Friday, 30 May 2014

100 years of Leica

This year Leica are celebrating their 100th anniversary. The very first Leica camera was invented by Oskar Barnack in 1914 and it became known as the Ur-Leica. For the first time film transport and shutter technology were combined in one camera.

Ur - Leica, 1914

During its 100 year history many models have been produced including the Leica II in 1932 which had an integrated rangefinder and interchangeable lenses. In 1954 the Leica M3 was produced and to this day is the epitome of the M System.

Leica M3

Arguably Leica still manufacture the worlds finest cameras and lenses. Their classic rangefinder has been used by some of the most famous photographers of all time, to capture many truly iconic and memorable images. Here are just three examples for you to enjoy.

V-J Day - Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1945
This photo appeared on the cover of Life Magazine and grew to become one of Alfred Eisenstadt's most well know images. 'People tell me' he once said, ' that when I am in heaven they will remember this picture'

England - Gianni Berengo Gardin, 1977
Gardin's images are considered classics of Leica Photography. Taken in black and white, they are quickly captured windows of everyday life, visual chamber plays of grand formal, aesthetic finesse, at times complex
and at other times delicately harmonious.

New York City - Elliott Erwitt, 1974
Elliott Erwitt's passion focused on dogs - for him, they were the incarnation of human beings, with fur and a tail. His photo titled 'New York City' was taken for a shoe manufacturer.

The three images and their descriptions were taken from 'The Legend Lives On - 100 years of Leica Photography' a page on the Leica website.

Today there are principally two digital M System cameras in their range. The M240 or M and the Monochrom, which only takes black and white images, yet is more expensive than the M which records colour and offers more features, such as live view and the ability to shoot video. There is also the ME which is based on the M9, the predecessor to the M, as well as two film cameras, the M7 and the MP.

The Leica M

The Leica Monochrom

Although Leica has had to move with the times, the sheer quality and craftsmanship of their cameras and lenses, coupled with the simplicity of their operation is still at the very heart of their brand ethos. Their is no autofocus; the lenses are manual focus only. The aperture control is on the lens which still features a depth of field scale for zone focusing. The speed dial and the shutter release are on the top plate which together with the bottom plate is made of brass for durability. In fact on the rare occasion I have been able to hold a Leica it feels so well made, extremely solid, and the craftsmanship is second to none. These cameras and their lenses, handle superbly, are built to last and the hold their value well too. This is just as well as the initial outlay to buy a camera body and one or two lenses can easily reach five figures. They are the camera equivalent of a Rolex watch or a Ferrari sports car. An aspirational luxury brand with performance and a price tag to match. Very different to the norm but a real pleasure to own and to use.

As you would expect there is a wide range of lenses available with names like Summicron, Summilux and Noctilux all denoting the speed of the lens. f2, f1.4 and f1 respectively. The faster the lens the higher the price. The 50mm f0.95 Noctilux has a price tag of nearly £8,000! They are all designed to be used wide open and still produce sharp results from corner to corner. 

The range of Leica lenses

When comparing the 'basic' design of the first Leica camera with the Leica M, the very latest model, it's impossible not to notice a similarity. Yes, Leica has had to embrace the digital age and the requirements of todays photographers, but those fortunate enough to use a Leica, share a passion for both their craft and for their equipment. The simple controls put the photographer in control, but that doesn't mean to say its an easy camera to master. It's not like so many cameras of today - turn the camera on and let the mini computer with a lens attached do the rest - in other words a point and shoot! The quality of the lenses can produce the most stunning images, but the most expensive equipment in the wrong hands does not guarantee a great photograph.

Whether my photographic journey will ever lead me to owning a Leica is unclear. What I do know is that as part of their centenary celebrations Leica in London are offering 100 photographers the chance to 'test drive' the Leica M during a three hour workshop. They recommend you take your own SD card so that you can take home the results. My place is booked and given my love of black and white, I hope I will get the opportunity to experience the Monochrom as well. It might be the only chance I get to release the shutter on one of these superbly crafted cameras. A camera with a wonderful heritage and built in temptation!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Down on a farm again!

For various reasons I seem to find myself visiting local farms in our area which can offer a wealth of photographic opportunities or at the very least a photographic exercise in seeing in black and white. I do not go to these farms specifically to take photographs but I on most occasions I carry a camera and one or two lenses with me, as I never know what I will see.

Builders bags - Sindles Farm
Builders Bags

I have to say I am drawn to these locations, which offer a variety of subjects to photograph - from old buildings, untidy farmyards, farm machinery, transport and other equipment, all of which are often well used and worn or should I just say neglected and decayed.

In the space of about fifteen or twenty minutes I fired off a few shots at Sindles Farm and here are the results. They may not be to everyones tastes but they have inspired me to visit other similar locations. To me they are fascinating places to photograph and are so typical of the rural farming communities of this country.

I am trying to follow a similar workflow and style of processing for these images and indeed other 'farm or rural' images I may take in the future. I have always liked the square format and the subtle toning to the monochrome image I think adds a little warmth and works well for this particular type of subject. All I need now is to find a suitable photographic paper which compliments this look and I may have the makings of a project to work on in the coming months.

Broken tractor light - Sindles Farm
Broken tractor light

Door and steps - Sindles Farm
Door and steps

Steering wheel of a tractor - Sindles Farm
Steering wheel of a tractor

Staddle and tiles - Sindles Farm
Staddle and tiles

Number plate on a tractor - Sindles Farm
Number plate on a tractor

Door latch - Sindles Farm
Door latch

A previous entry on a visit to another farm can be found here

Friday, 16 May 2014

Barn on a Hill - Colour or Mono?

Sometimes, just sometimes, I take a photograph which I think works well in black and white as well as in colour. It doesn't happen very often as the vast majority of the time I look to take an image which I can convert into monochrome, but inevitably there are going to be occassions when stripping the colour away is almost sacrilege given the subject matter of the image.

When down in Dorset the other week I took one such photograph which I have called 'Barn on a hill'. My default is always to convert to mono and the finished result is shown below.

Barn on a hill
'Barn on a hill' in mono.

Restoring all the colour and processing the image in an alternative way gives me a completely different picture.

Barn on a hill - colour version
'Barn on a hill' in colour

Personally I think both have their merits. In fact I decided to upload the mono version to 500px. Up until now I have always used Flickr for my online presence, so this was the first of my photographs to appear on 500px. Within the space of an hour or two it rose from 'Fresh' to 'Upcoming' before being graded as 'Popular', which I assume is similar to 'Explore' on Flickr. It's pulse (a measure of how popular an image is on 500px) rose to 97.9 out of 100 and to date has 132 'likes' and 60 'favs'. I quite like the way 500px measures the activity and popularity of a photograph; it's certainly a different approach to how Flickr operates.

Anyway enough of stats and back to photography and I ask myself one simple question. Should I process and keep more colour images and not always be looking at the world in black and white? In this case the appeal of colour is too great to ignore, but of the two I still prefer the mono version, so I guess that's the answer to my question!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Cow portraits - taken near South Stoke

Cows in reflection
Cows in Reflection

A week or so ago I returned to the hamlet of South Stoke to take a shot of The River Arun. Whilst setting up my camera I noticed in a nearby field a herd of cows in the distance. I thought nothing of it until a couple and their dog came close to where I was sitting. The dog had disturbed the cattle and they were now running across the field and getting ever closer to me. Fortunately a wide ditch prevented them from coming too close and devouring my equipment!

Having taken a few shots of the river, I decided to turn my attention to the cows which seemed more than interested in what I was doing as I pointed my lens towards them. The shots which follow were all processed in Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro2. They all share one thing in common. I am now using a custom preset in Silver Efex which adds a 'coffee tone' and mimics a black and white film type - Fuji Neopan Acros 100. I have never used this film in a film camera so cannot say how well or otherwise replicate the look in a digital file but I find the combination of the tone and film type works well. It adds a little warmth, some grain and contrast to the overall appearance. That's not to say that there isn't further processing carried out before the photograph is deemed to be finished.

Here are selection of the shots I took. The first and last images in this series were taken of the cows reflections in the water ditch. They are quite mysterious in their look and mood. I hope you like them.

Portrait of a cow
Portrait of a cow

Heads up
Heads Up


Head of a cow
Head of a cow

Reflections of cows
Reflections of cows

Saturday, 3 May 2014

A week on and it's back to South Stoke

Towards South Stoke
Towards South Stoke

There is nothing quite like revisiting a location to get to know it better. To explore an area, follow different paths, observe how the view can change from one position to another and of course if you are taking landscape images then on two days the weather and lighting are never going to be the same. It is impossible to take the same shot twice.

And so having spent an enjoyable time on a very dull overcast day by The River Arun at South Stoke the weekend before last, I decided to return a week later. This time the weather was more favourable, still generally overcast but with more dramatic cloud formations. I chose to walk down the west side of the river. Before leaving home I had already checked out a map of the area and noticed that there was a bend in the river and this might be a good position to take a shot looking up the river towards South Stoke. I encountered quite a few cattle on the way but within ten minutes I arrived at my chosen position. I was not disappointed. Tripod, camera and filters set up I took the photo which heads this post.

Totally different to the images from the previous week, yet all taken in the same area.

By way of a reminder here is another image taken two weeks ago, this time looking down river from South Stoke and taken from the bank on the east side the Arun.

The River Arun
The River Arun