Review of "Another Day with Jay Maisel"
If you missed this - and you probably did if you are here in Germany because the three-hour webcast started at midnight on June 6 - I want to try to summarize some of what was said so you can benefit from this master photographer's experience.
In a post from last summer just before the Worldwide Photo Walk, I wrote down some tips garnered from Scott Kelby's training video for street photography called "A Day with Jay Maisel": pack light, walk slowly, be prepared, look for the gesture, be open to new images, set your camera to guarantee you get the shot (high ISO and shutter speed), enjoy yourself and be friendly to those you meet (and may therefore want to photograph).
In this second video and webcast, the viewer goes away with even more of a sense of Jay's photographic frame of mind (pardon the pun). In addition, you got a sense of Scott Kelby's amiability, which at times borders on obsequiousness, though that is also part of the video's charm. Scott keeps coming back to the instructional purpose of the walk, putting easy-to-learn labels on what they are going after. It basically all boils down to gesture, light and color.
Equipment: Body and glass
|1/320 sec, f5.6, 400 ISO, 300mm|
Something else Jay always leaves at home is his lens hood. At the onset of the first walk, he tried to convince Scott that it just made him look intimidating. Nevertheless, Scott had it on his lens (backwards) until Jay reminded him that he didn't need it.
A good day with Jay
One of the great joys of watching Jay take pictures is seeing the child in him having fun. He admits that he keeps shooting because he enjoys seeing something he has never seen before: a certain light, a combination of colors, an interesting gesture.
Again and again, we see Jay following an important bit of his own advice: If someone allows you to take their picture, make the most of it. He walks through the streets, admittedly "looking like an idiot who is having a good time" and thinks people will be least suspicious of someone (acting) like that. Now and then he finds someone who stands there and lets him take her picture. He takes several and then says thank you.
Cropping: Making the most of the frame
Jay doesn't like using the word "composition" (though he studied art and knows very well how important it is) but rather "framing" and "cropping". "The composition is already there," he says, underlining the improvisational aspect of his sort of street photography.
Exposures: Catching the action
|1/2000sec, f7.1, 800 ISO, 150mm|
He says his assistants post-process his shots to make them look like what he originally saw. He doesn't like to spend time in front of the computer; he'd rather be out shooting.
He shoots at ISO 1600 (on a sunny day!) and sets his aperture at f11-14 so that he can capture the shots he wants. Scott was using a lower ISO and realized that was reason his shots were not as sharp as Jay's. Jay seems to not listen to what people write about the physics of optics. Apparently, most lenses are sharpest two stops down from their maximum open aperture. He also doesn't care much about separating his main motif from the background (with a wide aperture) because at f14 everything is going to be sharp.
With the D3s there is practically no noise at 3200 and even 6400 is still acceptable. He admitted to having shot a concert at 12,800 ISO. For a full-frame 12.1 MP camera that goes up to the equivalent of ISO 102,400, what would you expect? In the meantime, I've been shooting with my Sony A700 increasingly at higher ISOs during the day and must admit to having caught some things that previously would have been too blurry.
He pointed out that most prize-winning pictures are "shitty technically" because that's not what counts. The gesture is more important than the technical side - "it's the picture not the pixels"!
Inspiration: Staying fresh
|1/1000sec, f6.3, 100 ISO, 17mm|
You get good at photography by putting in your time and doing a lot of hard work. Social networking will help you make money, but it won't make you good, says Jay.
If you want to have fun, stay open to what happens in front of your lens when you are out on the street. Jay says that to learn the craft he would send students out on three different walks, each time concentrating on one of these three aspects: gesture, light or color.
So now you have your assignment - get shooting (and have fun!).
P.S. On the Digital Photography School website I saw a video of Leica photographer Eric Kim walking through the streets of L.A. snapping away. His style couldn't be more different from Jays. Check out the video here. An in between approach can be seen in this video about New York Leica photographer Jeff Mermelstein. I like what he says about his attitude toward his photography: "It's what I do. It's my way of responding to people." I think if we (amateur street) photographers were able to convince ourselves that we have a right to express ourselves through our artwork, then we would have fewer inhibitions about what we do.