Study The Masters: Saul Leiter

In Influences, Study the Masters by David22 Comments


I’m starting a new series called Study the Masters. Short and sweet, it’s my chance to put you on to photographers from the past that have made our art what it is. Hands down, the best photographic education, once you know how to use a camera, is to study the work of others. This is my way of suggesting who some of those others might be.

This week it’s Saul Leiter (1923-2013), a New York photographer who left us this past November. Saul was an eccentric artist who photographed and painted in the same neighborhoods in New York all his life. I love Saul’s use of colour and negative space, especially his selective focus, and his use of reflections is wonderful. I could look at his work for hours.

“I admired a tremendous number of photographers, but for some reason I arrived at a point of view of my own.”

“If I’d only known which [photographs] would be very good and liked, I wouldn’t have had to do all the thousands of others.”

You can see some of his work immediately with a simple Google Image search.

There’s a movie about Saul, a documentary made in the last couple years of his life, coming out just now called In No Great Hurry, and if you get a chance to see it you should.

I highly recommend this book about Saul Leiter and his work. It’s on my coffee table right now and it’s one of the best photography books I’ve bought in a while. Saul Leiter, by Vince Aletti. (Amazon link). If you can get it, or have the budget, a copy of Saul’s Early Colour, would be a treasure. Hard to find.

“Seeing is a neglected enterprise.”


  1. Pingback: Layers of events in photographs by Saul Leiter – Korwel Photography

  2. I absolutely love Saul Leiters work- his colorful city abstracts and through window shots are freeking thrillingly inspiring. Great idea David.

  3. Hey David,

    Great concept! His photo of the redhead seated in a Paris restaurant has to be one of the most timeless photographs ever MADE.



  4. Thanks for the introduction to Saul Leiter, and for this new series you’ve begun. Studying photographer’s works is always an inspiration, and tool for growth.

  5. This was really inspiring. Alot of the time when I have the camera infront my eye, I get frustrated because I can’t get it perfect. Because the lines aren’t dead straight or because there’s an obstacle. Thing is, those obstacle can amazingly become the subject, or more so, add to the story. I’ve been reading alot about intent(from yours truly) and I think that intent doesn’t end with the camera to our eye. You intentionally bring something else to life when detach yourself from what could have been a “bad” photo.

    1. Sorry I didn’t mean “yours truly” as in myself, I meant from you; it wasn’t my intent(pardon the pun).

  6. Particularly not know this photographer, however, I will seek more information from him, and I liked his work, his simplicity and his visions through photography, in which, as art becomes simpler. Thanks David, for showing us this perspective.

  7. sin duda un trabajo admirable, un fotógrafo impresionista mostrando fotografía impresionante. Seguiré la serie porque con este primer autor he quedado prendada. Gracias David porque nos enseñas a ver.

  8. A PS

    My favorite quote from Saul is:

    In order to build a career and to be successful, one has to be determined. One has to be ambitious.
    I much prefer to drink coffee, listen to music and to paint when I feel like it.

    I just watched the first hour of your Created Image Video. This could easily have been one of your quotes about creating in such a way as to satisfy your own ideas and perspectives, not those of critics or “literati.”

  9. David,
    The more I read your writing and observe your photography, the more I find myself coming back over and over to see more and read more. This has occurred over a period of more than three years and I have come to realize there is something in you and your work that resonates with me and who I am and the work that I do. Now, that you have started your new topic, Study the Masters, and selected Saul Leiter to begin, I am more convinced of this than ever. At my website I have blog space for which I will occasionally write. My first entry was about Saul Leiter. And, on the desk behind me, is my copy of Mr. Aletti’s book that arrived about 10 days ago.
    From the beginning, I was captivated by the way he saw and rendered color…a red umbrella, the yellow of a taxi. Reflections…in mirror or through condensation on a window. Sublime. I generally am attracted to black and white work, but he makes me think, “What if…?”
    Hopefully your post will provide others an introduction to Mr. Leiter he will then provide them inspiration and to ask, “What if…?”

    1. Mark –
      I always love to hear about such “synchronistic” (read: “this is how it should always be”) occurrences, both large and small.
      – Marke

    2. Author

      Thank you, Mark. Wonderful to have you part of the community here. It’s great to see others finding the same joy and inspiration in Saul Leiter that I do.

  10. I have never heard of Saul, but love his work! His quote “If I’d only known which [photographs] would be very good and liked, I wouldn’t have had to do all the thousands of others.” has made its way on my board.

    I look forward to this new series of yours.

  11. Love his use of atmosphere, light, and shooting through techniques. Thanks for the introduction.

  12. Well said David. Saul is such a terrific example of someone creating unique images from the quite ordinary stuff of life. On top of that his motivation seemed to have been based in the pleasure in taking those images. Win-Win!

    1. Author

      Absolutely, Edward. Can’t imagine making photographs for any other reason! 🙂

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