Living in London, it’s easy to get dispirited from time to time with the light.

From spending many years trying to objectively identify what is needed for good light, I think I’ve hit on 2 requirements – minimal pollution and being near the sea.

London fails dismally on both counts.

There’s often no sunshine, and when there is it has a spindly hard feel.

So, I packed my bags with a Nikon Z7 and compact Fuji XF10 and headed for San Francisco.

The difference in light quality is mind blowing.

Jay Maisel on buses

Shooting in light of this quality and nature needs new skills. You’re no longer using matrix metering with no exposure compensation – you have to be spinning your EC to avoid overexposure, crush blacks and bring out colours.

The Nikon Z7 and 24-70S 2.8 were a great combination for this sort of work as you can assign exposure compensation to the lens ring. A quick spin of the compensation dial and you have something…different.

Other places to find beautiful light ? Try New York – the glass skyscrapers bounce light around so finding shards of dark and light isn’t hard.


Cape Town is also astounding, not only for light but also geology and food.

When all is said and done, it’s hard to take a bad picture in beautiful light. Which makes living in London disappointing from that perspective.

But San Francisco is disappointing for so many other reasons. The homelessness mixed with extreme wealth makes for an deeply unpleasant cocktail.

Turn right out of your hotel and you’re surrounded by crystal stores filled with ludicrously expensive tat.

Turn left and within a 100 yards you’ll find yourself mixing with aggressive drugs dealers, mentally unwell people who cannot afford health care and extreme poverty.

Quite how America turned into such a socially divided country in such a short period of time is unclear. Was it Reagan closing community mental health care in the 1980’s ? Is it Trump exacerbating the gulf between rich and poor ?

Whatever the reason, it’s very very sad.


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