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Masters of Photography

Lesson 14 of 25

Portraiture - Reveal The Moment

Steve McCurry

Masters of Photography

Steve McCurry

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Lesson Info

14. Portraiture - Reveal The Moment

Lesson Info

Portraiture - Reveal The Moment

(slow melodious music) There's people especially here in this fishing village that have really wonderful expressive faces with great character and I wanted to ask them and talk to them and see if they would agree to let me make their portrait and they were very kind and accommodating so we made some wonderful pictures here, of the fisherman and his wife and then their little dog. I thought it was really wonderful. So we follow the fisherman to his boat, they were fixing their nets and when they got out I guess they were getting out to go home or whatever, I asked them if they would stand and let me take their photograph and then suddenly I realized they had little dog. So we got the dog in this sort of family portrait, and I thought it was really wonderful as a nice tender moment, between especially the woman and the dog and they were very cooperative, they agreed to let me make their picture, so in a way this was sort of an official portrait of them. To me that was kind of an emotio...

nal situation where this affection was really evident and I think that's really what we look for in great pictures is the element of emotion. Of love, hate, of sadness, people being happy or whatever, I think that's really what makes pictures great. I think if you see somebody who you are struck by, somebody who you think has a great face or a great personality, I think you shouldn't hesitate to ask them if you can make their portrait (camera clicks). (melodious music) In portraiture you never quite know when the best moment is gonna reveal itself. There could be one instance where there's an expression or a look or a glance or hand gesture and that'll be the picture but you have to be ready. I think that you people's expressions change over the course of a few minutes, I think that you wanna keep shooting to make sure you get those subtle changes in expression. Sometimes people are nervous or self-conscious or so too self-aware and after some time once you get rolling and they become more comfortable, more at ease, their expressions change. So you wanna kinda follow that progression and that may require multiple exposures; maybe a lot of exposures. You may spend five or ten minutes photographing the person but you really have to be sort of careful and attentive to their change of expression. Sometimes people start very kind of giddy, and giggly, and smiling and it appears very self-conscious, so you have to kinda work through that when they become more at ease and more comfortable with you. And then I think you'll get something which seems more sort of real or something that doesn't seem forest or something that doesn't seem posed. (melodious music) Sometimes when I'm photographing somebody in the street and they become very self-conscious and a bit maybe embarrassed, I sometimes will try and change the conversation or talk about something else or I might look at my camera and do something in order for them to take their mind off of what we're doing to have them relaxed and maybe feel more comfortable. So I think you have to kinda work through that and I think if you can develop a sense of confidence where you can read the situation so that you know how to put the person in a more comfortable place, that's when something will happen. I think when people relax and they're more at ease then their facial expressions will become more natural and that's what you want, you want something that's very natural and authentic. (melodious music) I'd like to talk to you a little bit about lighting in portraiture. My approach has always been to make it as natural as possible. First of all, it's much easier to use natural light, window light, light from a doorway, but also I think gives it a more authentic feel. I think as soon as a picture looks too lit or overproduced or whatever I think the attention is drawn away from your subject and you tend to be looking more at the technique. So I think something that's just more, again, lighting with natural light is much simpler, you don't need strobes and LEDs and all this sort of thing. I generally try and get somebody possibly in an interior situation and light from the window or a doorway could be perfectly fine. If it's outside perhaps in very maybe even low light maybe late in the afternoon or early in the morning, obviously there's times when you see something in the street that's it really catches you're on you think this is a person's gonna make that kind of a wonderful portrait. I think that if you ask permission, that once they agree, I think you can take this person and maybe there's a doorway or there's some shaded place where you can make this picture, especially so that their eyes are open. I think when it's too bright, people tend to squint and their eyes tend to close whereas if it's a bit darker, the eyes tend to open up and then it becomes much more you can actually connect with their eyes. (melodious music) For me the best solution is like coming in directly into the person's face, kind of a softer light not not a hard light. But I think in photography and portraiture you can break all the rules. I don't think you have to follow one particular set of principles, I think you can do whatever you want to. Just what I think works best for me and looking at other other portraits which I admire I think generally if the lights coming in on their face that has a nice look. Sometimes if a picture is completely backlit, and I can show some examples of that, that that's also quite a nice way to work. But I think that you should be free to experiment, I think you can find your own way, your own style, your own signature by experimenting and working with multiple situations and through trial and error you can find your own personal technique which works great for you. (melodious music) So there's no really right or wrong lens to use in portraiture, really depends on what you're trying to accomplish. If it's an environmental portrait, then you might wanna go wider; 24, 28, 35, 50. Or you might wanna go if it's more isolating that person's face then maybe a bit longer but there's a lot of different solutions and you may find your favorite approach that's much more kinda personal to you. So I use all the lenses for portraiture from 24 to up to 100 or 200. (birds chirping) (melodious music) We spent a lot of time in this wonderful house owned by Josie Alonzo. I think it's one of the most interesting houses I've ever been because it's really like a time capsule. It was built in 1929 and all of her things, everything from last 50 years are just still right there, it's an amazing piece of history. (melodious music) As we were leaving I asked Josie if I could make a portrait of her, I didn't wanna just photograph the house empty like a museum. I really thought of this more as an environmental portrait, I wanted her, in her setting, in her home, but I also wanted to show what her home looked like. I felt by photographing her in her library, her study, would show her environment, this is her world. (melodious music) I used the various focal lengths, I wasn't sure if to go very wide or maybe going close but I thought the best solution really was trying to show as much as I could. This kinda lifestyle is almost gone and this was kind of a glimpse into seeing how grand and how opulent and in a way how luxurious many Cubans lived prior to the revolution. (camera clicks)

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

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.