Ep 81 What you can learn from the masters


In a world full of Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr and Google images, it’s easy to come across amazing photography from regular people. But it is also very worthwhile to invest some time discovering – or re-discovering – the masters of photography.

In this episode, Gina and Valerie discuss true icons of the photographic world – on how they shaped the way we see things, what you can learn from them, and how you can adapt their style in your own images.

#ginachallenge #masters

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Show notes


Paul Chapman
Tried some self-portraits today. First time shooting tethered which made it sooo much easier. Took a few with my umbrella box and square softbox but it was quite tricky to get a shot without reflection.
So I Macgyvered a new modifier with a milk bottle (see photo) and got a nice, soft, warm light and because it was quite small it was easier to keep the reflection out of my glasses.

Image Paul Chapman
Above: Image Paul Chapman
Above: Image Paul Chapman
Above: Image Paul Chapman

Time lapse from Valerie’s office

Regular podcast listeners will know that Valerie promised to share a time lapse from her office so you can see the view.
From Valerie: “Ok so I propped my iPhone against a shoe in order to keep it in the right spot. But as you’ll see from the footage, as soon as I left my iPhone to do its thing, it fell off the shoe! So we have a wonky time lapse here. It wasn’t one of the amazing sunsets but you’ll get the idea.”

To combat this issue in the future, Valerie has bought a tripod for her iPhone. See here:

Valeries iPhone tripod

The best photography lessons from the masters

“You can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been”

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
– John Wooden

Studying the work and philosophies of photographers that are the masters of their genre is one of the best ways to improve your photography

Once you have all the technical skills is when the real education begins

Knowing how to expose, compose and where to put the lights is what makes an image good

Greatness is all the extra little things a master learns by honing their skills.

Robert Capa

Above: Image Robert Capa
Above: Image Robert Capa

“If your picture isn’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Hungarian war photographer Robert Capa changed the style of war photography by getting in the trenches with the soldiers.
In World War II he photographed battles in Africa, Sicily, and Italy for Life magazine

He wasn’t just observing what was happening he was living it.

He co-founded Magnum Photos with Henri Cartier-Bresson.

He died at age 41 stepping on a landmine.

What can you learn from his style of photography?

If you’re photographing an event be part of it.

  • A wedding can be photographed as someone on the sidelines or you can put the viewer in the picture.
  • Sit at the table next to someone and shoot with a wide lens
  • Be at eye level with a toddler while she plays with her new puppy
  • Put yourself in the middle of a crowded room, on a train etc.

Annie Leibovitz

Yoko and John Lennon image was pitched on the day of the shoot

He saw the polaroids of the shot. John was killed that night.

Annie thought about the subject and planned her shoots. She convinces celebrities to show a side of themselves that have never been seen before

Above: Portrait of Demi Moore by Annie Leibovitz
Above: Portrait of Demi Moore by Annie Leibovitz
Above: Bette Midler shot by Annie Leibovitz
Above: Bette Midler shot by Annie Leibovitz

What to learn from Annie?

Tell us something we don’t already know

Herb Ritts

One of the best photographers of the 20th century

  • Grew up in LA
  • Started and LA style
  • Worked outside
  • Used natural elements
  • His nudes were not sexual rather sculptural > His images looked like classical gods. He understood sculpture and art history
  • Loved texture and sexiness
  • Understood light of LA
  • Certain times of the year it was softer/harder
  • Loved to shoot between 3 and 6pm
  • Loved hard light /gives life but is very difficult to shoot in
  • “Not where you put the light it’s where you put the shadow”

Madonna on being “Herbified”:

It goes a little something like this: He talks you into going to the beach. Then, he talks you into taking off your clothes. He talks you into dancing and frolicking in the sand like an idiot. He talks you into getting into the freezing cold ocean, and before you know it, you have a sunburn and you’re freezing your ass off and you’re sure you’ve just made a huge fool out of yourself.

  • He shot without tripod because he wanted to follow the action.
  • He just knew the right angle.
  • His work has been copied to death. People can get the light,pose but you can’t copy the connection that a photographer has for a subject

What can you learn from Herb?

  • Herb worked with hard light and a very simple set up
  • He worked hard to connect with his subjects
  • Every photo was for him

Richard Avedon

Above: image by Richard Avedon He worked at Harper's, for 20 years "Dovima with Elephants."
Above: image by Richard Avedon He worked at Harper’s, for 20 years “Dovima with Elephants.”
Above: Image by Richard Avedon who photographed his dying father
Above: Image by Richard Avedon who photographed his dying father
Above: Image of Nastassja Kinski and snake by Richard Avedon
Above: Image of Nastassja Kinski and snake by Richard Avedon


  • Photographs the things he was afraid of
  • His portraits explored his dark side
  • The things he was afraid of.
  • Look for contradiction and complexity in the human face
  • Learn to read faces
  • He says in another life he may have been a mind reader
  • A great portrait photographer knows how to connect with their model
  • Sees the subtle shifts in expression
  • Knows the difference between real and fake emotion
  • Practice this skill with friends, family and waiters
  • Are they being authentic or just going through the motions?

Robert Frank


Robert Frank quote 2

Above: Image by Robert Frank, Parade - Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955
Above: Image by Robert Frank, Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955
Above: Image by Robert Frank
Above: Image by Robert Frank
  • The indecisive moment energy
  • Became known as a gunslinger with a camera
  • The publication The Americans from 1955/56 roadtrip changed the way the world saw America and art photography
  • After WW11 America was seen in magazines in a beautiful “Life” magazine style
  • Frank’s work portrayed an America that was: bleak/disengaged, isolated

Developed this template where you have one or two people in an image isolated by elements in their environment.

  • A window of a car
  • A doorway
  • These become metaphors for lonely people trapped in social circumstances

He appeared to have little regard for clean framing of his images

  • Cut of heads
  • Split bodies
  • Shot at funky angles

Frank was also passed over by Magnum, the elite consortium of photographers led by Robert Capa: ‘‘Capa said my pictures were too horizontal, and magazines were vertical.’’
‘‘It was the beginning of that kind of photography that Robert did, seemingly sloppy, but not — and very emotional. The acceptable pictures then were sharp and technically excellent. But the pictures of Robert Frank were very different.’’

Robert Frank Shooting

The take aways

  • Look for metaphors
  • Isolate the most important part of the image
  • Break the rules
  • Change your angle of view
  • Play with the indecisive moment

#ginachallenge #masters


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Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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