Photography Tips from Special Guest Jesse Kalisher


Photography Tips from Special Guest Jesse Kalisher

April 8, 2016

Interested in learning more about photography? Jesse Kalisher, President and CEO of Kalisher, an award-winning global leader in curated and created art for hospitality, will be joining two voyages this year to share photography tips and lead photo expeditions. Join him on the 14-night Marquesas, Tuamotus & Society Islands cruise departing June 25, 2016, or the July 9, 2016, 7-night Tahiti & the Society Islands sailing. 

Jesse received his first camera on his sixth birthday, as a present from his father, renowned photographer Simpson Kalisher. A darkroom soon followed. While raised by his mother, over the years Jesse worked with his father both in the darkroom and as his assistant. Yet despite his enthusiasm for the medium, when it came time to go to college and consider a career, Jesse took his father’s advice and focused on anything but photography.

After an 11-year career on Madison Avenue, at 33 years old, Jesse boarded a plane for Hanoi and two months of untold adventures. The year was 1996. Jesse carried with him a simple point-and-shoot camera. It was during his first few days in Vietnam that he looked through the small viewfinder and had an epiphany. He had seen a few children playing badminton on an otherwise deserted early-morning street, lifted the camera to his eye, and expected to see a snapshot. He saw instead a tableau filled with meaning. And in that instant he rediscovered his love affair with photography.

Today, in addition to private collections throughout the world, Jesse’s photography is in the permanent collections of many museums, including the Louvre; the Smithsonian; the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York; the de Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; and many more. Of note, the first photograph of Barack Obama acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History was Jesse’s.

Jesse has led photo expeditions from French Polynesia to Alaska and throughout Europe. His first photo book, if you find the Buddha, was published by Chronicle Books and released in 2006 to great reviews. His second published collection of photographs, One World, features some of his most iconic images and was released in July 2014.

Jesse and his work have also been featured in Black & White, Digital Photo Pro, Art and Living, and Décor, and his work has been reviewed by noted New York gallery owner Michael Foley, who wrote that Jesse has “a large vision in life.” His work has sold in the Stephen Cohen Gallery in Los Angeles and has been featured at international photographic art expositions Photo San Francisco and Photo Los Angeles, along with the Oakland Museum of California, among others. Jesse has also served on the faculty at the Maine Media Workshops, and he has been invited to teach at the Santa Fe Workshops.

Q&A with Jesse Kalisher

What inspires you?

I am inspired by stories. That’s the key for me and what I share with folks who join me. Everyone hears and sees different stories, even in the same environment. And that’s what makes photography so special. We can all stand in the exact same spot and each recognize a different story. Now, the trick is to capture the entirety of that story in a single image. That’s where I excel and where my coaching comes in handy.

What makes a good picture stand out from the rest?

A great image is one in which the content and the style fight equally for our attention — when we don’t know if we like the image more because it’s pleasing to look at or more for the story it’s telling. When this happens, greatness has chanced upon us.

Do you have a favorite island in French Polynesia (personal favorite and favorite to photograph)?

I think I’m supposed to say that they’re all my favorites. And in some respect, that’s accurate. That said, if I had to shoot on one island and one island only, Moorea offers a wonderfully diverse day of photography. While I like shooting on all of the islands, I suppose this has become my favorite. Although, I will add, it can require an early start to get the right light. 

My personal favorite, photography aside, is easily Motu Mahana off the coast of Taha’a. The day on this island is magical. And, yes, there are terrific photo ops on the island. But that’s not the reason for going there. The reason for going to Motu Mahana is pure and simple paradise and relaxation. Your camera is extra.

What can a guest expect from your hands-on photo expeditions?

A fun and casual morning of gentle coaching. My job is to encourage and offer advice where requested. What I’ve found is that guests come away inspired to take more pictures. In some cases, people rediscover their love affair with photography. In other cases, people fall in love with photography for the first time. I’ve even had someone come out without a camera and find themselves inspired and curious. We never lose sight of the fact that this is vacation and we’re here to have fun.

We are often asked what type of camera to bring on the cruise. Do you have any recommendations?

The best camera is the one you have with you. I’ve seen guests come with an iPhone and capture incredible images. So fear not and never worry about which equipment you have. When you’re out with me, I’m encouraging your eye — the camera is inconsequential. Note that I capture a lot of images and snapshots with my iPhone — it’s a great camera.

Note to underwater photographers: I do not recommend the inexpensive plastic-bag camera housings. I’ve seen these fail. If you want to capture images underwater, invest in a waterproof point-and-shoot or the full-on solid-plastic waterproof housing for your digital SLR.

The landscape in the islands is so spectacular. What is the best way to really capture that in a photo?

Were that there were an easy single answer to this. Maybe the best answer is to come out with me and let me help you find the answer that best suits you. In some cases, the answer requires getting altitude for a broad overview. In other cases, it means wading in the water and getting a shot that includes land, trees, and water. In other cases, it means getting a close-up detail of local flora or perhaps one of the native tattoos. When shooting with me, we’ll experiment with all of it.

Jesse’s wife Helen Kalisher, a fine artist and Photoshop expert, will also be lecturing during the voyage.

Helen is the Executive Vice President and Creative Director of Kalisher. She graduated from the Chelsea School of Fine Art in London and now oversees a creative department of ten artists who create work every day using everything from old-fashioned paint and canvas to Photoshop. During this voyage of The Gauguin, she’ll share several of her favorite Photoshop tips and tricks. Guests can come with a photograph, and she’ll select two or three examples on the spot and demonstrate how she would fix them up. She’ll also share a few tips that help improve workflow and further ensure that Photoshop is a powerful and useful tool.

How do your photography skills and Helen’s complement each other?

She makes my photography look good every day, so it’s a great marriage on so many levels. I trust Helen’s eye and judgment more than anyone I’ve ever met. We often edit my images together, and once the edit is done, I hand the files to her for the post-production work, which she does entirely in Photoshop. She’s a whiz, and, she likes to say, “I take your photographs and turn them into art.” I accept that.

Do you have a blog our guests can follow?

Here is a link to my blog which features a photography showcase and tips:

Jesse provides additional photography tips in a YouTube video series that can viewed at the links below.

Tip #1 – Finding the Story:

Tip #2 – Light:

Tip #3 – Content vs. Strategy:

Tip #4 – Perspective:

Tip #5 – Photographing People:

Tip #6 – Professional Photography Secrets:

To learn more about the voyages Jesse and Helen will be sailing on, please click here.  

For more information about Jesse, click here.