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.
Page 2 of "The Photographer's Playbook" and I was stumped. All Dan Abbe was asking me to do, in this first photographer's "play" was to figure out what game I was playing. It would have been much easier to skip over this first assignment and move on to photograph the moon, or myself in a mirror. But that would have been cheating.
I spent the next few days trying to define the game I am playing, and once I began to be able to articulate it I really began stressing as Dan Abbe then asked me to learn my game. Well that means that I not only need to be able to articulate it, I need to be able to measure some form of progress to in my development.
So I threw out everything I thought about art and photography. I chose to forget that I lack talent, I chose to forget the gear I have or want to get. I forgot about digital, film, storage and display. I needed to articulate my game and here it is.
I want to be able to approach street, landscape, portrait, architecture and still life photography and deconstruct it to a simple image with an emotional involvement. The idea is to create an image with "kando". This is my game. Now how will I learn my game?
Photography as an art form is made to be shared. Just as music is written to be heard, a photograph is taken to share. So I needed to take my photography in each of these genres to others and more specifically to people who understand photography. I needed to be critiqued.
So I divided up these understandings into a simple roadmap for my "game". Below is the version as it sits now. I am sure this will be altered over time, but this is where my thinking is at.
There it is, I have defined my game and I have set out a roadmap to learn my game. I have included establishing the academic background, shooting, printing and sharing. The "end game" is when I have a portfolio that can stand up to a critique and images with kando. It only took me a week to do. What a crazy photo assignment this turned out to be!
The second lesson I wish I learned much earlier in my photographic journey is actually a lesson within a lesson. When I first picked up a camera to start making art, I thought I was after the beautiful image. We all know the one I am talking about, wonderful clouds, colorful horizon with crystal clear blue sky with some warm foreground element to balance off the shot. I traveled the world looking for these shots which I kept seeing in all the on-line photography classes. This perfect image must be the pinnacle of photographic expression, if it wasn't then why would all the experts be teaching it?
Only years later did I realize that the wonderful postcard perfect image of a sunset, with brilliant colors and sense of depth was...crap. The reasons all the experts teach how to capture those images is because it is the easiest thing to teach. There really is very little art in those images. It is about capturing a perfect scene.
Those same experts, then take the photographer indoors to practice shooting with lights, modifiers and reflectors. Again, a place they could control, easily teach and sell a bunch of gear in the process. I do not blame them, I would do the same if I was making a living off photography courses.
What I learned is that Art can be at its strongest when it is simple. Removing the complications of life, the clutter of advertisements and the noise of messages can create a powerful image from a simple object. The lack of busy messages can carry the strongest message through an emotion.
The image of the bulls above, is actually a work by Picasso where he deconstructs a bull in order to be able to transmit a message with as little information as possible. The goal, ensure everyone who looks at the drawing knows it is a bull, but remove all unnecessary things. This deconstruction is amazing to me, and the simplification it brings is astounding.
This idea that art is not perfection, but the communication of an emotion and the power of transmitting that emotion with some very simple objects changed by view on photography. I have not shot a sunset in ages, as I focus more on the details of a persons hand, face or silhouette.
The lessons I learned right after this one is that of size. When I first began printing images, I wanted to print the largest size possible. I printed massive prints, then bought a printer that could print on a large scale only to print largely forgettable images. I thought this was the best that could be done and went about my life.
Then on a afternoon in Paris, I went to a Museum to see an exhibition of my favorite photographer Josef Sudek. I had seen his work in books and on the internet but had never seen one of his actual prints. Imagine my surprise when the image I thought was going to be large was tiny. I was dumbfounded! Here was a master photographer who was printing small images. I stood there wondering why, and then involuntarily took a step closer, then another and another. I found myself getting close to the print, closing the gap, and focusing on it. The rest of the world drifted away and there was only me and this print. A astounding little print.
As photographers develop in their skill set and abilities, there are some lessons that are learned rather late yet can have a very strong impact on the quality of images captured. I decided to make a couple of posts on the two lessons I wish I had learned years sooner than I actually did.
The first lesson I learned from a website that has long ago disappeared. The concept of the site was to bring together photojournalist techniques with the "dad photographer" job role. When I first visited the site, I was taken aback by the quality and honesty of the images he would take. I was so drawn to it, I began to look at the techniques he was employing and then realized that they were the same ones that famous war correspondents would use.
Photojournalists do not take pictures based on a preconceived image. They take what is there, in the most factual way possible and record the event. Dark circles under the eyes, odd clutter around the subject and distracting lighting are all included.
This is not to say that photographers like Emma Goldsmith is wrong, they are professionals and when families go for professional shots, they expect images that are "perfect". Emma did a great job on the image above, and it is an image I would be proud to show. But there is a difference between a photoshoot and life at home.
I want images of my kids growing up, surrounded by all their toys, and clutter that make a house a home. Looking at my photography as a way to capture their "truth" set me free from worrying about the perfect pose, perfect lighting and the absence of noise on the image.
There are some tricks to this approach to photography that are worth mentioning.
It has been awhile since I did a deep dive into one of my own photographs. I like to do this as an educational tool, but I need to be in the right frame of mind. The objective is to find what works with the image and what doesn't. Sometimes I find that my link with the image is emotional and that the photograph really is not well taken. Other times I find the key that makes the photo work compositionally.
So here we have an image I like to call "People & Light". As many might notice, the image was taken in the Pantheon in Rome. This is an amazing building, built in 126 AD and it is a marvel of engineering and mathematics. The best part, it is free to enter as it is a Church now, and while people should be respectful of the services that are conducted there, it is free to walk in and look around.
I took this image many years ago using my D300 camera a the 24-70mm lens that I still use. They do not allow tripods and there is little light for a camera with such basic ISO performance.
What I wanted was an image that would do this building justice and I only found two unique attributes. The first is the ceiling that is a massive dome with a hole in the center. I first shot this ceiling and then realized that this is what everyone shot. So I looked around and my eyes settled not he door.
The image was to highlight the size of the building by keeping the tourists in the shot. The massive door in the background gives a sense of scale compared to the people, and the columns outside help break up the bright light flooding in. I would not have the dynamic range to keep the highlights outside the door and the darkness inside in the same image. So by allowing the light to be blown out, but shooting at an angle I was able to break up the bright light a bit.
The door frame support columns, fall on the lines of thirds along the vertical. Horizontally the horizon is below the bottom third, accentuating what is on top. While the people are in the frame, they help the shot as they give everything perspective. A bit advantage is that no one is looking at my while I take the image. Tourists looking at the camera when an image is taken can be very distracting.
Even the square hole on the upper right side of the image, was left on purpose. This is the hole that Michelangelo made in order to study how the Pantheon was built.
Due to the poor lighting, some of the people are hidden in shadows. If you are going to have people in the frame, it is important to be able to see them.
The curve of the building gives a bit of tension in the shot. I like this tension but it contrasts with the people standing around. If the image had some movement, a person walking or running, this would tie in better with the tension of the curve in the building.
I believe this is one of the best images I have taken of the Pantheon. It is a rather unique vantage point while making it instantly recognizable. Overall a nice capture with some interesting elements that allow the viewer enough to look at to stick around for a little while.
I was recently looking at some Leica lenses and was surprised to hear about how "flawless" the image was. The ideal of almost zero distortion, no color fringing and pin sharp from center to edges. It struck me as a very clinical way to approach an artistic pursuit. We all understand that it is not the gear that makes an image, but can the gear be too perfect to allow some character?
If you look at the image above, you have a wonderful little Chinese girl, dressed in a traditional hat during their National Day Celebrations. This image is one of my favorites because of the girl's expression, her hand gesture and the lady eating noodles in the background. When I look at this image, I am not thinking of the perfection of the glass, in fact, this image would be wonderful with any glass.
As a photographer, I am not interested in capturing the truest rendition of a scene. I am interested in conveying a feeling, and image detail does not carry through to the emotional. A shot of a temple in Xi'an China can be photographed a great many ways. Each visitor attempts to create their own memory of the scene. Some look to some detail of the building, others try to capture the entire magnificence while others focus on the light and shadow to convey a feeling.
Irrespective of the approach the photographer takes, the clinical perfection of how a lens captures the scene is not important. In fact, we use modern digital filters to dumb down the image, to add color casts and to remove detail. Why do we do these things if perfect rendition is what matters?
The answer is simple, in the digital world we are able to capture a perfect rendition of a scene, and so is everyone else on the planet. We need something to stand out, to let the world know that an individual took this image. We take the straight photography movement, championed by the lines of Paul Strand, Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz and return back to pictorialism where the artist feels the need to make an image unique.
What Man Ray did in his darkroom with techniques like Polarization, is now being done on computers, cell phones and various applications. I do not criticize any of these movements, it is the world of art, and it will change and move depending on the pressures in society. I do however wonder why seek the perfect lens, why not go after the one filled with character?
I recently bought the 7artisan 50mm lens for the Leica M mount. This is a f/1.1 lens, making it the fastest that I own. I bought it for about USD 360. Every review I read compared it to the Noctilux (a USD 10,000 lens) and argued about all the limitations the lens has. When I took the first few images with the lens I really liked it. The images have all these odd, results that make it unique. The lens is imperfect and this gives it a character and that is what I want my images to have.
So the next time you are looking for a lens, why not try some old, used lens with scratches, dust and yes, even fungus? You might be surprised at the artistic results it gives you!
I began downloading some photography documentaries and watching them. I do not enjoy them as much as a photography book, mostly because I can't stop and just look at the picture without the narrative changing my viewing. But I do find them fascinating to get to know the photographers themselves.
Speaking about yourself and your art is never easy. Effectively we are seeing the image of the person they want us to see, but occasionally we get a little peak behind the mask and walk away with a bit more insight into the photographers we love.
And so it is in "What Remains", a documentary about Sally Mann. I first saw a photograph of hers back in 1999 or so. I was in New Orleans and I walked into a gallery to see a mixed set of prints by different photographers. I remember seeing these half naked kids looking like they were in a dream. The image impacted me but it bothered me as well. This is long before I had kids of my own, hence I considered nudity of any type from a single perspective. Only after seeing the joy and freedom my kids had when very young did I begin to see that picture in a different light.
What Remains is a biographical documentary where Sally does most of the talking. You get glimpses into their family dynamic and are left wondering how it must all work. This is not a critical contemplation but a true curiosity which comes from seeing another persons life and trying to understand it.
You see Sally speak with such pride in her work she seems unstoppable. But then you see one of her projects get rejected from a New York gallery and you see the timid, delicate side of Sally. The fact that the documentary captured both extremes so very well is one reason this is one of my favorite photography documentary.
The second reason I like it so much is that they mix footage from the 1990's with their latest fillings. This gives us a chance to see Sally working on three very different projects, one about her family, one about landscapes and finally one about death and decay.
The final reason I like this documentary is that it shows her working. Few documentary spend more than a few minutes of B roll on the photographer at their work. What Remains spends a great deal more time showing how she works.
The film quality is great, the insights are interesting and the human element of pain, enjoyment, desease and family all come through. It will leave you with more insight into how the photographer views her own work. One thing is for sure, you will not see a Sally Mann picture the same way again.
In the book "On Photography" by Susan Sontag, she theorizes that the camera in the hands of a vacationer helps them deal with the anxiety of travel. Standing in front of any amazing site, leaves one perplexed as to what to do, but the act of lifting a camera to ones eye allows a socially acceptable action to be done. The refocusing of our attention to the camera, helps us assimilate what we are faced with and gives us a chance to process it.
When this book was written, film cameras were the only medium available. The picture being taken would not be viewed for days, weeks or even months later. Today with digital cameras the only thing that has changed is the immediacy of viewing the image captured. This being true, and with digital camera improving by leaps and bounds, why would one ever decide to take a film camera on vacation? Here I give my explanation for this seemingly odd choice.
1. Perfection versus Character:
Digital photography is an amazing medium and I often times take a digital camera with me on vacation. There is nothing as perfect as a image from my D800 of a landscape, city scape or even a street shot. But the perfection of the images removes from the character of the scene. What I am trying to capture is a scene and that is very rarely perfect. A film captured image, with the imperfections of development and printing, gives an image a character that often enhances a scene.
2. Extending the Visit:
The latency or delay of developing a roll of film, allows me to enjoy the scene a second time. It allows me to look at the scene with a critical eye after development is done, then through the selection process on a contact sheet and then finally in a darkroom as I print it. With digital I see the image right after I take it, select the image on the computer and spend five minutes on Lightroom or Photoshop refining it and rarely if ever print it.
3. Enjoying the Limitations:
Film is not cheap, so I end up being more selective on film. I have a higher hit rate which allows me to slow down and enjoy the limitations of film. The ISO limitations force me to take advantage of any "spoonful of light" (Don McCullin) and really think about the image. Overcoming limitations is part of the artistic process. As digital improves, there are less limitations making it less an artistic process and more of lucky one.
4. Digital is Less about Photography:
Digital is about post processing on a computer. Film is about the art of the capture as the limitations of the darkroom are such that I am unable to create anything in the darkroom. All I can do is enhance what was originally captured.
5. I Always have a Digital Point & Shoot:
This argument I am blatantly stealing from fstopcameras.com. The argument is a good one so I will use it. With my iPhone I always have a good point & shoot digital camera with me. It is easy to use it as it is always with me. So for the quick snapshots for Facebook or Instagram, I have a tool that is very well designed and always at hand.
6. Silver Gelatin Prints:
I cannot print the same tonal range of B&W in digital than I can in film in the darkroom. This could be my own limitation on printing, but there is a depth to a silver gelatin print that I just cannot match. I have a great number of digital images, perfectly converted to B&W that I cannot get a great print from. I wish I had shot them on film.
7. Digital is Easy:
Look at the images on Instagram, Facebook or all over the internet. Look at the number of photographers who are shooting amazing works of art. All of them are standing on the shoulders of scientific brilliance using digital cameras that make it difficult to shoot a bad shoot. Take a digital camera to Europe and you can make amazing images (using your computer) just like the thousands of others that same day. With a film camera, getting that amazing image is much more challenging which increases the satisfaction when finally obtained.
In all honesty, I typically do take both a digital and film camera with me on vacation. I love the benefit of having the immediate gratification while I develop my film images. But in the end, my favorite image of a vacation is usually captured on film.
It is a lazy Sunday morning, the neighborhood is quiet and I just finished a relaxed check on my film stock and found that I have a roll of TMAX400 120 format film that is expiring this month. So I loaded the roll onto my Hasselblad A24 back (more on this in a bit) and will take a walk around my neighborhood to try to capture 11 or 12 (the A24 back yields uneven spacing so occasionally I lose one image) images that tell the story of this neighborhood.
Before we begin let me set explain the challenge. The first part of the challenge is that I will shoot, develop and scan in one day. I probably wont make it into the darkroom today but we will see how it goes.
The second part has to do with my neighborhood. In Jakarta we live in a enclosed neighborhood, which means that everything is a bit boring compared to the streets of Jakarta so I will need to venture out a bit. There is a safety risk here, not really in terms of violence or theft but due to the number of cars, motorbikes and lack of a sidewalk. I will have to pick my composition based on safety first and getting the shot second.
Another challenge is in the format itself as the 120 format in 6x6 only allows 12 shots. It is difficult to find a rhythm when you keep having to reload film. I have an A12 back which has a half shot roll of HP5. I will take this plus one extra roll to give me a better chance at finding a rhythm.
So I left the house at 10am and returned at about 11:30, just in time for lunch. It was hot (Jakarta is always hot), but I had a great time. After lunch I developed the rolls and let them dry while I worked on some 35mm I developed on Saturday.
The pictures came out very well with only one that was a bit soft on focus. The only real issue was keeping the camera level. I have not shot with the Hasselblad and I guess I have become sloppy. You will see it in a couple of images so I do apologize.
I shot Tmax400 at an EI of 250. I developed the film in ID-11 at a 1:1 for 10min 15 seconds. This gave me a very nice contrasty image while keeping the grain I control. Overall I am pleased with the film and the results have deep tonalities, proper blacks with nice highlights.
You will see two shots of the same scene (the one with C pipes). The first was shot at 1/30 sec and the second at 1/60 sec. I first shot the scene as per my light meter, and then I realized that it would be too light. So I shot another with a faster shutter speed to give it the look I was after.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.