By Laura | 08th August 2018

Inspired by: Steve McCurry

As one of the most celebrated freelance photojournalists working today, Steve McCurry has been a source of inspiration for so many photographers around the world. His work is at once both beautiful and haunting, and, in particular, his images of people torn apart by war brings home the horrific nature of these man-made disasters to those of us who will never experience them first-hand.

We don’t, however, need to follow in his footsteps to the front line to learn from him – his principles will improve all of our photography, whatever genre we shoot.

The Steve McCurry method

When Steve’s photo of Sharbat Gula was published on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 as ‘Afghan Girl’, he rocketed to worldwide fame. The image of the young girl in the red scarf staring at the camera with intensely haunted eyes is one of the most recognisable candid photographs in the world and did exactly what McCurry expected – symbolised the impact war has on the young. 

Steve doesn’t use fancy tricks to capture his images, instead relying on his instincts and learned ability to see the shot unfold in front of him. He trusts that worthy images will ‘reveal themselves’ as he wanders around, rather than having a preconceived plan of what he’s going to shoot.  

If you study his work in one of his photo books or online, you’ll see a photographer who understands the rules of composition, isn’t afraid to get close to his subject, uses natural light superbly and likes vibrant colours. These qualities are all present in his ‘Afghan Girl’ image.

What you can learn from Steve

Steve’s techniques are actually quite simple and basic, but he looks for similar things compositionally to achieve his trademark look:  

  • Use leading lines to draw the viewer’s eyes to the subject.
  • Use door frames and walls to help frame your subject – frames within a frame create focus and interest.
  • Make use of the ‘rule of thirds’ by placing your subject on a third for a pleasing composition
  • Steve also likes to place his subject bang on the centre of the frame: although this is often seen as a beginners mistake, if done correctly it can create a powerful portrait.
  • Use colour! Steve’s use of colour alongside strong black points makes his style ideal for large canvas prints because images shot this way have huge depth and impact. 

Steve McCurry has always had a strong influence on photographers of all genres, and we hope that this short introduction to his work and methods will encourage you to go out and try his style on for size!  


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