Quick Shot: I Know This Scene?

Every time I develop a roll of film, I rediscover my love of film. If I had taken this photograph with a digital camera, I probably would have deleted the photo. But with film, there is so much contrast. Such strong blacks. The long shadows catch my eyes. I'm lost..... my eyes can't decide what is happening, but I know this scene. It's familiar, but different. I KNOW this scene?

This is the heart of street photography. This is me capturing an ordinary moment and making it different..... putting a spin on commonality and challenging what you think makes for a great photograph. It's not straight. It's not colorful. It breaks EVERY rule of photography, but I love it.

Shot on the Leica M7 + 50mm Summilux with Adox Silvermax film.

Quick Shot: Following My Lens Through London

Street photography is all about making impulse decisions. You get a split second to try and capture a natural human moment before it disappears, never to happen again. There are no do-overs in street photography.

On Saturday I took my Leica M7 35mm film camera with the 50mm Summilux f/1.4 and a roll of Ilford FP-4+ for a walk in downtown London. My goal was simple - see what came in front of my lens and take 36 photographs. When carrying my digital camera I will be more liberal with my shots as I am only inconveniencing a few electrons if I mess up, but film isn't so forgiving. I get 36 exposures and its up to me to make them as great as I can.

After developing the roll and scanning the images, I am left with 11 "keeper" shots - a great ratio of shots to keepers! These are straight scans with no editing. As you'll see, a lot of interesting things found their way in front of my lens yesterday.

En route

En route

Conversation

Look right and wait

Empty train station

Tube station

Shopkeeper's window

Down

Reflected icon

Drizzles

Scribbles

Riding

Quick Shot: The Perfect Laundry

I don't particularly enjoy doing laundry, but I love photographing the laundry of Europe. That may sound creepy and weird, and I'll totally embrace that - but I love the look of a clean line of laundry hanging outside in the wind. You could say I'm a connoisseur of laundry. I particularly love laundry hung across a street. I love laundry that contrasts with the side of the building. 

In Europe, where most people don't have a clothes dryer, it's easy to find lots of photo-friendly laundry. But to minimize my creeper stats, I try to only photograph the very best laundry. One of the best spots for laundry spotters is Venice, Italy, so I was questing for some fine laundry while there for several days.

On the third day of hunting laundry, I finally started to get some results. Granted, it had been raining the previous days, and I understand its not good to dry your laundry outside in those conditions. To get to the finest laundry, I have to exit the tourist areas and explore the parts of Venice where real people live. We embarked on a walk to the far side of Venice and I found lots of laundry, but none of it was perfect.

Then we turned down this street. As soon as I saw it, it was like I was a kid in the candy store. That is some FINE laundry! Part of the appeal came from the perfect size order of the laundry.... that takes some dedication! 

Shot with my Leica MP (Type 240) and a 75mm lens. With this shot, I can say I've finally found my perfect laundry!

Quick Shot: Greek Boat

We ate at a restaurant on the water outside Corfu, Greece, when I looked up to see this boat tied to a nearby pier. I grabbed my Leica MP (Type 240) and shot it with a shallow depth of field to highlight the tip of the boat. Although the colors were wonderful, I liked the final image better in black and white.

Quick Shot: Venice Sunrise Finale

For the past several mornings, I have awoken early and gone out in the bitter cold and rain hoping to catch a colorful sunrise over Venice. And for the past several mornings, my efforts have been rewarded with grey skies and rain.

Today was different. Although it was the coldest morning here, the rain had passed and a thin layer of light and fluffy clouds dotted the horizon. The sky began to turn a magnificent orange and I had a few seconds as the sun poked over the top of the horizon to get these shots with the famous Venetian gondola's in the foreground.

Here's the best part...... this image is natural! No HDR here folks, just a little crop and some sharpening. It really was spectacular! Shot on a Leica MP240 with 24mm f/2.8 lens.

Quick Shot: Natural Illusion

Here's something you don't see everyday...... the Campanile di San Marco (aka the San Marco Square clocktower), twice.

Wait. What?

With the exception of a crop and conversion to black and white, this image is 100% authentic as it came from the camera. Any guesses what is going on here?

Shot with a Leica MP240 and Leica 24mm f/2.8 lens.

Quick Shot: Hidden London

I have been working on cleaning up my laptop's hard drive for the next photo adventure, which will be a BIG one and unearthed several shots from London that were hidden in the depths. They are all interesting photos with some cool stories, so let's explore what lingers in the dark corners of my folders.

An old church in downtown London was converted to an outdoor park after burning down

A classic outside the Portobello Street Market

Back entrance to the Apollo Theatre

A construction project silhouette against the bright white clouds on an overcast London afternoon

Keeping with the construction theme - some scaffolding raising up from Soho into the grey skies


Quick Shot: Wings

It is airshow season here in the United Kingdom; every weekend brings a host of interesting and often historic aircraft flying around our house, so whenever possible, we try to go catch the show.  Last weekend was one of our favorite shows at the Shuttleworth Collection. This show features a collection of mostly pre-1950's aircraft and historic cars, given it the name "Wings and Wheels Airshow."

I went armed with the Leica's to get some 35mm film shots of the cars in black and white and some digital shots of the aircraft. I wasn't planning to shoot much of the aircraft in flight and wanted to focus on shots of the aircraft on the grass runway. I'll showcase some of the wheels from the show later and today am focusing on three of the wings.

All of these aircraft were photographed with the Leica M-P 240 and Summarit 35mm f/2.4 lens.

1917 Bristol M1C
This is one of the few replica aircraft in the collection as most are originals, but it's hard to find many aircraft form 1917 that still fly! This aircraft was actually built in 2000 but carries the markings of an original Bristol that flew with the 72 Squadron Royal Flying Corps in the Royal Air Force.

1934 Hawker Hind
I have always had a soft spot for the shine of the aluminum on these World War II biplanes. This Hawker actually saw service in World War II as a bomber and training aircraft and in the 1930s was part of the Royal Afghan Air Force.

1934 DH88 Comet Racer
Unlike the other aircraft in this series that were designed for wartime, this beauty was meant to participate in the popular air races. Specifically, she flew from England to Australia. Three of the comets participated and G-ACSS (this aircraft) won the race.

Quick Shot: City Reflection

Reflective surfaces are one of the most fun things to convert to black and white - especially if there is something interesting in the reflection. I took these photographs walking through downtown London with my Leica M-P 240 and converted them to black and white in Nik Silver Effects. All were taken with the Leica 35mm f/2.4 lens, which is one of my favorites for city shooting. 


Quick Shot: Hustle and Bustle

London's King's Cross rail station is certainly one of the busiest I've ever been to and rivals some of the stations in Washington, DC and New York City. The hustle and bustle of people coming and going from regional and international trains makes it a great place to people watch, which is what my Leica and I did! To get this photograph, I went to the upper deck of the station and held the camera on the railing for stability. I set the shutter speed for 1 second and click...... a conversion to black and white and here's the result.

Quick Shot: Train Lady

Over the weekend, I took the train down to London's King's Cross station (where the platform 9 3/4's is run by enterprising  Brits happy to make a buck on folks dying for a photo op). My last trip through London was to purchase the Leica M-P 240, so I hadn't become familiar enough with the camera to shoot at the speed and comfort I wanted. For this trip the goal was simple -  capture some interesting photographs of life in London.

This quick shot embodies the interesting photograph goal; I was sitting on the train as we rode home from a full day of walking and was enjoying being off my feet for the first time in hours. I stared out the window dazing off in reminiscence of the afternoon I'd spent in town. In the reflection of the window I could see the woman sitting two rows in front of me looking out the window, also deep in thought.  I debated what sort of adventures her day had included; she was dressed rather well and that only furthered my speculation. Did she see a play? Was she out on a date? Was she visiting a lover?

I decided to try and photograph the woman's reflection - the seats in front of me totally obscured any view of her, but her reflection with the context of the train chairs is what intrigued me. I rarely use a live view function on any camera, but this was the perfect occasion - I needed to line up the camera's angle relative to the sun and window to maximize the reflection without creating obstruction from the chairs. I selected an aperture with a narrow depth of field so that only her face would be in focus and took one shot. A quick black and white conversion in Nik Silver Effects and I had my train lady!

Comment and let me know what you think the "train lady" was doing in London.

Quick Shot: Lavender

This weekend I found myself knee deep in lavender at a local lavender farm in Hitchin, England. The farm was full of lavender pickers and people enjoying a beautiful day surrounded by purple plants and I was eager to explore the photo opportunities. There's a bit of irony to these photographs - the lavender fields are full of bees pollenating the millions of plants, so I wore jeans to protect my legs as I shot. As we walked through the rows of lavender, my friend commented that the bees will only sting if provoked and are more interested in the plants than in the people walking around. Not two minutes later, I bend down slightly to get a better angle on the lavender and when I stand up, I have a bee stinging me in the knee. Apparently the little buggers can sting through jeans! Two days later, I am nursing a very swollen and red knee, but I still got the images I wanted and that's what matters!

Using the Leica M-P 240 and the Summarit-M f/2.4 35mm lens, I captured what I thought was the essence of purple (and red, if you count my knee)! 

Leica Film Modes - A Quick Look

One of the features built into the Leica digital camera series is what they call "film modes" - it's probably the only gimmicky feature of a camera otherwise built for a serious shooter. Although I am not usually interested in gimmick settings, I was curious to see how the Leica film modes looked and to see if there was any value in incorporating them into my workflow.

Quick background: I shoot RAW. Always. No exceptions. If you don't understand what "shooting in RAW" means, then take a quick detour here and come back. The main reason to shoot in RAW is to take advantage of all data without the camera making any decisions about sharpness, contrast, color vibrance, etc for you - you have all the data to edit to create the photograph you want later. The Leica film modes are settings that apply presets for a particular look to the photograph, which goes against the nature of RAW. This means that you have to shoot in .jpg to have any of the film modes actually save and write properly, but they still work in DNG / RAW mode. I find this a little curious - why not grey out the menu?

Anyway, back on subject.... the Leica M-P 240 has three film modes: Vivid, smooth and black and white. The idea with vivid is that the colors are very vibrant, while smooth has the look of a color photograph that has yellowed slightly due to age and black and white is, well, black and white.

For this test, I shot two scenes in the church yard behind my house here in England. The files were set to save as a .DNG and .JPG at the same time and I would then use the RAW image to try and create an image either similar to or better than the one pre-made in the settings. Here's the results.

Be sure to click on the examples for a full size version!

Smooth Film Mode

The .jpg file made by the camera. The door is lacking in any detail or texture and it is too dark.

The .jpg file made by the camera. The door is lacking in any detail or texture and it is too dark.

The door .jpg file generated in Photoshop by editing the raw image. I was able to preserve the detail in the door while still making a lovely image.

Vivid Film Mode

Once again, the file made by Leica in camera has lost the detail in the door. The colors are more punchy than in the smooth film mode, but I'm still dissatisfied with the overall look since the subject (the door) is lost.

Once again, the file derived from the .DNG RAW file is superior to the in camera .jpg.

Black and White Mode

This is the setting I was actually most interested to see. With the monochrome sensor that Leica uses on some of their other models, I figured they may have some interesting black and white results. What I found was certainly interesting, but also a bit disappointing. 

I chose this subject for this test due to the wide dynamic range and shadows / highlights. The camera generated an acceptable black and white image, but it's fairly "routine" black and white.

The result from sending the RAW file directly to Nik Silver Effects without any other edits first. I actually had to stop and do a double take - it was the same image. Exactly. Seriously, look! The default "neutral" setting in Nik Silver Effects is the same as the .jpg B/W setting.

Outcome

I went into this experiment with no expectations, but even still, I am a bit surprised and disappointed that the black and white setting was the same as the "neutral" black and white from Nik Silver Effects. What this means is that I have almost no use for the film modes. For me, the black and white has the most promise on name alone, but it generated a result I could repeat in 5 or less seconds myself. The only way I could see myself using these is if I had a deadline that required me to produce only acceptable black and white photos without any post production - that occurrence has never happened for me in my career, so I'm seeing this as very limited application. 

Do I think less of my Leica M given this "meh" result? Nope. The Leica is a precise machine, designed to render top of the line images. But even the most precise machine needs help to generate the fine art we're after! Using photoshop on a RAW file is not a deficiency of the camera, it's part of the art process..... and my early results editing RAW files have provided some very interesting and exciting prospects for future artwork.

Twenty Four Hours with the Leica M-P 240

A little over 24hrs ago, I walked into Red Dot Camera in downtown London. I was full of giddy anticipation - the kind you get when you know something exciting is about to happen, a feeling I associate with opening Christmas presents as a kid. The time had come; I was about to become the owner of a Leica digital camera.

My introduction to Leica as a brand came early in my photographic journey - I heard it referenced as being top-of-the-line equipment so I Googled it. After seeing the price tag on the cheapest camera, I closed the browser in dismay…. I’d never own one of those! A few years later I had a chance to demo a Leica S2, which is the $25,000 dSLR system made by Leica Camera. It was a beautiful machine and the images it made left my Nikon D7000 feeling inadequate. 

Not longer after I upgraded to what I thought was going to be the end-all-be-all of my photographic equipment - a 36megapixel Nikon D800. I loved this camera. Together we took over 25,000 photos, won awards, got printed in magazines, sold plenty of prints, and even had a guest appearance on CNN. 

Within the past year, I had the lofty ambition to refocused my photographic efforts to be a more patient and thoughtful photographer. As part of that effort, I wanted to explore the roots of photography by shooting more film. Early this summer I decided I could finally afford a Leica, but only as a 35mm film camera.

To say that Leica MP 35mm film camera ruined me would be an understatement. The Leica rangefinder system is the perfect tool with which I can create a masterpiece. Being fully manual, it requires thought and patience to work, along with a very strong understanding of photographic principals. I invested in a 35mm and 75mm lens and was blown away by the quality of them relative to their size. My Nikon glass was huge and heavy, this could be tossed in a purse!

I began seriously considering my future equipment setup - the lenses I was investing in and loved for film don’t work on my Nikon and vice versa. When I travel I may want to shoot digital and film, would I have to bring both setups? After days (ok, weeks) of deliberation, the truth was clear - I was going to become one of those people who sold off their dSLR setups and moved to Leica.

Fast forward to Saturday - I’ve arrived at Red Dot Camera in London to see a barely used Leica M-P 240. The M240 is the top of the line model of digital rangefinder made by Leica and the “P” version is upgraded slightly from there (cosmetically and with a 2GB buffer). The camera I was eyeing vas virtually new - the battery still in the original plastic wrap from the manufacturer. Apparently someone with more money than common sense decided after buying this that they wanted the black instead of chrome one and I was eager to take advantage of them paying the initial depreciation. 

Unfortunately the battery was nearly dead, but the folks at Red Dot are fantastic and offered to charge it while we walked around an outdoor street party for a little bit. An hour later, I came back and picked up the camera for a stroll through London. 

As of this writing, the Leica M-P 240 and I have been together for 29ish hours and 15.87 miles (or 36,855 steps, according to my Fitbit). It’s certainly premature for me to offer a comprehensive review, so this represents my impressions after a day and a half of shooting.

First, the Leica M-P 240 is a wonderful camera. Unlike the film version that I own, the camera is not fully manual, but focusing and setting the aperture are still manual operations. Initial edits of the files shows tremendous depth and color - although I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison, there appears to be more dynamic range than found in my Nikons. 

Pros:

  • Silence. The sound this camera makes when the shutter actuates is a whisper; the Nikon suddenly sounds like a machine gun.
  • Quality. Even with the best Nikon glass, there is distortion and vignetting. I haven’t seen any artifacts on the images produced by the Leica. 
  • Weight. It is such a joy to carry lightweight equipment! I never appreciated how heavy and burdensome a dSLR is until walking around with this camera all day.
  • Feel in my hands. I really liked the feel of a D800 in my hands, so I was concerned that the lack of hand grip was going to make the Leica awkward to hold for a long day of walking around; however, I found the little thumb notch/rest near the scroll wheel to be a surprisingly comfortable grip and the camera never felt out of place. I think that’s largely a factor of weight as the D800 had to offer more ergonomics to accommodate for the heft!

Cons:

  • The menu system is a little cryptic to me, which may be a result of being so accustomed to a Nikon format. Changing settings like file type from .jpg to .DNG was surprisingly tricky..... on a Nikon all adjustments are made from the "Menu" button, but the Leica uses the "Set" and "Menu" buttons to adjust settings. This wasn't obvious to me without reading the manual, and I think if I have to read a manual, it could have been done better. I do like that I can set a profile to save particular settings though!
  • I am used to the Nikon providing a lot more information in the viewfinder display, so it’s been a little jarring to not see the aperture displayed. With time, I’ll become more used to this.

General Observations:

  • The increased buffer size for the Leica M-P 240 (from 1GB on the Leica M to 2GB on the Leica MP) makes a difference! I was shooting some images from the train home from London and would rattle off a burst without ever worrying about the buffer. 
  • I’m surprised that Leica will let you change the film mode to something like black and white when the camera is saving .DNG RAW files. Why isn’t that menu greyed out? The files don’t save black and white, but they give the illusion that they do.
  • The shutter is smoother on the Leica M-P 240 digital camera than it is on the M-P 35mm camera. I attest this to being a digital camera vs a fully manual camera, but the difference in shutter feel is rather significant. I don’t dislike either.
  • The external “leatherette” cover on the 35mm and digital Leica M-P is very different. The Leica M-P (35mm) is more finely textured, like sand paper, while the Leica M-P 240 is like real leather.
  • The Leica M-P 240 is taller and wider than the M-P 35mm brother. It is also significantly heavier, but still far lighter than my Nikon’s.
  • Thank you to Leica for including adapters for the charger for the most common plug types!

Clearly the Pro’s outweigh the Con’s on this list, especially because the negatives are mostly things I need to learn or become accustomed to doing. It took me months to fully master using my Nikon D800 without thinking as I worked the menus and expect it will take some time for me to really get comfortable enough that I could use the camera by touch only. 

Overall, I am extremely happy with my purchase. Saying goodbye to the Nikon D800 was heart wrenching, but I am not regretting it for an instant! Having the quality, optics, size and flexibility of Leica is well worth the adjustment. 

Stay tuned for more reviews of the Leica M-P 240 once I’ve really had a chance to put ‘er though the paces!

Big Ben and Parliament as seen from across the river. Black and White conversion done in Nik Silver Effects 2 (shot in RAW).

A Chinese News Agency Shop - I liked the bright red color and was curious to see how it rendered. I think the result is very pleasing. Notice how there's no vignette on the photo - that's the Leica optics at work!

One of the busy (er, not busy?) Soho streets

Taken from the train as we passed a train station. The colors are a little more muted and yellow looking, but I was shooting through dirty train glass, which I suspect is partially to blame.

Technically this is the first image I took with the camera. Most people take a picture of whatever crap is on their desk - I'm happy with this result!

The camera performed beautifully in low light situations. This was hand held at 1/30th of a second.

My favorite street in Cambridge. Edited in Nik Silver Effects 2.

A row of punts lined up on the River Cam

Seeing Red - Switching to Leica

Scenic Traverse Photography is now "Seeing Red"! Watch the video to learn more.

Join Scenic Traverse Photography in a quest to "See Red" with the Leica M-240P and Leica M-P 35mm.

Check out www.ScenicTraverse.com

Follow on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/ScenicTraversePhoto/

Music by Dexter Britain

Quick Shot: Geometry

One of my favorite subjects in school was math, despite the fact that I wasn't particularly good at it! My love for math started in geometry class - I thought geometry was a puzzle just waiting to be solved and I love puzzles. 

Eyeing my negatives from Belgium, one theme was prevalent - interesting geometry. There is so much fascinating architecture and activity in Belgium to photograph and, when shot in black and white, the lines and shapes are even more exciting. To illustrate the geometry of Belgium, I've selected three negatives to share, each with a different geometric idea.

The first is based on 90 degree angles created between this otherwise bland brick building and the shade from the opposite building falling across the windows. The result is a host of squares, rectangles, and interesting angles.

The second is based on curves - the curves found on the old stone columns inside one of the cathedrals in Belgium. The location isn't important - it's the wide sweeping curvature of the stone.

Finally, the complex shapes of the skyline causes me to see a lot of triangles in the Bruges buildings. The little lines from the crosses on the top of churches break up the skyline's many triangles.

I don't know about you, but I think that was more fun than anything I ever did in math class! Shot with the Leica MP 35mm camera and Adox Silvermax film.