Collaboration: unlocking a fresh burst of creativity

Think about it for a moment. Collaboration is common in many artistic disciplines, for example; music, film, theatre.  And whilst there are examples of photographic collaboration (Hilla and Bernd Becher, Broomberg and Chanarin…etc) they are few and far between. Our image of the photographer is mostly of someone working alone.

Yet those of us who have attended workshops know from personal experience that we don’t only learn from the instructors. Some of the most valuable lessons come from interactions with other class members. How they see, how they shoot, how they talk about their work. How their images are so different, even though we are all in the same location.

We’ve witnessed this again recently on our two Leica Meets in London. We covered the same territory and even while walking and talking together chose to shoot differently. The images from those two days show a fascinating diversity and the atmosphere is one of a mutual appreciation for each others’ talents.

I’ve tried to take this one step further by actively collaborating on projects with other artists.  From visualising haiku poems through triple exposing film with photographers in other countries to visual conversations in which images are exchanged which seem to ‘go with’ one another.  The first resulted in a print on demand book. The second goes on Kickstarter in November. The third is still a work in progress. Every time I’ve benefitted from listening to the artistic sensibilities of my collaborators. Hopefully they have also gained from my input too.


Confluence: triple exposed film with Ramya Reddy and Shayne Lynn

As photographers we are constantly trying to control every variable; from aperture and shutter speed to ISO, not to mention framing, lens choice and of course those great demons, editing and post processing. Well, we’re talking a new experiment in creativity here, so how about we throw all that out the window? What if all those variables and any others you can think of, were the subject of discussions between you and another photographer?

The two of you are bound to disagree right? Yes. That’s exactly the point. Collaboration shakes up our routine approach to shooting. Being deeply involved in a project where you are constantly revisiting and shaping the creative outcome is very different than shooting on your own. Just like the great art movements of history, making art based on dialogue is exciting. The process itself is highly creative and engaging. It reflects a larger point of view. It uses our collective intelligence. We all gain.

When the collaborative project is over we return enriched. Whether our original aim was to break through creative block or simply to challenge ourselves to do differently or to do better our own work gains from the exchange.

wavelength 3

Wavlength: combining analog and digital with Eileen McCarney Muldoon

But it isn’t all necessarily peace and light. Collaboration calls for a high level of trust. It can dissolve into discussions of authorship, recognition and copyright. If there is sufficient interest I can cover these off in another post. But for now, I’d be interested in hearing if any members of the Leica Meet group have tried collaborative projects and how it worked out? You can reply to this post or feel free to write up your own experiences as a separate post. Just send them into us here at The Leica Meet.



Over Confidence with the Leica M Monochrom

Shooting with the Leica M System takes practice. At first it’s not easy, but the more you use it, the easier it gets until after a while it’s just instinctive. You lift the camera to your eye, adjust the focus tab, overlap the two images in the viewfinder and press click. Or at least that is what you do if you shoot Aperture Priority all the time. If you don’t use AP, it’s a little more complicated, but being a street shooter, I need to capture my subjects very quickly and Aperture Priority is a must. It alleviates the need to set shutter speed leaving you with nothing but focusing to worry about… Unless you’re shooting with a Leica M Monochrom.

The Monochrom is a superb camera. It is black and white only, full frame and captures an uncanny amount of detail, so much detail that numerous people have stated it produces a sharper, more detailed shot than most black and white medium format cameras. I can’t back this up as I have no experience of MF cameras either digital or film. What I can say is that of all the 35mm cameras I have ever shot, both digital and film, nothing I’ve ever seen compares to the clarity, sharpness and tonal gradation that the Monochrom achieves. It is simply outstanding… Until it bites you in the ass!

I live in Scotland. Scotland, albeit a fantastic country full of haggis and whisky, is grey. We don’t get much sun here, so setting an M camera up for street shooting is easy. Here’s the drill…

  1. Fire it onto Aperture Priority
  2. Set slowest shutter speed to 1/60th of a second
  3. Set Max ISO to 5000 or 8000 depending on wether you are shooting day or night
  4. Get out on the street – you’re ready to go

This set up works great when the sun you do get in Scotland is forcing it’s way through layers of grey cloud. It never fails. Keep your lens wide open, click the button and let your camera sort out shutter speed and ISO and you have your photo. But last week I went to London for a day and took the camera… When I got home it bit me in the ass.

I took about 40 shots, got home and uploaded the shots from the card and all but a few were overexposed. Why? London was sunny! I was shooting wide open with the camera set up for grey Scottish light and the bright sunlight in London was just too much for the Monochrom. The (non-technical) reason for this is that the Monochrom has no Bayer filter and therefor lets in more light. Too much light hitting a sensor will burn out the blacks and cause overexposure. With a colour camera (one with a Bayer sensor), you can save nearly all overexposed shots by playing around with the colour channels in Photoshop, Aperture or Lightroom, but with the Monochrom you only have one channel – black.

The settings I should have used are…

  1. Fire it onto Aperture Priority
  2. Set slowest shutter speed to 1/125th of a second
  3. Set Max ISO to 2500

So there I was, sitting looking at 40 odd overexposed shots thinking what a waste and I started to delete them one by one, but then came across a few that had just enough black in them that I though I might be able to save some.

It’s testament to both the Leica M Monochrom and Leica lenses, that even in the harshest of sunlight and wide open with a shutter speed that is too slow, that they can capture and render such strong contrasts. It may be the main reason that Leica lenses are so damn good.

I opened up one of the shots in Silver Effex and started playing around with the contrast slider and hey presto, and totally by (happy) accident, came up with an image that looks like a deliberate hi-key shot. I played with a few more and managed to save 8 or 9 of the 40 i had taken. Lucky!


So the moral of this story is that when you use a manual camera, specifically a Leica M Monochrom, just remember the word “manual”. Don’t rely on settings you used in one location just to “automatically” work elsewhere. Photography is all about capturing light and if your camera is set up for a different type of light than the one your shooting in… it’ll bite you in the ass!