Recently, Rhiannon D’Averc took all three of the current Masters of Photography courses available through their website. These are instructional lessons taught by Albert Watson, Steve McCurry, and Joel Meyerowitz respectively. Here’s some of what she learned, and what she thought of the courses as a whole.
For me, the best of the three was Joel Meyerowitz. He has such a personable style and is so interesting – every gem out of his mouth was a bit of wisdom I had to hastily scrawl down to keep a record of it. He also has an infectious passion which really inspires you to go out and create.
I loved the stories behind his work, and seeing him thrust into a fresh day of work on the streets to see what he could find was also so interesting. There’s something about Meyerowitz that makes you feel as though everything he has to say is important – and that’s certainly accurate in regards to this course. It was also such a comprehensive overview of his working life as a photographer, from taking shots right the way through to planning exhibitions and books, which felt very valuable.
Meyerowitz also does a hands-on portfolio review with some students, which is not something included in the other courses, and it’s a really great addition to the format. You get to see how he deals with the work of others and how his teachings can be applied no matter your style. Best Working Example
During the courses, the three photographers also go out and about and take shots right in front of you. This is a great opportunity to watch them work, and really adds value.
While I enjoyed watching Meyerowitz on the streets of New York and McCurry in Cuba, my favourite example was actually Watson’s studio work.
He put together a really comprehensive set-up, showing you everything from the most simple single bulb to a more complex system with bounced light used to highlight a backdrop.
The shots he produced in those sessions were also stunning, particularly those which were close-up portraits of the two models used. While all three photographers tell the tales behind their most famous works, this one was an instance where it felt like you were actually seeing work of that high calibre created right in front of you.
Most Comprehensive Learnings
In terms of the whole overview, the instructor who gave the most comprehensive lessons was Meyerowitz. The lessons were structured in such a way to take you through every part of the photographic process. There was learning and inspiration, planning and how to find street photography opportunities. There was the art of actually taking the pictures, in a number of differing scenarios.
Then it was onwards to building up a collection of your own work, putting together books and exhibitions, and collaborating with other artists for a more interesting result. All of these areas held actionable tips that you could actually go and follow right away, which was so valuable.
In terms of the number of tips given, Meyerowitz also came out on top. His advice ranged from the general about life as a photographer right through to the specific and technical, such as his own colour zone system. This meant that there was a lot to learn from every video, even those which might not have been my particular genre (such as still life).
Most Interesting Backstory
I have to say that while Watson’s tales of his first commercial job came a close second, the most interesting stories for me came from McCurry. Talking about how he would sneak into war zones with film hidden in various places about his person was really thrilling – and a good overview of what it’s really like to work in dangerous places. He even tells a story about a time when he thought he really would die, which is edge-of-your-seat stuff!
It was also fascinating to learn the way one of the most famous portraits of all time – Afghan Girl – came to be. The way McCurry tells it, you can learn a lot about the specific method and way of thinking that led him to be there in the right place at the right time, and how he managed to get this stunning image out of a subject he had only just met.
There’s a lesson in all of the stories that the instructors tell, with some of them spelled out for you and some of them serving as demonstrations of the right way to go about things.
I enjoyed the experience of taking the courses as a whole. It’s very easy to move through the videos, as each one is cut down into a bitesize chunk and you can make them as complete when you are ready to move on. This way, you can return to your dashboard on any device and easily see where you left off.
There are also PDFs to download alongside each lesson, with a transcript as well as a bit of homework for you to complete. This makes it easy to put the tips you are learning into action, and is a great way to prompt yourself to keep going. It can be tricky to actually use the instruction you gain from a course when you’re just sat in front of a computer, so this push to go and try it is much appreciated.
I would recommend these courses to photographers who are more established as well as those who are just starting out, as there are some higher-level tips to pick upas well as a general way of thinking or ethos to keep you moving upwards. These masters have all had very long careers, and that takes tenacity as well as an ability to evolve – and their general message seems to be that anyone can become a top photographer so long as they work hard and hang onto their passion. That’s a very timely message for anyone who has been working for a while but needs that push to get moving again.
The courses are available from the Masters of Photography website, through an easy-to-use dashboard. I’m a bit disappointed that I’ve finished them all now and hope that they will put out something new in the future. There are other genres yet to be covered, and plenty of living masters whose experience has yet to be tapped!
Find the courses at mastersof.photography