Exploring NYC, Part 3: Faces of the City

Over the last few years, I have taken an interest in a form of photography dubbed "street photography." Unlike other photographic disciplines with obvious sounding names (wedding photography / newborn photography), the name "street" does not convey a clear meaning of the art form.

Waiting for an opponent. Two people playing chess outside a park in Manhattan island. Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Waiting for an opponent. Two people playing chess outside a park in Manhattan island. Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Catching a ride. A young girl rides on her father's shoulders over the crowds of tourists visiting Rockefeller Center during the holidays.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Catching a ride. A young girl rides on her father's shoulders over the crowds of tourists visiting Rockefeller Center during the holidays.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Street photography might be more aptly dubbed "genuine photography" - the goal is to capture everyday scenes and interactions in a new and fresh way to highlight the beauty in our routine life.  When I am shooting the streets, I am looking for genuine interactions; faces, reactions, expressions, moods, and emotions that are genuine and not prompted by the presence of a camera.

Think about it.... when someone holds up a camera to your face, the first natural reaction is to smile and say cheese. But does that smile truly express your emotions and feelings in that moment? Unlikely.

I spy.  A woman looks out from her window on the busy New York streets below. Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

I spy.  A woman looks out from her window on the busy New York streets below. Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Selfie.  A woman dressed up in her finest fashion prepares her selfie in Times Square.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Selfie.  A woman dressed up in her finest fashion prepares her selfie in Times Square.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Crowd Control.  A NYPD officer directs traffic and keeps the crowds safe as thousands of holiday revelers descend on New York's most popular attractions. Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

Crowd Control.  A NYPD officer directs traffic and keeps the crowds safe as thousands of holiday revelers descend on New York's most popular attractions. Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

As a street photographer, I want to capture the subject's emotions and state of being without having the camera enter the equation and effect the expression. In order to do that, I often need to be stealthy and discrete.

A large camera is off-putting. People don't want a stranger shoving a camera in their face. Which is why I use a Leica rangefinder (specifically, the M10) for my street shooting. The small and discrete nature of this camera lets me attract less attention, thereby increasing the odds of going unnoticed by my subject.

Coffee Jolt.  A kid carries two cups of coffee while walking with his parents around the 9/11 memorial.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Coffee Jolt.  A kid carries two cups of coffee while walking with his parents around the 9/11 memorial.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The Eye.  A passenger looks out of the window on an express train to Wall Street.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The Eye.  A passenger looks out of the window on an express train to Wall Street.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Philosophically, I want every picture I take to be a flattering one. I try to avoid any photograph that could embarrass or humiliate my subject. For instance, I don't photograph the homeless or disabled persons, with few exceptions. 

Ideally, when I am taking street photographs, I am invisible. The person never knows that I took their photograph, or if they do, they are not embarrassed. If someone sees me taking their photograph, I will smile and wave, showing that I'm not a threat. Sometimes I'll tell someone they were beautiful and interesting to me. Surprisingly, most people respond very well to this, and I have never had anyone get mad because I took their photograph.

BFFs.  Two women pose for a photograph in Times Square. I "plucked them out of a crowd" by using a longer focal length and narrow depth of field, thereby blurring the people around them and focusing the attention of the photograph solely on their faces.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

BFFs.  Two women pose for a photograph in Times Square. I "plucked them out of a crowd" by using a longer focal length and narrow depth of field, thereby blurring the people around them and focusing the attention of the photograph solely on their faces.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Stroll.  A man walks in front of the United Nations building. The harsh light and strong shadow became the sparkle that drew me to make this image.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Stroll.  A man walks in front of the United Nations building. The harsh light and strong shadow became the sparkle that drew me to make this image.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

As a photographer, I find street photography offers a unique challenge over some of the other photographic disciplines. When I am making landscape images, I often plan the photo, sometimes to a scientific extreme. But as a street shooter, I take whatever I get and roll with the punches.

If it is sunny outside, I have to work with that. If it's raining, I work with that. 

The impromptu and impulsive nature of this type of shooting means I often "follow my nose" - if the light looks particularly good one direction, I'll walk that way. I walked 14 miles in New York one day without having any real plan - I just wandered Manhattan looking for things that caught my eye.

I remain hyper aware of the location of the sun and will switch to another side of the street if the shadows and light is better there. My head is on a swivel, constantly looking for that sparkle.

Street Blown.  A woman's hair blows around in the wind caused by cars rushing past on the street nearby.  Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

Street Blown.  A woman's hair blows around in the wind caused by cars rushing past on the street nearby.  Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

Patience.  A cyclist waits for the crosswalk sign to turn in his favor.  I was drawn to the fact that his face was covered, so the only place from where I could draw expression was his eyes, and he rewarded me with a very expressive moment.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Patience.  A cyclist waits for the crosswalk sign to turn in his favor.  I was drawn to the fact that his face was covered, so the only place from where I could draw expression was his eyes, and he rewarded me with a very expressive moment.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

"Sparkle" - that is what I am looking for as I walk. Sparkle is the photograph. Sparkle is the emotion, the color, the contrast, the shadow, the expression...the thing that pushes me to take the photograph. 

As a street photographer, I am instinctive. When I see sparkle, I shoot. If I wait too long and think about it, I have lost that moment of sparkle. 

When someone looks at one of my images and comments "I never would have seen that" or "how did you catch that," I know they see the sparkle. They are looking at the print and see the sparkle that pushed me to create the image in the first place.

Lost.  This is one of the very rare exceptions I have ever made to my rule about not photographing the homeless. This particular gentleman had positioned himself in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing pedestrian traffic to divert around him and creating a bit of a traffic jam. I wanted to capture the reaction from other people to having to divert around him and the story of what his day must feel like as thousands of people pass him by.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Lost.  This is one of the very rare exceptions I have ever made to my rule about not photographing the homeless. This particular gentleman had positioned himself in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing pedestrian traffic to divert around him and creating a bit of a traffic jam. I wanted to capture the reaction from other people to having to divert around him and the story of what his day must feel like as thousands of people pass him by.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Smile.  A man smiles as he reads something on his cell phone while riding the subway in New York.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Smile.  A man smiles as he reads something on his cell phone while riding the subway in New York.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Street photography can also be about story telling. Not every image has a story, but sometimes the story is the sparkle. For instance, take this pro-Tibet rally I saw in New York. Thousands of people were marching across Manhattan to the site of the Chinese Consulate peacefully carrying signs and flags supporting Tibet. 

At one point, their march passes in front of the McDonald's restaurant near Times Square. I immediately saw a story, and began photographing that story.

I was moved at the juxtaposition of American consumerism and the protected right of speech. Here are some people peacefully exercising their First Amendment right to free speech in front of one of America's biggest corporations. To me, this captures the essence of what makes America an incredible country -- there are so many places in the world where this scene would not be allowed, and the combination of the two created an emotional sparkle.

Pro-Tibet rally participants march in front of one of America's icons of global consumerism.... McDonalds.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Pro-Tibet rally participants march in front of one of America's icons of global consumerism.... McDonalds.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

The pro-Tibet rally walked through Times Square demanding peace.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

The pro-Tibet rally walked through Times Square demanding peace.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Stage. Rally goers assembled for a speech near the Chinese consulate.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Stage. Rally goers assembled for a speech near the Chinese consulate.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Street photography often involves people, but there are some images I'll photograph without humans that still tell a human story. Usually, I try to convey human interaction with the environment in the non-people prints. These images may be more abstract and invoke the idea of people without clearly showing any in the scene. Sometimes they capture an irony or something so familiar that we stop noticing its existence. 

A Dinosaur.  A bank of pay phones that see very little use in Grand Central Terminal.  Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

A Dinosaur.  A bank of pay phones that see very little use in Grand Central Terminal.  Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

Ready and Waiting.  A FDNY truck sits at the ready to respond to any incidents around the city.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Ready and Waiting.  A FDNY truck sits at the ready to respond to any incidents around the city.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

The Commute.  I purposefully blurred this image by jerking the camera in a violent pan as the taxi approached. The goal was to create a shot that captured the blur of commuting and traffic in a city as busy as New York.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The Commute.  I purposefully blurred this image by jerking the camera in a violent pan as the taxi approached. The goal was to create a shot that captured the blur of commuting and traffic in a city as busy as New York.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The Message.  A simple chair might not have had the sparkle to catch my eye, but this chair, with the "No Crying Allowed" message caught my eye.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The Message.  A simple chair might not have had the sparkle to catch my eye, but this chair, with the "No Crying Allowed" message caught my eye.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

In some ways, everything I just described about street photography makes it sound like there is a good amount of "pray and spray"- but the art is anything other than. Pray and spray is a phrase used to describe what happens when I photographer just holds down the shutter and aims the camera recklessly in the hope of capturing a good shot.

Look carefully at my photographs and you'll see that isn't possible. Scroll down and look at the three images below (then come back).

Notice anything in them? Only the subject is in focus. Everything else has a smooth soft blur. That blur, which is referred to as bokeh (a Japanese word), is where the art comes into play. As a photographer, I drew your eyes to the subject- to a pre-determined spot - by precisely choosing what area of the print will be in focus. Don't believe me? Scroll down and look again.

Steps of Time.  Two friends take pictures on the staircase in Times Square. I loved the attire and face of the individual holding the cell phone, so focused the attention of the viewer that direction by having the rest of the image slightly out of focus.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Steps of Time.  Two friends take pictures on the staircase in Times Square. I loved the attire and face of the individual holding the cell phone, so focused the attention of the viewer that direction by having the rest of the image slightly out of focus.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Sharing a Snack.  A mom and son enjoy a Sunday morning snack at an indoor food hall in New York. The scene is very busy with elements that could distract from the story of the shared meal, but selective focus and bokeh help me isolate them and tell the story the way I want.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Sharing a Snack.  A mom and son enjoy a Sunday morning snack at an indoor food hall in New York. The scene is very busy with elements that could distract from the story of the shared meal, but selective focus and bokeh help me isolate them and tell the story the way I want.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The View.  A boy is carried on his dad's shoulders to see the holiday tree in Rockefeller Center.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The View.  A boy is carried on his dad's shoulders to see the holiday tree in Rockefeller Center.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Each of those photographs has a super thin area of the image in focus. Now consider that the camera I use is a manual focus system - there is nothing automated or automagic about it. If I do a poor job of quickly focusing the lens, then my photograph is missed. I usually get one chance - a split second - to turn the focus ring on my Leica lenses to capture that sparkle.

I won't lie - it's hard. I miss more than I catch. But the more I go out and shoot, the better I get. I have a lot of close misses - photographs I'd love another chance to take. But that's not how this works. 

In some ways, the thrill of getting it right is my drug.

I'm addicted to the elation that comes from seeing a perfectly focused shot with the story I wanted captured. That feeling drives me back to the streets, looking for my next fix.

Stormtrooper's Have to Eat.  This man was dressed in a Stormtrooper costume, but had stopped at a deli to get a snack.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Stormtrooper's Have to Eat.  This man was dressed in a Stormtrooper costume, but had stopped at a deli to get a snack.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Patience.  A police officer waits patiently for the light to chance before she begins directing more traffic over the intersection. The harsh light and strong shadows gave this scene the sparkle I was looking for.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Patience.  A police officer waits patiently for the light to chance before she begins directing more traffic over the intersection. The harsh light and strong shadows gave this scene the sparkle I was looking for.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Exploring NYC, Part 2: A Day in the Snow

Few things are as magical as a visit to New York City during the holidays, when stores put on extravagant displays, Santa is available for a visit, and holiday markets pop-up across the city. Add a fresh heavy snowfall into the equation, and you have a truly memorable winter wonderland in the city.

A New York City Police Officer prepares this police horse for a ride in the snow

A New York City Police Officer prepares this police horse for a ride in the snow

A couple seeks refuge underneath an umbrella during the snowfall

A couple seeks refuge underneath an umbrella during the snowfall

Photographing snow can be a bit of a challenge. Bad weather always makes for a great photograph, but it's not as easy as just stepping outside, taking a quick image, and having success. I walked over 10 miles in the heavy snow to get these images, and faced several technical challenges along the way.

Snowfall blankets a quiet New York City intersection

Snowfall blankets a quiet New York City intersection

A man strolls through the snow in Central Park

A man strolls through the snow in Central Park

First was the challenge of keeping the camera dry enough. The Leica M10 is technically not weather sealed, but it is pretty hardy. Unfortunately the temperature outside was just warm enough that the snow melted almost instantly when it made contact with my body and the camera, making my hands and the camera very wet (never mind that it also made me very cold!). After several hours, this caused the viewfinder to fog completely.

During periodic breaks indoors, I wrapped the camera in a dry shirt with the hopes that it would help dry out the camera's viewfinder. That worked to an extent, but the remaining moisture would condense anytime I subjected it to a temperature change stepping between the outdoors and indoors. 

A man emerges from the 14th street subway station

A man emerges from the 14th street subway station

Steam rising from street vents adds to the dramatic effect of the snowfall on this New York street

Steam rising from street vents adds to the dramatic effect of the snowfall on this New York street

Second to keeping the camera dry is the challenge of keeping the lens dry. I was far more successful in this endeavor because I kept the camera oriented in my hand so that the lens was either facing downward, or facing downwind of the snow. I never - EVER - use a lens cap when out taking photographs, and certainly was not about to miss a shot because I had covered the lens. 

Taxi cabs lined up on the streets of Times Square during a late evening snowfall

Taxi cabs lined up on the streets of Times Square during a late evening snowfall

A streetsign covered with snow outside Times Square

A streetsign covered with snow outside Times Square

Finally, capturing snow can be a challenge. In a close-up photograph, snow can appear like a blur, rather than a snowflake. The trick was for enough of those blur's to be present in the photograph that the viewer would understand it was not a mistake, but that it was a snowflake.

I don't know how much snow fell in New York on this particular day as it never accumulated beyond a slush on the streets, but it certainly made for a beautiful day of photography.

Two women - presumably en route to a holiday party - stop for food from a street vendor in the late evening snow

Two women - presumably en route to a holiday party - stop for food from a street vendor in the late evening snow

Exploring NYC, Part 1: World Trade Center

Like all Americans old enough to remember the events of 9/11/2001, I have a very vivid and raw memory of that morning. That day would come to define some of my life's most important decisions; would drive me to a career in public service and safety.

A flower in the memorial to the World Trade Center. The shadow of One World Trade casts across the memorial.

A flower in the memorial to the World Trade Center. The shadow of One World Trade casts across the memorial.

This photograph is very powerful to me. I was standing outside the museum and noticed a jetliner flying over One World Trade. My mind started racing with thoughts.... anywhere else in the world, seeing a plane fly over a building is so routine, that it hardly registers. But here, it seemed raw. This is a view similar to the one thousands saw on 9/11 - but with a very different outcome. I took four images of the plane's track over New York City and combined them in this composite. 

This photograph is very powerful to me. I was standing outside the museum and noticed a jetliner flying over One World Trade. My mind started racing with thoughts.... anywhere else in the world, seeing a plane fly over a building is so routine, that it hardly registers. But here, it seemed raw. This is a view similar to the one thousands saw on 9/11 - but with a very different outcome. I took four images of the plane's track over New York City and combined them in this composite. 

The 9/11 memorial and museum only opened in the past few years, and while I have seen the outdoor memorial ponds before, I never had a chance to visit the museum until this most recent trip to New York City. 

I was a bit conflicted about taking photographs in such hallowed ground.

Artists painted 3,000 cards a slightly different shade of blue - each one painting the color of the sky they remember seeing on 9/11. These cards now hang on a wall as a reminder that the memory of those lost on 9/11 cannot be erased.

Artists painted 3,000 cards a slightly different shade of blue - each one painting the color of the sky they remember seeing on 9/11. These cards now hang on a wall as a reminder that the memory of those lost on 9/11 cannot be erased.

September 11th isn't a tourist attraction. The artifacts and memories captured in this museum mark millions of lives changed in the span of a few terrible minutes. I don't want to disrespect the memory of the over 3,000 innocent people killed on that day by turning 9/11 into a photography spectacle. 

A visitor to the memorial paying tribute to some of the victims from 9/11.

A visitor to the memorial paying tribute to some of the victims from 9/11.

A message from supporters of Ladder Company 3; this was part of a fire truck that was smashed when the towers collapsed. 

A message from supporters of Ladder Company 3; this was part of a fire truck that was smashed when the towers collapsed. 

But after a few minutes in the museum, my opinion changed. September 11th was the most terrible of days, a day that we cannot forget. Walking through that museum reopened the emotions from that day that I had long since repressed. I was flooded with sobering memories of what happens when we become complacent and when freedom is not allowed to prosper around the world.

A section of steel from inside the World Trade Center. This particular piece came from the area where the first aircraft tore into the tower, gashing a hole in one of America's most iconic buildings.

A section of steel from inside the World Trade Center. This particular piece came from the area where the first aircraft tore into the tower, gashing a hole in one of America's most iconic buildings.

Names and organizations listed on the memorial wall surrounding the pools in the memorial.

Names and organizations listed on the memorial wall surrounding the pools in the memorial.

Recognizing that many viewers to my website will never have a chance to visit the museum in NYC, I decided to make a handful of photographs that could help convey the emotions and experience I had walking through the museum. 

Four tie-down points. The museum is underground and some of the foundation walls that made up the twin towers are incorporated into the structure of the museum. This part of the foundation remains in the original location. It is one of the few pieces of the towers that still remains as it did on September 11th.

Four tie-down points. The museum is underground and some of the foundation walls that made up the twin towers are incorporated into the structure of the museum. This part of the foundation remains in the original location. It is one of the few pieces of the towers that still remains as it did on September 11th.

Less than a block from the World Trade Center is a fire station home to ladder company 10. Six fireman from this company died rescuing others on 9/11.

Less than a block from the World Trade Center is a fire station home to ladder company 10. Six fireman from this company died rescuing others on 9/11.

I cried twice in the museum. Once while looking at / listening to a selection of voicemail messages left by passengers of those doomed flights to their loved ones. People who left a final message, knowing their fate. I crumbled under the idea of ever having to do something so brave. My second breakdown happened in front of a projection of "missing posters" hung by friends and family searching for their lost relatives. Many of these posters carried a deeply personal message, and my heart broke for every family that had to write a sign like that. One particular sign that pulled me was from a daughter looking for her daddy.

Memories attached to the "last column" - this was the last piece of steel removed from the site. Prior to it's removal, it became a shrine of sorts, with family and friends affixing messages, photos, and flowers to the beam.

Memories attached to the "last column" - this was the last piece of steel removed from the site. Prior to it's removal, it became a shrine of sorts, with family and friends affixing messages, photos, and flowers to the beam.

The top of the last column, with messages and photos to loved ones lost on 9/11.

The top of the last column, with messages and photos to loved ones lost on 9/11.

I could not photograph these things. I could not bring myself to make artwork from the pain of those families. Instead, I chose to photograph objects that were more symbolic of the tragedy.

May we never forget. 

A close-up of some of the memories written upon the "last column".

A close-up of some of the memories written upon the "last column".

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

Ten Years of Photography: What I Wish I Knew When....

I don't remember the exact day in 2007 when I decided I was going to re-kindle my love of photography in a more serious pursuit, but it was sometime in the fall. My mom bought me a basic Canon Rebel dSLR with 18-55mm kit lens to help me focus on my photography, and that moment started a chain reaction that has led me to where I am today.

To be fair, I don't know if my mom remembers buying me that camera. But I remember walking out of the Best Buy store full of anticipation for the things I could do with my new "professional" camera. It's like that feeling we got as kids when you got a new box of crayons. You touched the perfectly pointed wax tips of each crayon and dreamed about the wonderful drawings you could make with them.....

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To mark the 10 year anniversary since that fateful day, I am going to share 10 things I wish I knew 10 years ago - 10 things that would have made the journey of the last 10 years a little less painful, expensive, and more fun!

  1. Take Ken Rockwell With a Grain of Salt. I have nothing against Ken personally - he's found a great following with his reviews, but he is not some kind of messiah. I am shocked how many people I see on the internet cite him as the definitive source on all things photography. But look at his work - he mostly takes pictures of his kids. Unless you are looking to also buy gear for kid photos, think about that as you read his reviews. You wouldn't listen to the advice of a skydiver when buying SCUBA gear, so why listen to the advice of a kid photographer when buying landscape photography equipment? Again, nothing against Ken, because he has some good information on his site, just recognize he's a talented marketer who has a niche, and if his niche isn't your niche, then take that into consideration.
     
  2. Lenses Matter More than Cameras. With all the camera reviews out there, it's easy to think that a camera is more important than the glass, but nothing is further from the truth. I did not appreciate this truth until I started buying nice lenses (and I'm not talking just about my Leica lenses here, there's a big difference between a good Nikon and a cheap Nikon lens). A camera will be out of date in technology in two years, but some of the best lenses I own are from 1985! Buy good glass.
     
  3. It is Better to Have Less Good Gear than More Gear. I think back to some of the crap I have purchased and it hurts my soul and wallet. You really only need a camera, a lens, and a memory card. You don't need a UV filter. You don't need that dongle that makes your camera connect to your iPhone. You don't need a magnifying screen for your back LCD screen. That's all just crap to help make someone rich, but won't make you a better photographer. You know what will? Practice. For every $10 you spend on gear, spend 1 hour practicing photography. Learn to understand light, how to see, and master your craft.
     
  4. Design a Good Storage System Now. Don't wait until you are a better photographer to figure out how to archive your photographs. I don't think I can find any photos I took 10 years ago, because I don't know how I saved them. It took about 4 years before I got serious about my archive system, and I regret that.
     
  5. For The Love of All Things, Shoot in RAW. Don't make me tell you again!
     
  6. Spend Time Studying Photographs You Like. Try and dissect how a photographer took an image you like. What aperture did they use (or at least was it a wide or narrow aperture)? Was it purposefully overexposed or underexposed? What were the hard parts of the image to get right? Is there something you don't know how they made it look that way (you would be surprised how many photographers will explain their technique if asked)? You will learn a lot by dissecting the work of others.
     
  7. Remove Dust Spots. This is the first thing I notice about a photograph- if it has dust spots. If you don't have Lightroom or another photo editing tool, buy one, and figure out how to remove dust spots. 
     
  8. Practice Photography. People often remark that I "must have a really nice camera" when they see my images. It's true, I do have a nice camera. But I could make a nice image with a crap camera. I'm not being arrogant - it's because I have practiced. My nice looking images are not the result of fancy cameras, it's the result of practice. You don't learn to fly a plane by buying a nice one. You don't learn to draw by purchasing nice pencils. So why do people think that nice cameras are the key to nice photographs? Go outside, take pictures in your back yard, and practice. Try something different. Bend the 'rules'. You do not have to go on some grand vacation to take nice photographs - challenge yourself with something very simple. What's the best photograph you can take of a single apple? Can you make that image ironic? Sad? Happy? Practice and find out.
     
  9. Try Shooting Film. I credit film photography as the greatest single source of improvement for my overall photography. I learned more shooting film than I did from years of digital photography....patience, light, composition, and metering. Film cameras can be had for cheap - give it a try.
     
  10. Buy A Good Tripod. It took me almost four years to invest in a proper tripod and the difference it made was huge. I don't like using a tripod to shoot and I avoid using one at all cost, but when you need one, you must have a good one. Cheap plastic junk is exactly that. A tripod is a major purchase and might cost as much as a good lens, but if you care for it, you will be rewarded with a long life of service from your pair of sticks.
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What advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginner photographer? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Street Ninja: Leica 28mm Summaron Re-Issue

In October 2016, Leica introduced a re-issue of one of their most popular screw mount lenses, the 28mm Summaron f/5.6. The original 28mm Summaron was introduced in 1955 and was very popular, and the re-issue brought the character, design, and delightful imperfections of the old lens forward to modern times.

The most obvious change to the new 28mm Summaron is that it now has the M-mount, so it can be used with any of the modern Leica M lineup without the need for a screw-to-M-mount adaptor.  Other modern updates include the Leica 6-bit coding, which is really just six painted squares inside the lens that tell the camera which lens is mounted for the purposes of metadata, and some modifications to the exterior casing. 

But the classic design, which leaves a particular color rendering and distinctive vignette, still remains.

Leica is known for being expensive, but that expense comes with perfection. Many of their lenses possess some of the finest optics available - lenses like the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux are the pinnacle of optical engineering. So for Leica to re-release a lens that has many imperfections struck many as very un-Leica.

But when has Leica ever been predictable? This is the company that had the guts to make a black and white only camera, and price it over $6k. Then they made a digital camera without a screen. Remember that "predictable" company? 

So in predictable Leica form, they release an old lens without any optical design improvements, and then sell it as 'made to order only.' Guts.

I was drawn to this lens for several reasons:

  1. On paper, it looks like a great street photography lens. I often shoot at f/5.6-f/8 on the street, so having a 'slow' lens was fine with me.
  2. It's the smallest and most compact street photography lens that Leica makes. It's the non-exsistant lens.
  3. There's a certain charm and nostalgia to using a lens with the design and styling from 1950s. And who says you can't look awesome while taking awesome photos? Leica shooters do care about the look of their camera, and any that says they don't is lying to you. 
  4. I like the look of old lenses. I own several 1980s era Leica lenses (from the Made in Canada era) and I love their imperfections.

The first few of these features are self-explanatory, but let's talk about #4. Compared to my other Leica lenses, the Summaron has a distinctive contrast and color rendition that the others lack. I struggle to describe the look with a word other than "unique" - images taken with this lens are just a little different from every other lens. There is also a distinctive vignette - very distinctive - and I love it. Vignettes are seen as imperfections, but many of us add a vignette to an image in post processing to help focus the eye on the subject of the image. I don't see the vignette on this lens as an imperfection, it's adding character, but there are certainly times I don't want vignettes, and I would select another lens for those times.

I wouldn't recommend the Summaron to anyone who is looking to be a one lens shooter, and I will rarely carry it as the only lens on a day of street photography. It's small size lets me pack a second faster lens (like a 35mm f/2 Summacron) and easily stash the Summaron in a pocket. But if you have a few other lenses and want something that will look totally different from your other nearly-perfect Leica glass, then I highly recommend the 28mm Summaron. It's a great lens for street photography, and the unique renderings from this lens look great in color and black and white.

The Leica 28mm Summaron comes in a lovely jewelry box case and includes a metal hood and lens cap. The hood, while fantastic in the construction and feel, totally defeats the point of having a stealthy and compact lens - so it stays at home when the lens goes out and about.

Of course, in Leica fashion, they are asking a pretty penny for this lens re-issue - over $2,500 USD for an f/5.6 prime lens may seem crazy to a lot of photographers. And that is reasonable. It's expensive - as are all things Leica - but the look and feel of this lens is unlike anything else.

I draw a parallel here to film. The cost per image of film can greatly exceed digital, particularly if you shoot thousands of images, but folks (myself included) still flock to film because we like the look. And if you want a unique look, this lens is another tool to get the vintage feel, imperfections, and unique color rendering that otherwise only comes through editing.

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!

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.

Digital Photography Workflow on Your iPad

Living in Europe, I spent a lot of time traveling and on the road. Every day spent away from my main workstation is a day less blogging, editing, and producing content (although it is usually a day creating new images). Travel is important for me to create new works, so I'm certainly not complaining! However, the down time spent at airports, on trains, flying, and in layovers between destinations could be spent supporting ScenicTraverse.com. 

It's important to pause here by saying first that as much as Apple and Microsoft would love to convince you that their tablet systems are capable of supporting digital photography workflow independent of a 'traditional' desktop / laptop, I don't think that is fair (at this point in 2016). Processing speed, memory, storage, and application complexity alone are evidence that the iPad cannot substitute for a traditional workstation. And, in my experience, the workflow on the iPad is much slower than on the desktop, so even if you could one-for-one do the same tasks, the time required to complete them is very different. For that reason, the iPad is designed to compliment my workflow by enabling me to extend it to the field.

I can't wait until I get home to edit and download all my images.... I'd have a forever long backlog! So I have complimented my desktop by working in a mobile Lightroom setup, even if it isn't as fast as the desktop. 

Let's start by discussing what I'd like to be able to do, in a perfect world, from my tablet (Apple iPad Pro in this case):

  • Download RAW files from SD media
  • Review / quality control files on the iPad
  • Apply a rating (1-5 stars) in Lightroom Mobile and have that rating preserved when the file is imported into Adobe Lightroom Desktop
  • EASILY send a selection of files between Lightroom Mobile and Lightroom Desktop
  • Do minor adjustments (contrast, blacks/whites, sharpening) to the RAW file
  • Do spot healing adjustments to remove dust
  • Controls for black and white developing
  • Export images to display on my website / Facebook / Instagram

The good news is that most of these things can be done, although not as perfectly as I'd like. For discussion of how this actually works in practice, you should know that I am using the 2016 Apple iPad Pro 9.7" with the Apple Keyboard, Apple Pencil and Apple SD Card Reader.

The cool thing about Lightroom mobile is that you can share images between your mobile devices, and edits on one carry to another. This is a screenshot of my "photography page" on my phone.... lots of Adobe apps!

The cool thing about Lightroom mobile is that you can share images between your mobile devices, and edits on one carry to another. This is a screenshot of my "photography page" on my phone.... lots of Adobe apps!

Now let's take a quick step backward and look how I got here....... I started using Adobe Photoshop in 2008, long before Creative Cloud existed. I didn't buy Lightroom and just used Adobe Bridge (gasp) and Adobe Photoshop (really, Adobe Camera RAW...... don't want to upset the Adobe crowd with the wrong terms) for all my editing. I became very fast editing a RAW file with that combination, and as much as Bridge sucks, I adapted it to fit my archive method. All was good. When I travelled, I'd haul my laptop and do some editing on the road, but that became a real pain. Laptops are big, they need a different power source (or not the same one as my iPhone), and don't las as long. So I got to thinking about trying to swap out the laptop for an iPad and being even more portable in my editing away from home.

Photoshop on the iPad isn't really "Adobe Photoshop" - its a smattering of the best functions from the desktop version, but it isn't designed to do the basic edits. Adobe gives us Lightroom Mobile and has clearly emphasized that Lightroom is the future of digital workflow and archiving. 

I hadn't learned Lightroom previously because I didn't need to  - I was fast and efficient with Photoshop and Lightroom didn't offer me anything else. But the mobile apps finally tipped the scale, and I spent a few weeks building the muscle memory and recall to be as fast with Lightroom as I was with Photoshop. Now I use Lightroom more. Same results, different app.

Back to the mobile workflow..... does it work? Can I accomplish that list of wants?

Sorta? 

Generally, most of the things on that list can be done with the mobile applications, but I'm not totally on board with the entire workflow. For starters, I hate how many apps are involved. I need at least FOUR different Adobe apps running on the iPad to achieve the same results as I get from desktop Lightroom. For instance, you can edit the basic exposure and sharpness in Lightroom Mobile, but need to change apps to do dust removal. In all fairness to Adobe, I suspect they had to break up the processing into several apps to make it manageable for the processors on the iPad, and they do have the apps able to pass images back and forth between themselves, but it still is a slow down....... in fact, the slow down is really my beef.

I edit roughly 200 images per week. If I spend one minute per image, that's 3+ hours per week spent editing. Kill me please. I've mastered the desktop software and can edit most photographs in 20-30 seconds (there are plenty of exceptions, so don't get all judging). But the same edits in Lightroom mobile might take 2-3x longer. 

What better time to work on editing your digital images than when you're flying with a budget airline? It's not like they are about to bring me a drink, snack or meal!

What better time to work on editing your digital images than when you're flying with a budget airline? It's not like they are about to bring me a drink, snack or meal!

What that translates into is that I'll edit a selection of image on the road just to 'keep ahead of the curve' and take advantage of that down time at an airport, but if I have access to my desktop, I'm using that. I have also found that using Lightroom Mobile and the iPad is a great way to review, but not edit, the images from that day, and often use it for that without editing. 

As a side note: I LOVE that Leica has programmed apps for the Leica Q and Leica SL to connect to the iPad via wifi. The photo download and transfer rate over the self-broadcast wifi network is significantly faster than the SD card reader that Apple sells (apparently the transfer rate is better on the 12" iPad, but I didn't want something that big). So if you are using a mobile device to edit, get the free apps for your cameras, because they may make this even faster.

I suspect the difference in editing times will shrink in the next few years; mobile devices are getting faster and continue to close the gap in processing performance to their desktop counterparts. As Apple installs better processors, Adobe will be able to collapse apps together and streamline workflow. I genuinely believe that we will get to a point where the tablet workflow is on par with the desktop workflow, at least in speed. 

Do you edit with the mobile applications? Have you found them a nice compliment to your desktop?

 

Quick Shot: Vanishing Point

This was 100% an experimental photograph, but it turned into one of my favorites from Paris! I wanted to do a test to see how the Leica M Monochrom would meter light if I gave it a really crazy scene with intense highlight and deep shadows (in plain English, I was screwing around). So I decided to shoot looking up into the daylight as I rode the escalator out of the Paris metro. The result is wonderful!

And for some reason, "Stairway to Heaven" keeps playing in the back of my head......

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!

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! 

Review: Leica 35mm Summarit f/2.4 ASPH Lens

The Leica 35mm Summarit f/2.4 ASPH Lens was the first Leica lens I purchased, and it was a decision filled with indecision. Do I get a 50mm lens? Should I have purchased a Summicron

Internet reviews tend to gloss over Leica's "discount" lineup of lenses - that would be the Elmarit and Summarit line - the modest prices of these lenses makes them less juicy to debate on a forum. But despite not having the aurora and prestige that a lens like the Noctilux might bring, the Elmarit and Summarit lines produce some great lenses. 

I selected the 35mm Summarit as a first lens because of the versatility of the 35mm focal length, the size, and price. Coming from Nikon, I expected something more substantial when I was handed a $2,000 lens. The 35mm f/2.4 Summarit fits in the palm of my hand; the front glass element is about the size of a penny.... IE it's little! Which is awesome, because you don't notice it when carrying it around for a day. 

Of all the ways to evaluate a lens, the optical quality and photographic results are obviously most important. The 35mm Summarit is impeccable in this regard - I have never seen any purple fringing (Chromatic Abberation) or distortion. There is no vignetting and the bokeh, while not Noctilux creamy, is still soft and smooth. Lens flaring is minimal and the focus throw is smooth. In many ways, it is the "routine beauty" of this lens and the fact that it's such a workhorse that make it so wonderful. It's not the fastest lens, sharpest lens, or the lens with the best bokeh that Leica makes, but it is an incredible performer for the price.

Until recently I shot all of my street photography in color, knowing I would convert it to black and white later. Since I've seen most of the images in color, I can be confident that no purple fringing exists. Now that I have the M Monochrom, I am shooting this lens 95% of the time on a Monochrom sensor. The examples below will give you a sense for the contrast, sharpness, distortion (or lack thereof), etc, but I would advise checking out some other reviews for color rendition examples.

With that all stated, it's time to look at some street examples: 

One of the first images I took with my Leica M Monochrom was using the 35mm Summarit in this underground station in London

A high contrast architecture shot. I don't usually shoot architecture images, but the strong shadows and bright whites made this too tempting to turn up

A high contrast architecture shot. I don't usually shoot architecture images, but the strong shadows and bright whites made this too tempting to turn up

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