then we get surprised and realize how ugh, did I miss that? How did I miss that message? So use photography as a lever to lift up the weight that you sometimes bring on your own work, because we all get in our own way. But photography is the holes, the secret message of how to get out of the trap we paint ourselves into. The corner, how to get out of the corner we paint ourselves into. It's really important to be open to your own behavior and what the world is telling you. There's a mix there, and it's really all in your hands. (waves rustle)

Class Description

Internationally renowned and award winning photographer Joel Meyerowitz is known for his iconic images that encompass decades of capturing all genres of photographs. Masters of Photography is bringing Joel’s class to CreativeLive to share the learnings from his vast career.

You’ll learn:

  • How to find a subject to photograph
  • How to improve your compositional skills
  • How to determine correct lighting
  • How to print your images and also create a photo book

Walk with Joel through picturesque Tuscany, bustling Siena and the vibrant streets of New York as he shows you how he creates his photographs. He will shares ideas, experiences, and his secrets on how to make great images. Joel will also suggest ideas for projects to try yourself. You can use any device from camera phone to DSLR, but in the end it’s all about you and your photography.



I have an all access pass and thought oh no, I have to pay for this one? I bit the bullet and I am so glad I did. Joel has a great deal of wisdom and experience because of his age. BUT, despite his age, he exudes a fountain of enthusiasm, playfulness, curiousity and constant wonder surrounding his subjects. He opened within me the possibilities of exploring different photographic subjects and allowing myself to experience the fun in pursuit of those subjects. I love the way he shows how someone can take the same ho hum scene, but then look around for a different point of view. He is indeed a Master and I thank Joel for the class.


This is a absulutely fantastic class. Joel Meyerowitz takes you on an journey of little but important advices. In each short video you got some jewels to improve your approach, your view and your art. I own a lot of classes here on CL, but this one is one of my favourits! Gentle and human. Thank you Joel Meyerowitz, you helped me a lot on my journey to develop my photography.

Cosmin Dolha

What do you do after you learn all the mechanics, the technical stuff, exposure triangle, lights, where do you start? Because I am starting, now! You will find encouragement and guidance, and real applicable wisdom. If you are new to photography as I am, this course will point you in the right direction. What a treasure! Thank you CreativeLive for this and thank you Joel Meyerowitz for taking such a gentle approach to such a complicated subject, that is photography.