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Masters of Photography

Lesson 22 of 25


Steve McCurry

Masters of Photography

Steve McCurry

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Lesson Info

22. Cityscapes

Lesson Info


I'd like to talk a little bit about cityscapes and photographing a city and try to show the character and to show what's unique about that place that you're photographing. I often find myself knocking on doors and asking people if I can photograph from their window. Maybe it's on the first or second floor, which will give a better view, overview of this particular city or plaza or square or place that I find interesting. Being up will give you a better perspective, I think. And sometimes, you just have to literally knock on somebody's door and ask them for permission, explain what you're doing. And I've always been surprised at how receptive and how willing people are to let me into their homes. So if people trust you or if you have a certain confidence, you explain what you're doing, I think you'll find people very receptive and very open. And they'll let you into their living rooms and even their bedrooms. This particular picture I made in Calcutta, when I was on the street, I knew t...

hat if I was up a little bit higher, that it would be a much more pleasing view of the street. And I wanted to show, not only the sort of cityscape, but also what it was like, what did it feel like to be on the street in Calcutta. And I thought the best way to show that was to be up on the second floor. So I just knocked on the person's door, explained what I was doing. I had a translator there, tried to convey that we were serious and that we didn't mean them any harm and they let us into their home. And we went up and the best view actually happened to be from their bedroom. I went in, I photographed, I thought it was a great angle, great view. After we finished with the picture, they offered us tea, we stayed for some time, and talked to them about whatever, and it turned out to be a very delightful time with them. Sometimes, you have to go to multiple vantage points. Sometimes, you get up and the particular angle doesn't quite work. You maybe have to go to another place and try that again. So, sometimes, it requires some work, some effort, but often the reward is great and you come back with a picture which really shows, it gives the feel of the city and the vibe and not just this mere postcard rendition of a place which we're not really interested in. I was trying to get a view of the street in Calcutta, and again, I thought the best angle would be getting up. I thought the perspective of the street would be more pleasing if I was up a bit. So I found this overpass on this one particular street in Calcutta which allowed me to be up 20 meters. I thought it was a really wonderful way to show the city, with all the signs, the buses, and the taxis, and all the bustling people walking around the street. But that angle was simply just an overpass. I was able to walk, get out of the car, walk up onto the overpass, and I could shoot there as much as I wanted. But that was a very simple solution to another perspective. And I think that at that low, just being up a little bit, again, it kind of gives you a feel for the street, and I think it gives you a sense of the vibe of that particular city. I thought the best time of day to shoot this picture was very late in the afternoon, when the sun was setting. It was more muted and more low contrast. And I thought that the colors were more vibrant. And I thought that it really showed the city up close, I thought it really showed the vibe of the city, the feel of what it was like to be on the street in Calcutta. So I think that low light helped to see into the shadows and make a kind of a more dramatic picture without a lot of very hard midday sun. An interesting time of the day is very late in the afternoon or even just after sunset, when you get that sort of crossover light, that mix of daylight and when the city lights start to come alive and you have that small window when you have that balance of light, the ambient light, and then the light coming from the shops and the homes. It creates a very pleasing sort of effect, and that's certainly a time of day which is really wonderful to shoot in. But I think you have to experiment. I think you have to photograph it in different times of the day and see what's working. I mean, noon could be a great time, if there is interesting clouds, if it's a certain quality of light. So I don't think you can really generalize and say that I want to photograph at this time or that time. Anytime could be good, but it has to be interesting. It has to work, it has to make sense. But that's, again, up to you to decide what kind of impression you're trying to make. What kind of story are you trying to tell? You may find the best light after dark, you know, after the sunset, while the light's coming on in the city, but it's hard to generalize about the best time of day for these cityscapes. Anytime could be a good time. If I'm working extremely low light, suppose in a cityscape situation, I take a tripod with me wherever I go. If it's extremely dark and I'm trying to shoot at a very slow shutter speed, then I'll use a tripod, but in many cases, you can shoot just handheld. But it depends on the amount of light, depends on where you are, depends on what are you trying to do. But I think that it's safe to say, when it's very dark, you may have to break out the tripod, because you're gonna be shooting at a quarter of a second or two seconds, and you simply can't handhold at those slow shutter speeds. Maybe take a bean bag. Maybe have a mini tripod, a table tripod. I mean, it just depends on, you have to find the right solution for yourself.

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.

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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.