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Masters of Photography

Lesson 17 of 34


Joel Meyerowitz

Masters of Photography

Joel Meyerowitz

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Lesson Info

17. Portraiture

Lesson Info


(dramatic music) In the entire length of photography's history, which is probably 180 years, more or less, the most consistent image made through all that time is probably the portrait. It's history. Everybody makes a portrait of something, somebody. And no doubt, we will too. So what is a portrait? Who is it of? Is it about the other person or is about you, the artist? Or is it about the combination of you and your subject? Because it's a very fluid situation, making a portrait. You have to go over to somebody if they're a stranger and say, "I have to make a portrait of you. "Something about you that moves me in some way. "May I make a portrait of you?" And then you have to follow through and be charming in some way so that they will actually say, "Well, yes, I'd love to have my portrait made by you." Or it may be that they're family members and there's some kind of an event. And people who you don't see normally have come together. And you say, "Oh, we have to make a portrait of ev...

erybody "to record the moment." Sort of history. And in a moment like that, there's a tendency for everybody to sit straight up, look at the camera, and gather themselves together. I call that the tombstone moment, because it's like, phhht, just like that. Everybody facing forward for history. I think there's a possibility there to break that up and make it much more interesting and playful, just like a family normally is. So portraiture is one of the basic staples of photography. And there are many interesting ways to do this. So let's go and take a look at how portraits can be made whether you're on the street or you're home or in a woods or by the beach or wherever you find yourself. There'll always be other human beings around who you might find interesting. (dramatic music) We just came out of a terrific restaurant in Siena. And as we come out of the restaurant, who is standing outside the restaurant but the chef. And we had the sudden inspiration to say thank you to the chef. And as I looked at him, I thought, this guys worth a photograph. Something about him was solid. Fantastic! This is the chef who made lunch for us. And when I came out, he looked so strong standing there I thought, I'll make a portrait of him. So I'm making a kind of formal portrait with all these steps behind because I like the stripes in here and the stripes of the steps behind him. Right into the camera. Bellissimo, bellissimo. Good, strong, ah-ha. You see, I like that detail that's right behind him. There's something about the size of his head and the size of that circle near him. Fantastic! This beautiful wall behind him, an old wall. And the chef is standing there very simply, solid. I feel how solid and strong he is. He knows things because he's cooking all day long. So I get his seriousness and everything. But I love what's going on between this old detail and his head. So I'm making a picture of two things, of age and history, as well as a young chef. And this little piece- excuse me - this little piece of color, bing, it's all black and white, black and white, black and white, but a little touch of color. So there's an opportunity here to work this really simply in the moment. Okay, now come up one step here. (laughing) Natural, natural. So I'm trying to fill the frame. The way his arm is hanging and the way that arm, he has a beautiful kind of statuesque quality to him. And I see the statuesque because that little statute on the steps gives me a kind of inspiration. So sometimes you just do these things very quickly. I'm sure I could work him for an hour because he's got a great presence. Look how steady his eyes look steady into my camera. So I've been able to work with him and ask him to participate in this, and now we have a thing between us. Because you need to have a connection. When you are making a portrait of a stranger, if you can find a connection, the portrait gets even more interesting. (dramatic music) Thank you very much. (soft piano music) It's such an interesting scene here. Someone is tatting and doing her crocheting. I'm just gonna walk in and make some portraits and move around. So watch the way I try to find the right place to be. They've welcomed us right now and I'm just gonna play with it. Two kinds of work, hand work. Cleaning corks and making crochet. This is like old world Italy. What's important is it's happening in this medieval courtyard. So the picture of the woman is interesting. But to see her where she is, that's what's so interesting. We're in their life. We're making a portrait about life in Italy. It's not just a portrait of a woman, but it's a portrait of what's going on here. (soft music) I try to make the background and the subject come together in an interesting way. It's pushing the boundaries of the photograph. Rather than being target-fixated only on the woman, I photograph her hands; I photograph her body. I photograph all of her. Then I photograph with the background. And I've moved all the way around her, 360 degrees, so that I could see where it's taking place. Because a portrait isn't only of the person, it also could be of the place. And I think it's important to kind of put these things together in some way that fits and makes it interesting for all of us. (speaking in foreign language) (dramatic music) Just like that. Fantastic! Look at this guy, look at this guy, look at this guy. (speaking in foreign language) A surprise like that. A man comes out of a door sort of naked carrying a ladder. Do you stand by and watch or do you go for it? So I ran down the street. And for a moment, yeah, I interacted with him and said, turn around or something, but he gave himself fully and freely. And I've been able to make a quirky photograph. It's really fun, a guy in a doorway with a ladder. I love it; I love it!

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.

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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.