Finding Local Inspiration: Fall on a Farm

Fall has officially started on the east coast of the United States! Temperatures have finally mellowed, pumpkin spiced everything is available for sale, and the trees are starting to show their fall colors. So last weekend I headed out into rural Virginia to get a few images in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

One thing I often hear from new photographers is that they don't have anything to photograph, and they can only travel once or twice a year. That sentiment represents a lack of creativity! There are photographs to be found everywhere you look. So today I'm sharing over a dozen images that were all taken within a 300 foot radius of a farm house in rural Virginia - all made on the same day (although taken at different times to reflect changing sun conditions).

You don't need need to travel to exotic locations to make some photographs, and I challenge you to find some local inspiration in your back yard!

A white picket fence surrounding the property lines. 

A white picket fence surrounding the property lines. 

Playing with reflections and silhouettes in the window. That's actually my mom sitting at the kitchen table.

Playing with reflections and silhouettes in the window. That's actually my mom sitting at the kitchen table.

A shed sitting along the edge of the property.

A shed sitting along the edge of the property.

A pile of fresh leaves on the lawn

A pile of fresh leaves on the lawn

Two ladders leaning up on the side of the workshop

Two ladders leaning up on the side of the workshop

Peeling paint on the side of the shed

Peeling paint on the side of the shed

Playing with the high contrast late afternoon shadows on the leaves

Playing with the high contrast late afternoon shadows on the leaves

The view from the back of the property

The view from the back of the property

Looking over the fence toward the neighbor's farm

Looking over the fence toward the neighbor's farm

The tree in the front yard

The tree in the front yard

A workshop with an old horse-drawn carriage in the back

A workshop with an old horse-drawn carriage in the back

A pile of leaves on a table in the yard

A pile of leaves on a table in the yard

v3nice

November was a totally insane month for Scenic Traverse Photography...... Let's recap:

  • End of my European tour (Austria, Germany, Hungary, etc)
  • Trip to Venice, Italy
  • Trip to Washington, DC
  • Trip to London
  • Prepare for a huge trip that I'll be announcing later this week....

Phew. I hardly ever unpacked a suitcase - clothes just moved from one to the next. But it was fun, and I've got a lot of images to share from November. So without further delay, I'm excited to introduce my latest photo series, titled v3nice.

The name 'v3nice' is a play on the fact that it was my third trip in as many years to the historic Italian coastal city. When you've been someplace as often as I've been to Venice, you need to take a new approach to your photography to ensure you capture something new and interesting. So I limited myself - I carried only my Leica M Monochrom and primarily used the 50mm Leica f/0.95 Noctilux lens. In a city as colorful as Venice, choosing to shoot only in black and white may seem absurd, but I promise, it was totally liberating. 

I also got creative with the format. There are some photographers who don't believe in cropping, but I have no issue with the practice. So I cropped most of these photos to an absurdly long and skinny (or tall and thin) crop of 6x17. The result is that you see slices of Venice, not whole scenes. I think it's a fun way to expose you to a city that is often photographed, but while offering a unique twist.

It's best to see this collection at once, so the images are laid out on a special page dedicated to the v3nice project. I hope to one day display these prints in a gallery, as the dimensions of the images would be a stunning visual, but for now, you'll have to enjoy them online.

To view the v3nice project, please click the image below. Enjoy. Then come back and leave a comment letting me know what you think!

The Importance of Storytelling

I've said it before - storytelling is everything as a photographer. There are lots of stories to tell, and each story requires a different presentation to share that story with the eventual viewer of the image.

Some stories tell themselves. Others need help. As a photographer, I need to use the tools at my disposal - namely the camera and lens - to capture that story, and to aid in conveyance. If we fail as storytellers, we fail as photographers. 

This image was a particularly fun story. The man peeking up from the ground is actually a bronze statue titled "Man at Work" on the streets of Bratislava, Slovakia. Tourists from around the world flock to kneel next to him and have their photo taken. Some rub the top of his hat for good luck (though after watching a few dogs pee on the statue, presumably for good luck, I opted out of the good luck charm). The photo everyone takes of him is one posing next to the statue. Yawn.

I stood about 20 feet away and got the camera low to the ground. Using the Leica f/0.95 Noctilux lens (which is wonderful for storytelling), I focused on the statue with a shallow depth of field. With the Leica Monochrom producing the black and white image, I just needed to wait and time my shot when there were a bunch of legs in the scene. I wanted the final product to feel a bit weird - to give the viewer goosebumps. 

The locals joke that his job is to look up the skirts of women passing by. I don't know about that, but I hope that my photograph told a similar story!

Quick Shot: Urban Landscapes

I consider myself, first and foremost, a landscape photographer. But if I tell someone that I'm a landscape photographer, they assume I focus on trees and mountains..... which is partially true. I love a good nature scene. Yet I believe in many types of landscapes, and enjoy photographing all of them. 

Today I'm sharing a series of images that capture the urban landscape - that is a landscape that focuses less on trees and blue skies and more of the urban jungle created by mankind. When I photograph the urban landscape, I try to focus on capturing those little scenes that we've become numb to - the things we see so often that we no longer stop to appreciate their beauty.

As you look at these images, I hope you'll be reminded that there are beautiful landscapes and whimsical settings all around us. I captured these images using a Leica Monochrom with f/0.95 Noctilux (because that lens is not just for portraiture!).

This is a bit of a surrealist image - a photograph of a light pole with a reflection of a light pole

 A sign on one of the locks and waterways on the Danube River. This lock separates the boundary between Austria and Germany.

These old trollies in Austria looked like they were fresh out of 1970. I loved them!

Water spigot here.

Staircase running along a hydro electric powerplant

Tram tracks in a busy intersection in Vienna, Austria

Bridge struts in Budapest, Hungary

Inside one of the locks on the River Danube

Quick Shot: One for the Birds

Pigeons: "Flying rats".

These poor birds have the unfortunate reputation of being a pest. They are pre-disposed to a life of shooing and picking at leftover crumbs. But as much as we overlook pigeons, they can actually be really pretty..... in the right context. 

During my travel through Austria, Hungary, and Germany, I established a micro-quest to create images with pigeons as a prominent theme. As I photographer I love to photograph the things we often overlook, and pigeons became a fun little photographic project for that journey. 

So today I present a series of images on pigeons -- it's one for the birds -- and maybe you'll see a little beauty in that bird. Or you'll shoo it off. Whatever.

Photographed with the Leica M Monochrom and Leica Noctilux f/0.95 lens. (PS- I might be the first person to use that lens to prominently feature birds. It's not exactly a 'birding' lens!)

Everyone else in the Hero's Square of Budapest was photographing the monuments. I was pre-focused and pre-composed waiting for the birds to take off. After a few long minutes of pigeon watching, they finally jumped into flight. Best yet - their flight path worked perfectly with the direction that dude in the statue was pointing. Winning!

Not all of my pigeon watching and timing was as successful as that first shot. In this case, these pigeons had their feet glued firmly to the rooftops in Bratislava. But the leaning and not level roof dotted with birds still makes for an interesting image.

I think this is one of the most ironic images I've ever made. This is some fountain in Austria, and this pigeon was just chilling at the feet of the eagle / hawk thing in the statue. The expressions are priceless.

No patience here - just luck. This is why I always carry my camera turned on - I turned around just to see these birds flying over the dome. Sadly some power lines were in the way, but it adds and interesting element to the image still.

Quick Shot: Down the Alley

One of my favorite parts of living in Europe for the past two years has been exploring the pedestrian areas of old cities and finding hidden alleyways that split off the main routes. It's quite common to find side streets paved in stones, with intricate architecture and geometry in Europe's streets, and it's unlike anything you'll find in the United States.

Last week my friend and I travelled through Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Germany, and we saw a LOT of beautiful and picturesque alleyways. Of course, I had to photograph them all! I saved only the best, and I'm excited to present the alleys as my first set of images from this travel.

I primarily used my Leica M Monochrom on this trip, opting to focus on making beautiful black and white images. Europe is beautiful in color, but I like it in black and white too! All of the images were made using the Leica M f/0.95 Noctilux lens as well.

Click on any image for a full size preview.

A tunnel on a stone street in Durnstein, Austria.

I absolutely love this street, mostly because of the perspective as it falls away from the viewer. Photographed in Germany

A residential side street in Austria

The side street of a monastery in Melk

Triple arches on this side alley street in Germany

Vanishing street in Regensburg, Germany

Bike parking on a side street in Germany

Quick Shot: Up in Space

I have always been a bit of a space geek. As a kid I went to Space Camp (okay, I went three times.....) and I marveled over the 3D images from the Mars Pathfinder printed in a special issue of National Geographic. A few years ago, when NASA retired the space shuttle program, I photographed the ceremonial final flight of the shuttle over Washington, DC. That shuttle (Discovery) was then moved into the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum outside DC, but I hadn't been to see it on display since the move.

Last week, I had a few hours to burn before hopping on my flight between DC and London. The museum with the shuttle is co-located with Dulles Airport, so I decided to jet over to the museum in the morning to pay my respects to Discovery before the crowds formed.

I got there before the gates open, and made a direct path for the space section of the museum once it opened, allowing me to get several images without any people in the scene.

The space shuttle is a naturally black and white subject, so it suited my choice of camera - the Leica Monochrom - well. I used the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux to help create isolation, and focused on a variety of shots, including some more abstract images of the shuttle. 

Today I'm sharing some of my favorites of this incredible piece of human history. It's humbling to stand inches from something that has carried dozens of astronauts to space, and while I normally don't conduct many photo shoots in a museum, this was a special opportunity, and I appreciate NASA's emphasis in preserving our space flight history.

The space shuttle sitting alone in the hangar of the museum. I intentionally underexposed the image to isolate the subject - the morning light was perfect for capturing the shuttle in isolation.

Some of the tiles on the bottom of the shuttle, designed to protect the bottom from the extreme heat caused during re-entry of the atmosphere. Space Shuttle Columbia and all of her crew were lost in 2003 when damaged tiles caused the shuttle to burn up on re-entry. Each tile has a unique serial number and placement

The landing gear on the shuttle, along with more of the heat protecting tiles. You can see where various tiles have been replaced throughout the years and missions.

The main engines on the shuttle. During launch, the shuttle also utilized two external rocket boosters that helped propel the shuttle into orbit. 

The back end of the shuttle. I got very close so the image is a little more abstract. The monochrom of this image really highlights the aesthetic imperfections of this machine.

The side of the shuttle, looking across the wings. This is the first time I'd seen a shuttle that had been to space (NASA also had some shuttles that never left Earth that I've seen before) and I was surprised how 'dirty' it looked. You really gained an appreciation for the abuse space flight inflicts on a machine like this.

Close-up detail of the space suit worn by one of the astronauts on a space flight.

I was fascinated by the heat shielding tiles on the shuttle (these are on the nose). There is sense of controlled chaos in their arrangement and organization. It was the most perfectly aligned puzzle of pieces to protect the crew, but these were incredibly delicate and often broke.

What the F*ck Photography!?!

"What the f*ck?" - That's what I want you to say, and if you say it, I'll take it as a compliment!

Sometimes I take photographs that are really bizarre - images that, by themselves, can't be shown off, because they don't make sense. But put a collection of outrageous photographs together and it starts work. So folks, that's what I've done. 

What the f*ck photography is what I am dubbing my collection of images that, particularly without context, are curious and wild. I have not artificially created these images in Photoshop - what you see is what I saw. I have not rotated the images either - this is the direction I caught them with my camera. The overwhelming majority of the images in this series were photographed with the Leica M Monochrom (Type 246); I guess black and white images are better for creating "what the f*ck" moments!

Leave me a comment and let me know which of these left you wondering WTF.

Black & White Shootout: Leica Q vs Leica Monochrom

Every so often I get questions in my inbox asking me a subjective question - a question like "how does the Monochrom compare to a black and white converted photograph from the Leica Q / Leica SL"?

I actually like these questions; they challenge me to trace back my thought process to when purchasing these cameras and re-validate the logic I used. I purchased the Leica Monochrom with the understanding that it was the best tool available for shooting black and white photographs. I bought the Leica Q to be a lightweight travel companion. One is not supposed to fill the niche of the other (at least for me). 

The contestants - the Leica Q with the 28mm lens vs the Leica Monochrom with a 50mm Summicron. I don't own a 28mm lens to put on the Monochrom, so I cropped the Q files to give the same field of view.

While that was the logic when I purchased the cameras, the reader's question prompted some interesting internal debate. Is the black and white image quality of the Monochrom really superior in a side-by-side shootout? I almost never carry two cameras like this at the same time, so I don't have much real world basis to judge, just my perceptions from using each. So challenged by the question, I decided to take the Leica Q and the Leica Monochrom for a quick shootout today.

A few notes: I've previously tested that the Leica SL and Leica Q deliver very similar image results, so I decided to only bring the Q out for this test. Theoretically there will be minor differences between the SL and Q and Monochrom, but I'm not doing a scientific review, and figured the Q could represent on behalf of Leica's best color sensors. On the topic of science - there is none to be found here folks. I don't shoot paper focusing targets for hours on end or setup precision tools to compare these things. I did this shootout hand held on the streets of Cambridge, England. The framing between the two cameras is not scientifically accurate. I am a real photographer that wants to do realistic comparisons, not science experiments. If you are too anal to accept these minor differences, please find another blogger.

With all that out of the way, let's briefly describe the shooting setup. Since the Leica Q has a fixed lens, there isn't much to discuss there..... but I did use the in-camera frame line selector to display a 50mm crop on the images so that I could match the lens I was using on the Monochrom. For the Leica Monochrom, I shot a 50mm f/2 Summicron lens. I shot both cameras on Auto ISO, Aperture Priority, and in RAW with -1/3 stop exposure compensation. The same aperture was used on both cameras.

When generating the black and white for the Q images, I just moved the desaturation slider in Lightroom to 0. I made no other edits (which is why you can see some dust spots.... ick). Also, be sure to click on any image for a full screen preview.

Example I: Window

This was my first comparison, because it was a scene with some nice detail and contrast. The brick have a lot of tonal variety due to their age, so that made it interesting for a comparison. First, lets look at the color image from the Q, then we'll look at the desaturated Q vs Monochrom.

Window - Leica Q @ f/4 (50mm crop)

Leica Q image (desaturated) 

Leica M Monochrom image

Ok, so the Monochrom is maybe darker and has less tonal variety in the brickwork than the Q desaturated image, but I'm sure if I edited it, I could get them to look the same..... With a boring subject like this, not sure I really have a preference for the "winner" because both are uninteresting! 

Example II: Bike

Not only do I look stupid photographing a brick wall, but it's also not interesting. So to spice things up for the second side-by-side I went wild and found a bike leaning up against a wall to photograph. I know, pretty wild.

Bike - Leica Q @ f/5.6 (50mm crop)

Leica Q image (desaturated)

Leica M Monochrom image

This wild and crazy example is actually more interesting. I certainly could not differentiate which camera produced which image. I would say there is maybe a touch more dynamic range (tonal difference) in the shadow detail in the Monochrom image?

Example III: Street

I love photographing this street, particularly the awesome line of chimneys, and frequent visitors to ScenicTraverse.com will recognize this street from a dozen or so street photographs I have previously shared. Anyway, today I decided to shoot up the street for the comparison (I definitely prefer the composition shooting the other direction, but live and learn)

Street - Leica Q @ f/5.6 (50mm crop)

Leica Q image (desaturated) 

Leica M Monochrom image

In this comparison we really start to see the differences between a desaturated color image and the Monochrom files. First, the highlights in the Monochrom are lost and blown out (a common problem), while there is still cloud detail in the Q image. The simple explanation for this is that the Q saves color in three channels, and detail in those channels is lost at different rates, so a blown highlight in a color image may not be totally lost - you may be able to recover some detail from one of the color channels. The Monochrom just captures luminance values, so lost is lost. If you want more information about how and why this happens, I suggest reading about the Bayer Color Filter and the Monochrom's lack of one.

Also interesting in this example is the shadow detail. The Q shadow is much harsher and more contrasty, while the Monochrom file is flatter and has more detail in the shadow. Personally, I would rather have the shadow detail and underexpose a little more to preserve the highlights - meaning I'd vote for the Monochrom file in this comparison. Could I get the same result with editing the Q file? Probably.

Example IV: To the Water

Lets get saucy.... In the above example I postulated that I could probably generate the same looking file from either camera, so this time I am going to challenge myself to create two photographs that are as similar as possible. IE: Can I create the same photograph in Lightroom from either camera?

A quick note: I did not science this. Obviously the photographs are not the same, but thats okay. I spent about 3 minutes trying to match them up in Lightroom, and got this result. 

Leica Q

Leica Monochrom

Like I said, not scientific, and it really would be hard to do so. They are completely different lenses with completely different contrast, bokeh, and sharpness. But I'd say the result is generally similar. With more tweaking I could probably get them even closer, but this is good enough for me to stamp it as complete. PS - I like the Monochrom file better, but that is probably because I like contrast, and the 50mm lens I'm using from 1983 has a knack for contrast ;-)

Example V: Chimney

For this last comparison, I did a similar test to the above, except that I processed the images in Nik Silver Efex instead of Lightroom. 

Leica Q

Leica Monochrom

I'll let you draw your own conclusions here, but look at the tonality of the white clouds, tonality of the sky, and detail in the shadows.... While the photos are similar at first glance, there are certainly differences.

Verdict

When photographing a subject that didn't have much dynamic range (example I - the wall), the results were pretty similar and boring. But as the images got more complex with highlights, shadows, white and blacks to contend with, differences certainly started to emerge in the final product. 

In Example V I used Nik Silver Efex to make the photographs similar, and although the tone on the brick is pretty similar, the Monchrom has better rendering of the white in the clouds and more detail in the shadow. 

Back to the reader question, the answer is that the files are similar, but certainly different. And this is where preference becomes so subjective. The Monochrom has interchangeable lenses, is a rangefinder, and lacks autofocus. The Q is a fixed 28mm lens, but has fast autofocus, and is deadly silent. Neither is better - its a matter of personal preference. The Q is a simple camera that can deliver tremendous results, while the Monochrom requires more work to use. At the end of the day, I choose the tool for the photographs I want to create on that day. 

If this post has interested you, be sure to read about my experience photographing the Tour de France using the Leica Monochrom

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

Photographing the Tour de France with the Leica Monochrom

If I told you I was going to photograph the iconic finish of the famous cycling race, the Tour de France, in Paris, you would naturally start to envision the types of photographs I might take. Like a high speed photograph of the moment when the winner crossed the finish with his hands thrust up in victory. The sort of photograph that could be put on the cover of an illustrated sports magazine and sold on newsstands around the world. A photograph that a few die-hard fans, sponsors, and probably the athlete themselves, would ever want to own or hang on a wall.

That's what you'd think if I told you I went to photograph the Tour de France.

Now if I also told you that I photographed the Tour de France with the Leica M Monochrom - a camera that only takes black and white photographs, and is not remotely close to the type of camera used to take the magazine cover images I described a moment ago - you'd think I was crazy (stupid).

Not only am I crazy (stupid), but I actually chose this camera to photograph the race.... On purpose. Right. While every other serious photographer is wielding a serious dSLR with a 70-200mm zoom and maybe a monopod, I'm shooting a small, manual focus camera that maybe shoots 2 frames per second..... In black and white.

What the hell was I thinking? For starters, without press credentials, there was no way I was going to get into a location that would offer the type of images illustrated sports magazines would want. Second, even if I took those glaring sharp images with creat color and detail, who is ever going to look at them? And third, I like to make art, and taking "serious" photographs of the race wasn't the sort of artistic look I wanted. So I set out with the goal of making artistic and creative images of the race. I wanted to make photographs that were completely unlike anything else that anyone else would shoot that day......

Of course I photographed one of the American women riding - Alison Tetrick

Before selecting the camera I would shoot for the race, I conceptualized the images I might want to make. I started by looking at past photographs of the Tour finish in Paris; most of which were the high-speed action shots that I wasn't looking to emulate. I then started to research locations and the race setup. The peloton of the Tour de France will do 10 laps along the Champ de Elysees as part of the ceremonial finish, so I knew I wanted a chance to photograph the riders as they ran that circuit. Why?

If you have never watched a professional bike race, then watch the following video clip, which was filmed on my iPhone, to understand how fast this race whizzes past.

Now imagine trying to get dozens of artistic and creative shots, with different focal lengths and effects, in that short window of time. Not happening. My only chance to build a mass of different photographs was to get 10 laps of them. I also read that lining up on Rue de Rivoili was a great spot for spectating, as it wasn't hard to get a spot along the barricades. The only variable was security - with the recent string of terrorist attacks in Paris, I knew the French Gendarmerie would be all over the place. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't find a lot of information about what areas of the route would be open to spectators..... I suspect it wasn't published widely to prevent any ill-intentioned persons from using the same information for less noble causes. As anticipated, the Gendarmerie had blocked off Rue do Rivoili on the park side - an area that used to be a great spot to spectate from because it was in the shade!

Anyway, back to the decision process..... If I had 10 laps to photograph the riders, then a slower camera could suffice to capture the action. And I knew the images would ultimately be presented in black and white to neutralize the bright colors of the race. Teams and sponsors cover the riders in an array of vibrant colors and bold designs to attract the attention of viewers, and I didn't want these designs to overpower the underlying theme of my images..... Motion.

When I really sat down to think about it, the motion of the race is what I wanted to capture. The riders whip around at speeds in excess of 30MPH and create a whooshing sensation as you stand along the spectating route. The tempo and speed are what make this race so impressive; hundreds of men going full speed inches apart from each other and with the grace and poise to make it look easy. That's what I wanted to capture.

I decided that it came down to either the Leica Q or the Leica Monochrom for this task. The Q images could convert to black and white, and its auto focus and faster shooting speed might be handy. But I also liked the idea of shooting some images at 50mm, and ultimately opted for the camera with interchangeable lenses. And, I would be doing some street and night photographs during the remainder of my weekend in Paris.

I packed two lenses to photograph the Tour: the Leica 35mm Summarit f/2.4 and the Leica 50mm Summicron f/2.0 (1983 Made in Canada edition!). The Leica EVF-2, a spare battery and some memory cards rounded out the kit. Lightweight, easy, and no frills. We also packed some cold drinks and snacks, as the plan was to watch the women's race and Tour de France caravan (a parade of sponsors) before the men entered the circuit. It was going to be a long, hot day, but we were ready (except the sun screen, doh).

Access to the route was very tightly controlled. Security inspected all bags closely - to the point they opened my wallet and flipped through it. Cool, and thank you to all the French security forces who made the race safe and enjoyable.  I got to an open spot in the barricade right as the women started to come through for their first laps as part of their race, called "La Course".

The women's race was a great chance to get dialed in for camera settings and configuration, and gave me a chance to work on my timing for panning shots. The women riders mostly preferred to be in the center of the road, or the opposite side; later I'd find myself wishing the men would do the same as they got too close at points!

As the ladies entered their last lap of La Course, it was clear something was afoul. Each team has a set of cars carrying the team director, mechanics, and spare bikes that follows the riders. If a rider has an issue, they can drop back in the peloton to their team car and get service (there is also a neutral service car that will help everyone.... But you might not like the equipment they give you). As the women entered lap 10, we could see the team cars at the back of the race suddenly stopped. A friend of mine watching the race on broadcast TV texted me the verdict- a big crash just happened with a bunch of riders caught up. On that last lap there were several different crashes, leaving the peloton in battered shape as they passed for the last time. Those riders who had been caught in an accident, many of whom had bandages and torn jerseys to show for it, finished their last lap at a more relaxed and casual pace as their chance to win in front of the Arc de Triumph passed. The crowd was wonderful, cheering extra hard for these battered women who fought to finish; as a photographer I was appreciative that the slower pace gave me a chance to get some different images.

At the conclusion of the women's race, we had several hours before the men would arrive. To fill the time, the Tour organizers arrange for the Caravan to pass. The Caravan is basically a sponsor parade. Each of the major race sponsors has floats with people dancing and singing. See the Tour elsewhere in France and the Caravan will throw out treats and freebies to spectators. But by the time they reach Paris, there are no more freebies to be had. Thankfully the Vittal float, which is for the official bottled water provider of the Tour, had "freebie" water sprayers to help cool the crowd. I could have asked them to pass a few more times.

Now all of this probably sounds like there was a lot of action to photograph, but that was hardly the case. There were hours of nothingness, followed by a flash 10 seconds of racing, followed by 10 minutes of waiting before the race came whipping past again for another 10 seconds. The street became rather crowded as the race approached, and since we had secured a space along the barricade, there was no choice but to stay and bake in the sun. At points we'd sit on the ground cramped into awkward positions and on the hot asphalt just to give our feet a short reprieve. I don't say any of this in an attempt to elicit sympathy - I had the time of my life - but getting these photos wasn't just a show-up-and-aim-affair, it required dedication and a lot of patience for 10 seconds of shooting opportunity.

Speaking of, let's get back to the photography. As I mentioned earlier, I brought two lenses for this shoot, but started with the 35mm Summarit for the women's race. In my pre-visualization of the images I wanted to make, I determined that I would be using slow shutter speeds to create the blur that viewers would associate with the motion of the race. Unfortunately, it was so sunny that with the base ISO of 320 on the Leica Monochrom, I had to shoot at apertures between f/11-16 to create shutter speeds in the 1/90th of a second range. While I might have preferred a shallower depth of field before I started shooting, not knowing exactly where the cyclists would line up on the roadway made a wider depth of field ultimately more favorable. At f/11-16, I could guarantee that the entire roadway was in focus, so I just had to be attentive to the timing and panning of my camera. Easier said than done!

As the riders would pass on their laps, I had a few minutes to review the images from the last lap to evaluate and make changes before they came around again. By the end of the women's race I had some images that looked like definite "keepers" on the LCD screen; more importantly, I felt dialed in for when the men would come through in a few hours.

Unfortunately, the sun and clouds felt like changing pretty significantly in that time. The women raced around 1:30pm, when the sun was directly overhead and very bright, but the men came through in the 6:30pm hour, so the light had faded and wasn't as harsh. As a result, all the settings I had dialed in earlier were completely moot! I ended up shooting at an ISO around 1600 to give me shutter speeds in that 1/90th range. But as I reviewed the images after that first lap, I had a lot more blur than when I'd used that same shutter speed with the women. Apparently the men are going even faster than the women and a shutter speed of 1/125-250th was more appropriate for getting the same level of blur. I'm sure some math geek can translate shutter speed (at the same aperture) to the speed of the bikers.... It probably involves terms like "square root" and "differential equation." Feel free to comment if you feel like doing some math.

After a few laps at 35mm, I switched to the Summicron 50mm with the idea of getting more close-up shots of the riders. Bad plan. Well not really, abstract is abstract, but there is too much shutter lag with the Monochrom to really try and frame and shoot like that. Using the 50mm turned into 'spray and pray' shooting, which I really hate, so I returned to the 35mm focal length for the remaining laps.

I found that shooting the high speed action of the Tour de France caused me to ditch some of my normal photographic techniques. Most notably is that I did a lot of chimping (checking my work on the LCD screen) - I would NOT recommend trying to shoot an event like this with a camera like the Leica M-D that doesn't have an LCD screen, unless you have balls of steel. I also spent less time framing each shot.... Okay, I spent no time framing. I would make decisions before each lap about my shooting objective for the next lap and would stick to it. Am I shooting them head on as they approach? Panning as they pass? Shooting their shadows and tires? Once I decided on the objective for that lap, I would do some test framing, but mostly hoped to get lucky!

Considering I brought a cricket bat to a baseball game with the Leica Monochrom, it performed surprisingly well; however, I attribute the success I had not to the camera, but to the pre-visualization and knowing what I wanted before I clicked the shutter. The Monochrom isn't the tool for getting that home run magazine cover finish line image, so don't try to use it as such. I wanted to bunt for a base hit, and I was able to use the camera to achieve that result. For all intensive purposes, I had to fight the Leica Monochrom to get these photographs. It's a camera that forces you to slow down. It's a camera designed for thoughtful and deliberate photography, not haphazard and reckless shooting. But it is possible to shoot the Monochrom with such abandon, and the result is stunning.

Would I bring the Leica Q next time? I'm not sure. I would have had a completely different shooting experience, and probably would have tried to get different images. For instance, I would have probably tried to get more blurring of the uniforms and jerseys to create images with a colorful smear. I wouldn't have gotten these photographs.

Overall, I am thrilled with these results - they are the abstract fine art photographs that I set out wanting to create. There isn't too much emphasis on the individuals of the race, rather these photographs capture the spirit of the race. The Tour de France has been running for over 100 years - it's a race that has (and will continue) to inspire millions around the world. Cycling is one of the most popular personal activities, and the photographs I made could easily hang on the wall of a cycling enthusiast who wants to capture the underlying spirit of their sport....... Motion.

Five Thoughts: A Day with the Leica Monochrom

I remember when I was first researching Leica's camera and lens lineup - well before I even considered purchasing my first Leica. As a self-admitted gear-obsessed woman, I researched the cameras and lens based on price alone. And how can you avoid it? You see cameras and lenses that cost around $10,000 USD and you can't help but be intrigued by their offerings.

Two of the many Leica products I drooled over in that initial research stuck out in my memory. They were the Leica Noctilux f/0.95 lens and the Leica Monochrom. At that point the Monochrom was built off the M9 platform as the new M246 Monochrom was not yet announced.

These two products stuck out for several reasons beyond their pricing..... most significantly it was their uniqueness. A f/0.95 lens was (and still is) unlike anything else on the market, and the incredible bokeh and low-light it offered was remarkable. And the Monochrom - a camera that could only take black and white photographs! 

I have since secretly lusted for both. Earlier this year I had a chance to snag a Noctilux for a killer deal by monitoring the currency fluctuations (see my earlier post about the purchase of the Noctilux). And while the Monochrom still lived in my fantasies, it would take another killer deal before I could consider purchasing.

Low and behold, another killer deal came along.... this time a combination of the Leica rebate + trade in promotion + a weak British Pound / US Dollar exchange rate. Leica introduced a program where I could trade in another camera (I chose my lovely M7) and get a part exchange, plus $750 rebate. Alone this is a good deal, but the real killer is the exchange rate. After the June 23rd vote by the UK to exit from the European Union, the British Pound crashed to a 30 year low. I waited until the Pound traded at $1.29 on the dollar and jumped..... I purchased my Monochrom at Red Dot Camera in London.

I haven't owned my Leica Monochrom long enough to do a proper review, so I'll share my initial five thoughts on the camera and follow-up with another review when appropriate.

Three Leg Thing - Leica MM with Leica 35mm Summarit ASPH

Pokemon Go - Leica MM with Leica 50mm Noctilux f/0.95

I: Oh Panchromatic....

Obviously you don't need to take many photographs to figure out that the Monochrom only captures black and white, or more technically correct, panchromatic images. In fact, if you take one photograph without figuring that out, you're either asleep, lost, or both.

Still, even though I knew I was going to get a greyscale product back from the Monochrom, there is an element of excitement and anticipation in downloading those first images into Lightroom. I was blown away by the tonal depth of the photographs..... millions of shades of grey never looked so good!

I would say it is different from film - at least from my preferred film, Ilford Delta 100. Scans of my film (which I self-develop in HC-110B) tend to be more contrasty and have bolder blacks and harsher whites. The Monochrom RAW files are more flat out-of-camera, but really sparkle with a few seconds of editing in Lightroom. The detail and resolution of the Monochrom files is also very impressive - I was able to get very heavy handed with some crops but maintain acceptable file resolution and detail.

Absorbed - Leica MM with Leica 35mm Summarit ASPH

Road Markings - Leica MM with Leica 50mm Noctilux f/0.95

Two Phones? - Leica MM with Leica 35mm Summarit ASPH

II: Neutral Density Filter Required, ASAP

I LOVE shooting with the Leica f/0.95 Noctilux on my Leica SL - it's become one of my favorite lenses for the truly unique look and feel that it gives each image. But mounted with a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000th and a base ISO of 320, I will need to invest in a neutral density filter for the Noctilux before I can really get the most out of the lens in daylight. I took a few shots in London later in the evening when it was darker, but look forward to having a chance to play in more diverse light with a filter. I wasted no time ordering a 3 stop ND filter made by B&W!

Interrogation - Leica MM with Leica 35mm Summarit ASPH

Walking - Leica MM with Leica 35mm Summarit ASPH

Selfie - Leica MM with Leica 35mm Summarit ASPH

III: My Friend, EVF

Going back to the Noctilux - the reason it is such a great lens on the SL is because of the electronic viewfinder. In fact, I really struggled to decide between the older Monochrom (based on the M9 body) and the new Monochrom Type 246, but ultimately decided that the ability to use an electronic viewfinder (EVF) was worth the extra cost. 

The electronic viewfinder on the Monochrom is a nice addition - it helps you 'see' in black and white if you are trying to learn to see the world without color, and the focus peaking is a must-have to improve your focusing hit-rate with the Noctilux. Of course there is no comparison between the Leica EVF-2 and the viewfinders on the Leica SL and Leica Q.... it lags and is much lower resolution, but if you can accept those things and just want a tool to help you ensure critical focus, then it's a great buy.

Taxi Driver - Leica MM with Leica 50mm Noctilux f/0.95

Self Portrait - Leica MM with Leica 35mm Summarit ASPH

Wine Tasting - Leica MM with Leica 50mm Noctilux f/0.95

IV: Underexpose

Several reviewers have discussed the importance of underexposing photographs to ensure no blown highlights as highlight detail cannot be recovered in the Monochrom files, but I had to play with it to really see it for myself. I took a variety of test shots against a bright window with a backlit subject to see how much I could "sneak out" of the highlights. Sure enough, blown highlights are really blown. (Sidenote: this is like a child being told something is hot, but not believing it until they touch it themselves and get burned. I had to try it to know!) 

In some cases, I actually like the blown highlight for the contrast it can apply to an image. I wouldn't do this all the time, certainly, but for a few of the images, I think the blown highlight helps draw the eye back to my subject.

I intentionally underexposed this photograph of my husband by several stops to see how much I could recover before I introduced noise...... see below. Leica MM with Leica 35mm Summarit ASPH

The result. I would like to have pulled back a little more in the shirt, but noise started to be introduced at a level I was uncomfortable with. For me, this is as far as I'd push the image. All-in-all, a completely acceptable result! - Leica MM with Leica 35mm Summarit ASPH

V: See Differently

I convert 99% of my street photography, and probably 50% of my landscape photography to black and white, so the idea of pre-visualizing an image in black and white isn't new to me. However, there is still something to be said for knowing you can only capture an image in black and white vs capturing in color and knowing you have the option to convert. There were times in my walk through London that I saw some bright colors or shapes that made me reach for the camera, only to remember that the subject wouldn't translate into panchromatic. This isn't a bad thing..... I don't miss any of those 'missed' shots. Having a camera that only captures panchromatic images helps focus my attention. I studied the light and the way the light reflected off a subject. I experimented photographing shiny and reflective surfaces to see how those translated in the eyes of this sensor, and I found myself discovering contrast and intrigue in new scenes.

Moorgate Station - Leica MM with Leica 35mm Summarit ASPH

Examine - Leica MM with Leica 35mm Summarit ASPH

Shoryu Ramen (the best!) - Leica MM with Leica 50mm Noctilux f/0.95

There's a certain amount of learning required for any new camera, and the Monochrom and I are still in the flirting phase; still figuring out what the other likes while avoiding touchy dinner table conversations like religion and politics. We'll get there soon, but for now I need to continue to learn how the Monochrom responds to the world around it. I am incredibly excited by this camera - it begs to be picked up and to go shooting, so I'm sure it won't take long before Donald Trump's hair is broached at dinner......

Review: Thumbie for Leica M (Type 240)

I never used a lot of the thumb grip accessories available for Leica cameras until I got my Leica Q. The Match Technical Thumbs Up grip for the Q has made all the difference in the world, and I can't imagine shooting without it now.

When I got my Leica Monochrom (Type 246), I wanted to get another Thumbs Up grip, but the problem was that I wouldn't be able to use the Thumbs Up and the Leica EVF-2 in the hot shoe at the same time. Since I use the EVF-2 whenever I shoot my favorite lens, the Leica f/0.95 Noctilux, it was a non-starter to consider the Match Technical Thumbs Up grip.

Thankfully there is no shortage of inventive people out there! An English gentleman has designed a different product for the Leica M bodies called the Thumbie that provides the same grip benefit, but without hogging the hot shoe. The Thumbie is also significantly cheaper than the Thumbs Up grip (around $30-40), but it isn't available at mass retailers like the competition. I found mine on eBay and it was delivered to my home in the UK two days later.

The Thumbie arrives in a silver box - although it's not a Leica silver box - but seriously, who is that snobby? Inside is the Thumbie grip, some spare adhesive strips, and instructions for installation.  Nothing fancy. 

Of note, the Thumbie fits a whole range of M bodies - the Monochrom uses the same version as the M240. Versions are also available for the M8, M9, film bodies, etc.

The Thumbie as delivered. Nothing fancy, but it is a silve box, in true "Leica fashion" 

The Thumbie as delivered. Nothing fancy, but it is a silve box, in true "Leica fashion" 

The instructions are fairly straightforward and suggest that the double sided tape (which is apparently designed for use in the automotive industry) will not damage the finish of the Leica body, assuming you remove it without a jackhammer. 

Inside the box is the Thumbie, some spare adhesive strips, and instructions for installing the Thumbie onto a Leica M240 style body

Inside the box is the Thumbie, some spare adhesive strips, and instructions for installing the Thumbie onto a Leica M240 style body

Thankfully the adhesives for the Thumbie are pre-cut, which is good, because the actual flat surface isn't a simple rectangle. The little notch fits above the scroll wheel on the back, and the provided adhesives are cut pretty close to size. Good, I don't want more arts and crafts projects! 

The Thumbie, as it comes out of the box. Construction is metal coated in a black paint. 

The Thumbie, as it comes out of the box. Construction is metal coated in a black paint. 

Before installing the Thumbie, I wiped the back of the Monochrom body down to ensure there was no oil or grease from my hands on the surface that could interfere with the adhesive. The instructions call for a very tiny amount of dish soap added to a bowl of water and to lightly coat the adhesive in this soap water mixture prior to adhering the Thumbie on the camera. This allows you to carefully setup the Thumbie in precisely the right location before the glue sticks. Clever. 

Preparing to install the Thumbie. The instructions call for using some water with a little soap to help position the Thumbie into the correct location before the adhesive sticks.  

Preparing to install the Thumbie. The instructions call for using some water with a little soap to help position the Thumbie into the correct location before the adhesive sticks.  

The adhesive on the back of the Thumbie, just prior to installation. 

The adhesive on the back of the Thumbie, just prior to installation. 

The installation overall was very easy, and took less than 5 minutes (including time spent taking photos for this review). The instructions suggest waiting 30 minutes after installing to ensure the adhesive is fully stuck on - after 30 minutes the attachment felt pretty strong. 

The Thumbie nests right next to the scroll wheel on the back of the M bodies, so I was a bit concerned that it would interfere with the operation of that dial. However, I was pleased to see that the Thumbie's smaller size and profile keeps it from interefering with the dial's operation.  

In all fairness, the Thumbs Up grip certainly is beefier and feels more solid on the M than the Thumbie...but it is also three times the price, and hogs the hot shoe. I played with the Thumbie for awhile after installation and it did a satisfactory job of giving my right hand more tactile control and surface to hold the camera body. It may not be as sexy as a naked camera, but I'm a real photographer, who really uses their camera to take real photographs. And if an inexpensive attachment prevents some hand fatigue and makes it easier to carry my Monochrom with the Noctilux all day, then sign me up.  

Thumbie installed on the M Monochrome (Type 246) 

Thumbie installed on the M Monochrome (Type 246) 

Thumbie tucks around the back scroll wheel and does not interfere with the operation of the dial (which I have set to control exposure compensation) 

Thumbie tucks around the back scroll wheel and does not interfere with the operation of the dial (which I have set to control exposure compensation) 

Time will tell on the durability of the Thumbie. Assuming that rubbing along my pants and side doesn't cause it to rub off into the street gutters one day, I think I'm a satisfied customer. And if that ever does happen, I'll update the post to let you know. 

Overall, for the money, Thumbie may be one of the best purchases I've made for my Leica!

The finished result.... Thumbie installed, EVF-2 in the hot shoe, and Noctilux on the front. Everyone wins! 

The finished result.... Thumbie installed, EVF-2 in the hot shoe, and Noctilux on the front. Everyone wins!