During the course of tasra365, my 365 photography project that spanned 2009-2010, I was introduced to famed photographer Jay Maisel. His work is iconic, his images stunning, and his teaching inspiring.
After studying painting and graphic design at Cooper Union and Yale, Jay Maisel began his career in photography in 1954. While his portfolio includes the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Miles Davis, he is perhaps best known for capturing the light, color, and gesture found in every day life.
I had the honor of seeing him live and took copious notes as I listened to a master at the craft of photography. I thought I would share some of the nuggets I learned from this master of photography to inspire you to daily start becoming the master others will one day celebrate (even if those others are just family and friends).
Lesson 1: There is gesture in everything.
It’s always out there, small gestures, movements, subleties, we just have to be open to seeing and capturing it. If we slow down and see life, we will bear witness to the intricacies that make us human and alive. Pay attention to your perception: what you see and what you think you see. The two can be wildly different.
Lesson 2: Shape is the enemy of color.
Joseph Albert, a painter, said you can win the war between shape and color, but you have to be aware of it. Take a look at some of your images and see what you notice. Is it the shapes or the color? Convert them to black and white, then decide your favorites. Notice how the difference between color and black and white draws your eyes to different places in the image. Use that knowledge to your advantage the next time you shoot.
Question 1: How can I be a better photographer?
Answer 1: Learn the history of art. Start with the caveman.
Answer 2: Move your a**.
As a student of painting and graphic design, the subtle and trained eye of Jay Maisel allows him to see differently, dare I say better, than the average photographer. He has trained his eye to see similar to the same way a painter has trained his hand to paint or a singer has trained his voice. Just because we can see doesn’t mean what we’re seeing is all the same. Do the work. Learn the masters. Study.
Move your a** was a charge to focus on what’s in front of you, but always look behind you. Often photographers forget to look around, they get their feet planted and shoot away. But a subtle move to the right or left, forward or backward, standing or kneeling can make a world of difference. Be like a boxer with quick feet that move you to find the sweet spot for each image.
We don’t take pictures, we are taken by pictures.
Make each photograph your own. It’s your eye, your moment, your feeling that drew you to that image. Claim it. Own it. Live it. You are a photographer. Don’t apologize or get nervous if other people have given you permission to photograph them. Be in the moment. Look for things you’ve never seen before.