Becoming a Photographer

When people ask me how they can become a photographer, I almost never mention cameras, lenses,  or technique. 

I say, ‘If you want to be a photographer, first leave home.’ As Paul Theroux, a great writer and friend, further advises, “Go as far as you can. Become a stranger in a strange land. Acquire humility.

Leaving home really means that the photographer (or writer) has to wander, observe, and to paraphrase Theroux, concentrate on people in their landscape. That is what I try to achieve in my pictures.

44 Responses to “Becoming a Photographer”

  1. Reblogged this on Mou Ikkai and commented:
    I always wonder, Indeed. I’m lack of it

  2. Very powerful words…..

  3. I hope that I can travel outside of the bubble that I am in to experience new things like you have. (after I buy a camera and graduate college, of course)

  4. Reblogged this on Isroi's Photography and commented:
    Steve McCurry say:

  5. You and your blog is inspiring to me. I always enjoy every your pictures.

  6. I find your photos to be the most inspiring among many i have seen you reach into the humanity before seeing and it shows at the surface of your art. It isn’t common in the world bombarded with countless images to find real gems yet easily your way of seeing our world inspires me to look at it with a different eye not to mention photography.

    • I usually don’t have to go out of my neighborhood to see a photo ready for the making. I take interesting photos off of my balcony. Home is an excellent place to learn your equipment and try out compositions and lighting.
      Being ready and alert is my method.

  7. “…concentrate on people in their landscape…” and that is definitely what you achieve in your work!

  8. You are my best photographer! Your photography changed my life. In fact your work changed my way of thinking. Now I got real Humanity Feelings because of you. May Allah give you more; more success; satisfaction in your life.

  9. Thanks for this advice :)

  10. Wander and observe to discover the photographer/ writer in you? Its pointing towards the meditative nature of photography. Once a person takes up photography I think most of them can just disconnect with the real world in seconds while wandering around with their camera.

    My grandpa (now 86 years old) was an avid photographer and his first camera was a Dacora 1 in 1950s. He used to recite this little rhyme when I was a kid on our photography expeditions.

    “So many stories can one picture tell,
    so many stories one picture can make,
    the characters in it dismiss it as a glimpse of their daily life,
    then why are we so fascinated with stills of others lives?
    Do you not see o my sweet child? The eye behind the camera is unraveling a story filled with its own mystery.”

  11. Yes Agree with Steve,
    we want to know about other people when we are become a stranger, becouse we see so many strange things in our new circumstances.

  12. maybe some folks not agreed with your thought that to become a photographer we have to leave home. i’m totally agree with you! if we start to travel to the other side of place that we never been before, our mind, our perspective will learn about the new art in other peoples life. there so many culture and beauty that we can’t find if just sit and relax in our home! there so many places got magical itself and it is wasting our life if we do not try to explore it! :D

  13. Do you really have to leave home to observe people? Maybe, because the people will be different, it will open your eyes no doubt! But have you really looked at the people around you? They may be much more complex then we take them for granted for!

  14. William Liew Says:

    Hi Steve, Simple words that is yet so inspiring and impactful, missed your visit to Singapore, hope you will return soon. Do come over visit Malaysia, perhaps a workshop for your Malaysian fans?

  15. [...] Steve McCurry – I can’t remember how I stumbled onto his blog, but I did, and what a life this guy has led. I loved this quote, from his very brief post ‘Becoming a Photographer‘: [...]

  16. Linda Ozag Says:

    The late great Eliot Porter told me that photographic moments are everywhere. When you’re out walking and see/feel something special, turn around 180 degrees and check out that moment/feeling too.

  17. Dear Mr. McCurry,

    I have been following your photography since I was a child. You are my favourite photographer ever since…

    Took your advice and I am leaving home for Syria. Have been around Turkey (homeland) myself couple of times but never been in an another country to photograph. I am hopeful and have amazing ideas on my mind.

    Thank you very much for the inspiration.
    Best regards.

    MH

  18. With the style of “street” portraits that you are known for, Do you usually ask the subject if you can take their portrait, or do you do it spontaneously without asking them first. I am unsure of which is the ‘best’ way to take these types of photos to avoid of the consequences of not asking the subject before snapping a photo of them, such as them getting upset or angry.

  19. Linda Ozag Says:

    Hello Steve,
    I just discovered your blog today. I have been taken on a trip into your magical mind. I will be following your adventures!! Take care, your vision is an absolute treat. Wonderland is all around.

  20. Cool site, love the info.

  21. Do you have to leave home? Annie Liebowitz said start with home. I guess there are so many ways to develop one’s eye. I am lucky that I live in a fascinating city, I guess.

    BTW, I am glad to have found your blog. I have been a fan for years. Saw you out in Washington Square park yesterday. Plan to do one of your workshops! Did not know that you offered them until I spoke with an attendee in the park yesterday.

  22. sooyeon han Says:

    Hello.
    I’m korean, 21 years old. I’m majoring at photograpy.
    I frequently visit your homepage to see the picture. Always I receive deep impression. My most favorite phtographer is you. Your pictures gjve something attractive and power to me. I hope take a picture like you.
    Probably you realize clumsy this a sentenced. Because I am not good at english. I can feel you from your image, although I can’t completely understanding your writing.. I will step by one of these day. I glad to write you a reply. Thank you!

  23. my motto is if you will have boring life you will have boring pictures.
    But I have a boring life right now, love keeps me in warm save home. Love over a photography and adventure. It’s all about the choices.
    Nice to see you blogging mr. McCurry. I hope you will keep it alive.

  24. Thank you for sharing these words and thought. You and Paul Theroux have both been great influences in my life. Thank you!

  25. dojoklo Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your philosophy. I once headed off to Peru, with Theroux’s words written in the front of my notebook and a new DSLR, to see if I could “be a photographer.” Four months later I returned home, fully confident that I was on my way to becoming one. http://www.dojoklo.com

  26. Hello,

    May I be so bold to ask you your thoughts on my photos (www.myspace.com/earthseed0314)? You’ll see that you are my inspiration. I’m sure you too busy, but I had to try :)

  27. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. When I came to the US all the way from Argentina in 2002, I started understanding this new environment by going out with a camera in hand. By going places I wouldn’t have gone without a camera, I found those unexpected moments that surround us all the time.

    Best,

    Matías

  28. siva prabu Says:

    hello sir ….
    those words are really very inspiring….

  29. very well said!

  30. I packed my bags, left home and went half way round the world to find a new life. But I’ve been here too long, and am back in the comfort zone, you mention. Perhaps the best thing is to leave home and keep on moving :)

  31. [...] the latest entry, for example, titled simply Becoming a Photographer: When people ask me how they can become a photographer, I almost never mention cameras, lenses, [...]

  32. What a great surprise… Your photos already were a great inspiration for me, and now I have a also chance to read your thoughts (and comment about it).

    I’ve added your link to my website, to make sure some of my fellows also find this amazing little blog then learn to know better you and your works.

    Cheers… And keep kicking ass in the name of art and history!

  33. Steve,

    I’ve been looking over your workshops and I’m curious about your Myanmar Expedition. The trip looks incredible and I’m wonder what your attraction is to the area? Kind regards, John

    • Steve McCurry Says:

      I think Burma is one of the most fascinating countries in Southeast Asia. If you wonder what, say Thailand, Singapore, or Malaysia would have been like 50 years ago, there’s a good chance you will see that in Burma. I’ve always been fascinated by Buddhist cultures like Tibet, Bhutan, or Laos. The wonderful thing about Burma is that Buddhism is such a strong part of peoples’ life there. Many people participate in the life of the monastery and many festivals and holidays revolve around Buddhist themes. One of my favorite places in the world is Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. In the evening, people come and circumambulate and light candles. It’s quite a moving experience and I try to spend part of an afternoon and an evening there on each trip. There are many parts of the world where photography is difficult. People are either too curious as Henri Cartier-Bresson said, the children come out of the woodwork and “stick to your knees like burs.” Other places in the world people are often reluctant to be photographed but I’ve found Burma to be a wonderful balance. People tend to be extremely hospitable and kind to the traveler and are very tolerant of being photographed.

  34. Mr. McCurry I was very happy to find you now have a blog. There aren’t many of them that are worth following/reading but I look forward to yours.

    Your work has is inspirational as it allows us to leave a comfort zone and see people in theirs. And in doing so realize a connection to the human condition and the things that we share with them, and things that we do not. In some ways this is more powerful than say music, as a photograph can make us feel we know someone we’ve never met in a place we’ve never been.

    If you were ever to pass through the midwest I’d love a chance to try and help organize an event. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and continued body of work.

  35. Tharakesh Says:

    Dear Steve,

    I’m amazed and words fall short to describe your works.
    I have only one small question to ask. After achieving a good photograph in terms of life, message, mood etc.., how much of post processing do you do in the dark room, both for films & digital? How many percentage of post processing is normally allowed as compared to the straight out of the camera shot.

  36. sohamgupta Says:

    Dear Steve,

    I am a photographer. And I have high ambitions. I am in first twenties, still a student in College, studying English Literature.

    I am sure leaving home is the best way to become a photographer, but there are times, when you simply can’t. Because of economic reasons, especially in a developing country like India, where, money isn’t on everyone’s hand.

    But I do ‘leave home’ at times, and wander into the nearby villages, where my money-bag can take me. And when I can’t go anywhere, I just roam in my city, with the camera bag on my back, and explore the unknown: from the lanes and bylanes of Chitpur to the dark old roads, hidden by the old buildings of Esplanade.

    What do you think, a budding photographer can do, in my situation?

    • stevemccurry Says:

      You are doing exactly the right thing. Leaving home just means leaving your comfort zone. Going into places (real or metaphorical) that you haven’t been before.

      Most importantly, you need to take pictures, practice your craft, and be prepared to work really hard.

  37. Sarah Says:

    Hi! It’s a great pleasure to view your masterpieces. They really provoke thoughts and inspire me. Thanks!

    Are you coming to Singapore next month on the 23rd?

    Thanks once again!

  38. Hi Steve,

    Simple words with powerful message! Everybody read philosophies but only few are following it.

    ~Vishnu

  39. Your blog is very inspiring to me and a lot of us who never got a chance to meet you but know you through your work. Thanks for writing it. And thanks for inspiring us.

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