Skip to content

Preface from Richard Liebowitz’ book Apprentice

Preface: An Apprenticeship That Changed Me

I began going out on weekend “shoots” with a family friend, the photojournalist Bruce Cotler, and served as his apprentice. I knew Bruce had worked at the New York Post and New York Daily News and was active with the New York Press Photographers Association. I myself didn’t know a whole lot about cameras, film, lighting, shutter speeds, or any of the other stuff you have to master to become a great photographer. All I knew was that I wanted to learn how to take photographs and get to see exciting places and things.

What’s interesting to me now is that the better I got with the mechanical parts of the process, the more I was able to focus on the really creative parts and start to develop what Bruce calls a “good eye.” That was a phrase I hadn’t heard since I stood at bat in Little League a long time ago.

Before I started this apprenticeship, I did the same things most kids my age did: watch television, play video games, surf the Internet, and download lots of music. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but activities such as these can be big time-wasters. When I really got into this photography thing, I gradually noticed I was watching a lot less television and shooting a lot more pictures.

I wanted then and still want now to do a good job and please Bruce, because he was, and is, my mentor (not to mention my boss). I also wanted then and still want now for my family to be proud of what I can accomplish. But what I want most, for myself, is for my photos to really tell a story. As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The weekend adventures themselves have been great fun. They are also healthy for me, in a lot of ways.

Moving around from place to place with two cameras around my neck is good exercise, plus I get a lot of fresh air and sunshine. I also learned how to push myself to the front of a crowd in order to get a better shot. Although that may sound easy, it actually takes guts and a certain amount of ingenuity. I am always proud of myself when I can do that—get right in front to shoot and do it without anyone getting mad at me. Being able to do it taught me that you can make your way to the front of anything, anywhere, by using your brains and not your brawn.

Another lesson from Bruce was how to listen to someone older and wiser who could show me the ropes. Bruce is a good teacher, but I noticed that I learned as much from observing him in action as by listening to his verbal instructions. Clearly, another case of “actions speak louder than words.”

Just from my hanging around Bruce and helping him, a lot has rubbed off. He always tells me little facts and trivia about New York that I didn’t know. Whenever we pass a building or location that has an interesting history, he points it out. I learn from him all the time, and not just about taking good pictures but also about what makes people tick.

It’s so interesting to observe life at all kinds of extreme events, where people gather to celebrate, or compete in a contest or race, or for some other purpose that involves sharing interesting and dramatic experiences. I am always finding the unexpected, wherever I go. I enjoy these outings and continue to go out with Bruce most weekends when I am not away at college, documenting history the way I see it.

That is what this book is: a way to share a few of my pictures, the thinking that went into taking them, and the surprising lessons I learned taking these and hundreds of other photos of life, the greatest teacher.

Thank you for coming along with me on my journey. I hope you enjoy the experience.

This is a chapter from the book: Apprentice! Lessons Learned on the Frontlines of Life by Richard Liebowitz. A nationally recognized copyright attorney, Richard Liebowitz, fights for the rights of photographers around the world. Learn more about his firm at and how their copyright lawyers may be able to help you.