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 The Fear Of Flying Digitally

What's important to realize is that everything you've learned about seeing and shooting in the world of film won't change when you move into the world of digital. The song said it best, “The fundamental things apply as time goes by.”

The form and content, or lack of each, or both, will still be what determine the impact and validity of your images. Weak images won't get any better in digital than they were in film; weak concepts won't fly any better in digital than they would on film.

If you haven't thought about this before, I'd like to have you stop for a minute and think about it right now. It's a caution you might want to paste onto your forehead. I know I have it on mine. “If it didn't look good before you shot it, it ain't gonna get any better by passing through the camera.”

Everything you've learned about shooting and everything you didn't will make the transition with you when you move from film to digital. It might be a good time to rethink your shortcomings and to work on your good points.

As you move into the digital world, the biggest problems that you'll have to deal with are euphemistically called workflow and color management, which might be more realistically described as “workslow” and “color frustration.”

I freely admit to terminal technical stupidity. I say stupidity, not ignorance, because ignorance would mean that I haven't been exposed to this stuff and God knows I have. But like sitting and talking to my accountant, M.E.G.O. (My Eyes Glaze Over), my brain goes to that little comfortable place it goes where it can have sexual fantasies, delusions of grandeur and whatever else it does when it hears stuff it really can't handle. What I'm alluding to is the fact that I hate, hate, hate sitting in front of a computer or figuring out anything technical. If you're anything like me, you're in deep trouble. In shooting digital, the shooting concepts stay pretty much the same, but postproduction is as different as night and day.

On Taking Rather Than Making

If you're a pro, what you would be best doing is finding a young assistant who's as conversant with computers as you are with your cameras. This person who has probably been working with computers since they left the birth canal is your ticket to going digital. Everything you hate, they love. Everything you should learn, they know. If there are new things to learn, they can learn them in no time. You can go on shooting and growing as a photographer and they can bridge the gap between you and the computer “stuff” you can't deal with.

Joseph Koudelka said, “I don't want to lose my time making prints. I try to cut out everything but taking photographs.”

If, big if, you're comfortable with computers, then changing to digital won't pose major problems for you. But even so, you have to question yourself as to how you want to spend your time—shooting or sitting in front of a computer. For me, it's a no-brainer. I just don't have the brains to do it. At best, I'm right-brained (intuitive) and the left side (analytical) has a large “For Rent” sign on it.

I was once at a lecture given by Gregory Heisler and afterward a student asked, “What film do you like best?” Greg said, “I could tell you, but I think it's much more valuable for you to have the experience of shooting tests on different films. In doing that, you'll come up with things that work best for you, which may be very different from what I like.”

I mention this because I'm going to talk about some options that you'll have in digital and, frankly, I can't advise you on what's the best thing to do. I can only give you my nontechnical opinions, which are very influenced by my desire to maximize content over form. Some of the issues you'll have to face are highly technical. Therefore, you must understand that what I have to say about this is not only not gospel, but probably heretical on the issue of shooting in JPEG mode or RAW mode. Every technical person will tell you to shoot RAW. However, if, for example, you shoot RAW on a Nikon D1x with a 512 MB card, you get 63 shots. If you shoot in “JPEG Fine,” you get 315 shots. Every knowledgeable techie will tell you, “So what? The quality and ability to manipulate and change things in RAW is far superior to JPEG.”


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