Fashion Cover Up – Leo Kwok

We know Leo Kwok for his wonderful street photography and after inviting him to be our current featured photographer we discovered his amazing ‘Fashion Cover Up Project ‘  and we wanted to know some more about it.

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Can you give us a brief overview of what the project’s about?

Hong Kong’s air pollution is mainly caused by motor vehicles. There are about 306 licensed vehicles for every kilometer of road and they produce large amounts of particles and nitrogen dioxide which cause burning spasms; swelling of the throat; reduced oxygen intake and a larger buildup of fluids in the lungs — and in some cases death. You find people using such materials as facial masks, newspapers and tissue paper to cover their mouths and noses in order not to breathe in those harmful pollutants. We know that we cannot get rid of all the vehicles in the short run nor stay indoors forever. But wait! Let’s forget all the bad news for a while. Can we try to confront this issue positively and express the need to protect ourselves in a creative and fashionable way? In my Fashion Cover-up project, I invited five people with very different characters and occupations and created five unique outfits for them. The outfits serve both to protect and beautify the wearers. Instead of showing the sad and ugly side of air pollution, which everyone knows, I prefer to address this social issue in an alternative way, one that will arouse our government’s attention.

 

Tell us a little more about the incredible outfits created and what each one represents?

As I mentioned, I created 5 outfit for 5 different people. After I discussed with them, knew more about their job natures, what they did, where they went… I came up with these:

 

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Facial Mask Gown -Silvia Cheng, Marketing Company Owner based in Central “My nose and mouth need a protective mask, so does my skin, which is the biggest organ exposed to Hong Kong’s polluted air. I can feel protected in this glamorous gown.”

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‘Good Morning’ Brand Towel Cloak – Ah Wai, Street Photographer “Batman has a bullet-proof cloak, and I also need a cool-looking air pollution-proof cloak when I’m driving my motorbike or working outdoors. Now I feel like I’m a superhero too.”

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Free Newspaper Skirt – Abby Au, Graphic Designer “I walk along busy roads every morning and usually have to collect a pile of free newspapers to cover my nose as the vehicles emit so much black smoke. This folded newspaper skirt works well, both functionality and aesthetically. I support recycling and support this outfit!”

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Toilet Paper Roll Costume – Tung Tung and Yau Yau, Primary 1 Students “Our mother gives us tissue paper to cover our mouths when we go to school. Instead, we are always looking for something cute and interesting to replace it. This outfit is functional and looks lovely. We love it so much because we are big fans of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.”

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Garbage Bag Suit – Kwan Jeh, Secondary School Cleaning Lady “I use the garbage bag to wrap around my head in order not to breathe in the toxic gas and substances. Now this full suit even protects my whole body.”

 

What made you choose to present the project in black and white also can you describe for us your studio set up and processing technique?

First of all, I think the form, shape and texture of those outfits are very important. I strongly believe B/W photo works better. Secondly, although the idea is a bit humorous, i don’t want people to think that it’s a secondary school craftwork project. Instead, i want to present it in a serious, professional and artistic manners. It should be more like a B/W high-fashion photography. I shot in RAW and did some contrast and tone enhancement in Photoshop and Silverefex Pro. One more thing i want to mention, the idea of the outfits and photography style, both are inspired by the Issey Miyaki Pleats Please Collection.
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I have a tiny photo studio less than 300 sq ft with a very basic setup : 400W studio strobes x 3 and 150W studio strobes x 2, umbrellas, soft boxes, beauty dish….etc and etc.  For cameras, i have Canon 5D (just sold), Nikon DF & FE2 with 3 lenses, Pentax 645D with 4 lenses, Mamiya 6, Leica M240, M9 (just sold), M7, M4, M3, X2….. lenses: 90cron, 50 Noct, 50 lux, 35 Summaron, 28 elmarit, 21 elmarit and just buy a R 70-210 /4. I used M9 and 50 Noct with 4 studio strobes to take this set of photo. For street or documentary photography, i usually bring M240 with 50 lux and 21 elmarit, M7 with 28 elmarit ; HP5+400 or Tri-X 400 and X2. I am expecting the new Leica Monochrom : )
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In one of our correspondences you said ‘Street photography is dessert, photo project is the main course”, what advice would you give to other photographers thinking about starting a project?

I always ask myself, “What’s the point to do this project?” If you think it’s meaningful to you or others, please go ahead. I have a life time project called “We are family” – record the significant moments of my kids and wifey, but not those typical family photos. I had a project called “Beautiful Strangers”, recorded the life of a tribe who lives in Yunnan, China, one of the poorest villages in the region. I believe some of the members here saw this set of photo in Leica Meet FB page. My motto is “To touch someone’s heart with photography”.

Where do you look for your inspiration?

Study the works of photographers, designers, artists I like, reading news everyday, watching movies and talking to different kinds of people.

Whats next for Leo Kwok?

I always want to improve myself and do better. As a photographer, I hope I could win an award in any significant international photo competitions like Leica Oskar Barnack Award, World Press Photo Contest….. I forget to say that people (even my friends)  think I’m a photographer. In fact I have been running my own branding design company and need to deal with my clients, staff, suppliers and all design works from 10am to 7pm everyday. Photography is just my serious hobby. I wish I could spend more time to take photos, travel and discover more new stories or one day it’s my second career.

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An interview with Alex Coghe by Stephen Cosh

WARNING : THIS POST CONTAINS EXPLICIT IMAGES

Alex Coghe is a world renowned street photographer and I’ve followed his work for years, however it wasn’t until I interviewed him that I saw there was more to the man than his street work…

 

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Hi Alex, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background.

I am an Italian Photographer, and have been living in Mexico for 5 years. I’ve never just been a photographer, I was born a writer.

My profession is therefore a union of various activities: I am a photo-journalist. In the past I have written articles about Mexico for an Italian Magazine. I have also had experience as a political journalist but now I interview artists, especially photographers, for my blog and for The Leica Camera Blog.

I also have experience as a photo editor, a skill that I now apply to my publications. The most recent is The Street Photographer Notebook, a project that I’ve just started but that already has been greeted with much enthusiasm from street photographers around the world.

I consider all my professional entities equally important, I’ve never been just a photographer. I hold workshops, for example. And I still offer my journalist services.

I think Photography for me has been an evolution, an extension of my experience as a creative a writer. Poetry is an admission of loneliness and when I realised that I had no more time for this, my camera has become my pen. I will never abandon writing, but I’ve delegated the exploration of my soul to photography.

 

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Alex you are known throughout the digital world for your street photography. How and when did you get into street as a genre?

Well I actually began seriously in 200, but before that I had studied it alot. All the work done without a camera helped me a lot in terms of a solid base.

There were just a few resources on the internet then and books have been very important for me.

 

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What is it about street photography that compels you to get out and shoot?

The sense of self challenge. Street Photography is probably the most challenging genre and I consider it a permanent school for the photographer. I would advise all photographers to practice on the street because even a studio photographer will benefit from it.

For me Street Photography is an attitude, a state of mind. When I am shooting in the studio i still apply the approach of street photography.

But the main reason I shoot street and walk miles exploring places in the city si the feeling that at any moment I can be surprised and get as excited as a child, and the street is always and experience within an experience where you can meet new people and hear their stories.

To be a good street photographer you must have empathy for people. If you do not have a sincere interest in your subjects you will never get good photographs of them.

 

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Recently you have entered into erotic photography. Why this move and how does it link with your street work.

I’m just exploring another part of being a photographer.

I’m a commercial photographer and sometimes I’m not a contractually restricted from showing the images I made which is a pain. I respect the agreements with my clients, but I am pleased with some of this work ,especially my work for fashion brands. I would share but I can’t by agreement, so a year or so ago I launched the Mexicana Magazine project. It is a project where my followers finally can know another side of my work.

I don’t think I need to find a connection between my street work and erotic or fashion photography, but you can certainly see some elements typical of my vision as a street photographer inside my work with models.

I use the available light most of the time and my approach to this genre is the same as my approach to street, looking for that special candid moment. Yeah, erotica and fashion is “set” photography, but I am always looking for the “random moment”, that special, natural moment avoiding fake expressions and poses.

Mexicana Magazine is not just erotic photography, inside you will also find good documentary.

 

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Between street and erotic photography, which do you find the most creative and why?

Both are creative in a different way. I think creative ideas in erotic photography can be more interesting as I am not alone like I am in the street.

I do not direct my models. It is real creative work with them. We have equal power. They are in front of a camera and I’m behind it, but there is always a dialogue and a shared experience. I think erotica is like sex; it can never be one-way. The result would be bad.

 

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Can you tell us about the kit you use to shoot with, especially the Leica gear and how you go about processing your images?

I have been using a Leica X2 for two years now after delivering work on assignment from Leica Camera AG.

The Leica X2 is my main camera. I use it for street photography, photojournalism, fashion and erotica.

As a photographer I don’t need a lot of equipment or big cameras.

I have two ways to work with Leica X2. When on the streets I use the X2 like an analogue camera: LCD turned off, and shoot black and white JPEG without RAW (DNG), optical viewfinder and pre-set focus. When I am working with models I prefer to work with the electronic viewfinder, autofocus and of course I work in RAW.

In my opinion, this camera is always best with manual exposure.

For street photography I don’t edit the files that much. Sometimes I add contrast but that’s all.

For erotica and fashion, yeah I work the images with Adobe Lightroom where I will choose colour or black and white and of course I alter the mood and aesthetics to suit the shoot’s particular requirements.

 

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What is next for Alex Coghe?

I will continue to devote myself to the projects that I have… with two magazines there is a lot of work to do.

I need to prepare work for the agency I am collaborating with: it will be a classical photojournalistic piece, here in Mexico City.

I have other projects and ideas for 2015, but right now I can’t tell you about them. I will announce them when they are ready to go.

 

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Thanks Alex!

Alex Coghe website

A day with Summilux-M 50mm ASPH – Possibly the ‘best’ standard lens ever made!

An article written for The Leica Meet by Jip Van Kuijk

The lust

I have wanted a ’50 Lux. ASPH in my collection for quite a while, so after much deliberation, I finally bit the bullet. My finish of choice was the silver chrome version, which, if you’ve ever compared it to the black version, (almost) weighs a ton. It’s easy to see why tho; the black version is made of anodised aluminium, while the silver is build of solid chromed brass. It’s all brass, even the lens hood. While it’s heavy on the M (Typ 240), it’s truly a joy to use; it instantly felt right when handling it for the first time, especially the wonderful aperture and focus operation. This is a geek with a new toy. A very happy geek.

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The lens and the camera, M (Typ 240) with Summilux-M 50mm

First impression

On first use, I was astounded by the performance wide open (f/1.4) and slightly stopped down at f/2. Naturally, I didn’t expect anything else, but the reality is impressive. Some further testing showed that even at the closest focus ranges, the performance is very high indeed. This is clearly made possible by the floating element at the rear of the lens. Due to this element, the focus is smooth, yet slightly stiffer than other lenses. And gosh, is this lens ever beautiful on the chrome M.

Blossom blooming in winter

Blossom blooming in winter

Cadzand-Bad

After my initial play, I just couldn’t wait to test the lens further and get some more images with it. Since the weather was warm (18˚C, in fact – really warm for winter in the Netherlands) I decided on a lovely location, the beach at Cadzand-Bad. If you’ve never been, it’s a great place for some fresh air and landscape shots, even more so with the 50 Lux. I love the old style of the wooden breakwaters they have on the beach there, especially compared to the harsh modern concrete crosses they have elsewhere.  They made for a nice subject on a winter’s day, that while warm, was ultimately colder than anticipated. We can thank the strong sea breeze for that. As long as I didn’t stand in the shade for too long, the bright sun kept me warm enough.

Breakwaters and me, at Cadzand-Bad

Breakwaters and me, at Cadzand-Bad

The sea and wet sand was causing glare and reflection, so I made use of Leica’s Universal Polarizing filter. This not only cut them right down, but also acted as a two stop ND filter, allowing me to shoot in very bright light. An ideal combination of both effects in one handy package, like killing two birds with one stone, or like we say in the Netherlands, ‘Twee vliegen in een klap’. I was concerned that the filter might cause reflections of it’s own, but the lens performed really well, even against direct sunlight. I only managed to get the lens to flare in a single photo; pretty good if you ask me.

Footsteps on the beach, at Cadzand-Bad

Footsteps on the beach, at Cadzand-Bad

Just when I thought the lens couldn’t amaze me any more, the shots just kept coming. I didn’t shoot wide open a lot, as I wanted a deep depth of field on the beach, mainly shooting between f/4 and f/8 to maximise the depth captured. Returning to the handling again for a moment; the focus and aperture feel really good, better than the Summicron-M in my opinion. The focus tab is also a welcome change from the 50 Cron; I found it make focusing faster and easier, especially when focusing on people. For more precision, you can still use the knurled ring, so it’s the best of both worlds – you don’t have to use the tab if it’s not to your taste.

Against direct sunlight, used the pol filter to remove reflections on the wet sand behind the breakwaters. At Cadzand-Bad

Against direct sunlight, used the pol filter to remove reflections on the wet sand behind the breakwaters. At Cadzand-Bad

Golden hour

As the sun started to set itself into the sea, I made my way up into the Dunes to find new shots. I love the texture of the dune grass, it’s subtle colour against the sand gives a soft pastel palette when lit by the golden glow of the setting sun. Just add some great bokeh from the 50 Lux and you simply can’t go wrong! I was lucky enough to have a model on hand in the form of my companion Lorenz, who’d been along for the ride to shoot some long exposures with a 6 stop ND filter on his M8/50 Cron combo. As he was going through his shots of rocks in the sea, I took the opportunity to grab a few shots. Note the subtlety of the out of focus areas in front of him, and the creaminess of those behind.

Lorenz checking his results, at Cadzand-Bad dunes

Lorenz checking his results, at Cadzand-Bad dunes

Even wide open, the 50 Lux is sharp from edge to edge, it’s performance is sharp, with a subtle vignette, which I love. I feel it actually adds to the images and certainly shouldn’t be considered a negative point. The colour rendition of the lens is also very pleasing, but I haven’t really been able to compare it directly with other lenses. I’m planning a 50mm lens comparison in the near future, to show the different qualities of each lens for a variety of subjects. I have always been a big fan of the 50mm Summicron-M and it’s angle of view; now I think the 50 Lux will become my most used lens. It’s as if a whole new world of possibilities has opened up to me.

View from the Cadzand-Bad dunes

View from the Cadzand-Bad dunes

 

An article written for The Leica Meet by Jip Van Kuijk

Fast and Prime bags and Hamlyns of Colyton Introduction

Article by Jono Slack.

I saw some photos of Fast & Prime bags on the Leica Rumors website earlier this year, then, later on, there were some pictures on facebook. Fascinated I contacted Neal Simons of Fast and Prime. It turns out that he is based in Charmouth, Dorset, which is only a little way out of our well travelled route from Norfolk to Cornwall.

We arranged to drop in on Neal, he kindly took some time off to show us his immaculate workshop in Charmouth, and to take us around Hamlyns Tannery in Colyton, where he gets the leather for his bags and straps. Mr Parr kindly gave permission, and Neal showed us all around the Tannery – the staff were really polite and helpful, and the place is simply wonderful.

Neal Simons started life in Pittsburgh, moved to Miami, where he met his wife Lauren, an illustrator from London – He worked for several fashion houses before starting his own fashion business. Disillusioned with the industry he spent 5 years making the interiors for renovated classic cars before deciding that he wanted to create perfectly made utilitarian goods. Together with Squidgie Trimming, an experienced saddler, he started Fast & Prime. Neal and Lauren have now moved to Charmouth where their little girl goes to school near the beach.

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Fast and Prime Bags

We have a huge selection of wonderful bags available for use with our camera gear – from the traditional Canvas and Leather bags made by Billingham and Fogg (loosely based around traditional fisherman’s bags) to the higher tech materials from the likes of Lowepro and the more modern luxury bags from Artist & Artisan and others. These come in all shapes and sizes, from belt bags to rucksacks, and in all types of material, from leather to nylon.

Fast & Prime use only highest quality organic oak bark tanned hide – this is very resilient tough, and also fairly stiff. However, it’s also relatively light. In the bend areas (such as the flap on the Agent case) it will quickly become pliable with continued use.

To get the best understanding of exactly what Fast & Prime provide – have a look at their elegant and excellent website: www.fastandprime.com

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The Agent Case

Neal Simons has set out to make the perfect utilitarian bag. There are currently 3 sizes of the Agent case, the 66 (which basically takes one body); the 86 which is a little larger, and the 86J (Jumbo) which will take two Leica M bodies with lenses attached (and room for a small extra lens tucked under each body).

Each bag takes around 70 hours to make. The stitches are individually tied with beeswax coated linen threads (so that they don’t rot, and if one stitch breaks others stay intact). Neal has a very organised schedule for delivery, each bag is made to order and is stamped with the new owner’s initials: When ordering you’ll be given a delivery slot, the word from others is that although they may be several months in the future, the delivery is always reliable.

The image below shows the 86J with two Leica M(240) bodies, one with the 35 ‘lux FLE and the other with the 75 summicron. NB the straps visible in the iphone snap below belong to me, and were not made by Neal.

Tank Leica Half Case

Half cases aren’t really my thing (I like my cameras thin!) , but Neil also makes very sturdy half case called The Tank this is made of the same tanned hide as the Agent cases, (4-6mm thick Equestrian hide).

UHL Holster / Lens Case system

This is a well thought out system of holsters for cameras, and cases for lenses – I wasn’t able to photograph these in detail on my visit, but Neal has clearly described them on his website. (click on the title above to go straight there).

There are three types of Holster – one to go on a waist belt with 2 heavy duty belt loops, and another to go on on the shoulder strap with D rings – the third type is a hybrid with both belt loops and D rings.

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Straps Mono Strap and Lanyard – and the Kepler Harness

Fast & Prime make a number of different straps, both for shoulder and for waist to go with the Tank cases, UHL and Agent cases. They also make Mono straps and Lanyards – these are made out of a single piece of leather. The Kepler Harness is an ingenious piece of bondage which keeps your camera firmly available on your chest at all times ready to be lifted to your eye – Perfect for hiking or other activities when you may want quick access to your camera, but wish to keep your arms free.

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The Tannery at Hamlyns in Colyton is the last Traditional Oak Bark distillery in the UK. It has been a Tannery since Roman times. The actual tanning procedure has not changed a great deal in centuries, and it’s fascinating to see how the hides are produced.

Contrary to what you might suspect, the tannery doesn’t smell bad, some other tanning techniques (urine amongst them) can create a pretty singular aroma, but not Oak Bark Tanning.

A mixture of Oak Bark and Acorn cases from renewable sources are soaked to provide the tannin liquor in which the tanning will be done.

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The Hides arrive having been salted. They are then soaked in lime to loosen the hair, the hair is then scraped off

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Whilst still wet, the hides are cut to shape, washed and then put into the first of the tanning handler pits. They are moved from one pit to another once a week over a period of a year. Each pit contains a progressively stronger tanning liquor

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After Tanning has finished, and the hides are dried, they are ready to be dyed (if required) before delivery to the customer.

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It was a fascinating day, I can’t recommend enough that you visit the websites of Fast & Prime and for J & FJ Baker and Co.

I’d like to thank Neal Simons particularly for giving us the opportunity to visit his workshop and also the tannery.

For those who are interested, the photos were all taken with a Leica M camera, with either an f0.95 50mm Noctilux, or  an f1.4 35mm summilux FLE. Except the snap of two cameras in the 86J bag, taken with an iphone.

NB, This article is not a commercial venture, it was a fascinating day out for me, and it’s nice to have an opportunity to spread the word about an interesting and adventurous project. It isn’t a review either until I’ve actually used a bag I can only tell you what they look and feel like.

If you would like to see more images please click on the link: Gallery of Images from our Visit

Article by Jono Slack.

Cars, Cameras and Confidence by Marc Hartog

If you have never visited the Le Mans Classic, and if you have even the slightest interest in cars or motorsport, add it to your list of things to do before you die – there is simply nothing else like it.

Held every other year in early July, at the same 13.6km circuit as the better-known “24 Heures du Mans” annual endurance race, no other car-related event I have attended comes close to touching all of the senses and creating that sense of palpable excitement that often eludes us as adults – and provides so many amazing photo opportunities, in one place.

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In the last 18 months I have discovered the simple enjoyment of shooting with a Leica M, and have also made a more concerted effort to think about what and how I want to shoot. Photography for me is a hobby. My real job is as the CEO of a media company, Apptitude Media, but we do happen to publish the British Journal of Photography so I have daily inspiration in the office. We also publish the world’s first magazine designed for the iPhone, fltr, which champions smartphone photography. My own editorial team has banned me from sneaking my own pictures into the magazines, so I was delighted to be invited to contribute to the Leica Meet blog!

This was to be my third time at the Classic, and remembering that the circuit and accessible areas are vast, we figured bikes would be a good idea, and managed to insert fold-ups in to our relatively limited luggage areas, which were well worth sacrificing other things (like lenses and tripods) for.

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Last time in Le Mans I lugged a large Lowepro rucksack with my trusty Nikon DLSR and about 8 prime lenses, a flashgun and tripod…and no room for a bike. All change this time – I carried a small, understated Domke messenger-style bag, containing three important cameras with almost no accessories – and, most importantly, I had a plan.

I packed my recently acquired M240 with 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Aspherical FLE lens, to document the action and the interesting people I knew I would find there from past experience. I set up my camera to be completely manual as I enjoy the challenge of picturing the end result and finding the right settings to suit each situation. I always set the camera to DNG quality for post-processing and find it useful to set the film mode to b&w (no filter) which I find helps test light and contrast, in particular as this event lends itself to black and white images.

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Having never had any training or studied the ‘rules’ of composition, I am slowly finding my style and at the moment I am favouring shooting with a black and white slightly grainy feel in mind, wide open most of the time, and cropping to 16:9, all of which was in my mind as I was taking pictures. I only updated the firmware this week and was delighted to see that crop lines have been introduced, so with the EVF or in LV I can set the lines to 16:9 and it takes the guess work out of the equation…one less thing to worry about!

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I also had my iPhone to capture fun things to share immediately with friends who were not able to join us, and I bought a Go Pro Hero 3 the week before I left, with the plan of mounting it to the cars for the journey, and catching some super-wide angle action at the event.

As with the main Le Mans race, the Classic is 24 hours of racing, but divided in to six separate period races, ranging from the 1920’s to the 1970’s. It is only open to cars that have the provenance of having actually raced at Le Mans in their period and when they race, they really race – including the classic start where the drivers stand on the opposite side of the track and have to run to their car, jump in and hope it starts.

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This is where I did miss having a longer lens, and since getting back I have acquired a 135mm lens and an EVF, which I am looking forward to playing with. Fortunately the detail in the M240 files is superb and Lightroom 5 made light work of cropping in to the subject where ‘feet zooming’ was not possible.

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Le Mans on an event weekend is a bit like the most expensive car park in the world, with incredible cars parked all around the circuit, often organized by the owners clubs, so it is easy to lose hours without even looking at the racing.

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This blog contains a small selection of pictures taken over the 48 hours we were in Le Mans, around the circuit and of the racing. Most of my night-time shots were shot wide open at ISO 3200 and I didn’t have to worry too much about lighting…the M240 just sucks in whatever is available. Oh, and I added grain to get the slightly filmic effect I wanted – the low light capabilities of this camera and lens combination are outstanding.

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The most challenging photos I attempted were motion shots of the racing at night. It was very dark and even wide open with ISO set to 3200 I needed to shoot at around 1/30. I wanted to create a background blur with the main subject in focus, and I did not manage to achieve this…it is, of course, entirely possible that mild inebriation assisted the failure. But…I actually really like the effect of slight blur on the cars – they were going really, really fast and I think this imperfect picture actually captures the moment better than the way I was attempting to, or at least that is what I have convinced myself.

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The paddocks are open access, which means you can photograph the engineers, drivers and these amazing classic machines up close. The pits and pit lane are, obviously, closed for authorized personnel, but more about that later…

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The ‘cars’ and ‘cameras’ referenced in the title of this blog post are obvious. The ‘confidence’ is there because I wanted to talk a little about how important being confident is when it comes to shooting who or what you want to.

From the several Leica Meet events I have attended in the last year, my own confidence has grown ten-fold. I no longer feel conspicuous or strange when wanting to capture a moment or an interesting face. Most importantly – and it could be the copious amount of wine consumed over dinner which helped – we decided to just walk over to the well guarded access gates to the pits, and see what happened. On the way there I remember saying to my partner in crime, Mike, “just look confident”, and we waltzed straight past security, through the gate, in to the pits, and in to the heart of the action.

Forget sitting in the grandstands, this was racing going on right before our eyes and, at night, in the rain, it was like watching theatre unfold before us – I think I caught some of the best shots I ever have, and I felt that childlike excitement whilst I was doing it. Forever-type memories, and all because of having a little bit of confidence.

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Unfortunately my battery gave up the ghost while we were in the pits…a lesson very firmly learned.

All in all a terrific weekend, and a rare opportunity to indulge in my two passions. I am already looking in to booking my trip for Classic Le Mans 2016, maybe we could do a Leica Meet there??!

 

Full set of images   – https://www.flickr.com/gp/marchartog/5pp282/

by Marc Hartog

 

Making it Happen. Photographing the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble by Olaf and Gavin

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My iPhone pinged and purred. The message was from Chris Marrington of Charlie Bravo Advertising in Johannesburg. It read, ‘Olaf, when are you back in the UK? Got a job that might interest you but it may not be possible to pull it off in time’. As I was chilling in the sun on the very lovely Church St in Burlington, Vermont the option of work didn’t seem too attractive but the idea of a challenge was too intriguing to pass up.

The brief was to arrange a video/stills shoot for the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble who would perform in a public space in London on July 18th, the to celebrate the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birthday. They had just completed a UK concert tour funded by the Client, South African property investment company, Redefine. Buskaid raises money so that impoverished children in the township of Soweto can learn to play classical stringed instruments.

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Ideally the space would be Trafalgar Square as it is close by South Africa House. There were twenty eight musicians and two singers. The four cellists needed chairs and they needed to be on the bus to Heathrow at 10.00. The date of the message was July 2nd. Time to spare 🙂

With the Client in Johannesburg and me in Burlington we needed someone on the ground who could make this happen. And here all credit goes to my good friend, Leica Meet co-founder, DJ and music industry photographer Gavin Mills. A couple of Facebook msg’s and the game was on.

Gavin, over to you…….

……. organising this event was clearly a challenge. But after looking at online videos/info about the ‘Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble’ and finding out the great work they do, I wanted more than ever to help make this happen.

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First job. Get permission. With a professional group and corporate sponsorship, we couldn’t take the risk of turning up and being told to move on. I discovered that Trafalgar square is managed by two separate bodies. The GLA (Great London Authority ) control the Square while Westminster Council look after the terrace and the area around the square. The Terrace seemed right. A classical string orchestra with the National Gallery as a backdrop, a good match.

Getting the licence was a little more difficult than imagined. In July, the events department were inundated with Summer fixtures. I completed all the appropriate forms but the waiting times were too long for our deadline. I must have driven them mad, calling every day, (I was on first name basis with most of the department by now) but there was now only a week to go.

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Meantime I organised the film and sound crew. I called Mark Kemp (link below) who specialises in short promotional films and covers events for companies like Agent Provocateur and Fashion TV as well as some of my own music events. Mark introduced me to sound recordist, Jassim (link below) who had one of the most difficult challenges of all, recording a full string orchestra in an open air space full of traffic and tourist noise, with only minutes to test sound levels. He was up for the challenge.

All we needed now was a licence and we were all set. Disaster struck when, with less than a week to go, the council refused permission.

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After all that work, we weren’t going to give in and I spoke with the decision makers. They explained they already have problems with too many buskers, many of whom are illegal.

I countered that Buskaid is different. It is a good cause, our musicians had performed for royalty at Queen Elizabeth Hall the previous night. All we were asking for was thirty minutes on a Friday morning to celebrate Nelsons Mandela’s Birthday. The council gave us permission. Perfect!

We had our permit and our team. It felt like the Magnificent Seven, except we were six. Mark and Kathy on video, Jassim and Joao on sound. Olaf and I on stills.

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Olaf chose a 24mm Summilux and 90mm APO , whilst I had my Voigtlander 15mm and a choice of 35mm lux/50mm Cron for a standard lens.

Although we both shoot with Leica M series cameras, our different approaches, meant we captured different aspects of the performance. Olaf is a ‘less is more’ kind of photographer, images telling a story in a less obvious way. Using a 90mm he would get close up shots of the band as individuals.

My brief was to capture the Orchestra in our majestic surroundings as an entire scene as well as catching special moments.

It was useful working as a pair with so many musicians and so much action. We couldn’t be in the right place the whole time. Instinctively if Olaf was shooting a particular angle I’d think that was covered and find another shot. It seemed to flow naturally. Perhaps because we already photographed together at Leica Meet events.

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Olaf, back to you…….

……. Our one nightmare was the weather. There is no shelter on the part of Trafalgar Square where we were performing and the stringed instruments couldn’t get wet. So waking on July 18th to pale grey skies and drizzle looked like a bad omen. Our team arrived early and we started setting up. We were supposed to film the musicians getting off the bus for the start to the video, but the call never came. So our first introduction was when a group wearing white Buskaid T shirts and huge smiles ambled across the square to say hi.

 

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The mood immediately lifted. The spirit of these talented young musicians filled the air and refused to dampened even when rain threatened. We improvised a new opening introduction by the Buskaid organiser and magically, right on cue, the sun broke through at 9.00, the time our permit allowed us to start filming. It is impossible to put into words the positive energy generated by the Soweto String Ensemble.

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Their enthusiasm is infectious, a foot tapping crowd gathered within minutes and there were four TV station interviewers present. Ordinarily, in spite of having a permit, we might have expected trouble from the authorities or stewards but when I explained what we were doing to a police officer, he replied, ‘Its great, take as long as you like mate’.

This was one of those commercial jobs which is both a pleasure and a privilege. It all came together seamlessly. A pro team, a great Client and a very worthwhile cause.

Somehow I couldn’t resist the thought that Nelson Mandela looked down and smiled upon us that day

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Here’s a link to the video we shot in You Tube

 

You can find out more about Buskaid’s great work here. https://www.buskaid.org.za/

Here’s the agency which had the original idea: charliebravo.co.za

 

With thanks to our team:

Mark on video: http://www.mkproductions.co.uk/

Jassim on sound: http://www.soundgood.biz/

Gavin: http://www.gavinmillsphotography.com/

Olaf: http://olafwilloughby.com/

We can make your brief happen, contact us at: gav@gavinmillsphotography.com and olafwilloughby@gmail.com

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Testing Taifun . . . The new Leica T by Jono Slack

The Leica T with the 18-56 Vario-Elmar Asph and EVF (shot with M and 75 ‘cron APO)

The Leica T with the 18-56 Vario-Elmar Asph and EVF (shot with M and 75 ‘cron APO)

 

The Introduction

Taifun has been the code name for the Leica T. I got a first glimpse of the camera when visiting Solms in May 2013; it’s a pity everyone’s first sight of the camera couldn’t be by having it thrust into their hands, it feels wonderful; completely solid and really beautifully made, but most of all it just seems quite different from anything else. Looking at pictures brings to mind several other cameras, but in the flesh (aluminium) it’s much more reminiscent of picking up a unibody Apple computer for the first time.

I received a prototype camera to test in October 2013, just before heading off to Lanzarote for a week. Since then Taifun has been to Cornwall, the Lake District, Sauze d’Oulx, Monaco, France and Holland and been through several iterations of hardware and firmware.

Please note that this report is not meant to be a review. As a camera tester my loyalties are to Leica, and it’s better to make this clear at the outset. On the other hand I like to think of myself as an honest guy, and there is nothing here which I do not believe to be the case. If I was not happy with the camera I would not be writing this article .

My intention is to provide some entertainment for others (like myself) who like to read about new cameras when they’re released. Worth noting also that this site has absolutely no financial benefit – no adverts, and I’m not being paid by anyone for writing the article. I do have an ulterior motive, but of course you can ignore it (see the end of the article).

 

The Leica T with the 23mm Summicron Asph and no EVF (shot with M and 75 ‘cron APO)

The Leica T with the 23mm Summicron Asph and no EVF (shot with M and 75 ‘cron APO)

 

The Camera

The Camera is made from a single block of Aluminium (unibody) with a Toughened glass screen on the back and a plug in EVF. The battery fits into a hole in the base of the body and it’s cover completes the case. the only plastic on the exterior is the SD card cover on the right hand side at the back. It’s really hard to convey the feeling of solidity this body conveys. It’s also worth mentioning that after months of heavy use the camera body itself and the LCD screen show absolutely no scratches, scuffs or signs of wear.

The strap is made of rubber – very flexible and grippy. It fits to the camera with removable posts – the camera comes with a little steel dibber (rather like the one an iPhone uses to change the sim card). The camera has blank posts – I imagine that Leica will also sell a wrist strap, which you can put on either side of the camera leaving the other side with a blank post (and therefore smooth body).

I’ve added some quick snaps of the camera – hopefully this gives you an idea of the real feeling of quality. Industrial chic at it’s very best. Of course, you might not like the design – but it’s hard to criticise the way it has been executed. The Unibody itself is very light and obviously very tough.

Leica have finally done what others should have done years ago, the Leica T has 16Gb of internal memory – it’s not as fast as one might have liked, but it’s there . . . . that ‘No SD Card’ message is a thing of the past!

For the first few months I had the camera, I didn’t have a strap at all, so it was a case of ‘hold it or drop it’. I had imagined that the slippery aluminium would make this difficult, but in fact I never did drop it.

 

The Battery forms part of the body, with a tough lever, and a neat push required to remove the battery 2

The Battery forms part of the body, with a tough lever, and a neat push required to remove the battery 2

The Unibody itself - Leica T with Leica M75 APO Summicron

The Unibody itself – Leica T with Leica M75 APO Summicron

The Unibody itself - Leica T with Leica M75 APO Summicron from the back

The Unibody itself – Leica T with Leica M75 APO Summicron from the back

 

The EVF

Some may be disappointed that the camera doesn’t have a built in EVF; I presume that the decision was made to keep the size to the minimum.

However, as far as I can gather the new Leica built EVF uses the same panel as those in the recent Olympus, Fuji and Sony cameras – it’s very high resolution and has a decent refresh rate. It tilts, and has an excellent dioptre adjustment. It also has an entirely new method for attaching to the camera – with the connections being on the inside edge of the hot shoe, this means that it fits almost flush with the back of the camera, and that it doesn’t drop out easily. It also has an eye sensor, which is reasonably fast and makes using the camera with the EVF feel just like using one of the competitor cameras which have a built in EVF. Personally I think the rather industrial looking design fits in well with the rest of the camera.

 

Leica T with the 18-56 Vario-Elmar Asph and the EVF

Leica T with the 18-56 Vario-Elmar Asph and the EVF

 

The EVF & GPS

An added bonus of the EVF is the built in GPS signal. This really seems to work very well – fantastic on a skiing holiday!.

You can see how the images show up on the screenshot of the map.

 

Screenview of GPS Map

Screenview of GPS Map

 

The Lenses

There are two Auto Focus lenses launched with the camera:

Leica T 18-56mm f3.5 to f5.6 Vario Elmar Asph (28 – 85mm equivalent)

Leica T 23mm f2 Summicron Asph (35mm equivalent)

There will soon be more.

The lenses are made in Japan, not, I understand, by Panasonic. At any rate they are lovely lenses with metal bodies and buttery smooth operation. The manual focusing is focus by wire, but it’s really nicely damped and certainly feels like a traditional M focusing ring. I’ll talk about the image quality later on, but these lenses are lovely pieces of engineering and a pleasure to use. The lens hoods are metal and plastic.

 

Vario Elmar 12-56 Asph 65mm f5.2 3200 ISO 1:100th sec

Vario Elmar 12-56 Asph 65mm f5.2 3200 ISO 1:100th sec

 

The Interface

Well, forget about it looking reminiscent of the NEX-7 (or any other camera). This is different! I understand that the design and implementation is all in house at Leica. They’ve taken into account new tablet and phone interfaces and designed an icon based touch screen model. It takes a while to get used to it, but it does seem to be internally consistent, and it makes more and more sense as you use it.

 

Knobs, Dials and Buttons

Excluding the shutter release, on/off dial there are only two dials and one button! However there are three touch buttons on the right hand side of the LCD screen which remain the same in shooting mode, and are part of the basic interface.

 

The shutter release has a collar with On / Off / Flash – push it further than On and the popup flash pops up.

The video button starts video recording – and is also used for firmware updates (hold down the video button and switch on)

The Three touch screen buttons on the right hand side of the screen are as follows (starting from the top):

Mode button – touch it and then choose P / A / S / M / Scn

Camera button – touch it and you are shown your personal choice of options (there are up to nine options per screen) – you can have more than nine, but will need to scroll to find the lower ones. Removing options is as simple as dragging them to a bin. Adding options is as simple as dragging them from the Menu to the Camera icon.

Info button – this changes what you see on the rest of the LCD

 

The two dials function depending on the Mode chosen:

P mode – the left dial is user configurable (and sticky) the right dial is program shift

A mode – the left dial is user configurable (and sticky) the right dial is Aperture

S mode – the left dial is user configurable (and sticky) the right dial is Shutter Speed

M mode – the left dial is Aperture, the right dial Shutter speed

This varies slightly with M lenses attached via the adapter, more about that later.

Configuring the left hand dial is done simply by tapping it’s icon and choosing from a list.

I won’t go into much more detail about the interface – I’m sure there will be lots more information all over the internet. But it’s nothing like the complex and arcane systems on many other modern cameras – Leica have pared it down to basics. To me, the proof of it’s success is that you can put the camera down for a few weeks and then pick it up and use it again without getting confused.

 

Leica T 23mm Summicron at f3.5 ISO 200

Leica T 23mm Summicron at f3.5 ISO 200

 

The Other Lenses

The Leica T has an adapter for using Leica M lenses – there is a 1.5x conversion factor, so that a 50mm M lens will behave like a 75mm lens on the Leica T. There is an optical pass through for the 6 bit coding on Leica M lenses, so that the camera knows which lens is being used. I’m not sure whether Leica has applied lens corrections, what I am sure of is that the camera works really well with all the M lenses I’ve tried (even the tricky 28 summicron). When you attach an M lens the left hand dial defaults to focus magnification, which can be set at 3 times or 6 times. There is no focus peaking, but I’ve found focusing to be really straightforward.

The lack of AA filter really makes the most of your collection of M and R lenses. I had rather despaired of finding any non M camera which would do this. It seems that I needn’t have worried.

I’ve also tried a number of other lenses by stacking adapters. Leica R lenses work really well – I’ve especially enjoyed the 60mm macro elmarit and the 80-200 f4. I’m rather hoping Leica will make an R adapter with a read through for ROM lenses, but I have no knowledge about this. Certainly there is no reason that other companies might not make 3rd party adapters for different lenses.

Just as a little aside, the Leica T mount is noticeably larger than the Sony E mount (my casual measurement has the Sony at 46mm and the Leica T at 50mm). . . . I’ve not even discussed this with Leica, but I really see no reason why they couldn’t make a full frame camera later on with the same mount.

 

Leica M Noctilux Asph at f0.95

Leica M Noctilux Asph at f0.95

 

Leica 60mm f2.8 macro elmarit at f2.8 1:800th

Leica 60mm f2.8 macro elmarit at f2.8 1:800th

Leica 60mm f2.8 macro Elmarit at f2.8 1:125th

Leica 60mm f2.8 macro Elmarit at f2.8 1:125th

 

The Images

The Leica T has a 16mp APS-c sensor. I guess that it’s a Sony manufactured sensor similar to the XVario and various other cameras. At any rate, the results are excellent – sharp, contrasty and very detailed. The camera has no AA filter; together with this, the very wide lens mount and the excellent M adapter makes for a compelling body to shoot with legacy lenses.

Keeping to 16mp is an interesting decision, especially in a climate where the megapixel wars are raging again. However, it’s a relief to have files which load reasonably fast, and which are perfectly capable of being enlarged up to 20” and more.

The resulting files are excellent – Leica have done a grand job with the jpg engine, and you can easily configure how you like your jpgs cooked in the touch screen menu. Of course, it’s the DNG (RAW) files which really matter, and they don’t disappoint. I imagine the camera will be shipping with Lightroom 5, and the T images already work very well – lots of latitude for recovery of highlights and shadows and excellent colour and dynamic range. High ISO doesn’t disappoint, 3200 is excellent and 6400 is normally quite useable.

Great files are nothing without great lenses, and the first two Leica T lenses are excellent. The little 23mm Summicron Asph is sharp from corner to corner, right from f2 onwards. The kit lens is also an excellent performer – I’ve been using kit lenses from Sony, Olympus, Fuji and Panasonic over the last few months and the 18-56 Leica Vario-Elmar Asph f3.5/f5.6 does an excellent job. Of course, it would be nice if it ware a little faster, but on the other hand it’s a useful range (28-85) and it’s remarkably small.

 

Octopus in Lanzarote with the 23mm Asph Summicron f4.5

Octopus in Lanzarote with the 23mm Asph Summicron f4.5

 

The Comparison

Clearly it has to be done – I’ve spent the last months checking out all the top-notch mirrorless cameras – they all have their good points, and they all have their bad points. Certainly, if one is going to choose a camera based on a check list and a budget, then you would be unlikely to choose the Leica T.

If you’re interested, I’ve written a tongue in cheek article on the subject Gas and Mirrorless, where I finally came out in favour of the Olympus OMD E-M1 (but of course, I couldn’t mention the Leica T!) , You may find some of the images familiar – for much of the last 7 months I’ve been trekking around with a bag full of cameras! It’s been an interesting mission to make sure that nobody actually noticed the Leica T. I’ve spent considerable time with the Sony A7, (and the A7r) the Fuji X-T1 and the Olympus OMD E-M1, all of which are excellent cameras with excellent specifications. I’ve also spent a lot of time comparing images from the different cameras.

In terms of features, the Leica T is missing the built in EVF of the other cameras – on the other hand it does have GPS built into the plug in EVF. Added to which, with the new connection, and with a reasonably quick eye sensor the plug in EVF works similarly to those in the other cameras and has the obvious advantage of being tiltable (having said this the competitors all have tilting LCD screens which the Leica T is missing).

The Sony, Fuji and Olympus all have a huge number of features, whereas, in comparison the Leica T is much less bewildering; Of course, this is a double edged sword, from my point of view a camera has to be able to take the image, anything else I’d rather be without! Certainly, configuring and shooting with the Leica T is a much more straightforward matter than with either of the three competitors.

The OMD has built in Image Stabilisation, but the 2x crop factor makes it less useful with M and R lenses than the larger sensor of the Leica T. I think I’d say that with it’s pass through adapter and very quiet shutter the Leica T is probably the best of the bunch with respect to M and R Leica lenses. Unlike the competition it doesn’t have Focus Peaking, but it does have very good focus assist, I’ve found it really easy to focus – even with the Noctilux on the OUFRO!

I’m not going to go into a more detailed comparison. However, I will say that the images from the Leica are right up there with the best of the competition. I will also say that the delightful snick of the Leica shutter is in stark contrast to the clattering of the Sony A7r, and is quieter then either the Fuji or the Olympus. As you can see from the picture below, it also makes for a smaller package.

 

Rogue’s Gallery - Leica M, Sony A7, Leica T, Olympus OMD E-M1, Fujifilm X-T1

Rogue’s Gallery – Leica M, Sony A7, Leica T, Olympus OMD E-M1, Fujifilm X-T1

 

The Conclusion

Whatever else, the Leica T is an interesting and likeable camera. It takes excellent photos and is definitely a breath of fresh air in the face of the rapidly increasing menu systems of it’s competitors. It’s also rather ironic that whilst getting more complex, the Japanese companies seem to have been looking more retro.

I haven’t gone into the performance of the camera in much detail – mainly because I’ve been working with pre-production firmware which is always slower than the final iterations. However AF seems to be pretty snappy (although there are no phase detect points). Touch focusing on the LCD screen works really well; it would be nice to see Leica implement a touch-shutter (I’ve asked – perhaps they will).

I had always felt that Leica would do well to join the µ43 rather than inventing a new lens mount (especially considering their connection with Panasonic). I’ve changed my mind – the new lenses really are lovely, and the very large lens mount does seem to keep their options open for the future. New lenses are coming later in the year, and in the meantime shooting with Leica M and R lenses is a really viable option. I’ve been using the R 60mm macro Elmarit and the R 80-200 f4 zoom, together with the M135 APO Telyt, and there isn’t much that’s more fun than shooting the Noctilux wide open with an extension tube.

The image quality is excellent and the camera is fun to use, easy to carry and a lovely object. It also opens exciting new opportunities for Leica; I’m sure that new bodies will follow, but in the meantime we have a capable and very different camera to use right now. I certainly want one!

 

More Shots from the Leica T by Jono Slack.

 

Scarlett Rose Slack taken with the Leica T and the Leica 135mm Apo Telyt at f3.4

Scarlett Rose Slack taken with the Leica T and the Leica 135mm Apo Telyt at f3.4

 

The Ulterior Motive

Our Grand-daughter Scarlett Rose Slack was born in Norwich Hospital on 26th April 2013. She should have been born on August 6th, making her more than 15 weeks early. For a while things were very scary and frightening for her parents, and very unpleasant for her (all those tubes and drugs). When she was born she was 1lb 10oz (740gms)

The Staff at NICU looked after her with huge dedication and attention, and her parents were very brave. She was in NICU for 73 days. When she left hospital for home she weighed nearly 4lb.

Scarlett was very angry and very determined. Now, Almost a year later, She is a feisty and charming young lady, deeply in love with her brother Oscar, and giving her parents the run around big time.

To help NICU to provide the best possible service to other lucky babies, and also as a sign of recognition of what they have done for Scarlett; some of Scarlett’s relations and friends are doing a 100km bicycle ride on the day after her first birthday (yes, me too I’m afraid).

If you would like to donate to a fantastic cause, please log on to Scarlett’s Cyclers Virgin Giving website: Click on  Scarlett’s Cyclers below. I have also put together a ‘roll of film’ (36 images) to celebrate Scarlett’s first year  –   Some of them are with Leica T – I hope you enjoy them.

This is also a good opportunity to thank the many many people who have already given so generously (you know who you are even if we don’t)

THANK YOU.

Scarlett’s first year (images)

Scarlett’s Cyclers (Virgin Giving Page)

 

Jono Slack

Film is Dead…Long Live Film!

Why would any sane person move from digital photography back to film?  We’ve all heard it, “film is dead, nobody shoots analog anymore…the whole world has moved to digital!”

I was listening to a very popular photography podcast this past weekend in which the host jokingly said that there are probably only a thousand or so film shooters left on the planet.  It was a joke but it hit a nerve because I’m a committed film photographer and I know there are many, many thousands of us who love to shoot with film.  Granted, film will never be the dominant medium it once was but its going to be around for a long time. I’m glad to be part of the (Leica) film community.

Allow me to lay out some of the very personal reasons I moved to film from digital.  The reasons laid out here are mine of course.  They may or may not be right or relevant for you.  Let me also say that I have nothing against shooting with a digital camera. There is no intent to flame anyone not shooting with film.  I also shoot with digital cameras, I have a Nikon DSLR, a Fuji X100s and my iPhone.  I use them all occasionally.  Here are a few reasons why I now shoot predominantly with a film camera.

I am afraid of technology.  Just kidding, not totally afraid.  I actually embrace good technology but I was leery of having such a large monetary investment in a digital Leica.  I recently sold my Leica M9-P to buy a new Leica MP.  My M9-P was a wonderful camera, I loved the images it produced.  I did a lot of soulful thinking before selling it.  I was primarily afraid of its long term viability.  I had nagging doubts about how long the electronics and sensor would last?  Unfounded? Perhaps.  But the feeling was real for me.  Also, when would I feel the inevitable pull to upgrade to the next generation camera?

Like many photographers I have a problem with gear acquisition syndrome (GAS).  I put a brake on the GAS by selling my M9-P and buying a new Leica MP, a completely mechanical camera built like a tank to last a lifetime.  The MP stands for “mechanical perfection.”  Could I break it?  Maybe I could, but in normal, everyday use, its much less likely to fail than a digital camera.  Its probably the last film camera Leica will ever make.  It’s the result of over 50 years of experience.  I’m committed to it as my “go to” camera for as long as I continue to photograph.

On a related point, I’m going to get to know my MP more than any other camera I will ever own.  It’s going to be with me for a long time and by using it every day, I’m going to come to understand this camera in a deeper way than I might ever know a digital camera that I have for a few years before upgrading to the next generation technology.  My theory is that such familiarity with my tools should help make me a better photographer and at the very least not hold me back.

I’m not in a hurry.  There are enough stresses in life, I don’t need to add any to my photography, my escape from the daily routine.  I don’t feel a need to mass produce images nor do I feel a pressing need to post to social media or my blog every day.

Film slows me down.  Many film shooters say this but my experience confirms it. Film helps me focus, excuse the pun!  With film I’m now working on the non-technical qualities of photography. Those qualities are best exercised by slowing down the process of taking photographs and thinking about the composition of the image to be captured in the frame. I like the slower pace, it requires that I think less about the technical aspects of photography and more about the essence of what it is I’m trying to capture in my images.

During my transition to film, I’ve felt the pull to slow down. I really do think more about the images I’m taking. For me using film equates to more deliberate and purposeful photography. Now I think more about the image I’m most likely to capture in camera as I take a shot. More than once I’ve pulled the camera to my eye to take a shot only to change my mind when I questioned the reason for capturing a particular scene through the viewfinder. With digital I most likely would have taken the shot anyway since it’s no big deal to just press the shutter. It would be easy to press the shutter on my film camera too but I find that I take more time to frame and consider the composition using film; I’m more patient with the old medium.   I believe that its the physical nature of film itself.  Light is making a chemical/physical change on the film.  It’s not an image represented by ones and zeroes on a memory card that can hold thousands of photographs .  The physicality of film and the work to make it come to life make it more real and valuable for me.

I have to consider the limitations on the roll of film in the camera. Twenty four or thirty six frames at set iso. There is a real restriction on what’s available so making sure every frame is used to its full potential is important.  That makes me think more about what I’m shooting.

A downside for many, film takes more time, no doubt about it.  I primarily shoot black and white film and so can process my own negatives.  I usually wait till I have a few rolls of exposed film to process.  It usually takes me an hour to develop my negatives.  I hang them to dry overnight and then scan them to my computer when I get home after work.  Scanning a 36 exposure roll will usually take less than an hour including keywording and importing to Lightroom.  My workflow for film isn’t nearly as quick as it is for my digital process.  But honestly, and I say this in all sincerity, I love everything about processing film. The physicality of it all.  The anticipation of seeing a processed negative for the first time and the satisfaction of seeing a successful image as its scanned into my computer.

I love the look of film.  Film has an amazing dynamic range and is much more forgiving exposure wise.  It’s very hard to blow highlights with film. Film has rich tonal gradation that you can’t match with pixels.  Digital images can look clinical, not so with film.  The textures provided by the grain in a film image can’t be replicated even with capable film emulation software.

I’m pursuing the mystery of film.  Did I get the image I wanted on that frame of film? Was it exposed correctly, framed and composed in the strongest way? The truth won’t be fully known till I can process the negatives which may be as early as that night or it may be a few weeks from now. There’s no immediate tendency or incentive to repeat the shot using film because there are only 35 or so opportunities on the roll in the camera. Moreover the settings should already be the best I could think of to get the image unless I realize right away that I screwed up. If I know I really made a mistake it’ll only be because the exposure or focus weren’t what I should have used. But that’s all in my head, not feedback through exif data fed through the camera.

So, this film workflow takes much, much longer than I’d spend shooting and off-loading digital images from a card. But for me that’s okay. Being more purposeful and deliberate as I shoot generally equates to more keepers and shots that resonate. I have thousands of digital images with tenuous emotional connections on my hard drive. I keep almost all of them but they are just there in my library. It’s my hope, and so far it has proven true, that my film images will result in more keepers.  Over time my goal is to have an increasingly higher number of film images to add to my portfolio.

I’m an unapologetic film shooter, a Leica film shooter at that. I am not going to look back with any regret. I made my move and I’m confident I’m going to have fun with it over the long term. Photography for me is all about the personal enjoyment and satisfaction. Film has accentuated the fun of shooting. I made a conscious decision considering and knowing the busier workflows I’d be adopting. My approach certainly isn’t for everyone and I don’t necessarily recommend it, but it feels right for me.

I’m encouraged and inspired to shoot film. I love the results. I relish learning to use my camera and relating to the idiosyncrasies of the Leica MP, to the lens, the settings and film I’m using. The variables in my photography and workflows are certainly still present but there are fewer of them and they seem manageable.

The technicalities of my equipment and the medium of film when learned free me to explore my creative side which is where I need the most help and inspiration. The challenge is to understand, interpret and anticipate the results I want in the image I envision. That’s the new and exciting personal challenge, learning the nuanced relationships between my skills, gear, creativity and the medium to get the images I’m looking for.

I can’t wait to see where I can go with it.

Get a Project

Some years ago when I got my first camera I was happy to shoot pretty much anything, perhaps that random experimentation helped me to find out exactly what I enjoyed shooting but after a while I found that I was still yet to develop a style or a clear vision of where my photography was going.

Finding a project can be a good way to focus and develop your photography in many ways.  It can help to express your own thoughts and views and develop a deeper understanding of your chosen subject. Often by narrowing yourself down to defined subject it can help creativity as after a while if you keep shooting the same thing you’re going to look for new interesting ways to shoot it which makes you think outside the box.

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There are no rules to shooting a personal project unless you want them, no deadlines no set amount of images. Remember it’s your project if you decide you want to quit halfway through that’s ok to.
First choose a concept it can be absolutely anything from, Trees, to tattoos, coffee grinders to camper vans. It could even be something more abstract like an emotion or feeling.
Whatever it is that you feel like exploring, then once you’ve got your concept just get out there and start shooting its as simple as that.

10 ideas for a photography project

1. 100 Strangers
This is a great one if you want to have a go at street portraits and for building confidence in going up to complete strangers on the street. It’s a great ice breaker when you tell the person that’s what your doing

2 . Shooting from the Hip
Shooting from the hip is usually pretty inaccurate, maybe that was also true for the cowboys in the movies who shot their guns that way. But actually that slight random factor is what makes it more interesting and can often create great shots by accident. Taking the viewfinder out of the equation means you just have to go by your instincts and it creates a fresh perspective on your composition.

3. Alphabet
Whist walking through Camden Market at our recent meet I came across a shop in the Market that sold pictures of different letters of the Alphabet. Most of the letters were abstract like an aerial view of beer glass to represent an O or a coat hook to represent a K . It’s a good project to develop an eye to see things in another way and it also helps develop the creative side of the brain.

4. Architecture
Shoot the beautiful buildings around your city at all different times of the day. You’re sure to find some buildings you’ve never noticed before.
One of the benefits of doing a project on Architecture is that is can help observe and capture strong structured lines. Exploring how perspective and angle can change an architectural element can be interesting plus it will also come in handy when you have a person or object in the foreground and you want to get the best from architecture in the background.

5. Watching Windows
One that I’ve seen on Flickr and is almost a genre of street photography in its own right. Capturing behind glass, perhaps someone sitting in a Café eating lunch or somebody sitting on a bus, maybe even a person working in a store thats dressing the window. It takes a bit of courage to get in close but often that’s a way of getting the best reaction.

6. Song Lyrics
Take a song that you like and try and make a set of images to go with that song. Once you have shot all the images you can make a slide show to go with the music. You can also use the same idea to go with a poem.

7. A Day in the Life
Ask a friend or somebody that you find interesting and shoot their whole day. You could also do this for a group of people. L1061318

8. Social Issues
Find a social issue that’s important to you and take photos to highlight that issue. Perhaps like my own current project of shooting and talking to homeless people around my city, or difficulties for elderly or handicapped people. You could try working with local charities and find a way to use your photography to help a cause or even an individual. I greatly admire the work of Jim Mortram http://smalltowninertia.co.uk

9. Lines
This could be pictures of roads or railways lines, footprints in the snow or sand, a pathway through the woods even people waiting in line. Lines are everywhere around us so the possibilities are endless.

10. Shoot in the style of…
Choose a specific photographer whose work really inspires you and try shooting in their style. Recently I was asked to do a shoot for someone who greatly admires the work of Dutch photographer Anton Cobijn and asked me if I could make an image in this kind of style. It was an education looking closer at his work .

These are just a few ideas possible photography project that I hope might inspire. If you have some other interesting ideas that you’d like to share with us please add them into the comments. Or if you’re working on a project you’d like to share post a link in the comments or you can submit it to us at the Leica Meet and perhaps we’ll run a feature on it .

Portraits of Strangers

As any street photographer will tell you people watching can be fascinating business.  It’s something many enjoy whether they ‘ve a camera in hand on not. Perhaps its has something to do with trying to guess someone’s story just from observing them that taps into our creativeness , or it be could real life is far more interesting than watching television, or even somehow by watching others it can help us to make sense of our own lives.

After a spell of shooting people who were usually unaware I felt I wanted to get in closer and shoot those interesting characters I had been watching from afar, capturing their faces in more detail and hopefully a touch of their spirit in my pictures.

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‘Vexed’ M9 Summilux 35mm

Getting Closer

Using a Telephoto Lens – One obvious way to get closer without people knowing or without affecting a scene is just use a longer lens. Often I use a 90mm Summicron , probably not a lens most people would associate with street photography but I like the extra distance it gives me and that ability of getting closer without being noticed.  New York Street photographer Saul Leiter was very fond of using telephoto lenses and even used a 150mm lens for some of his Street work  .

The Candid Street Portrait  – This is using a standard focal length (usually 35mm or 50mm)  pointing a camera at someone point blank without asking their permission.  The candid method can produce some great photos if the person doesn’t notice you and can also provoke an interesting reaction if they do , usually one of disapproval. Personally I feel it can be intrusive, unsettling for the person and as recently pointed out to me by Stephen Cosh, it might end up ruining it for all street photographers –  if too many people complain about street togs sticking cameras in their faces , then street photography could end up becoming illegal.

Shooting Discreetly or From the Hip – This method works great and can produce some  wonderful close up shots, with very little chance of you being noticed . Sometimes seeing a person coming towards me I’ll pre/ zone focus which means choosing a point of focus that’s in their path and waiting for them to walk into it, whilst  trying my best not looking like I’m about to take their photo.  Shooting from the hip and walking around with the camera I generally set the aperture somewhere between ƒ5.6- ƒ8 to give a better chance of hitting my subject.

9613133216_e462ededce_c‘Girl in Juice Bar ‘  from the hip  – Summicron 50mm

Asking Permission – This has actually become my favored approach and the one I am going to talk mostly about. You might say that as soon as you’ve made that contact, the person has become aware that your taking a their picture so it totally changes the photo you’re going to get .

Now you’re dealing with that persons sense of how they want to be perceived its not a candid photo anymore, but to me that’s part of the challenge , developing a sense of how to make people feel at ease,  breaking down our natural social reserve.

I’ve found asking someone can often be most rewarding and I’ll often come away after meeting someone feeling really exhilarated from the experience, it’s difficult to put into words but I could say it’s like a good energy flow.

One of the most enjoyable things for me can be how happy the person is when they see the picture you made, something that none of the other close up methods I mentioned are likely to give you. Usually I’ll give a business card with my email and am always happy to mail them the picture.

Its possible you can ask for a portrait without even saying a word by just holding up the camera in a gesture as if pretending to make a shot and then you can generally gauge by the persons reaction whether or not it going to be cool.

It’s all down to your ability to catch the person in an honest and truthful way, making the person feel comfortable enough to let down their guard infront of a complete stranger and building a sense of trust between you . Its not something you can learn in a tutorial or from book but something that might either come naturally or can be developed by practice.

When I approach someone I know in my own mind that I am only trying to make a good photo and want them to be able to enjoy the photo too and I think people can sense if your intentions good.

8151910461_93f265f17b_c ‘Spencer’ M8 Summilux 35mm

Ready Set Go !

Sometimes you’re only going to get one shot so make sure you’re camera is set to go, there’s nothing worse than having to apologize because you got it wrong the first time . Usually I’ll have the camera set to Auto-exposure, which I can rely on to get me something about right and then if I have more time I’ll review and adjust manually to make sure I got it perfect.

What do I Say ?

There’s no set way of asking sometimes I can just walk over and engage in a conversation for a while before I even get round to asking for their picture,  other times  I’ll just come straight out and ask them, every situation is going to be  different .

If you use the simple and honest  ‘I am doing some kind of photo project ’ approach can often be the most successful, people are often willing to help . Perhaps there’s something interesting about the person you can point out , like they have a great beard or cool fashion style that could be part of a project or simply just I am doing this project which involves asking complete strangers for photos .

Keeping the conversation going , the more you build a rapport between you the more relaxed they’ll be and then you might be able to get them to help make a better photo by moving into a better light or background  .

Recalling the first time I made a street portrait I was so nervous ,

I saw this cool looking Rastafarian guy walking through Soho, and  before I knew what I was doing found myself following him down street. As I approached him I had butterflies in my stomach and I wasn’t even quite sure yet of what I was going to say to him .I think I said awkwardly something like

“Hello I’m a street photographer and I’m doing a project about people in London, would it be ok for me to take a picture of you ?”

His reply threw me a bit, he said in his strong Jamaican accent  “ Man… you to advanced for me “

I wasn’t quite sure what he meant but I just carried on chatting to him, being honest and explaining that he was actually the first person I’d ever asked .

I went on to tell him he looked a bit like the Reggae artist Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry which made him smile ,  it happened to be one of his favourite artists.

He then said “you’re ok man go on and take my photo “

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‘Ras Ras’ M8 Summicron 50mm

The first time is always going to be the most frightening but with each person you ask its going become easier.  If you approach with a confident smile that’s going to be a big help and you always have to remember what’s the worst that can happen.

A Final Word

Of course its up to you how to approach Street portraiture and each situation can require a different method, you can only use your own judgment what’s going to work best . Sometimes its possible to use a more than one approach by discreetly getting a shot before asking as  you might get the feeling they’re probably not going to agree if you ask, so cover your bases rather than lose the shot.

If you’re interested in making street portraits and have been to nervous or shy to approach strangers I hope that reading this has helped a little and if you have any more thoughts on the subject , want to add any thought or share any of your own experiences or pictures on ‘The Leica Meet ‘ we’d be very happy to hear from you.