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Masters of Photography

Lesson 9 of 25

Choosing The Light

Steve McCurry

Masters of Photography

Steve McCurry

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Lesson Info

9. Choosing The Light

Lesson Info

Choosing The Light

(somber music) So how do you find your subject? How do you find a project that interests you, that you wanna kinda sink your teeth in and really dig down deep? I think the answer to that question is, you have to experience life, you have to experience your, wherever it happens to be, your neighborhood, your town, your city, your region, your country. But I think it really, in order to really find something that's gonna inspire you, you're gonna have to experience that thing, you're gonna have to research it, you're gonna have to live it. It could be anything, it could be landscapes, but go, you know, what landscapes inspire you? Which, if you're interested in portraits, what kind of people do you wanna meet? What kind of people do you wanna photograph? Perhaps you wanna do a project on something more, you know, close to home, maybe your family, or your neighborhood, which is completely fine. But whatever it is, you have to really give it a lot of thought, give it, you know, how is th...

is visual? What is it that's, how is this a visual story without words? I wanna make a picture story that speaks in a visual way, something I care about, some that has meaning to me. Because if you're gonna spend time, perhaps a lot of time, maybe years, you need to pick a subject that is close to your heart, something that you really have a passion for, something that you feel so strongly about that you can't get it out of your mind. Something that you're thinking about all the time. So it needs to be something that you really have strong feelings about, something that you, that you're obsessed with. And once you, you wanna dig down into the deepest possible level in your research and your photography, and I think that you simply can't do that unless you care deeply about what it is that you're photographing. (somber music) I always think it's important to plan your trips to a point, I think you have to always be open to some serendipitous situation. You know, something's gonna come along which is going to be better than you thought it would be, and you have to be quick to adjust and recalibrate. So I think planning is good to a point, I prefer more of a kind of a, just sort of improvise. And I have a general idea of where I'm going, and then once I get there it's kind of very free flow. I wanna be open to various little serendipitous things on the street. I don't wanna over plan too much. I think it's more, I think you wanna have, be open, and have more like an adventure where you don't know quite where to turn. Do I go left? Do I go right? It's more fun sometimes to get lost, and to go someplace and just sort of wander freely and explore without any agenda, without any idea, and then just to kinda let things happen. It's kind of a more improvisation approach. (somber music) I really recommend reading about the places that you plan to go to, there could be novels, there could be a Graham Greene novel, it could be a novel by Paul Theroux, a travel story by any number of great travel writers. You could even read a historical account, by say, Sir Richard Francis Burton about travel in India or Africa in another era, which could help to kinda conjure up a lot of ideas about traveling these countries. So, I think reading, whether it's fact or fiction, can really benefit your photography and your travels throughout different parts of the world. (solemn music) In my photography, as I'm wandering through a town, or city, or a region, I always have a couple dozen themes in the back of my mind. Things like people playing, children playing, or animals, or people working, or people sleeping, or eating, or people doing all sorts of different things. So I kinda file that away in the back of my mind, and later, if I go through several years of work, I'm able to come up with something thematic, on say, shadows, or silhouettes. (somber music) I would keep in mind, trying to photograph different things which later, when you go start to select your pictures, you can see these thematic connections between something that happened maybe in this place, or that place, or this country, that country. But there's a unity, there's a thematic kinda connection between these different seemingly disconnected situations. (somber music) One thing I've been acutely aware of, and I wanted to shed light on, was social injustice, particularly children around the world that have been forced into labor at a very early age and denied the possibility to go to school, and often they're working 12, 14 hours a day. I remember various occasions where I saw children out on the street working, literally before the sun came up. And I wandered back later that evening, and they were still there after dark. (somber music) And I just was, you know, it just brings tears to your eyes, it breaks your heart to see, to see this kind of injustice. So I think what we need to do, is if we see these sort of things, we need to photograph it, record it, and tell these stories. I think people need to be aware about what's happening in our world. (somber music) I think the role of women around the world is a story that goes largely untold. I mean, we see certain women in Western societies doing various things, but I think, I would encourage somebody to go out and photograph women who, in many cases, in various cultures do the heavy lifting and are kind of the unsung heroes of their society or their culture. They raise the children, they do the housework, they go out in the fields, they do so much of the work. And their story isn't told, in many cases, and largely unappreciated, and sometimes abused. So I think there's a lot of story possibilities looking into women and the important function they play in a society, the glue that holds society together, perhaps, and how they do all this incredible, you know, heroic, saintly work around the world. So I think that's something that somebody could really get ahold of and do something amazing. (somber music) Another recommendation would be to try and find a story which is best told visually. Sometimes I see students who wanna photograph a story but it's a story that's better told in words. Sometimes the visual potential isn't so great. It's a great story, but it's a story better told in words. So try and find something that has a strong visual component. It's like trying to photograph music, I mean, occasionally you can make a great photograph of music, a lot of great photographers photograph Jazz, but I think by and large sometimes music is better as a kind of audio thing, whereas pictures are visual. So try and find a story which has a very strong visual component. (somber music) I once did a story on travel by rail across South Asia. We started close to the Afghan/Pakistan border, went through India, into Bangladesh. So the way I approached that story, I actually took the entire journey, I photographed along the way, but I was mostly taking notes at the different stations, different landscape, all different elements that varied along the way. So after I made that first trip of several weeks, I went back again with my notes, and then started to fill in the blanks and to concentrate on the high points, the areas which I thought told the best story. So it was a lot of research up front, but I think in the backend it was time very well spent. What inspired me to do this story was reading Paul Theroux's great book, "The Great Railway Bazaar," which to me, really brought that whole experience of train travel alive, especially in India in South Asia. I started seeing all these visual possibilities, and I decided to embark on my own journey and to kind of delve very deep into the subject. I actually lived on the train for weeks at a time, slept on the train, got to the station, I'd eat at the station, and shower at the station. And it was something which I really immersed myself in a very kind of deep way. (somber music)

Class Description

Steve McCurry has been one of the most important voices in contemporary photography for more than thirty years. Masters of Photography is bringing Steve’s class to CreativeLive to share the learnings from his iconic career. Steve will teach how to:

  • Find a subject to photograph
  • How to shoot in all types of weather condition
  • Understand the light at different times of day
  • Improve your compositional skills
  • Blend into the environment so that you can capture impactful street images
  • Use his 8 key tips in order to capture the best portraits

Watch and learn with Steve as you accompany him through the fishing villages of Portugal and in the vibrant streets of Havana. See for yourself how he creates images, as he shares ideas and experiences, and explains how to make great photographs. Steve will also suggest some projects for you to try for yourself.

You can use any device from camera phone to’s all about the image and storytelling.

Ratings and Reviews

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Adriana L-G

For me this is not a class, is more the photographer talking about his photos and his experience. It is a little repetitive but I enjoyed. From Masters of Photography I loved Joel Meyerowitz's class and I recommend it strongly. In case you need to choose.