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Masters of Photography

Lesson 4 of 34

The Street Is Ours

Joel Meyerowitz

Masters of Photography

Joel Meyerowitz

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Lesson Info

4. The Street Is Ours

Lesson Info

The Street Is Ours

(pedestrians chattering) (upbeat jazz music) This is 57th and 5th in New York City. If I hang on this corner for a while, I'm gonna see something. People are coming this way, and that way, and there's all kinds of interesting things. So, you hang out on a corner, and the boredom that you feel goes away. It just goes away because you're watching interesting things happen. Or you're just watching ordinary things happen, but something out of the ordinary just comes along and suddenly you see it. Look at that, quick! Oh. Oh, got him in the air, got him in the air! Let's see, let's see. There he is, he's just ready to take off. You pay attention to the next thing that calls your attention. It's like, it could be down there, it could be something in the sky. Just stay connected to what's around you and you'll be nourished again and again. (upbeat jazz music) I've been asked so many times, how do you work on the street? I'm afraid to work on the street, I'm too shy, I can't take pictures of...

strangers because I shouldn't really be taking their image. It's like some kind of mythic fear that people have. My feeling about the street and street photography is that the street is ours. It's a public space, and once you enter a public space, everyone and everything in the space is free game. (upbeat jazz music) So how do you go about making a street photograph? First of all, you have to have an appetite. The street is chaos. If you are comfortable in chaos, you'll find your way. My feeling is, when you're on the street, it's important to be able to see all over the frame. You own the territory that you see when you look in the viewfinder of your camera. I think among the most interesting things in street photography is making connections between things that are not related, because when you put the frame around that, you make the relationship. You make a photograph, you don't take a picture. They're two different levels of thinking. So what constitutes an interesting street photograph? That's really up to you, but if you have a sense of the time that you're living in, if you're aware of the way clothing and style looks, if the light on the street sends shivers down your spine, you're starting to be in the zone, and then everything becomes interesting. You're walking down the street and then suddenly you see a beautiful woman coming at you dressed in fur, and the sunlight is sparkling in the fur. At the very same moment, two guys get off a truck carrying a six foot piece of plate glass that they're gonna deliver and install in the storefront, and you see the guys with the plate glass, and the woman in the fur coat, and then suddenly, here comes a messenger on a bicycle, and he's cruising in and out of the street and you think, oh, if I just move here a little bit, the messenger is gonna be seen right behind the guys carrying the plate glass window and the woman in the fur coat. These unconnected things come together only because you're conscious that the street is yours. You own that territory and everything in it. So, being alert to the unexpected is part of the great joy of being on the street, and really, photography is a very optimistic sport. You press that button, you're saying yes, yes, I saw that, yes I want that, yes to life. And then, when you look at your photographs later on, and we'll talk more about editing and how you put pictures together for a show or a book at some other time. But when you assemble your photographs, you look at your contact sheet, or your images in lightroom or on the screen, you'll begin to see that during the course of that day you were saying yes to a lot of different things, but when you add them up, those different photographs give you a sense of your identity, and your identity as an artist, a photographer artist, is the most important thing you can get from this course. Because really, every one of you is capable of making a work of art. You just have to be open to your own intuition and your instincts when you're out on the street, and you will find your way. (upbeat jazz music) (camera shutter clicking) You see, I made a portrait of this woman here, but up above her head was the hand and the hand was the same color as sort of her hair and her clothing. So I made a kinda combination. She didn't know I was really taking her picture, she might have been a little bit aware, but I'm building not just a portrait but a portrait and an environmental thing. So if you look not just at the object but if you look at the object and what's around you, you can find an interesting combination of things. So stay alert. Stay alert and build the frame. You don't wanna just take a picture, you wanna make the picture. That's where your intelligence comes in. When you bring things together in the frame, you're making art, you're an artist, you're an artist photographer. Just remember you can do that. (upbeat jazz music) When do I know how to take a photograph? Have you ever walked along a street in Paris and suddenly across your path comes the sweet smell of baking, butter and sugar and you can smell the croissant in the air. And then you take another step, and there's no sweet smell. To me, that zone in the doorway when I got the fragrance of the fresh-baked croissant and I thought oh, I want that. That's photography. You step into a space, something happens, you want it, you raise the camera, the space and the moment is gone. That's being in the moment, in the zone, in consciousness, being wide awake with a camera in your hand. And no matter where you are, whether you're walking in the countryside or the woods, or in a big city, that intuition about now now I smell that fragrance, now I feel alive, that's when you make a photograph. (upbeat jazz music) There are so many times that I've been on the street and I'm thinking if they would only go that way and I think how can I get them over there? And I put my body in the way and as soon as you put your body in the way, the other person has an automatic reflex because they're on the street, too and they know you don't wanna bump into anybody so people are constantly moving to avoid contact. So, these controls are really not totally in our hands, but we can manage certain things, you know? And I'll tell you, there is something. This is absolutely important to remember. One of the great fears that everyone has is that if they take a picture of someone on the street that person's gonna be insulted and they're gonna maybe attack you and say, "Don't take my picture!" But the fact is, a simple smile, the good humor of your pleasure on the street because for me it's a great pleasure. So, if you're on the street and everything you see when you're taking pictures makes you smile, you're already a softer, more approachable, more vulnerable, more human person and people won't feel negative. But if you are standing there with a 200 meter telephoto lens and you're doing this at somebody, and they catch sight of you, they're gonna be angry. They're gonna say, "Hey, get out of my way!" So, being quick, being happy and excited about it sends off an aura of oh, this person's okay, I don't have anything to worry about, there's no fear about that person stealing my soul. So, think about that. Intuition, being positive, a great sense of humor, being in the right place at the right time, always have your camera lens cap off and the camera turned on. Touch the button, so that it's always ready to shoot. All these levels of consciousness are part of your basic preparation for being a photographer out on the street, but also for just being a good human being. (upbeat jazz music) (camera shutter clicks) I would like to do a portrait of you because of the rose in your tie and just how you look today. You are so fantastically dressed. You mind if I stand in your space like this? No. Okay, great. (camera shutter clicking) Beautiful. So I can even come in really close. Give me that look right into the camera. Yeah. Powerful! What a powerful picture. You see, it's that easy. You can stop a stranger on the street and say, "You're really beautiful, can I make a photograph of you?" And they just give in, they say sure. (men laughing) If you love me this much, take my picture. (upbeat jazz music) You know, there are a lot of subjects that people think are off limits. You shouldn't photograph people with infirmities, or people who are hurt. Here's a photograph. I'm walking down the street and I see a guy carrying flowers. This is from one of my Wildflower book pictures. And I walk up, you know, because I'm trying to get in position and at the very moment I get near the guy, this woman with this big bandage across her nose appears next to him in the crowd, so I make a photograph of it. Now, I know a lot of people say oh no, but she's, you know, look how she looks and everything. It doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter. And in a way, photographing people with infirmities, or with injuries, or something else is wrong, is acknowledging their existence. It isn't about saying, you know, poor them or I shouldn't photograph them. One has to be humble enough to recognize that we're all humans and we come in every shape and size and color and we're whole or we're part, or we're something happens. But don't be afraid of following your instinct. You know, you're not making fun of anybody. You're telling it like it is. This is what the world looks like and these are the way people interact. And so, I believe that everyone is fair game. You know, as long as you're not trying to take advantage, or be cold-hearted or cruel. Unless that suits you and if that's your subject, you could probably make something out of that, too. But I'm saying that from a humanistic point of view, the sweetness of photography is its capacity to embrace everybody in every kind of situation and to make works that come from your heart. And that way, what you say through your pictures to the world at large is that you are warm-hearted, and generous, and sympathetic, and open, and vulnerable.

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.