Bits of Wisdom from Jay Maisel

One of the pleasure of attending Photoshop World is the opportunity it provides me to sit in the presence of Jay Maisel. I've heard his presentations before and had the opportunity to study with him six years ago and he continues to inspire and inform what I hope to do with a camera.

I have the opportunity to interview Jay some years ago. Here is a link to the interview. Even if you have heard it before, it's worth listening to it again.

Here are some pearls of wisdom from one of my favorite photographers. 

"If you are not paying attention to your background, you are going to screw up anything you are trying to say with your foreground."

"Always carry your camera; it's easier to take picture that way."

"Shape is is the enemy of color."

"Here are three words for being a better photographer: 'Move your ass'"

"You only have two influences on the look of your photography: when you shoot and where you're shooting from."

"I don't believe as the dictionary says that gesture just has to do with the movement of arms and faces and legs.  I believe that gesture is involved in everything we photograph. We've all photographed gesture all our live. We just have not always been aware of it."

"Anything you do to make your image more specific, helps to make the photograph more powerful."

"Gesture will always reveal narrative, which light and color alone find it difficult to do. Gesture can tell a story."

"You cannot put your lettering in your pictures, unless you want it to be the content of your image."

"The most effective use of a pattern is when it becomes interrupted and there's a payoff in the end. Otherwise, it gets to be like wallpaper."

"You don't want to be a one-trick pony. You don't want to keep repeating yourself."

"If you can keep the element of surprise in your photography, you've already won the viewer half over."

"There is joy in ambiguity."

"There are going to be situations where you can't get yourself out of the picture. So, make yourself a part of the picture."

"I never saw light as something that casually fell on something in my picture, but rather as an integral something in my picture, like a solid object."

Look for Pictures That Other People Don't Make

I was talking to a friend yesterday who mentioned something that he heard the photographer, Vincent Laforet said.

"Look for pictures that other people don't make."

It's a simple statement, but one that is full of insight.

I was thinking just along these lines when during this past weekend I had some students in my Digital SLR Bootcamp make pictures of a bandshell in the park where I teach the workshop. I encouraged them to not only make photographs from eye level, but to really play around and try different perspectives, focal lengths and compositions. I asked them not to settle for just one or two photographs, but to fully exhaust all the possibilities.

Some of the resulting photographs really surprised me. I saw in their  pictures perspectives and points of view that I had never seen myself, even though it's a location that I have visited countless numbers of times. In their photographs, these students were really revealing to me the limits of my own vision.

I know what makes a good photograph or at least I think I know most of the time. So, when I photograph a scene or a subject, it's easy to compose a shot thinking that this is the definitive interpretation of it. But is that really the only possibility?

I saw photographers taking risks, making choices that they were not sure would work or not, but still committing to making the photograph. Yes, there was a risk that the image might not work, but that didn't deter them from trying it out and seeing what could happen. They weren't editing themselves and judging the picture before they made it. Instead, they practiced photography and played and discovered what worked and what didn't and in several cases, revealed exciting and beautiful surprises.

Ask 10 photographers to photograph a car and likely 9 out of 10 of them will deliver just that. They will make a picture of a car. It results in a photograph that is nothing more than  a document. Then there is the one photographer who makes a photograph not of the car, but the qualities of the car that resonate with him or her. It could be the color, the shapes, the play off light off its surface. These photographers use the camera to create from not only what they see, but what they feel.

It's so easy to compose a photograph by following all the rules. Yes, it can produce a well-composed, well-exposed photograph, but it may not surprise me or anyone else. It may not make me feel anything. It won't reveal the world to me in a different way that's both exciting and liberating.

The best photographers do that and it begins when they make photographs that other people aren't making.

It's about photographing the world that expresses not only how I uniquely see it, but also which reveals my exploration of that world when I make non-traditional choices with the camera. When I am willing to take the risk and do something different, even though there is a possibility that it may not work, is whenI am really living in the spirit of what it means to be a photographer.

The Candid Frame #87 - Jay Maisel

Jay Maisel is acknowledged as a master of natural-light color photography . With a photographic career beginning in mid 1950's, His non-technical approach and his exceptional images have inspired countless photographers. Born and raised in New York City, many of these classic images have helped define the beautify of the city in a distinctive and memorable way. Based on his principle, "Light, Gesture and Color" he brings a sensibility which allows him to produce amazingly beautiful and revitting images from the unpredictable city street. He is in all regards, the photographer's photographer. You can discover more of his work by checking out these previous interviews here, here and here.

You can discover more about his photographic workshop hosted at his home/studio in New York City here.

Jay Maisel recommends the work of Chema Madoz.

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