Review: Masters of Photography: Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz is Yoda.

That’s what I said to myself 20 minutes into his new MasterClass offered by Masters Of Photography. We rarely get to learn from the true legends of photography. And maybe that’s a good thing, because the best photographers aren’t always good teachers. So let’s dig in and see exactly what Joel Meyerowitz offers as an instructor.

About Joel Meyerowitz

Bronx-born Joel is one of the greatest street photographers to ever pick up a camera. He’s received two Guggenheim Fellowship Awards, the National Endowment for the Arts award, and has had over 350 exhibitions of his work. He’s also published 25 books. And while he’s best known for his classic New York street photography, Joel has an incredible body of documentary, landscape, portrait, and still life photography.

What You Get

The Joel Meyerowitz Masterclass includes 34 streaming video lessons, totalling about five and a half hours. Each video has an accompanying PDF study sheet with a video transcript, and some have assignments included. The transcripts are incredibly convenient, though I’d have liked the ability to download them all as a single document so I could read it on the subway.

You access the course on the Mastersof.Photography site, which is clean, simple, and well-organized. Here’s what the main navigation screen looks like:

I only found one issue with the navigation: to mark a lesson as complete, you must download the PDF study sheet. This is a little annoying on a mobile device, where you may just want to breeze from one video to the next. I completed every video, but I’m shown at 29% because I didn’t download the study sheets.

And here is what the video screen looks like:

Of course, you can maximize the video to fill your screen. And the site works great on mobile devices. Below each video, you’ll find its description and a link to download the related study sheet. Underneath, there is a comments section, and then the entire lesson plan so you can skip around to other videos. The video quality is beautiful. Kudos to the cinematography team. I’ve never seen a photography tutorial that looked this good.

What You’ll Learn from Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz will not teach you to set your camera. But he will help you set your eyes. Much of the online discussion about this class has occurred in the street photography community. Yes, street photography is covered. But it’s not a ‘pure’ street photography class.

At the very beginning, Joel says:

“You’ve probably asked yourself, what am I going to get from this course? What am I taking this course for? I think you’re going to get a lot out of it, because it’s about finding your identity, your identity as an artist and as a human being who is interested in the world around you.”

‘Finding your identity‘ – those are the three words that best sum up this course.

Through a series of live shooting situations (my favorite part) and lectures, Joel teaches us to use our eyes more effectively. I won’t spoil the lessons by giving too much detail. But the real treasure of this class is watching Joel:

  • Break down a scene into elements
  • Turn those elements into beauty and order

And we see Joel do this in places like the streets of New York, the Italian countryside, and inside his studio.

On the lecture side, Joel illuminates subjects like creating a project, composition, the observation of light, black & white vs. color, printing, editing one’s work, and making a book. There are also critiques of student work, which admittedly didn’t do much for me.

Joel’s Teaching Style

I spend an awful lot of time and money on online education, in both photography and other realms. So what sets Joel apart? Well, I felt like he was talking directly me. Every teacher in a video course tries to give that impression, but I’ve never felt it quite like this. Joel is intense (in a purely positive way). Earlier, I said this class is really about “finding your identity,” Joel clearly cares about that. It’s like he’s been compiling all this material in his for decades, and was just waiting for the right time to package it all together.

Is Joel Meyerowitz’ Class For You?

When I write reviews, I typically list pros and cons to help readers make the right decision for them. But honestly, I found little to dislike with this class. The student critiques were a little boring, and I didn’t care much for the printing chapter. But thankfully, those were only a small part of the course. Obviously, I loved this class. But here’s the reality: I can’t recommend it to everyone.

This is not a good class for photographers looking for a cookbook-style guide to better pictures. If that’s what you’re looking for, just pick up Scott Kelby’s excellent ‘The Digital Photography Book.’ Joel’s class was great for me, because I don’t need to learn about f stops and shutter speeds. I want to develop my creative identity, and my ability to see. So again, if you want purely technical lessons on camera settings and gear choices, do not take this class. It’s not for you. And if you want a hardcore street photography course, it’s also not for you (though there is street shooting in this course).

But if you want see better… this class is for you. If you want to make the most of every photographic situation – whether you’re in a street, documentary, portraiture, landscape, or still life situation – this class is unparalleled. There is nothing like it out there. Joel is also incredibly motivating. As I said before, I’m not going to spoil any of Joel’s lessons. But it’s easy to forget what photography is all about: the simple joy of seeing. There are beautiful people and objects all around you, and Joel can help you see and capture them.

I also think this class is a gem for beginning photographers frustrated by a lack of progress. Even if you’re shooting on an iPhone or a Canon Rebel set to Program mode, you’ll start seeing more clearly, and making more informed choices. And if you’re a grizzled vet looking for new directions? Give Joel a shot.

Final Verdict

At $170, this class isn’t cheap. But if you take the leap, and you really embrace Joel’s teachings, expect to feel a lasting impact on the quality of your photographs, and your enjoyment in creating them. Whether that’s worth $170 to you, I can’t say. But it seems like people are quite happy with this class. The comments under each video inside the course are virtually all positive.

I give this course a full 5/5 star rating. It ranks up there with the best of the best in photography education, including my favorite books Gregory Heisler’s 50 Portraits and Annie Leibovitz’ At Work. Now excuse me… I suddenly feel very motivated to go out and shoot! Thank you for reading this review! If you have any questions, pop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.