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Masters of Photography

Lesson 7 of 25

Conflict Zones

Steve McCurry

Masters of Photography

Steve McCurry

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Lesson Info

7. Conflict Zones

Lesson Info

Conflict Zones

(crowd murmuring) (gentle piano music) I was just walking down the street, and this woman who lived in this house came out and asked me if I would be interested in looking at her home. So I said sure, I'd be happy to. And he's journalist. Oh, that's great. What year was that? (woman speaking in Spanish) (Steve laughs) She took me in, she gave me a tour, showed me all her photographs in the wall, and we had a really nice chat, and she's very friendly, and it was kind of unexpected to have somebody just invite you into their home, a complete stranger, but great. I was happy to visit her and make a few pictures, so it was all good. This is my mother, my father, and me, when I was a little girl. (woman speaking in Spanish) You always wanna be open to chance encounters, and I didn't expect this woman to invite me into her home, but I think if these chance encounters present themselves, you wanna seize that opportunity. It was a pleasure to meet you. Thank you very much. It really ...

was great, thank you. It's a very nice-- I love you. (Steve laughs) Okay, bye bye. Have a good night. Bye. (uplifting music) (gentle music) I think photography, like any other craft or art, you need to practice. It's like that old joke about, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. I think that we talk about street photography, you can't just go out one afternoon a month. I think you need to have a rhythm, a pace. I think you have to go out and be a part of your sort of practice, go out several times a week, or at least twice a week. When I'm working, if I'm in a place such as Cuba, or Burma, or Moscow, or New York, I'll try and go out twice a day. Once in the morning, maybe from seven or eight to lunchtime, take a two hour break, and then go out from mid afternoon to sunset, and have that pattern, that habit, that kinda routine. I compare it to a meditation practice, or playing the piano, or playing the violin, or the guitar, or dance. You need to spend time on it to develop your craft, to develop your eye, and this is something that you can't just do occasionally. It's something you really kind of have to do on a regular basis. When I arrive in a place for the first time, or even a place that I've been to many times, I like to take some time, learn the vibe, sort of see, get the pulse of what's happening, and then once I sort of feel like I'm acclimatized, I'm in that particular zone where I start to kind of feel one with the street, then I start kind of jumping in with both feet. But there's an initial period when I'm just trying to kind of put my toe in the water, and walk around and just sort of see how things are, and the vibe on the street. I photographed this floating marking in Srinagar in Kashmir. I had spent a week or two traveling around the city, the lake, Dal Lake, all day long. I went out at seven o'clock in the morning. I'd work until it got dark at six. And in that kind of period, I came across one morning this floating market where all the farmers would come together and sell their fruits and vegetables. I went back there five or six times. The market would start around seven a.m., and in about 45 minutes or an hour, it was over. So I would spend the entire period photographing these traders, and people coming and going with flowers, and vegetables. It was really fascinating, and the shapes, and the swirl of activity, and the interaction. It was great. From that situation, that floating market, I met some flower vendors, and I went out with these flower vendors on five or 10 occasions, early in the morning, 7:15, 7:30, and we would paddle around the lake through different canals, while they would take these flowers from house to house, or house boat to house boat. So as you research, you wanna go deeper and deeper into the subject, and one thing leads to the next. The flower vendor I met eventually invited me to his home to meet his family. When I got there, I realized that some of his daughters and wife and relatives were actually weaving really interesting carpets, so that became a whole subject in itself. And the interior of their home was really interesting. We became friends, and it was a great experience. It's so important to kind of try and dig deep into your subject, and one thing will lead to the next, and pretty soon, you get to know people, you become friends, and out of these sort of relationships, you get kind of a much more meaningful picture, rather than just skimming on the surface all the time. You actually get to meet people and get inside their lives, which is enriching, apart from photography, it just enriches your life as well. So again, I would stress that it's not only about photography and making pictures, it's also about just having fulfilling experiences, and actually learning about cultural differences, and different people around the world, which actually, I think, is a great thing. There's different ways of working on the street. You can wander and get pictures here and there, just by serendipitous situations, or you can see a composition, perhaps a doorway, or there's a mural, or there something happening which you kind of understand that if you perhaps wait in a particular spot, the way the light's falling, or maybe there's some design on the wall, and you might want to wait for a person, or an animal, or a car, or somebody to walk through that composition, and it would give it a sense of action, or fulfill, or kind of complete that composition that you've seen. And I'd like to show you one picture as an example of that. I was walking through this alleyway in India, and it was a very, very active alley. A lot of people were coming and going, and I recognized that the shapes and the hands and the color of the wall, and as people were coming into the camera, away from the camera, it created this really nice composition. So I decided to actually stop and wait for people to come into my frame, for people to go out of my frame. There were cows, there were dogs, there were people, and I just waited for an hour or more, and I went back even the next day, and because I got very excited that this could be a really interesting picture. I went back the next day, and spent some more time. I really believed that this was gonna be an interesting picture because of this really interesting design and composition. So if you see something that you get excited about, you might wanna spend some time and try and develop the situation, and wait. Other times, things happen once, and they're gone. You walk down the street and you see various things, and there's no time, except just to shoot. Other times, you wanna wait and find things that kinda make an interesting juxtaposition, how things connect, how things compare, how things, how they relate to each other. I think this is a really wonderful, recognize how these shapes and how these objects can kind of come together in the same frame, and make a really interesting picture. I'd like to talk a little bit about juxtaposition, and how you can put different things together side by side, where two things come together and make some really interesting comment, or an interesting image. There's a picture I made, this picture here in Bombay, Mumbai, India, where you had this, I think this must've been the smallest cobber shop in the world. These four men, almost working in like a closet, and this businessman came up in this white shirt and his tie, and it made a great contrast, a great juxtaposition between these very traditional cobblers and this businessman coming to get his shoe repaired. And I think this sort of two worlds coming together, this sort of very traditional method of cobbling in Mumbai, I think get this interesting juxtaposition of these two different world coming together in the same frame. The businessman, probably in a hurry to get his shoe fixed, and these very traditional cobblers who are working in this incredibly, small, cramped shop, and how the two make an interesting comment. One part of that picture alone isn't really interesting, but when you get them together, it becomes greater than the sum of its parts. So I think that you always wanna try and find how things fit together, how they juxtapose, how images becoming one thing, another thing, and they become something really special. Another picture from Mumbai, which I think illustrates the concept of juxtaposing one thing with another, where you have in this picture of this man who is very old, and very frail, and he was sleeping on the train platform. And I saw him, and the trains were coming in, one every couple of minutes, and I thought, I'm just going to photograph this man, with the people coming in in the background, and this man is asleep, and these people, these commuters rushing to work. They're in one mindset, they're in one world, and this man who almost seems on the brink of death is in a completely different place. But put these two together, and it sort of makes an interesting comment about kind of life in general, and how sometimes people rush by in a hurry, without really paying attention or seemingly caring about this very frail man who seems almost on the brink of death, and how people often aren't paying attention, and have empathy, or there's no compassion. I thought it was really interesting, this elderly lady with her umbrella, out for a walk. There were so many interesting things that she passed, so I wanted to continue kind of following her. It was such great juxtapositions happening between her and other people, and cars, and traffic, and people hanging out in the doorstep. It was interesting. (camera shutter clicking)

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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Student Work

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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.