Book Review: Light, Gesture & Color by Jay Maisel


Jay Maisel is one of those photographers who make me humble. He spends much of his time in New York, a city I know well. But he sees things I don’t see. It’s like I’m blind compared to him. We inhabit the same sphere but his abounds in photographic opportunities and mine is bare in comparison.

His is a simple world, too. No GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)  for Maisel, if you forget about the 2000mm lens that he uses on the rooftop of the bank building that is his home and studio. He just uses the top Nikon DSLR and the 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens that many frown on because of its less-than-stellar optics. And he carries that combo everywhere. Everywhere, even on a quick bathroom break during a road trip.

It’s also simple, because he hardly ever crops or post-processes his images. He sees what he sees, takes the shot he wants and that’s it.

No pre-production. No post-production. Just photography. He explains that part of his vision here, where he admonishes us all with this warning: “I’d rather have lesser quality (form) than lose the image I want (content). Don’t compromise the quality of your image for image quality!”

I’m jealous. It’s what I want to be able to do. I’ve often thought about taking his workshop, but at $5,000 for five days, it’s a bit too steep for me.

My consolation prize is that I’ve twice attended his seminar ‘Light, Gesture, Color’ when he presented it at Photo Plus Expo in New York, with the ever-present camera lying in front of him. Maisel is now in his eighties but still going strong, another confirmation that photography lasts forever.

That lecture is now remade into a book by the same title. If you’re serious about your photography, about improving your vision, about continuous learning, buy that book now. It’s right up there with ‘Road to Seeing‘ by Dan Winters, another essential book if you’re looking for joy and inspiration.

Did I say it’s good?

It’s excellent. The author explains his vision, the elements that make a good image. And then he shares numerous tips for becoming a better photographer, each accompanied by one of his images proving the point.

Some examples:

  • Carry the Damn Camera
  • Be ‘turned on’ all the time
  • Move Your Ass
  • Shoot It, Dammit!
  • Finding the picture is the most important part of being a photographer. The actual shooting is of lesser importance.
  • Always wait for the trigger, that one thing that makes the picture stand out.

I can’t really do the book justice here, as it’s really the combination of the images and the text that make it so valuable for our craft.

Of course, Maisel also talks about light, color and gesture. Light and color are obvious, although he will add to your approach of both. Gesture is what he calls the ‘essence of each thing we look at,’ the ‘expression that is at the very heart of everything we shoot.’

If anything, the book should serve as an inspiration and a call to arms, for you personally. Even more than a cool new camera or lens, it makes you want to go out, observe the world afresh and shoot.

The book is available at Amazon (affiliate link):

Light, Gesture, and Color by Jay Maisel


  1. Excellent reccomendation, deceptively simple tips from Maisel – although I’m still wondering about a Canon 28-300 equivalent of the Nikkor 28-300 ? maybe a Tamron ? Would be nice to have a single discrete lens for street for my 5D3 when travelling…

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