Alec Soth: Photographic Story Telling

Magnum Learn have now produced two educational programmes to inspire photographers. The first course was ‘The Art of Street Photography’, which I can’t comment on as I have not seen it! However, I am halfway through ‘Photographic Story Telling’, so this should not be thought of as a complete review, rather my first impressions. All the images posted are mine and are ones I have taken since enrolling on the course.


Alec Soth

It is hard to describe Soth’s work. He flirts with Street, Documentary, Fine Art, Still Life and Portraiture. You get the feeling he does not care too much about how he is defined, rather his focus on is making great photographs. To further muddy the waters, he does not stick to one camera. Throughout the series Alec uses large format cameras, polaroids and digital cameras. Don’t expect much in the way of guidance on how these cameras work; it is not that kind of course.

Candid Headshot

Photographic Story Telling

The course itself is split into 19 recorded video lessons. The video sessions are accompanied by an 11 chapter ebook. The accompanying workbook has links to online resources, hidden gems within the Magnum site and photography books. To access the series you need to log on and watch online. There are numerous Youtube channels featuring Soth, so if you want a teaser of what this course offers, have a search online and listen to him talk.

What is this not…

This is not a series on technique, you will not learn about fstop and camera settings. You will not be informed of the best cameras to use, or guided through photoshop tutorials. Soth will not try and persuade you that his way is the right way, or that other photographers are wrong. You will not be lectured on ethics, or the purity of a particular genre. You will not hear how successful he has been and why his images of so fantastic (they are). So what is it?


Soth inspires. You get a feeling this is a programme he has put his heart into. In addition, it is made by Magnum so you know you are getting a quality production. As a viewer we get an incite to what make him tic and the journey he has been on. There are case studies where we look at Soth on location see how he works. Again, I find it hard to define any certain style or any strict rules that he follows, but he is reflective and that leads us to some understanding of how his work has progressed. Soth shares his inspirations and beginnings, and does so in a very humble manner.


Improving My Photography

I purchased this course in the hope of improving my photography. How is it going to do that? I am progressing through a section of this course that looks at putting together photo books, and at how different photos can be put together. What we see here is how Soth refines and edits his selection. I am not talking about editing in PS of LR, rather the process of building narrative through imagery, and he does this very well! Note – I would love to see him editing in LR and PS.

Who is it for?

This is invaluable material for those wanting to engage further with photo projects. While it will inspire photographer’s seeking the ‘decisive Bresson moment’, Soth really is not that kind of guy. On a personal note, my last Street Photography session was much more relaxed, and I found myself taking much more time ‘making’ each image and not quickly ‘taking’ each frame.

I am certain that the upcoming in-depth look at photo books is going to help when compiling and choosing future projects. In addition, most photographers can easily pass the day listening to the masters of photography. The style of photography is either for everyone or no one.


There are tasks set for the viewer. So far I have completed one activity – to take a portrait and upload it to Instagram (with the correct hashtags of course!). So far there really are not many uploads from the course, but perhaps I am ahead of the game. I feel Magnum could look at developing an online community where purchasers of the course can discuss ideas and share photos.

Final Positives

Inspiration from a world class photographer. Yes, there are lots of inspiring youtube clips and books that you can read. However, this is a course from the World’s leading photographic agency and it is really quite special. I am sure any photographer would love to find it in their Xmas stocking!

That is all for today folks. Keep clicking, Chris

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