Shooting at night with the Leica M-E

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Two years of shooting film with my M7 and then an M6, limited but unconcerned by the usually 200-400 ISO range of the film loaded in my cameras, I think I learned to stop whining about high ISO performance and noise and learn to do the things necessary to take pictures after the sun goes down.

Yes, sometimes I would shoot some really wonderful and cheap Kodak 800 speed film I’d picked up. But the process and discipline of making what in the digital sense are low ISOs work, holding the camera very still, tight against the face, learning to love shooting at 1/8th of a second instead of needing 1/250th… these are the changes that have enabled me to feel free and easy shooting with a camera that most photographers today consider to be lagging in the ISO and image noise performance area.

A while ago someone surmised that with the high ISO capability of modern digital cameras, we don’t really need the superfast 2.0 and 1.4 lenses that Leica happens to specialize in making and selling for thousands of dollars. Who needs any of that when your camera will produce clean usable images at 12k ISO?

Well, that kind of thinking and that kind of equipment will certainly give your photography a certain look, along with the capability afforded in the high ISO performance. And for professionals, at this point, there really isn’t any substitute for great high ISO performance.

But I would counter that the opposite of the idea of chucking super fast and expensive glass is equally as true for photographers wishing to use their cameras to create unique work that differentiates itself from most modern digital photography by its emphasis on photographing light where it exists and an adherence to the old ways like simply holding a camera as still as is humanly possible.

But as evidenced here and in a lot of images to follow, there’s also other ways to get around the problem of shooting low ISO film or digital camera sensors we can’t push much beyond 800 ISO and that is to photograph lights themselves or things that are well lit.

The images here aren’t intended to be a demonstration of any one technique for shooting in low light. They’re intended to be a demonstration of boldness and an attitude of let’s get over blaming equipment for what it doesn’t do and instead praise the almighty dollar that we can afford a cell phone or a Diana or a Pentax or a Leica film or digital camera and just get out and make the pictures your gear allows you to make. 

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