Learning From Steve McCurry's Iconic 'Afghan Girl' Photograph

One of the defining photographers of our time, and recently one of the most controversial, is without a doubt Steve McCurry. His strong use of color and ability to tell a story visually have won him places in some of the world's most celebrated magazines, galleries, and photographic collections, and his image "Afghan Girl" is among his most well-known works.

YouTuber Ted Forbes of The Art of Photography has just begun a new series on the intention of the photographer and what we can learn from the work of others. In this episode, he talks about using color with intention. The key example he gives is McCurry's "Afghan Girl" and how the limited color palette plays into making the image so striking. Once the yellow box of National Geographic is removed from the image, there are really only two dominant colors remaining and that really helps us to focus on the penetrating gaze of the subject. 

In the follow-up video below, Forbes looks at the story of the creation of this iconic photograph and also an alternate version of it shot by McCurry in his short time with the girl in the photo. McCurry is truly a master of the craft and there is plenty we can learn from him. These videos begin to scratch the surface of just one of his images. 

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4 Comments

Oliver Saillard's picture

Very interesting. I've got the feeling that "color palette" is the next area where I've got to improve, and I like the concept that it should be engrained in your brain so that it's not even a conscious decision anymore.

And this is probablye the photography I've love the most, and the one which made me consider portrait photography as art.

Michael McCray's picture

Sometimes the intention is just getting the shot and you hit a home run out of the park every once in awhile. I took a photograph of a young girl holding a baby and walked away during the Soviet Afghan War, I was lucky violating some Afghans values. You look at W. Eugene Smith, Eddie Adams, Robert Capa and others iconic pieces, right time, right place then analysed to death.

Anonymous's picture

Mr. McCurry has indeed good pictutes, but he also has this:
https://petapixel.com/2016/05/06/botched-steve-mccurry-print-leads-photo...

Leigh Smith's picture

Which is fine as long as it's only considered "art" and not "journalism".