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Photographing the Lost Diary

Lesson 29 from: Masters of Photography

Albert Watson

Photographing the Lost Diary

Lesson 29 from: Masters of Photography

Albert Watson

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Lesson Info

29. Photographing the Lost Diary

Albert shows you how one simple idea can blossom into the creation of true art. An entire advertising campaign was based on his magical concept: that of an intergalactic anthropologist’s photographic diary, depicting tribes on earth 30,000 years ago. Discover how he brought this unique vision to life.


Class Trailer

Meet your Master


Learn from the journey


Using inspirations


Photography is stopping time


Albert's library of ideas


Tips on preparing for a portrait shoot


Setting up the studio


Understanding studio collaboration


The importance of casting and hair & make-up


Foreground studio set up


Studio session with a model - set up 1


Studio session with a model - set up 2


Studio session with a model - set up 3


Picking the best shot


Working with photoshop


Creating a portrait of Alfred Hitchcock


The gigantic question... Colour or black and white?


One day with Kate Moss


Learn to have your ideas ready


Using Polariods


Creating beautiful photographs of hands


Controlling natural light


Shooting a monkey with a gun


Choosing your format


Composition and lens


Shooting landscapes. The Isle of Skye


Planning and ideas for a landscape shoot


Creating still life images


Photographing the Lost Diary


Shooting album covers


The Strip Search Project


Shooting Las Vegas landscapes


Photographing Breaunna


Balancing daylight, God bless America


Creating the Maroc Project


Creating the Maroc shoot


Photographing sand dunes


Photographing Moroccan children


Advice on making portraits


How to be alert to finding photographs


Making a portrait of Mike Tyson


Creating intense colour in a photograph


Portraits of rap stars and a Golden Boy


Photographing Jack Nicholson


Creating a portrait of David Cronenberg


How to light only using two $10 bulbs


Studio fashion set up 4


Studio session with a model. The geography of a face


Look inside the picture


Creating memorability in an image


Combining nudes and landscapes


A perfect print


The business side of things


Conclusion and farewell


Lesson Info

Photographing the Lost Diary

(intense music) Control of an advertising campaign is of course a dream in a way, because very often you're confronted with advertising that's already been talked about, drawn about for eight months, 10 months, sometimes a year, and they bring you in a drawing and that's what you end up doing. Every so often you get a little bit lucky and people come to you a little bit open, they have sometimes a small idea, and they come to you for an idea. So sometimes you get lucky. So the good news is they don't have a firm idea, but however, the bad news is they don't have a firm idea. And the reason for that is you better be prepared. Now, if you're prepared, then it's a double win situation. So this company came in, the actual owner of the company himself came in, not an advertising agency, but the owner. So that was a positive. And it's a company called H.Stern, the jewelers. Now they're a Brazilian company that deal in semi-precious stones that come out of Brazil and they do very ethnically...

kind of driven elegant jewelry. And they're Brazilian, Brazilian owners and people and everything like that. So they came in for a meeting and I had had thought about what I was gonna say at this meeting. And they came in with a very non-idea idea, which was we'd like to photograph the jewelry on models. Which, once again, it's a little bit like when you get an idea like that, you kind of say I bet they were up all night thinking up that idea. And so I had fortunately something prepared that I took a chance with and to see if we could do it as a campaign, worldwide campaign. So I started off, they said well what do you wanna do? And I said well, imagine, and this is sometimes you see the expression on people's faces, it's sometimes shocking when you start to tell them an idea, but you have to keep going. And I said well imagine a space traveler, that's how it began, and he visited earth 30,000 years ago. And he was an anthropologist and he was here and he photographed many of the different races that were on the surface of the earth at that time. And really, who knows what was going on 30,000 years ago? And so he made this diary and he was moving on to another part of the galaxy and he actually lost this diary. Now imagine then that we found this diary buried somewhere on the planet and why don't we recreate this diary? And of course by this time their eyes are like saucers and they had no idea what the hell was going on. And I said and what we can do is we can create different races. So what we are saying is that on the planet at that time 30,000 years ago, there were some very sophisticated people who worshiped bees and therefore, they lived on honey. And everything was to do with foliage and flowers. And that's what they worshiped, insects, with the primary insect being the bee. So the they're the bee people. And then another group are Neanderthals and they're cave dwellers and they basically are surrounded by bones and roughness and rocks and rawness. And then there are a group of people who worship bats and they are the bat people. So I went on and on and on and I gave them all those different examples of different races. And I said this is the trick, I said here probably in your campaign you can probably do 20 pieces for your campaign of jewelry in the campaign that you're giving me. I said what I can do for you here with this diary and with this campaign the way I'll shoot it, is I can offer you as much as two to 300 pieces that you'll show that and make it part of an advertising campaign. So of course at that point their eyes lit up, they thought wow, they get all these pieces in? So I felt that this anthropologist could lay down many, many pieces on a piece of paper, like he could put down six rings, he could put down four necklaces, a bracelet. And of course, I can shoot some of that jewelry which is ethnic-based and looks quite ethnicy, he would've put that on the people or they already were wearing those pieces. And so I can shoot real people, I can shoot models, and absolutely make this whole thing come together. Now, they in the end had a meeting and they absolutely loved it as an idea. I think the selling point was of course that I was able to get so many pieces of product into it for them. But I knew that at this point I didn't have a clear idea of all the groups and the different races. And then I knew that I could get some pretty good graphic designers to put the diary together and we'd actually make the diary, there would be something called the lost diary. And we could even put galactic maps in it and stuff like that. And they loved all of that, they thought it was fantastic. But what I needed here was a truly superb, gifted makeup artist, hairdresser, and stylist wrapped into one. And I found this wonderful woman called Michel Voyski who was just absolutely a sensational makeup artist, gigantically creative like a real artist makeup artist. And I knew that discussing with her a budget for all of the props and clothing and all of that kind of raw stuff that we needed, I knew that she could pull this together in a matter of two weeks. So I immediately got her involved in this. And to be quite honest, the project would not have turned out the way that it turned out unless I had had her there doing all of this work. But at the same time, I had to be there controlling her and absolutely making sure that the thing didn't get out of hand and that it still worked as a project. And the project was simply really a smashing success. It was one of the better things that we ever did, because it gave me an excuse to take a small Japanese lady, for example, cover her with color and different makeup and peacock feathers, and it made absolute sense in the story. So you could be absolutely quite radical with everything that you were doing. I could take someone that was a bookseller, someone I knew that sold books in a bookstore, and I brought him and basically gave him a metallic green face and covered him with butterflies. So there were these endless things that you could do and here's an advertising campaign that was gonna go out and go into a supplement in New York Times, but you could put all of these things together and create powerful, artistic images. And it all came from a simple idea, a lost diary. So don't give up on these things. Sometimes you end up photographing a drawing that somebody made six months before, other times you can search for projects like this and create projects like this. But as long as you have a philosophy for something like that, that you get into the habit of coming up with ideas and concept. I was lucky, remember, I was a graphic designer. And I had concept, concept forced down my throat when I as at art college. So I was a little bit more used to coming up with ideas, I had been forced to do that early on in my life. So this is just an example of a simple idea that could be turned into something that is widely creative, widely creative. As far as the way that I photographed these objects and people, I decided the idea was so strong that I didn't need to get too complicated with the lighting. And I opted for a fairly clean light that had a little bit of contrast built into it, but it was a clean light. And I kept very consistently the light, because I imagined that the person that was doing these pictures was this anthropologist and he was not a photographer. So therefore, why not just think that if you look at a lot of pictures by anthropologists, they just basically put someone against the wall and shoot them and that's the way it is. So I followed that and kept the shots very, very simple, very, very clean. It was all shot on four by five film and so I had a quality in there that was very, very nice. I used a couple of different lenses on it, but essentially it was a very simple approach because the images were so strong that I didn't really need to add a second and third and fourth layer with lighting to try and say okay, the lighting's doing all the work here. In this case here, the subject in front of the camera, the way it was being presented to me and the way that we created the imagery was so powerful and so strong that a simple light was what really worked best. (intense music)

Ratings and Reviews

Richard A. Heckler

"Unless you're Mozart"...this course is an invaluable asset. I'm a pro, humanitarian/documentary photographer, & wilderness...and I've learned much from the 40+ sessions here. This is truly a Master best thing to being with Albert. And although I could watch studio sessions forever, this course offered a very balanced curriculum of technical information, artistic encouragement and guidance, and a open, generous window into the thinking of a gifted artist and photographer, sifted from decades of first class experience. Kudos to all involved. Excellent!

a Creativelive Student

I purchased my first CreativeLive class in 2011 and have continued to purchase many classes over the years. I have learned so much from the many great instructors. This one is not a technical class that will tell you to set your camera at f4, 1/60, ISO 400 and you can get this shot. If you are looking for that, there are many other options. If you have a solid working knowledge of photography, this class is so much more. The way it was filmed is like you are there with him in conversation or in the room with him watching him shoot. To see and understand the how and why he does what he does. Not to take anything away from other classes that have helped to give me a strong understanding of photography, this is my favorite CreativeLive class so far.

Student Work