The Masters of Photography courses are aimed at offering instruction from those who have mastered their genre, to those who are entering it. The Albert Watson course covers his whole career, working in portraiture and commercial advertising as well as shooting landscapes and personal projects. Here’s what I thought after giving it a go.
Albert Watson is very interesting to watch and listen to. He has a soft Scottish lilt even after many years of working around the globe – stories that he happily recounts time after time. Watson often refers to luck as a driving factor in getting some of his most famous shots, but as each story unfolds it becomes clear that his message is not just about getting lucky. It’s about being there and being present all the time, so that when that right moment comes along, you are ready for it.
There’s something self-deprecating about him: he often repeats this message of just working hard and then finding luck. It’s charming to hear how he got his first commercial project and was amazed to hear that he was getting paid far more than he expected! This also has the effect of letting you realize that anyone can get on in photography so long as they work hard and apply themselves. That’s a great message.
Value of Content
A lot of the content is all about learning from Watson’s examples. Rather than giving instructions on how to do something, he gives one of two approaches: either to tell you how he did it in the past, or, in a few live studio sessions, to demonstrate how it’s done as he’s doing it.
The studio sessions are particularly enlightening. Here you can see specific tips on how to utilize lighting set-ups, get your backdrop and your subject both lit correctly, and use different objects in the studio to block or bounce light. He also talks about handling models, how to treat them for the best results, and how to ensure everyone in the studio is happy.
We also see live demonstrations of a few shooting techniques Watson uses, such as splicing together shots in Photoshop to create an image in a larger format. It’s satisfying to see the whole set-up coming together and then get a glimpse of the final image, in its full retouched glory, and to know exactly how he got there.
A lot of the advice Watson gives is aimed more at mindset and approach than the techniques or theory of photography. The instruction given will set you up for a career spanning decades, keeping your head during all of this time and ensuring that you are always going on to bigger and better things. It’s really advice for someone who wants to make a living from photography, and turn their creative passion into a career.
There are a lot of great ideas in the course, too: making colors pop for a shot that needs to be bright, distorting an image for a surreal look, and so on. These are applicable in more ways than simply copying some of Watson’s best work – as he puts it, trying to copy something will often give you an end result which is more your own at any rate.
The course isn’t just made up of videos, as there are some added extras as well. After entering your student dashboard, you can see the whole course at a glance and pick up wherever you left off, which is great for those who are fitting in videos in their spare time and can’t do big sessions all at once.
Each lesson has a comment section, where you can engage with other students by expressing your opinion or asking questions. Not all of the videos have comments under them, but there is no rule against being the first to do so! A lot of the videos are broken up into bite size chunks, just a few minutes long, which means you can move through them quickly.
There is also a PDF to download for each video. This gives an overview of what went on in the video, a transcript to follow, and also a piece of homework to spark off some action on your part. This is great for keeping yourself motivated and guiding you to actually put the ideas into practice.
There are a good few hours of content to go through, and much more than that if you do all of the homework assignments along the way. There’s a wide range and breadth of topics covered by the time you come to the end of it.
What I Liked and Didn't Like
Having done the other courses in the Masters of Photography bundle, I would say that this was not my favorite (Joel Meyerowitz holds that title). This is not to say that this course is not valuable – there was a lot to enjoy, and some really great tips that I picked up along the way.
One of the highlights for me was watching Watson work with a male model towards the end of the course. He put together a basic setup, gave the model a number of sparing instructions, and captured some really stunning portraits that took my breath away. This was done with just a single bulb light, which was so inspiring to see.
I didn’t learn too many specific tips from discussions of Watson’s own work, even though these stories were fascinating – with the exceptions of a few that really stood out, such as taking images of reflected photographs in water and oil to make a surreal look. When he goes into the technical or specific about how a shot was done, I was scrambling to write down pages of notes! This is when the course really shines.
If you are already a fan of Watson’s work, you will really appreciate this deep dive into his mind and his projects over time. There’s a lot of information to take in, and I would recommend this course to anyone looking into portraiture or commercial photography in particular. If you are thinking about spending the rest of your life as a photographer, there is a lot to take away.