Monday, July 8, 2013

Words of Wisdom From Jay Maisel

Jay Maisel has been an inspiration to me.  I stumbled across videos of him while going through the subscription I have. 

Street photography is a relatively new venture for me,  but one that I thoroughly enjoy.   It is mainly for me,  going out and doing,  as Jay would describe,  "visual pushups".  This helps you train your mind to see things differently and to engage your creative process. The brain needs exercise!
I found that the the videos on Kelby were worth the price of subscription by themselves. Everything else on there is a bonus.  

In The Streets of Pittsburgh
Nikon D700 & Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5
Back to Jay, though,  I found him sagely wise,  humble and willing to share.
I wanted to share a few quotes from Jay and I'll comment on what they mean to me and how they might help you think differently about your photography.  The great thing about Jay's approach is that it had nothing to do with what brand of gear you use.   It's purely about photography and the experience of being the image.  
One of the greatest hurdles you will overcome in your photographic journey is to stop caring about acquiring gear for the sake of being it or thinking that it will make you a better photographer.   Gear should be purchased and used to help you some a problem or to make your job easier.

Small Town Christmas
Nikon D700 & Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5
So without further ado, let's get into some of Jay's words of wisdom.  While these quotes were relayed in the context of Street photography,  I think a lot of them are applicable to photography in general.

Nikon D700 & Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5
"Go out open and empty"
Sometimes we go out shooting with a pre conceived idea. Sometimes that is ok, planning is good.
When doing street shooting, this can be a detriment.  You may miss something because you are too busy looking for that pre determined shot or idea in your head.   Let your mind see all that is around you and find something interesting that you have not seen before.  This one word of wisdom from Jay that really sparked my creativity and has given me another tool to make my photography better.  Not only in street photography, it has also helped to keep things fresh in portrait shoots.

Wild Spanish Stallion - Outer Banks, NC
Nikon D50 & Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
"Do visual pushups everyday"
Practice is what gets you ready for the game. Photography is the same.   If you don't go out and shoot often,  or in this case visualize in your mind what would make a good shot,  then your mental faculties could atrophy and you would not be as sharp and quick to identify a good photo opportunity.   Even though I may not get an image every day,  I still look for an image opportunity.   I'm primarily a Nikon shooter,  but I've fallen in love with the Fuji X series cameras. I've picked up an X-E1 with the 18 and 35mm lenses.   It is with me at all times, when I do not have my Nikon DSLRs.

Family Taking A Test
Fuji X-E1 & Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
"Look for things that you or others may not have seen before"
Look for those things in the out of the way places or things that you don't see every day.   The reason that a lot of photographers "hate" images of railroad tracks is that they have been done a million times.   People want to see new,  fresh and exciting images... not the same thing that they have seen everywhere.   As part of the growth process,  yes,  you will shoot that train track picture.  You emulate what you see to know how to do it.   It is a stepping stone to greater things.

Caught In The Coffee Shop
Fuji X-E1 & Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
"One camera, one lens, shoot!"
Don't get bogged down with a ton of gear.   One, it is heavy to carry around,  and two,  you'll distract yourself with trying to decide which lens to use for the shot. You could end up not getting the shot at all!   Take your shots with the lens you have.   One thing that might make this easier is to find out what kind of focal length best fits your style and favor that kind of lens.  Primes or zooms don't matter, just find the right one for you and go out with they one. Jay often discusses how he sees the world in telephoto, generally shooting in the 70-300mm range.  I find I like less isolation and prefer to have the subject in context with the surroundings.  

Passing Car and Snow - German Village, Columbus, OH
Fuji X-E1 & Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
"Is about picture quality,  not pixel quality."
Don't get caught up in needing the newest, best, greatest thing.   Use the gear you have and master it.   When it comes down to getting the image,  a sharp image that is noisy is better than a clean image that is blurry.   If you want to know what I am talking about,  check out the images that have won Pulitzer's.  Film back in the day was noisy as all get out,  but the images are sharp and powerful.

Bundling Up For The Cold
Fuji X-E1 & Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
"Your best zoom is your feet"
We can get lazy sometimes when we have a zoom lens.  We stay in one spot and twist the zoom ring and get different shots.  Sometimes that is great, you cannot walk to where you need to be and a zoom is the only option.  Think about using a zoom as having a wide array of primes and use them to get the effect you want.  Varying depth of fields or compression of the scene instead of "just not needing to move".

Studying At Starbucks
Nikon D700 & Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5

"If is not fun for you to shoot,  don't shoot it"
Sometimes we think that as photographers, we need to capture everything that we see, stuff that might interest other people.  I think that you will find that the if you cover an event or take images of a subject that interests you, your creativity and quality of capture will be better than if you are shooting subjects that are not of interest or fun for you to shoot.  That is why most photographers do not try and shoot everything, but they specialize in 1 or 2 things - hopefully subjects that you enjoy.

Preparing For The Dinner Rush
Nikon D700 & Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5
"Go for the thing that interests you and don't spend a lot of time regretting what you might have missed"
Don't let your A.D.D. get the best of you!  Focus on the subject in front of you and nail that shot.  If you are preoccupied with what you are missing or regretting the shot you didn't get, it will affect the quality of the images you are trying to capture.  You get the images you were meant to get.  There will be other opportunities to get great shots.

Street Fair Musician - Yellow Springs, OH
Fuji X10
"Stand still,  there are always pictures"
I am guilty of not following this one.  I love to hike and bike, but I also thought that what would be great would be to take my camera along and work that into my other outdoor activities.  What I found out is that you spend so much time trying to do all those things that you don't do any of them well.  You spend time trying to cover ground.  You then miss out on a lot of great photo opportunities.   If you go out to hike, then do that.  If you go out to take pictures, do that.
There are times when you will go about and be searching for images.  There is something to be said for finding a nice, out of the way spot and letting the subjects some to you.  This is especially useful technique for street photography.  Set the stage and let the players come, as the saying goes.

Crab Claw and Sand - Outer Banks, NC
Nikon D50 & Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
"The center is going to work, look at the edge and make sure there is nothing there to screw up the picture"
You found the perfect subject, you get it in your sights, click the shutter......but when you look at it when you get back home, it doesn't have the same power it did when you saw it on the street.  Why?  It could be that the edges of the frame are causing an issue.  After you get the subject lined up, look at the edges of the frame and make sure there is nothing there that will cause the main subject to be less powerful.  You don't want the edges to distract from the main of the image.  Try and frame up the shot as best you can in camera, so that it gives you the best punch straight out of camera.
I Wonder What He Is Pondering
Nikon D700 & Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5
"Don't go out to make friend,  go out to make pictures"
There are times when you will need to interact with people, especially when doing street photography.  Most people either won't notice you or won't care, while others may get upset. A majority of the time, a wave, thank you or a nice word is all that is needed for most people to feel at ease with you taking their picture.  You may need to go further than that at times, you will have people ask you what you are doing or why you are taking their picture.  Be kind and honest and explain what and why you are doing what you are doing. Do your best to not make the people around you uncomfortable.  Getting into an altercation over an image is not worth keeping an image.  You have to know when to take the shot and when not to push it too far. 
Reproduction Of An 1883 Market
Fuji X-E1 & Fujinon 18mm f/2
"I'm not talented,  I just work very hard"
Some people do have a somewhat natural ability to pull out a great composition or to understand and nail exposure.  They are not perfect, however.  If you want to be great, or at a minimum just get better, then you have to work really hard.  Study up, practice, do your visual push ups, and push yourself.  Once you get comfortable with what you are doing, find ways to go further.  If you want to be discovered, get out there and get noticed.

Reading In The Garden
Nikon D700 & Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5
"Be Your own worst critic"
Self editing is very important.  You only want your best work out there for people and/or clients to see.  Be very rough on yourself.  Edit viciously and learn from images that did not make the cut. What could you have done better to elevate a so so or good image into something great.  I use Lightroom and mark images that I feel are outstanding. This gives me the ability to then go back and examine, technically what made it great. I also look at other things like composition, shape and color that also can set the image above the others.  Also, look at your lighting and see how different lighting can make a difference between a so so shot and something portfolio worthy.

Waiting Outside Of Lemongrass
Fuji X-E1 & Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R


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    1. I very much agree. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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