3 Things We Can Learn From: Alfred Eisenstaedt

by . November 5th, 2014

Alfred Eisenstaedt is considered as one of the pioneering photographers who helped define American photojournalism. Armed with the ever-unobtrusive Leica, Eisenstaedt—or Eisie to his friends—was known for having that perfect timing and impeccable ability to communicate a story in one image. His use of the Leica helped him capture his subjects unguarded and full of life. That is why Eisenstaedt is often remarked as someone who can bring home striking photographs from every assignment he goes to.

Alfred Eisenstadt

His ability to capture captivating images helped him become the quintessential Life photographer; he eventually produced 2,500 picture stories and 90 covers for Life Magazine. Apart from shooting this volume of work over the years, Eisenstaedt was also given the chance to take portraits of highly influential people such as Joseph Gobbels, John F. Kenndy, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, and Winston Churchill. But of all of Eisentaedt’s photographs and high-profile portraits, none comes close to his most recognized photograph — the  V-J Day kiss in 1945. The said image has not only captured the joy and celebration of the people when the war finally ended, it has become an iconic photograph that defined that era.


Eisentaedt’s works has earned him a lot of praise from the industry, especially from the other greats such as Cornell Capa who founded the International Center of Photographer in New York. In this edition of 3 Things We Can Learn From, we are going to talk about Eisenstaedt’s work and how is he able to create beautiful photographs.


1. Making connections with your subject — For Alfred Eisenstaedt, it is vitally important to create a connection with his subjects in order to create stunning portraits of them. Eisenstaedt is known to be charming and easy going. Film legend Sophia Loren even mention to Life Magazine her relationship with Eisenstaedt: “it was really a love at first sight. He became my shadow. But he never tried to interfere in my life. No, he just kept on shooting and smiling, and was happy just to be with me—like I was to be with him! I miss him. He couldn’t do any wrong to me. I trusted him so much. He’s one of those who doesn’t grow on trees”.


With this, many of his portraits display the subjects in an unguarded fashion — some of which are the photographs of Nixon having his tie fixed and the portrait of Ernest Hemmingway for the cover of Life Magazine to the haunting portrait of a staring Joseph Goebbels to which Eisenstaedt noted “Here are the eyes of hate.”

“It’s more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”


2. Stop being afraid and get close and personal with your subject — Just the same as photographing high-profile people, having a model or photographing an engagement session can be extremely nerve-racking especially for those who are doing it for the first time. What helped Eisenstaedt deal with all the high-profile people he photographed is treating them just like ordinary people when they are in front of the camera. One of Eisenstaedt’s famous image is the picture of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.


Eisenstaedt shared his experience in photographing the Third Reich’s right hand man: “Goebbels seemed so small, while his bodyguards were huge. I walked up close and photographed Goebbels. It was horrible. He looked up at me with an expression full of hate. The result, however, was a much stronger photograph. There is no substitute for close personal contact and involvement with a subject, no matter how unpleasant it may be.” and “He looked at me with hateful eyes and waited for me to wither. But I didn’t wither. If I have a camera in my hand, I don’t know fear.”

” All photographers have to do is find and catch the story-telling moment.”


3. See the world with a childlike wonder – Eisenstaedt is remarked as someone who has never lost his childlike interest in things and people. It’s this curiosity—paired with the desire to create a personal connection to subjects—that made his photographs earnest and easy to look at.


While his work may not have a grandiose visual style, his works are often remarked to have this touch of gentle humor that easily connects with it’s audience. Apart from that, he is able to humanize these movers and shakers who are often perceived as demigods.

“My style hasn’t changed much in all these sixty years. I still use, most of the time, existing light and try not to push people around. I have to be as much a diplomat as a photographer. People don’t often take me seriously because I carry so little equipment and make so little fuss… I never carried a lot of equipment. My motto has always been, “Keep it simple.”


“Once the amateur’s naive approach and humble willingness to learn fades away, the creative spirit of good photography dies with it. Every professional should remain always in his heart an amateur. “

If you are interested to know more about Alfred Eisenstaedt you may take a look at a page dedicated for Eisenstaedt in Life.You may also get some of his wonderful books Eisenstaedt’s Celebrity Portraits: Fifty Years of Friends and Acquaintances as well as Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt: A Self-Portrait and Eisenstaedt: Witness to Our Time.