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Masters of Photography

Lesson 15 of 25

Portraiture - 9 Key Tips

Steve McCurry

Masters of Photography

Steve McCurry

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Lesson Info

15. Portraiture - 9 Key Tips


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Meet Your Master Duration:00:47
2 The Early Years Duration:08:30
3 Going To War Duration:08:03
4 Influences: Cartier-Bresson Duration:08:29
5 Other Influences Duration:08:06
6 Tell A Story Duration:12:04
7 Conflict Zones Duration:14:13
8 Finding Subjects And Stories Duration:13:16
9 Choosing The Light Duration:12:55
15 Portraiture - 9 Key Tips Duration:08:27
17 Photographing Children Duration:12:37
18 The Afghan Girl Duration:05:59
19 Using Juxtaposition Duration:06:37
20 Landscape Duration:10:14
21 Composition Duration:06:52
22 Cityscapes Duration:08:20
23 Shoot In All Weather Duration:06:39
25 Making Pictures For A Living Duration:02:20

Lesson Info

Portraiture - 9 Key Tips

(dramatic music) I think a great portrait is one that reveals something about the individual you're photographing. Or says something about humanity in general, something that is interesting, something that reveals something about the human condition or human behavior, or some emotion. Something which really connects with the viewer and it's not about the background, it's not about fancy lenses and angles, it's just about the human quality of that face. (dramatic music) Regarding framing in portraiture, I think you can again, you can approach this in many different ways. I generally like to leave a fair amount of space around the person. I don't like to crop people's heads off. I like to keep the whole head and some space around it. But it's a really a personal preference. You can do it. I don't think there's a right way and a wrong way. You should feel free to go in your own direction. But again, we don't wanna do something which looks draws too much attention to your technique. You ...

know, cropping people really tight or whatever. The subject should be powerful enough to carry the picture and you don't want to do some funny technique or some device which really draws attention away from the subject. (dramatic music) In portraiture, feel free to shoot verticals or horizontals, depending on how the person's dressed or the background. Sometimes the best solution is horizontal. Because of the certain elements in the background. Sometimes maybe it's tighter and it's more of a vertical. It really is case by case basis. You can't really generalize either way. And sometimes I do both. Sometimes I shoot a few verticals and sometimes a few horizontals. And then later when I'm reviewing the work, making my selection, I'll decide which option was better. (dramatic music) It's always best to ask permission of people you want to make a portrait of. You're never gonna be successful walking around with a long lens grabbing pictures, stealing pictures. That's not the way portraiture is done. You need to really get permission, talk to people, persuade them. Get them interested in your process. And then once you establish a relationship and a connection, then you can start to work with the person. People are generally flattered. And people, generally, are very willing to cooperate if they think your intentions are honorable. You seem like a decent trustworthy person. And of course, a bit of humor, a bit of fun, also helps to kind of break the ice. (dramatic music) I think as you walk around a particular area, looking at whatever interests you, the landscape or what's happening on the street, occasionally you'll see somebody that has a great look, a great face. Perhaps you think they'll make a great portrait. Of course, these great opportunities are really few and far between. You really have to take time, walk around a place, get to know the people. You know, meet people, talk to people, even if it's not about taking pictures. It's always good to engage your surroundings. I think once you've emersed yourself in the street, in the environment, and you feel comfortable, I think then things will open up and reveal themselves. But you can't just sort of jump off the bus and kind of expect great things to happen. It takes time and concentration, observation. (dramatic music) I think if you look at some of the great portraiture over the last 100 years, you'll find that the best approach might be looking your subject directly at eye level. And not looking down at somebody or looking up at somebody. And that can work occasionally. By and large you want to be on the same plane, the same sort of eye level, which puts you at more of an equal status with the person. You don't wanna be looking down at people, or sort of looking up. I think just something simple. Something that doesn't draw too much attention to some odd funny angle. I think it need be more classical, more simple. And let the person's face carry the picture, not some fancy technique. (dramatic music) Generally the best solution is photographing the person where you find them, at that place. In the case of the background of the Afghan girl, it was lucky in the sense that it complemented her red shaw, so the background was a green, the green tent, and her shaw was red. So it had this complementary color thing was working very well. If you can photograph the person where you find them, you can always move to the left or the right, or from any direction, and you may find the best solution exactly where you're standing. You may not need to go anywhere. Which would be the first choice. (dramatic music) I think in color photography, for me, a portrait is better done in a sort of a low contrast, muted, maybe an overcast day, when things are soft, the light's soft. In the case of this coal miner, it was a cloudy day and in any event he was coming out of this dark mine shaft so the light was even on his face. I think it gives the best result. When you're in a more of a kind of a dark situation people's eyes tend to be much more open. And when it's very bright outside, people tend to sort of squint and their eyes tend to be closed. So for me, I think I prefer looking into somebody's eyes, the people I photograph, I wanna have this direct eye contact and I want their eyes to be open. And hence, I always prefer kind of a low, kind of muted, dark situation. (dramatic music) I always prefer to have people look into my lens. It seems as though if I'm kind of directly looking at them, I want them to look directly back at me to have this connection, this sort of direct eye contact. It never, it seems odd to me to photograph somebody and then have them look off to the side like that as though I'm not there. I think if I'm confronting them with my camera then they should sort of confront me. We have this sort of relationship working.

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.


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.