28 August 2016

First Time Shooting the Leica M Monochrom

Up and Over
Art Model, Covenant ©2016 Terrell Neasley
For a long time, I've pined over the Leica system. I often describe it as magic. I know to a lot of people, it will never make sense to spend $8,000... just for a camera body. That does NOT include the lens. The lens is a whole'nother world of expense on its own. And language, I might add. I got to shoot with the 35mm f/2.0, which based on that speed, you call it a 35mm Summicron. If it was a f/1.4, you'd call it a Summilux. The difference? The Summicon will put you out $3K and the Summilux edition will push you to $5K. I prefer the Summilux, but that's me. Nobody makes glass like Leica. In fact, I'd like to play with a 35 Summilux on my Sony A7RII. But that's not this story.

Getting up in the morning
Art Model, Covenant ©2016 Terrell Neasley

This story is on my shot at the Leica M Monochrom Typ 246 and the 35mm Summicron for the weekend. So my girl and I headed up north to camp out and play in Utah for a bit. We pulled out the tent and loaded up the car and took off. I originally picked up the Fujifilm X-E2 a few years ago to help me prepare for this experience. At that time, I had a project that I thought was going to have me owning two Lecia bodies and 3 lenses. Tht didn't work out. I know the two cameras don't really compare, but the Fuji still has the rangefinder look. Or so I thought. Nothing about owning a Fuji could have prepared me for the Leica M-series.

The Fuji LOOKS like a rangefinder in style only. I should have known better. Don't get me wrong. I LOVED that Fuji. Highly, highly recommend it. But with respects to preparing me for a Leica...No. In particular, two things right off the bat should have told me that wouldn't be the case. The Fuji has an electronic viewfinder. If there is one and only one thing I could have used some prior experience with is Leica's split screen manual focus system. For that, I could have used a film rangefinder to help me. You are still looking from a vantage point of the lens in the Fuji. No so, with the Leica. You still have the potential for parallax in Leica cameras, as is the case when you have any camera system that has differentiated viewing systems...one for the lens which is separate from your's.

Hiking topfree,
Art Model, Covenant ©2016 Terrell Neasley

The second thing is that Fuji is waaaaay lighter (350g) than Leica cameras (700g) AND smaller. You can practically palm a Fuji with one hand and it goes no where. You had better maintain positive control with all fingers around that Leica with the camera strap around your neck, else you can easily waste, $11 grand. In fact, its MUCH more advantageous to invest in the body or thumb grip accessories on this thing. There is much more of a presence of mind with the Leica. You know where it is at all times. Its not like you phone or your keys, that you may not immediately recall where you sat it down. You know, in a moment's recall, where your Leica camera is.

I would have liked to have had more time with the camera. Compared to my Sony A7RII, I was much slower with the Leica. I was a lot more deliberate. I already shoot slow and usually come back with a third of the shots that most of my peers do. Over a weekend, I may come back with 300 shots normally. I didn't even clear 100 with the Leica. Chances are, that was a learning curve issue. I've shot with a Leica before, but this was my first time having it out to shoot as my sole camera. Granted, I got some initial night shots with the Sony when I first got to my camp site. All after, I was exclusively Leica.

Art Model, Covenant ©2016 Terrell Neasley

I was most engaged on achieving and maintaining a sharp focus. Utilizing the split screen, especially in lower lighting conditions can be tough. Its been quite a while since I had to do that regularly. Actually, it was a first because my film Canon used a circular focus screen instead of the square one used in the Leica. There is no autofocus, so it was all on me to achieve tack-sharp focus. I was able to do this on practically every shot, but it took a minute for each one with much concentration. I chose not to rely on focus peaking to assist me. I waned the viewfinder experience. News and war correspondents made a living without focus peaking and were quick with the shot. I want to learn the same.

I was a little off on exposures as well. In any other camera system, I am pretty decent at determining my initial exposure quite easily. I always seemed to be underexposing a bit, as if my exposure value compensation was a minus 2. This was easily corrected and eventually, I began to apply a little "Kentucky Windage". I adjusted at least one stop brighter than whatever I thought it might be.

A break while I figure out something on the camera,
Art Model, Covenant ©2016 Terrell Neasley

Another thing that took me some time was the fact that the camera had already been used by several people. It would have been smart for me had I RESET everything on the camera prior to use, but I didn't notice each of the changes right off. And even afterwards, during post processing, I couldn't get any of my Plugins to read Leica's RAW files. I updated Adobe and tried a myriad of changes. It took me a whole day before I realized the camera was set to a grayscale color profile while I was shooting. A simple fix was to reset my Camera RAW converter to import all the files into Photoshop as AdobeRGB. That sped up my workflow.

I need more practice. I want to eventually own this camera as well as its color counterpart, The Leica M Typ 240. There is also an M-D version that has no LCD screen on the back, despite being a digital camera. I might consider it. Its purely for photo, so there's no video capabilities. Yeah, I have some other priorities first, but I plan to make the Leica system part of my family of cameras.

Checking under the rocks like a good model should,
Art Model, Covenant ©2016 Terrell Neasley

04 August 2016

A Mildly Complex View of a Few Things You Can Do LESS of to Get MORE

"It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential." 
 –Bruce Lee
Check this out. I wanna cover a few details of some things of note that I think can help transform you into a better shooter. It may not make sense right off the bat, but stick with me. I think this can help. So do LESS of these things:

Ignore TV Less
What you see on TV is the final product of someone's content creation efforts. You can learn a plethora of information by observing what images made the final cut. Check out all the lighting schemes, posing,  and editing that you see. How effective do you think they are? What message do they convey and how successful do you feel they were at getting your attention and evoking an emotion in you to act on whatever they were selling, promoting, or how they were entertaining you.

We often times get left in the dust with recent trends. TV gives you an idea of what some of the latest technology is doing and how its being creatively implemented. You succeed when you can begin to backwards engineer what you see, figure out how its done, get ideas on what techniques or best practices you can employ in your own work. At the very least, you can see what the latest trends are and how you might differentiate yourself. Know what's happening around you and do something different. You don't always have to follow what the latest favorite is doing. In fact, I highly recommend it.

All to often, the thing that can hamper us most is the Television. We'll have at least 3 TV's in the house to keep us updated on our favorite shows, like the Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, or Dragonball Super. People can go nuts over these programs. Sheesh.... Back Away From the Idiot Box, people! I say that in jest, cuz I'm not missing a GOT or Dragonball episode for nothing you can give me.

I digress... If you can back away from some of the ad-laced content for a while, maybe you can pick up a book on photo for a change. Learn about some new night shooting techniques. Go watch an education video on Lynda.com on Lightroom. That's sorta like TV, if it will help you with your fix. Study and read up on things that will help you move forward with your camera. Amazon has some great material on that new camera you bought last year that you've only used twice in full auto.

Study LESS
Here's a new one. Get your head out of the books and go SHOOT! Study long...Study wrong is what my uncle used to tell me when playing basketball. The more you contemplate your shot, the more likely you're gonna miss it. Never more true. Paralysis by Analysis. There's only so much you can fill your brain with at one time. Most of the time, what you really need is to put the books down and go pick up the camera and just shoot! Experiment. Who learned to ride a bike with a book? What person researched the mechanics of swimming before jumping in the water?

Yes, Some research, study, reading, and observation is good for us. But at some point, you have to put it all down and let your mind and muscles work together with repetition and effort to finally learn something new. Go shoot! I can't emphasis that enough. Studying something too long is a huge contributor to procrastination. I know for fact this is speaking to some of you out there. Its time now to put to practice some of the brilliant things you've learned. Go for it.

"Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful." 
–John Maeda

Shoot LESS
You got that right. Shoot friggin' a whole lot less! Now this isn't for a few of you. I've worked with some students that I tell to shoot MORE. The vast majority of you, however, should shoot LESS. This is one case where LESS is truly MORE. The spray and pray concept of photography is only applicable in sports and other shots where you need to specifically freeze the action to capture a series of moving events. Shooting at 14 frames per second to capture the money shot of Russell Wilson escaping the clutches of a NFC West defender showing the look on the guy's face as that split second passes where he KNEW he had the sack, then nothing but air. Yeah...you can't try to time that shot and expect to get anything. No way. You select the drive mode for Hi-Continuous and you roll like Rambo.

That's not the typical scenario for most people though. When you come back with 30,000 images from a weekend camping trip, just know that you have a problem. Stop friggin' shooting so much! If you want to immediately have an impact on better photography, shoot less! Limit yourself and become more selective about what you are taking a picture of. And there's no need to get 12 versions of the same shot. All you're really looking for are a few good shots that tell the story or deliver the message. Personally, I'm a 10%er. It roughly averages out to editing a tenth of whatever I shoot. I come back from a gig with 300 images...I'm netting about 30 edited shots. I believe I usually shoot about 100 shots an hour when I'm doing constant shooting. That means I'm on a gig or have a photographic purpose in mind and when I'm finished shooting, I go home. So that's different from going on a day trip with my girlfriend and we're on the road for 15 hours. I may only come home with 200 images total because we are shooting, but we're also hiking and exploring and shooting between locations.

It saves you some time having to cull a million shots, but more importantly, WE DON'T WANT TO, NOR DO WE HAVE TIME TO LOOK AT EVERY-FRIGGIN' SHOT YOU TOOK! So just calm down a bit. Play the roll of a sniper instead of Machine Gun Freddie. Take some time to look at your composition and understand what makes it a good shot vs a snapshot by a tourist. You didn't buy that expensive camera to come back with the same kind of shots you've always been taking. Get to know the camera. Take if off automatic and get creative with it. Shoot less, but maybe more often. How's that for a compromise. Now I got a proposal to finish writing. And you now have some things to mull over. Get to it.