Review: Masters of Photography With Albert Watson

Masters of Photography is back again with a new online course. This time you will be given in-depth knowledge from the prestigious fashion and portrait photographer, Albert Watson.

From the first minute I picked up a camera I had that passion. And when I was shooting last week I still had that passion” says Watson. An opening statement that gives the student reassurance they’re about to learn from someone still enthusiastic about the art form. With our excitement bubbling over, let’s take a deeper look at Albert Watson’s Masters of Photography course…

An Introduction to Albert Watson

Before we get stuck into the course content, let’s first take a look at who Albert Watson is. Born in 1942, Watson is a Scottish photographer who has been featured in some of the biggest publications on the planet. His has shot 100 covers for Vogue, 40 for Rolling Stone and has been the centre point of marketing campaigns for Prada, Chanel and Levis.

On top of his commercial work, Watson has held solo exhibitions in 15 different countries. Most notably in the National Portrait Gallery (London),  Deichtorhallen (Hamburg) and Galeria Hartmann (Barcelona). Simply put, if you didn’t know already, Albert Watson is a big deal.

Now to the course.

Table of Contents

The course is split into 54 lessons and has a running time of 6 and 45 minutes. The good news is that this course is yours to keep forever. Allowing you to go at your own pace and to revisit all the content should you wish.

The lessons are as followers:

  • 1 Meet Your Master
  • 2 Learn From The Journey
  • 3 Using Inspirations
  • 4 Photography is Stopping Time
  • 5 Albert’s Libary of Ideas
  • 6 Tips on Preparing for a Portrait Shoot
  • 7 Setting up The Studio
  • 8 Understanding Studio Collaboration
  • 9 The Importance of Casting And Hair & Make-Up
  • 10 Foreground Studio Set Up
  • 11 Studio Session With a Model (Set up 1)
  • 12 Studio Session With a Model (Set up 2)
  • 13 Studio Session With a Model (Set up 3)
  • 14 Picking The Best Shot
  • 15 Working With Photoshop
  • 16 Creating a Portrait of Alfred Hitchcock
  • 17 The Gigantic Question – Colour or Black & White
  • 18 One Day With Kate Moss
  • 19 Learn to Have Your Ideas Ready
  • 20 Using Polaroids
  • 21 Creating Beautiful Photographs of Hands
  • 22 Controlling Natural Light
  • 23 Shooting a Monkey With a Gun (Not literally!)
  • 24 Choosing Your Format
  • 25 Composition And Lens
  • 26 Shooting Landscapes. The Isle of Skye
  • 27 Planning And Ideas For a Landscape Shoot
  • 28 Creating Still Life Images
  • 29 Photographing the Lost Diary
  • 30 Shooting Album Covers
  • 31 The Strip Search Project
  • 32 Shooting Las Vegas Landscapes
  • 33 Photographing Breaunna
  • 34 Balancing Daylight – God Bless America
  • 35 Creating The Maroc Project
  • 36 Creating the Maroc Shoot
  • 37 Photographing Sand Dunes
  • 38 Photographing Moroccan Children
  • 39 Advice on Making Portraits
  • 40 How to be Alert to Finding Photographs
  • 41 Making a Portrait of Mike Tyson
  • 42 Creating Intense Colour in a Photograph
  • 43 Portraits of Rap Stars And a Golden Boy
  • 44 Photographing Jack Nicholson
  • 45 Creating a Portrait of David Cronenberg
  • 46 How to Light Only Using Two $10 bulbs
  • 47 Studio Fashion Set up 4
  • 48 Studio Session With a Model. The Geography of a Face
  • 49 Look Inside The Picture
  • 50 Creating Memorability in an Image
  • 51 Combining Nudes And Landscapes
  • 52 A Perfect Print
  • 53 The Business Side of Things
  • 54 Conclusion And Farewell

To be frank, that’s a lot of content and topics covered. For those who may feel overwhelmed by the amount of study, do remember you can go in and out of this at a pace that is best for you. We like that the course covers many topics – you may find you only wish to do the lessons that are relevant to you.

Whilst the course is in 54 parts, the average time of each lesson is around 7 minutes in length.

Course Design And Usability

The standard of the production is extremely high. When viewing the course content you certainly get a feeling of premium quality – cementing this as a serious course for the serious student. The design of the user interface is clean and minimalist, meaning you won’t be overwhelmed by multiple graphics popping up on your screen. While basic, that’s perfect as it does not distract from the quality of the content – the most important part of any photography course.

“The novice photographer may be surprised to find out that Watson does not sit in a room on his own when editing his photos. In fact, he sits next to a professional retoucher and tells them what to do in Photoshop.”

The course is extremely simple to use, with the key navigation points easy to find. If you want to skip a lesson, you’ll find See Lesson Plan above each video, this brings you to the table of contents where you can select your next topic. For each lesson, you have the option to download a study sheet. We really like this touch, as it’s perfect for those that want to review and revise the content in written word when they are not in a position to watch the video.

The Portrait Tutorial Highlights

To spare you from a play by play of all 54 lessons, we’re going to cover some of the highlights that we feel make this course an attractive option to potential students.

Tips on Preparing For a Photoshoot – What makes someone a master? For us, it’s someone that is able to go beyond the obvious. Watson kicks this lesson off with the importance of researching your subjects – especially if they’re well known. Learn to understand what makes them tick, create a strong dialogue with them. As Watson says “You have to go further than ‘oh yes that’s beautiful’ often there needs to be more”. He references small touches, like getting Al Pacino his favourite coffee. Helping a subject feel comfortable makes a big difference – to them and to the quality of your images.

Studio Set up With a Model – In this lesson, you get a great insight into the meticulous detail Watson goes into when shooting a portrait. What may seem like a solid portrait to the untrained eye, will be broken down and improved. He instantly reviews each frame that he takes. And then clearly explains any amendments that need to be made – making it easy for the viewer to understand. Watson demonstrates how a subtle change to the light and the pose play a key role in getting better shots.

Working With Photoshop – The novice photographer may be surprised to find out that Watson does not sit in a room on his own when editing his photos. In fact, he sits next to a professional retoucher and tells them what to do in photoshop. This is not uncommon for someone of his status. We’re given a great opportunity to understand the amount of time that is taken when editing a photograph. A better explanation of some of the editing terms would make this section stronger, as the novice photographer may not understand exactly what is meant and could see it as jargon.

The Landscape Tutorials

When Watson is not in the studio, he can be found exploring the world, working on personal projects. By his own admission, however, he says “I’m not really a landscape photographer but I do enjoy photographing landscapes”.  Not the most inspiring of lines when you have paid for a course, but it must be said that he does produce quality work.

In this section of the course, Watson takes us through one his most famous projects, Las Vegas. He speaks fondly of his relationship with the city and how he used that as inspiration to do the series. He carefully breaks down each shot, telling us which lens was used and why. It’s a valuable peek into his creative process.

We believe that a large part of the success of any project comes from the planning. That’s why we were pleased to see a lesson dedicated to planning a landscape shoot. Unfortunately, this lesson did not deliver to the standard that it should have. Whilst Watson said it was important to plan, and told us how long it took to plan a project (one year), he failed to go into any great detail about his planning process. The idea was right, but the delivery should have been so much more.

Course Delivery

They have split the course between interviews and hands-on tutorials. We feel the balance is done well and that Watson is a compelling photographer to listen to. He well executes his delivery of the content, and the conviction in what he says builds confidence within us. It would have been nice for him to better explain more complex terms and not assume everyone would know what he was talking about. That said, Watson is very detailed about processes and we do benefit from seeing him at work – giving us a real-life perspective of a portrait photographer.

Conclusion and Cost

This certainly is a high-end course. We have to commend the amount of thought, detail and time that has gone into creating this course. The content is varied and kept our interest. Listening to Watson is like listening to a wise man’s’ stories – you could do it for hours!

Whilst the landscape sections will appeal to his dedicated fans, we are still unsure if it was slight overkill in the course. We’re sure Masters of Photography was trying to mix things up, but to go from portrait to landscape and then back to portrait seemed a little disjointed. If you’re someone who is unfamiliar with his landscape work, you may have appreciated a more specialized landscape photographer to learn from.

It was interesting to see him work with different celebrities.  The manner in which he was able to manage different personalities and adapt his approach was truly admirable.

The course was so compelling, at times we forgot we had the task of reviewing it. We soon became invested in the teachings and felt like we were students ourselves. Learning new skills definitely gave us inspiration and direction to improve our own work.

The cost of the course is around $165, that’s less than 30 bucks an hour. For the production value, ease of use and quality of content, we really can’t argue with that price.

As an overall scoring, we’re giving this course 4 out of 5 stars.

More more details and to purchase the course, please visit the Masters of Photography website.

Dan Ginn is a UK based street photographer and writer. Learn more about him via his website and Instagram.