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Unique style with Leica MM?


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I have had a few recent outings with an MM lately and I have also been shooting quite a bit of black and white film. My film of choice has long been Fuji Neopan 400, which was discontinued this year. I'm part of the Leica MM user group on facebook. When I browse the group or flickr, I find that many people use the same style of exposure and post-processing, and when I do a flickr search, I find that a lot of photographs look the same and lack a unique style. I quite like Jacob AuSobol's look even though find it a little too gritty for my own work.

 

I have been experimenting with shooting at ISO 2,500 in daylight and pushing my mid-tones and highlights fairly high to create a look I am used to from photographers like Henry Wessel and I feel like I am getting something that works for me.

 

I know that you can take the MM files in a lot of different directions, and I think it would be fun to collect some links to photographers, who have created a cohesive body of work with an MM that has sort of a signature look to it. Again, I'm not talking about one-off pictures that are processed in different ways, but a cohesive body of work.

Edited by BerndReini
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Wow, nobody can think of anything? The best source for me seems to be the Leica blog. This is a recent project I found looked very cool.

 

http://blog.leica-camera.com/photographers/interviews/emma-de-caunes-and-frederic-stucin-on-the-film-les-chateaux-de-sable-sand-castles/

 

Also the entries by Stephane Lorci and Marc Erwin Babej are very striking Monochrom series.

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I feel like I achieved a distinct and somewhat consistent look with my photos, particularly using the old LTM 28mm summaron.  Some of them are on my flickr page (link below).  Ultimately, though, I wasn't happy that I was getting ENOUGH character and charm relative to film; so I sold the MM and have gone to a compeltely film workflow.  Now I feel smothered with character and charm.

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Jochen, very nice work. I think what speaks to me is when people shoot "black and white pictures" in black and white, and "color pictures" in color. This is something I try to be very mindful of and I see you do it in the very first photo on your website. A lot of people on flickr just snap away without thinking about light and composition so you don't even know what you're looking at. I see this in color and black and white.

 

A miller, I am struggling with the same decision. I own an M7 and an MP and I am contemplating selling the M7 because there are some great deals on the MM right now. My dilemma is that my M7 is silver with dark blue leather and has a .58 finder. It is my perfectly customized film camera, so I am struggling with the decision to get rid of it, but I have set a limit on the number of Leicas I can own.

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... so I am struggling with the decision to get rid of it, but I have set a limit on the number of Leicas I can own.

 

You should try to love yourself more. Tell yourself you're worth an extra Leica!

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The problem that I found witht he MM is the lack of tonal transition in the top 3 or so brightest exposure zones (say, zones 8 through 10).  If a scene doesn't have a significant presence of these zones, there is much less of a concern.  The ability to B&W film to retain highlight detail allows for significantly better transition among tones.

 

I wouldn't sell your M7.  It is not clear whether you own an MM, but I will tell you that I lost about $3K on mine after just one year.  And once the new model is released I believe the secondary prices will drop even further. 

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I don't own an MM, but I have access to one whenever I need it. Two of my good friends own them, one of them just bought a backup. I hear what you are saying about the highlights, but in direct comparisons it seems that unless the whites are clipped you can get similar results. My biggest grudge is the absolute lack of grain at base ISO. With film, I print until the grain is sharp in the highlights and everything falls into place. The MM is so precise, it lacks some of that extra abstraction, which is why I try to add it by pushing the ISO and adding some artificial grain. I am a fan of that airy quality of film, where only the extreme shadows stay dark and the mid tones and shadows are open.

 

The huge advantage would be photographing my two young kids around the house. I rate my Neopan at ISO 250 and it just doesn't cut it in many situations.

 

Yes, it's tricky. I could get an as new MM for under $5,000 right now.

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. My dilemma is that my M7 is silver with dark blue leather and has a .58 finder. It is my perfectly customized film camera, so I am struggling with the decision to get rid of it, but I have set a limit on the number of Leicas I can own.

My wife told me "If you use it, Keep it. If you like it, Keep it. If you don't use it and you don't like it, sell it." I suggest you listen to my wife, and that she did not set a limit on the number of Leica cameras that YOU or I can own...

Edited by Lenshacker
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Good advice. But I have to tell you that owning too many cameras sometimes bogs me down. I am perfectly in the gray zone as well. I make good money, but I'm not rich. I use my M7, but I can't say I use it every week. I love shooting film, but I wonder whether I would should more "freely" with an MM. Or would I feel guilty owning an MM and not using it all the time?

 

I can honestly say that of all the cameras I have owned, and there were many, the M8 and M9 were the ones that I never felt guilty about because I got a tremendous amount of use out of each. The imposed condition of selling my M7, if nothing else, keeps me honest about how much I really want the MM.

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Ahh, just buy a gently used MM already. If you are a typical user, you probably spend $2k on film and processing every year. Even if you only keep it for a year and the used value drops to M9 levels, you will be slightly ahead of the game. OTH, your M7 will probably always be worth its current value. Look at that camera like its money in the bank.

 

I don't have any great processing secrets. I mostly use Camera Raw. Currently, I'm shooting surfers with a MM and a 50 Summicron. It is an interesting challenge. Hopefully it will yield enough unique images for a gallery show. Then I can see exploring this idea for more months before moving on to another.

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It's an interesting question about how one establishes a look or a style. Some photographers seem to own a particular subject. Others have a highly stylized technique like, say, Ralph Gibson. But mostly I think it has to do with visual intelligence and mastery. I know Hank Wessel and one of the things he has figured out is how to work in the bright light of California. That is a craft question, but he also takes smart, and sometimes funny pictures. Most amateurs whether consciously or not try to make pictures like ones they have seen - they are in the emulation phase. The hard problem is to make photographs that don't look like something we have seen before. It's not easy and it takes years of work. Ausobol's work to me looks like a lot of stuff that was done in the 70's. Not that that is a criticism.

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AuSobol's work to me looks like a lot of stuff that was done in the 70's.

 

I agree, his work reminds me of Anders Peters, who I also admire a lot. It is ironic that I love this gritty style yet I don't like it for my own work. Maybe the California sun is what draws me more to Henry Wessel's printing. I got to meet him two years ago and I had just started a panoramic project on houses in the San Fernando Valley with an XPan. He was just putting together his latest book and showed me the mockup, which included a lot of photographs of houses in Los Angeles. I showed him my panoramics and we acknowledged a similar interpretation of the subject. Even though I hadn't been aware of his work before, I realized who owns this style, hahaha.

 

It goes beyond subject matter though in finding an "interpretation" of the subject in the prints and I feel that all the above examples do so very well. The Monochrom certainly has the potential of a lot of processing, and I don't think too many photographers take advantage of it. The ones that do it well demonstrate the possibilities.

 

I'm still pondering my decision, but I guess for now the M7 will stay, independent from the MM. Here is an examples of how I photograph my kids.

 

 

 

 

Edited by BerndReini
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I've been shooting earnestly for several years and while I still don't consider myself very good, I think the quest for a specific style may be counter productive.  I think the better approach is to continue trying to take pictures that I like.  My style will emerge from that.  If that turns out looking too conventional, so be it.  I'll be taking pictures that make me happy.

 

-K

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I think the better approach is to continue trying to take pictures that I like.

I think you misunderstand what I am trying to say. My observation is that a lot of the photographs taken with the MM by different people look the same with regards to post-processing (Raw file, SEP adjustment with a ton of "Structure" applied, contrast increased and done). Some users however use a post-processing method that suits their photographs to create a cohesive body of work. This is what I'm pointing out to forum members and I am trying to provide examples. I have shot and exhibited several projects with a few different formats because I felt they were best suited for the series (M9 for color street photography in Hollywood, and 4x5 negative for a project in the California desert.)

 

I acknowledge that this should not be forced but a natural process and I agree that "taking more pictures" of a certain subject will lead to a style. I am a firm believer though that instead of just shooting a RAW file and leaving all the decisions for later, it is better to get to know the equipment and figure out the final product in advance, so you can adapt your exposure to what you end up doing in post.

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Bernd, my opinion about your statement as I understand it (most MM produced photographs looking very similar in imaging style) stems solely from one fact:

 

The MM is designed to extract as much image information from a scene, as it's sensor possibly can, resulting in rather flat looking digital files when not extensively processed.

 

I think, in terms of design philosophy, Leica's engineers did the one right thing about the MM (as it is a very niche camera tos tart with) - the imaging is designed to hold as much information as possible for extensive post processing.

Leica even decided to strike a deal with the people of NIK SilverFX, to proved the camera in a bundle with a software, that offers the ability to produce a wide range of differently styled looks to the MM files for users at a very wide range of skill levels (from beginners to users with decades of experience of wet printing in a  darkroom).

 

I wager that most owners (and I use the word "owners" specifically) who upload photos, produced with their MM are what I call "hobby photographers" - myself included.

For most of these people, landing at a pleasantly looking image, made through post processing of a MM file is a big achievement.

The very first stage of "landing at a pleasing image" is the very wide range of "alike looking" photographs, you see online.

 

To get to the "next step" of showing a unique imaging style, a lot of experience, dedication and maybe years (better decades) of darkroom printing experience might be needed.

 

I myself had a hard time during the first months, I had my MM, getting a look, I was used to from B&W conversions from M8 and M9 files and from the favorite B&W films I used. I never really got there with the MM files and at some point simply decided to use the MM for a very certain look, the camera is known to produce with ease.

 

Yes, one can bend the files to look like heavily pushed Tri-X in D-76 stock - the MM files easily have the latitude to bend and twist them into shape to "ape" this look.

You can also bend and twist them to have the look of other film stocks, but the strengths of the MM lies in my opinion to produce images, technically entirely different from certain film looks.

 

You can shoot it at unheard of ISO speeds and hardly see any grain in prints from low light shots.

You have unimaginable fine detail, formerly only known from slow, fine grain film at medium format or even large format size - or medium format digital sensors.

You have the same versatility and speed with that crazy good sensor, as with any Leica M since the 1950's and don't have to lug a tripod and your 4x5 around with you.

 

I think this is FOR ME the essence of how I understand the MM and use it now (if using it consciously).

Curiously, I have returned to use film more again for when I want a certain look (the grain, the tonality, the blooming, never-ending highlights, the sweat, blood, smell, endless nights, developing, …).

 

The good:

 

The MM does provide files (if shot, protecting the highlights and at low ISO) that have seemingly endless potential in post processing.

In this regard, these files are unlike any other digital files I have used so far, including fancy medium format digitals and top of the line 35mm DSLRs.

It is really amazing, how this so absurdly polarizing little camera from that little manufacturer in Germany is so superior in so many things and all, the internet is chatting about is how expensive it is and how it cannot record colors or how it's surface finish is so luxurious, … ;-)

 

You are in a very lucky position to be able to use the MM without digging into the bank account - use it!

I like your approach!

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Well, I took the leap. After much deliberation I bought a nice QM2 MM. I have worked with it enough to know what it can and can't do and I am sure I will find my workflow with it. Thank you guys for your replies. I'll keep you updated on my experiences.

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