DPP Home Profiles Jay Maisel - Going With The Flow

Friday, June 8, 2007

Jay Maisel - Going With The Flow

The master of color and self-diagnosed nontechie talks about keeping your artistic priorities in the JPEG-versus-RAW world

On Convenience Feeding Creativity

If I was shooting 512 MB cards at “Jpeg Fine” on my Nikon D1x, on those 16 cards I could have the equivalent of 142 rolls of film in the space of one box of film. If I shot RAW instead, I would only be able to store 27 rolls of film in that same space. Great, huh? But, wait a minute, each one of those flash cards used to cost about $500 each. But on the other hand, the price has now dropped to between $100 and $200. Great, huh? Even better, they're all guaranteed for one-million exposures or your lifetime. Great, huh? Remember this, though: These cards are about the size of a pack of matches—I don't know about you, but I lose lots bigger things on a regular basis. So now, in addition to the old cry, “Where are my keys? Where are my glasses?” we can now add, “Where the hell did I put my damn flash cards?”

Having said all this, one of the other important reasons that I switched is that I feel digital has opened up more doors to me on a conceptual, aesthetic level. I can now take pictures that I wouldn't have taken before. Note I said wouldn't, not couldn't. In digital, you have the ability to elaborate, emphasize and expand on what you've just shot. In a minute, you can interpret and improve your shoot without waiting hours or even days to see where you are in your shoot.

I'm a great believer in always carrying a camera at all times. Yet, I never carried a camera at night because who knew if you would hit tungsten, fluorescent, neon, a mix, or what speed film you'd need. Now, I always carry the camera at night as well as all day because, on my camera, I have color balance capacity for daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, etc. Also, I can go from ISO 125 to ISO 800 and higher.

This is all wonderful, but is there a downside to digital? Yes, you don't have the damn transparency you've always loved; but on the other hand, it's been three years since I've walked into a color lab to run film or have a print made—the joy of the transparency has been replaced by the joy of making your own prints on your own Epson printer. I really don't miss those 3 a.m. trips to the color lab to see the film or the stomach-churning trauma of wondering just how badly my film would be scratched. On the other hand, the thousands of dollars saved by digital are eaten up by the cost of getting a new computer, printer, scanner, etc., to replace the now obsolete ones that you bought last week.

On The Exposure Enigma

Exposure is always a problem. I don't care how long you've been in the business, exposure is a problem and you just never really know. The following story illustrates this point. Arnold Newman's influence by example and through teaching is unparalleled in the field of portraiture. He's without a doubt a fine photographic artist and craftsman with enormous experience.

Even so, Arnold once said to Eliot Elisofon (an even more senior photographer and one of the first Life photographers), “Eliot, I wish I could be more sure of my exposures. It's the biggest damn variable and it drives me nuts, trying to figure out whether I got it or not.”

Elisofon, who was magnificent technically, told Arnold that he could teach him a method that was foolproof. After two hours of instruction and conversation, Arnold said, “Okay, Eliot, I get it. And with this method you're certain that I'll have perfect exposures?” Elisofon nodded in agreement and said, “Absolutely, certainly, but it would help if you bracket the hell out of it.”


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