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Masters of Photography

Lesson 5 of 34

The Magician's Trick

Joel Meyerowitz

Masters of Photography

Joel Meyerowitz

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Lesson Info

5. The Magician's Trick

Lesson Info

The Magician's Trick

( instrumental music) When I was a kid growing up in the Bronx, in a real working-class, tough neighborhood, my father, who was a comedienne, a professional boxer, a salesman, a tap dancer, my father was an athletic man. He taught me to protect myself when I was a kid, so that I wouldn't get hurt in street rumbles, and things like that, but he also taught me how to look at life in front of me, because he always said, "Joel, look at that. Watch this." And whenever he pointed something out like watch this, something would always happen, somebody would slip on the banana peel, or they'd bump into a pole, or they'd stop and have a conversation with somebody, and they'd wrestle with each other a little bit. He always seemed to have an idea of what might happen, and by pointing it out to me and saying watch this, I learned to read the street. And he also taught me, when he was teaching me how to protect myself, he told me how to bob and weave and feint, so that somebody would look somewher...

e else, and then you can throw a shot at 'em. So, in a way, being a photographer came to me very naturally out of a kind of childhood of awareness and protection, and understanding that the world repeated itself over and over and over again, people have been walking into doors, or falling off of steps, or making eye contact, or love, or fighting, people do the same things all the time, and if you understand that, you can watch the world with a sense of the possibility that these things are going to happen. You can predict small movements, gestures, actions, and that way, you're always ahead of the game a little bit, you're ready to step into the right space, and be near enough, so when that event happens, you're there. How is it when you look at the work of someone like the master, Henri Cartier-Bresson, how is it that he was always in the right place at the right time? His pictures are a testimony to the fact that Bresson always understood, anticipated, predicted, and arrived just where he should be, when the moment happened. So I think that all of you have this capacity for understanding, and for knowing how to raise your desires up in such a way that you will make the photographs that you, you think you've only seen in magazines for other people but really, you can do this too. (music) Okay, I'm gonna show you this picture here. What's going on there? I was going down the street and I saw a big puff of smoke come up. Now, let me say, part of the inspiring moments on a daily basis of photography are when something signals you, a puff of smoke, the way a big truck comes by, fire engine, or some crazy outfit comes by in the street, anything that says hello, I'm talking to you, pay attention. This is the basic act of photography, paying attention. In this case, the puff of smoke coming up out of the sewer system of New York, down below, they have all the gas lines and the energies for all the big skyscrapers, they always let smoke out in the cold weather. I saw that puff of smoke and I moved towards it, because I saw it as a screen in the middle of the street, on which people's shadows were being projected, and just as I walked up to it, a couple wearing matched camel coats, appears on the screen and next to them, right next to them, are another two people, also in camel coats, and imprinted on their backs, are shadows of other people, and this happened for a split second, which is the time of photography. Right, the little dial on top, says one thousandth of a second. That means in one second, you could take one thousand pictures, but you've only taken the one that really counted, and that's the one that counted. This picture has a kind of twinning quality, a kind of serendipity, a kind of nothing major is happening, but the fact that these two, small incidents appeared together in a puff of smoke, is like a magician's trick, poof, now you see it. Photography happens that fast. Right in front of your eyes. You know how the magician shows you his trick, he does this, and then you see it. Well, that's photography. It shows itself to you and only if you're quick enough, to see it, can you make magic out of it, because, really, that's who you are, you're a magician with a camera. So, stay on your toes, follow your instinct, when you see something happening out there, and you feel the urge to go to it, don't wait. You can see why it's interesting to stand on a busy corner in any city in the world. All you've gotta do is stand there for 15 minutes, and you'll be so excited by what you see, because you'll start to read the space, and if you read the space, if you can say, what you're seeing to yourself, oh, I see this hot dog stand over here, here are people crossing the street this way, here are two guys, one guy's in a red shirt, if you can say it, you can see the street come alive, and something will come up that's just intended for you, it makes sense to you. Oh, Ohhh! There's two little girls with blue pom poms, and the Rabbi father, and behind them, is an old man doddering along, so, in the moment, it's youth and age, that's an idea, right, because sometimes we need to express the difference between youth and age, so, if it arose, it's just a brief, little touch, like a little brush stroke of possibility, but you have to think like that when you're on the street, you have to think about these combinations that you're putting together. That way if you're thinking about it, you can then begin to address it as a subject for you, and maybe you start to make a lot of pictures about youth and age. Interesting. (music) Look at this. Intimate things happen in public all the time, the kisses, the caresses, the angers, the joys, the parenting, it all happens right in front of us, in the public space, all they have to do is anticipate it, or be willing to look at it, and get close to it. You know, you could be standing on a street corner, waiting for the light to change, and you look to the side, and out of the corner of your eye, you see a couple standing there speaking intimately, and just at that moment, the man reaches up to the woman's face to kind of move a lock of hair that's fallen on her face, and as he goes to move her hair, she might turn her head into his palm, and just brush her lips against his palm. That's the photograph, and it only happens because you were standing right in their intimate space, and they don't see you because you're invisible, and you catch that moment of that little, tender kiss, that's the photographic moment. This picture of a kiss is just a kiss, but it happens all the time and I'm such a sucker for it. Any time I see people kissing on the street, or doing something affectionate, it's a reward for me to make a photograph of it. It's like saying, again, yes, life is positive, life is rich and full and life repeats itself, with every variation of the kiss, and, I think it's an uplifting experience, to see human interaction that has a kind of joyousness to it. That's photography for me. Beautiful, oh, nice. Sometimes it's a little detail, sometimes it's the way someone, like that woman who's holding her hands, or sometimes the way, look, look, look at that, it's just the way the mother, the mother and the daughter reached for their hands, a kind of unconscious but familiar gesture, but in that twist of the body, and the little girl's hand coming up, a moment of poetry happened, so you have to look for the detail, sometimes in a great, big space, a small detail turns the thing around, and when you see that small detail, you can build a larger picture in this small detail. So, consider the detail.

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.