"Every ten years a man should give him self a good kick in the pants."
And so it is time for that kick in the pants. I have been giving some thought into how my photography is changing over the last few years. Small things have been changing and should as we evolve and discover new interests.
When I look back, I went through an HDR phase, where everything was about post processing. I then went to show off the gear, by doing a great deal of shallow depth of field shots. I went from wanting to shoot large buildings to looking for detail shots. And I went from exclusive color to a mix with B&W.
This evolution seems to follow patterns as I see other photographers going through the same phases. Perhaps this is driven by social media, or perhaps it is a natural evolution of the pursuit of that hobby. When I really adopted photography as a hobby, back in 2009, I assumed that the digital revolution was over. Now I realize that what I have been witnessing has been the evolution of digital photography. I have also seen the resurrection of film and enjoyed the rediscovery of the analog methods.
I have been seeing myself use social media platforms such as Instagram a lot more these days. Initially I viewed it as another obligation to keep up to date with friends. It is only recently that I have begun to see it as a way to show my work to others and see what different parts of the world are working on. It represents the fashion magazines of the 1950's and 60's.
From a gear perspective, I have been looking at smaller, lighter and simpler. This is in line with my change of artistic interests. The curious aspect is that it has gone up the price chain with Leica's now replacing Nikons as my digital camera of choice. The change stems from a workflow adjustment in that now I want to spend 30 seconds on an image in post, and spend 30 minutes figuring out how to shoot it. I want fewer images and more hits. I want more shots of people and less of isolated buildings.
The interesting part of this discovery is that these changes came about in isolation of one another...or so I thought. Today I realized that what I was viewing as a series of steps in the progression of this hobby, was in fact a seismic shift in photography philosophy and one deserving of more contemplation.
So the next few posts, I will export these changes and what it means to how, what and why I shoot. I wonder if, like the choice of subjects, this is also a non-unique step in a photography evolution.
"This is my camera. There are many like it, but this one is mine". I was recently watching a YouTube channel that I really love, created by Eduardo Pavez Goye (see it HERE) where he shares the sad story of the death of his Leica M8 and he un-recommends buying it. While I agree with him that the Leica M8 is a bit too old and early in the development to recommend buying, I do believe that it is worth telling of my own experience with the Leica ME.
I bought this camera in 2016 used in London. The camera was made in 2015 and had 200 shutter actuations. The M240 had been out for a long time and the M10 was coming out. So this was three generations back, and was designed around 2009 technology. All very good reasons to pass it by. But I liked my film Leica and wanted to give digital a try. So I bought it without any plans of upgrading.
The wonderful thing about the ME is that it is basic. Nothing fancy just a digital camera with aperture priority as the most advanced function. The bad is that the camera is slow and can only take memory cards up to 32GB. It is built like a tank and the LCD screen is about as useful as a hole in the head.
But here is the thing, I LOVE to shoot this camera. I have more "keepers" then I get with my Nikon D800. The system is smaller so it makes it easy to carry. It is a silent camera so I can run around all day without drawing too much attention. The high ISO performance is roughly the same as film, so it does not match modern digital cameras, but I love film so the limitation is normal for me.
I did indeed buy the Leica M10, this was a 20th wedding anniversary gift from my wife. I love the M10 however it is a massive investment and I would not have done it without a wedding anniversary as an excuse. The ME gives me 18mp compared the the M10 24mp (roughly the same). The only improvement on the M10 is the ISO performance and the ability to transfer images via WIFI. Aside from that they function the same way.
So as I travel to the rough an tumble streets of Buenos Aires, going to shoot in high crime locations, I do not want to risk the M10. I will risk my trusty ME, and I love the images it delivers. Slap on a 7Artisan 35mm lens and you have a trusty companion that can outshoot most photographers.
Would I recommend this camera? Yes. Here is why. This camera was built around 2009 technology and I still love it. On Nikon you would have had four or five generations of cameras out by now and the desire to upgrade is there. I do not develop a relationship with digital SLR, they are consumable. The Leica is not. So if you like the Leica feel, then this camera will serve you well with one warning, get one with a new sensor to reduce the corrosion risk.
Do you run risks with older digital technology? Yes. A solid film camera is a better investment. But if you want digital then you are buying into this risk. So a brand new Nikon, Sony, Cannon or Fuji will set you back a similar amount of money, will wind up in the trash in three years time (or sold for peanuts) while the ME should still be relevant and shooting great images. If you do not care for the Leica "feel" then by all means spend your money on something else. There are a great deal of good quality, technologically advanced cameras out there.
The concept is so basic for so many people. Most people travel with a maximum of one camera, but for a photographer, this is a massive challenge. Changing cameras opens up the artistic possibilities. You can move from digital to film, color to b&w or from a medium format to 35mm. These changes alter how you see the world, what you photograph and the very story you tell.
So to limit myself to a single is not a small challenge. Consider that a single camera would eliminate film or digital. I prefer film for the color shots but love the B&W that film gives me. To simplify that even further, would be to limit myself to a single camera and a single lens. But what would that look like and how would it impact my view of the location?
I recently was asked to shoot the grand opening of a base during a work trip. I had to travel light as we had a full week planned. I ended up taking my Leica M10 and took the Zeiss 50, 35 and Voigtlander 15mm. I had been shooting almost exclusively on the 50mm and was sure that this would be the lens I used during the base opening.
While there I quickly switched to 35mm and was so grateful I had it with me. I needed to get closer to the subjects and get a large number of people into the frame. The 35mm gave me that. I used the Leica app to transfer some images to my phone and get some early shots processed on Lightroom CC.
The combination turned out to be perfect. The 35mm gave me the angle of view and the wifi file transfer allowed me to work on some early examples that ended up being published on various forums online.
This got me thinking that a one camera solution might just work. The challenge is film and how to balance my love for both mediums. Right now the best I can do is to take a single digital camera with a few lenses and a film camera with a single 50mm lens. The Leica M10 and the M6 give me the ability to share the lenses between the two however when shooting a rangefinder I prefer to have a SLR enjoy both camera forms.
So this is the best I can do. A single camera in each medium. At the end of the day, it is me who has to carry the stuff around, and I am willing to carry a few more pounds for the sake of medium flexibility.
Here I shot a wonderful environmental portrait of a shop owner. Her colorful clothing, wonderful expression and contagious smile in front of the background of her little shop make this a nice image. It was shot on a Nikon D800, with a 24-70mm lens. I did not add any vignette but also did not correct for what the lens gave me.
I did a great deal of detailed work on the contrast to make sure the image popped properly. This accentuated the vignette a bit. I shot it at ISO800 which is high for the D800 yet I did not reduce the grain at all. I kept the image with all of its imperfections, because in an image, as in a person, the character is hidden in the imperfections.
How many times do you go to a party and find yourself speaking to the cookie cutter suburban homeowner? How many times have you longed for the imperfect person who took far too many wrong turns? The person who jumped off the fashion train and is marching to the beat of their own drums?
You should look at your images the same way. Why have the perfect lens? Why not shoot with a lens that is imperfect and full of character? Why not leave your image with those small distractions we are taught to cut out? In this example I have a white string tied to the shelf on the right of the image. It is bright, distracts and does not contribute to the image. Cookie cutter photo editing would tell you to remove it, or at the very least darken it a bit.
But in that little piece of string, you have a story. A story of a little shop that is held together by hundreds of little strings just like that. The woman is smiling through cataract filled eyes, missing teeth and a wrinkled face yet she tells a wonderful story too. That story needs to be told as it is. To whitewash, dodge, burn and surgically alter the storyline is to tell a different story. One that does not exist, never did exist and never will exist. That is fantasy which has little place in a environmental portrait.
Two conflicting messages which further proves this world is more about content then about having a true belief. YouTube has become one of the most popular places to share and enjoy hobbies and pursuits. It is filled with wonderful tutorials, reviews and open discussions. But the modern YouTube creator has to come with something more, as good, reliable information is no longer enough to garner the subscribers desired. Which brings me to my blog post today....
A common message that has been going around photography circles for decades is that the camera is not important. It is the creative attention and knowledge possessed by the photographer that makes the difference. This is an important message for two key reasons, the first is that it highlights that a wonderful camera will not make you a wonderful photographer and second, that if you do not have the money for top gear, you can still be a wonderful photographer. I have heard some YouTubers compare a camera with an oven. You see a professional oven at the hands of an amateur baker will not produce mouthwatering results however a professional baker with a poor oven can.
I can understand, and somewhat, agree with that philosophy. If you ascribe to it, gear acquisition is not longer important and your goal is to expose yourself to more photographic opportunities and learn as much as you can. I can see the benefit of this approach.
Then I see the same photographers who preach this, spending a great deal of time discussing why they changed from one camera system to another. If the camera does not matter then why spend the time giving these explanations? Perhaps it is a question of finding some content to display? I see plenty of YouTube creators who just seem to copy what others are doing. There is little creative content and perhaps they need something to discuss. How many times can you talk about the relationship between aperture and shutter speed?
If this is a case of content starved creators, then I completely understand. If this is a case of people dishing out philosophy who do not really believe it then I do have an issue with it. New photographers are trying to learn from them, they are portraying themselves as knowledgeable teachers so they should be held accountable for what they preach.
I had long heard that Tokyo was the Mecca of film camera stores and always dreamt of going. So when I discovered a need to travel to Japan for work, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to see if I could find some time to check out the famous stores.
I did not have too much time to prepare, so I went to Japan Camera Hunter and found a map with a ton of stores around Tokyo. I downloaded this to my iPhone and off I went. I arrived on a Saturday night and had the full day on Sunday to walk around and check out the stores.
Below are the lessons I learned, and some recommendations to help you get the most out of any shopping trip in Tokyo.
For those curious about what I bought....I finally got my hands on a wonderful Nikon S2. I was going to leave it at that but at the last minutes I decided to pick up a Nikon F3T. I have the Nikon F3 but always dreamt of the F3 Professional and the F3 Titanium. I found a mint F3T for about USD 550. Like I said, not a steal but given the condition of the camera, a very respectable price. I will share pictures soon!
I ran across the photography above while doing a history "string" search. This is what I call it when I find something interesting and begin searching for more information than is readily available. This takes me from one person or event to another, as I trace back the "strings" that link all events and people together.
In this particular case, I was searching for the "Ross Sisters" and act of three very talented sisters that became popular in the late 1940's. This is one of the sisters after her performance life had ended with her husband. This picture really struck me because it is a perfect travel portrait of the 1950's as we see the airliner in the background, the couple is dressed up and all smiles.
This got me thinking about today's travel portraits, so I went on Unsplash to see how modern photographers interpret the concept of travel.
So how has travel and travel portraits changed over the years? This seems to be a topic fit for a dissertation and something that could never be properly covered in a blog post. But I still believe it is worth looking into, however superficially it might be.
Travel photography has changed, because our notions of travel has changed. In the 1940's the world was at war. People were focused on helping the war effort, or surviving it. As the 1940's came to a close, a booming economy developed as the world rebuilt itself. As the 1950's came, people had money and wanted to travel to see the world. Aviation had gained considerable ground during and after the war so people took to the skies.
Airliners competed to offer a more opulent experience, catering to upper class people by promising luxury. Flight attendants and pilots were viewed as people embracing the modern era. These were the jobs of the future. People, focused more on the travel and less on the destination.
We see this approach to travel throughout the 1950's, 60's and into the 70's and then things begin to change. In the 1980's the goal was to bring travel to the mass population. Competition from rival airline companies was making it impossible to only focus on the upper class. If they wanted to grow, they had to find a way to make it affordable.
Cheaper fares meant putting more people on board the airplanes, this meant less room and less time for service. Airports needed to find faster ways to move people around, tarmac boarding of planes took too long. Skybridges were created, separating you from the mode of transport you were using.
As we enter the 1990's we see the transformation accelerate and as airplane flights became more economical it lost the social status it once had. Airplane safety became a concern with hijackings and accidents. Entering airports became less of a runway to show off new fashion and became a security process. In short, people began to hate travel. And so we focused on the destination.
And so our notion of travel changed and we began reconsidering the destination and reason for travel. A concept began being perpetuated that travel means personal growth. Young people finishing high school began traveling before university. This began extending to young people looking for ways to continually travel.
YouTube today is filled with "van life" concepts or "making money while traveling". The goal of travel is no longer about a destination it has become a way of life. The social pressure is not about buying a house, having kids or even getting a good job. Social pressures are about how to avoid all of those things for as long as possible.
As travel changed, so too has our approach to travel and our images of it as well. So the next time you look at an image of a young person living out of a van, or finding themselves in some small isolated town, hut or mountain, you know the history of how they got there. My only question is where will they go next?
Travel photography can be a great deal of fun, however as Sally Mann is found of saying, some of the best pictures can be taken around the house. We had a party at the house this weekend, and some friends brought some wonderful flowers that really needed to be photographed.
A black curtain hung next to a window, some soft, natural light and everything was set for a picture. I wanted a straight vase and ultimately selected an old wine bottle, dutifully emptied of its original contents, which held the flower nice and straight. I found a suitable table and draped it with a dark cloth. For lighting I directed the natural light with a reflector.
Once set up, the simple part is the actual photography. Key to these still life, is to use spot metering on the brightest area. In this case, the flower petals proved to be the brightest area. Once the exposure was set to keep all the highlights from being blown out, all that was left was to recompose.
The challenge of such a shot is that the preparation takes so much longer than the actual execution that the end result hardly seems to justify the expense of time and effort. In order to compensate for this feeling, the photographer will often shoot too many images of the flower, expending an entire film roll or occupying too much memory.
I suggest that you consider what other items could be photographed with a similar background and gather those. Once the "foldable studio" is set up, there are plenty of things that might benefit from the setting.
I took the liberty to shoot this flower both in digital and on film. For the film I finished off a roll of 120 HP5+ at EI 1600 that I had on my Hasselblad. I also had a roll of 35mm also of HP5 at EI 200 that I shot as well. The end result, three or four digital images followed by ten or so images on film.
I heard it all before, it is not worth the money, it is a camera made for people with too much money and too little ability, it is a status symbol. And the crazy bit, each of these has an element of truth into it. The Leica camera is ridiculously priced and I did not purchase it for a full year after it came out. I could not bring myself to part with the money. I love my Leica ME and the M10 did not introduce too many new features that I absolutely needed.
But this year my wife and I celebrated 20 years of wedding happiness. When she asked me what I wanted, I could not think of anything else. With so many of my fellow photographers criticizing the purchase of the Leica M10, I thought I would openly explain my logic.
The answer can be found deep in my Lightroom archives. A few years ago, I wanted to see if it was necessary to carry three massive lenses on vacation. I was shooting my Nikon D800 and usually took a 70-200mm, 24-70mm and 14-24mm lenses. So I went back to my previous three vacations, and had Lightroom tell me how many of the pictures I took were taken with each lens. My next vacation I left the 70-200mm lens at home. Nice simple. I love the lens but I was not shooting it very much and it was not worth taking.
A few months ago I was looking back at some of my favorite images and I noticed an odd trend. The vast majority of my favorite images were taken with the Leica ME. I had several favorite images shot with my Nikon D800, however these were images I had planned, set up and prepared for. This was with the full tripod, remote trigger, lens filters and so forth.
In fact, it would have been much cheaper if I never saw the difference between one camera and another. But I did. When I walk around with a Leica ME I do not really feel that I have a camera. I feel that it is part of me and that people will not be bothered with my use of it. When I pick up my Nikon D800, I am clearly shooting and I know people will be bothered with such a massive camera pointing at them.
This picture above is an example of what I am talking about. It is not a wonderful picture, but it is a picture I would never have taken with the Nikon D800. I took this picture, and several others, and the man to my right never even looked at me. These are the kinds of pictures that I take with my Leica that I do not take with my DSLR.
This picture above is one of my all time favorite shots. I was in Covent Garden and was wondering around trying to get a good shot. Not sure what it is with Covent Garden, but it is a wonderful place that is frustratingly difficult to shoot. As I wandered around, I saw this entertainment show. Now I should explain that there are shows there everyday and they are selected carefully. Only the best of the performances are allowed there.
I found myself near the wall of a Church that sits opposite the Garden. As I turned I noticed that a show as starting and I was behind the performer. My instinct was to move but while I did, I pulled my Leica ME up and snapped a single shot and then I walked off for the show to start.
This image would never have been captured without a Leica and what is worse, I would not have gotten a good image of the Garden.
This is what a Leica M gives me. It gives me the ability to shoot images I want to shoot, but a DSLR makes it impossible to shoot. So if I wanted to continue to shoot the images that I want to then I needed to continue shooting a Leica.
So why buy the M10? Simply put, I wanted the better low light capabilities and it delivers. I would not have gotten it if it had come with a EVF, or some other gimmick. I wanted a simple camera that got out of my way and allowed me to forget it was there.
Is it worth the $7500 price tag? For me it is. I am willing to pay this to continue to shoot the images that I love.
So six photographers were asked by Canon to shoot the same person, however each was given a different background of the person. The six photographers shot drastically different photographs based on what they thought they knew of the person. You can see an article on PetaPixel here.
This interesting experiment highlights the impact that a photographer has on the images they take. This is why, when I find a photographer I like, I need to dive deeply into their lives to try and understand their perspective. But in so doing, I am reinterpreting the image through a different lens, and this can cause problems.
Here is my own experiment to highlight the pitfalls of interpreting a photographers perspective.
Here we have two photographs by the same photographer of two different ladies. Both are interesting shots, the first an intimate snapshot of a woman who is caught on a toilet and manages a coy smile. The second, is a graceful posed image of a beautiful woman with a striking off camera gaze. Both were shot by Lartigue.
Anyone can look to these two images and see an eye for photography. Anyone can see the obvious talent and in spite of the very different photographic styles, it is clear that Lartigue executed both wonderfully well.
If one begins to look deeper at Lartigue's life, one finds that the first photo is of Bibi, his first wife. It was shot during their honeymoon. She was his main subject for years, both before and after they were married. As the marriage began to fall apart she asked for a divorce and left him. Lartigue then got together with Renee Perle who was a model. She became his muse and he shot photographs of her all over.
When you compare the images of his first wife, candid, unposed and innocent it is easy to believe one sees happiness and joy. As one continues to look at the images of Renee Perle it is easy to believe that one sees fake poses, an act for the lens that must be covering up something that is missing...perhaps the joy we saw before.
Looking back up at the two images, we see them very differently now. We see the intimate joy of a young bride being photographed by her new husband and on the second a false pose, an image that could have been shot by any fashion photographer.
But these interpretations are adjusted based on our understand of Lartigue and his life. You can read his diary and see his thoughts of each woman, you can marvel at how his style changed and even feel a bit sad that his first marriage failed. But these things are not captured in the image.
In this two dimensional representation of three dimensional ladies, we have wonderful images. We have gesture captured wonderfully, we have grace and we have composition. It is our biased attempt to extrapolate the photographer's intent based on our understanding of what was happening to his life that alters our perception and appreciation of two fine photographs.
A photograph can be a simple snapshot that you glance over for a few seconds and move on. Or you can linger over the photograph and conceptualize it, but then you can go deeper and attempt to understand the photograph. Through each stage your perception of the photograph will be altered tremendously when the image itself has not changed a bit.
As Canon proved in their experiment, a photographer will impact an image based on their perception of the subject. But as shown above, the viewer will impact the interpretation of an image based on their perception of the photographer. So a well thought out image is the product of the photographers bias intermingled with the viewer's own bias.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.