donald barnat

Two shots near a freeway overpass…

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Why shooting Leica is Orgasmic

20130426-L1012797-2Men can say something is ‘orgasmic’ can’t we? If not then disregard the use of that word by me. 😉

Point is, it’s almost like that. What specifically am I talking about? What’s so special about shooting Leica that is different than other cameras or systems? MANY things, but I’m thinking of one in particular.

The other night we jumped up into Beverly Hills for a couple of margaritas at Chipotle on Beverly Drive. I brought the M-E and the 50mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH. Many great opportunities for low light shots along the street up there but, unfortunately, after two or three of those Chipotle margaritas I’m just lucky to be walking upright.

So I’m shooting some store windows etc. and the young lady I’ve spent my life with points to a window and says something effusively positive. But what’s behind the window is unlit and there’s a large store front awning shading the glass itself from any visible ambient light from the surrounding stores or street. So I go into the photographer’s speech about, well, honey, you don’t understand, there’s NO light here. It’s a nice display but your eyes had to practically adjust to even see it.

We photographers look for LIGHT, silly non-photographer. Etc.

Then I thought, well, of course, we can SEE it. So there must be some light illuminating it. So I have my camera on 800 ISO and I don’t even open the 50 ‘Lux all the way. It’s at f2. I stand very still, press the camera against my cheek. Dial the shutter till I get a solid dot. And then I watch something in my image as the shutter is open to make SURE I don’t move. That is the Leica Death Stare. Master it. Lock on an object and YOU WILL KNOW if you’ve moved and have to retake the picture.

Honestly, this has become one of the most fun things I do with my Leica cameras. I LOVE shooting at disgustingly slow shutter speeds. I’m not happy if I’m not doing it. It’s orgasmic.

The old photographic rule of choosing a shutter speed that’s faster than the focal length of your lens in order to eliminate camera shake? If you shoot Leica, you should know that, OF COURSE, this rule does NOT apply to you.

Not to be a jerk, but you SPENT that whatever thousands of dollars you spent to shoot this gear. And you’ve all too often heard people say… What’s the difference? What’s the point? It’s the photographer, not the camera!

Well this is a difference. A huge difference. And one of just many.  I shot Nikon pro gear for most of the last ten years. A heavy D2Hs and D3 and D700. Massive lenses that jut out 6 inches from the body of the camera, and more. I wasn’t comfortable shooting less than 1/250 of the second! You’d BETTER adhere to photographic rules and guidelines like the one stated above. And then, hold your breath!

But with a Leica M-anything? Just never mind all that. It’s not your concern at all. If it is, you’re doing something wrong. The flatness of the M bodies and the slim center of gravity allow you to hold the camera firm against your cheek and there’s NO long heavy lens to teeter the center of gravity and blur your photograph.

And, as a result, you can practically make your own light. Yes, the light is bad. No, I don’t really care. There IS light, that is the only relevant point to a Leica shooter. We just have to operate in a different universe of expectations about how much is there and what we have to do with our camera to capture the light that is there. And these cameras do that like no other cameras on Earth.

The above shot was taken with a 50mm lens in almost no visible light at all. The shutter speed was 1/8th of a second. And I was drunk.

Young man in ball cap

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Two Girls, La Brea Blvd

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Reflections of

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High Fidelity

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The United Colors of Leica

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New M (240) shots…

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Had the opportunity, yada, yada. The first and third images are ISO 800. The others, ISO 200. No noise reduction. But, sorry pixel peepers, I’ve adjusted anything else I wanted to adjust and I hereby pronounce the camera fantastic. Handling. Speed. I love the pictures. No problems here. All images were made with the 50’lux.

I have not seen my 50’lux, meaning seen the results of taking pictures with it, in quite this way prior to the five minutes or so that I shot it on the new M yesterday afternoon. That is the look I’ve wanted and dreamed of, and it’s been there to some degree with both film and my M-E. But that lusted-after wide-open Summilux-look just gob smacks you when you look at the files from this new M 240.

It was also very important to me that I process the images into what I want them to be. As opposed to just doing a straight JPEG conversion as so many people seem to of done when showing the results from this new camera. I understand why people would want to do that and why people would want to see those images. And they have done and seen it, ad nauseum. But someone, for balance, I felt, needed to do what they would normally do with their images from a camera. And that is process them to their own liking.

I did these in 10 minutes tops. Once I processed the first image, I copied the settings (in Lightroom) and just applied them to the other images. I like to do that with any set of images from a particular situation so that there is consistency throughout a group of shots from any one lighting environment or moment in time.

So from the time I walked in the front door till the time I posted these images to my blog was no more than 25 minutes, and that included grabbing and eating a salad. The reason I was in a hurry was that I wanted to get back to the camera store and take more pictures before the Leica representative closed up shop and put away Leica’s new baby. I was easily able to do that and I do have more shots though I’m not sure there’s anything worth showing but I will see.

This new camera is a unique creative tool. That is something I’m very confident in saying. I think that it presents the product of your lenses, these great Leica lenses, in their best light.

But also I think it will allow photographers who want to shoot Leica to do many of the things that fall, or have fallen, only within the realm of what Canon and Nikon pro gear users can do and that is indoor work, inside churches and reception halls, press situations, etc., and come away with the raw material to very quickly produce a professional standard product.

Leica seems to have added that layer of capability to their M system now, in my opinion, topping off what their gear can be used for and by whom.

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We all have our crosses to bear

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Seemed an appropriate moment to post this recent shot. And I suppose the corner of Hollywood and Highland is as good a place as any to reenact an iconic biblical moment. But hey, that guy is wearing some pretty comfortable looking shoes. That’s cheating.

I am a confirmed heathen, but to all who celebrate, Happy Easter and Happy Passover.

The thousand yard stare

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Larva in (re)Pose

This young lady should teach workshops to models on the art of posing. Yes. Larva is her name. Click on the ‘Nudes’ categories link beside the title for more of her astounding work. Mine? Meh. 😉

Color I can live with from the Leica M-E

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After two years of shooting and scanning film, what I wanted in terms of skin tones and the general color look from my new M-E was something much different than what I settled for when I owned an M9 three years earlier. By living with the results of scanning analog film I came to accept that color would rarely if ever match the accuracy attainable with modern professional digital systems by Canon and Nikon.

Maybe if I’d had the processing and scanning done at a professional lab, and paid through the nose for some premium service, I would have seen markedly better results. But I opted for the much less expensive, and more satisfying, route of scanning myself.

So when I decided to go back to shooting Leica digital my desires and expectations for color and tonality had been changed. But also my aesthetic for the end result of the act of photographing something itself had changed.

I now looked at final images that I put online or show to people as the product of a process of ME applying those tastes and desires to all of my shots as opposed to just going with either the look of the RAW file, or, worse, going with the crowd and ending up with an image look that was consistent with what other M9/M-E shooters were choosing for their work.

The color that I go for now, what I’m shooting for in my post processing, comes as a result of dealing with film scans for two years. It may not be the same technology and the end result may look nothing like film scans to me or to anyone else. But what I want now from my images is informed largely from the experience of shooting and scanning film.

Bottom line. There are no rules. The camera produces a RAW image file. We owe no loyalty or fidelity to the look of the RAW file or to what other M9/M-E shooters are doing with their images. The color in these pictures pleases me. That’s a heck of a statement as far as I’m concerned because that has not always been an easy place for me to get to with this gear. I’m happy to be getting there with some frequency this time around.

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SIT!

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Wall Street, Los Angeles, Saturday Morning in March

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Minimalist, something Kodachrome about the skin tones in the second image.

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The Gilded Age is Back

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Los Angeles is one of those places on this Earth where one can observe the extent to which the disparity between the haves and the have-nots has become a gulf of historic proportions.

Just this week there’s the story of how prospective middle class home buyers, teachers, managers, in the Inland Empire of Southern California, are attempting to purchase homes while prices are at historic lows. But the properties are being quickly bought up by cash buyers. Not local individuals, but far-off investment firms ranging from places like Wall St. to beyond including China and the Middle East.

People who live, shop, work and pay taxes in cities like Riverside and San Bernardino, and certainly soon to be Los Angeles and everywhere else in California, can’t take advantage of these never-seen-before prices for homes because people from far far away will capitalize financially at this advantageous time.

The plan, as has been reported in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere, is to create a super-industry of residential rentals, owned and managed by the wealthy firms on Wall St. and elsewhere who can easily buy up these properties with cash. That’s right. They will then RENT these homes to the very area residents who were willing and able to buy those same properties at the prices they were sold at and, in many cases, even more as these locals have learned that they must often overbid by tens of thousands of dollars to even have a chance of winning the prize of their dream home.

Permanent far off landlords will take the place of the American dream of owning one’s own home. Someone will get rich on those locals instead of them being able to claim homes and property they were more than willing to buy and own.

Meanwhile in places like Beverly Hills and Santa Monica and I’m sure in the better parts of Manhattan and Boston and the northeast one can easily see up close how extremely well some people in this world are doing financially. What it really means to have the stock market hovering near record highs while unemployment and other economic indicators measure what continues to be an ongoing economic ditch for much of the country and the world.

I think we all better start getting used to it. Or get used to the idea that we’re going to have to do something about it at some point. Because the wealthy of this world are pulling together, across national or ethnic lines, their wealth binding them as an unstoppable force, while the proverbial and literal 99% of the rest of the world, maybe more, are relegated to being spectators watching how the top 1-percent live their lives.

One foot on a skateboard…

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The other on the banana peel of love.

Closer Street Portraits, Hollywood Blvd

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What I’m into now is this Lomo filter that puts a slide frame-looking vignette around the image. I’m overusing it at this stage but that’s okay.

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Three from the Silverlake District of Los Angeles

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Going Down

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On an escalator, that is, at the Century City Mall. This was taken with a Nikon D700 and the legendary 85mm 1.4 Nikkor D.

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Alvarado Street; Westlake District of Los Angeles

The Westlake District of Los Angeles is purported to be the most densely populated area in the United States. It doesn’t seem that’s possible. But Wikipedia says this.

Westlake is one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Los Angeles, with a population density of 38,212 persons/mile²

Situated right to the east of MacArthur Park (yes, THAT MacArthur Park), it’s just another amazing slice of the life of Los Angeles. Click on the first picture for a semi-slide show of all four of the images.

Finally, get your Leica M-E review here!

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Today, it is the digital Leica M-E that embodies the philosophy of the M-System in its purest form. – Leica Camera AG

HEY EVERYONE! DON’T FORGET TO FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER… 

@50Lux14

From the get go I should point out that this is as much a love story as it is a review of a piece of photographic equipment.

Yes, I love the Leica M-E. But this is the love of someone who owned a Leica M9 for over a year and who put 24k shutter clicks on that first full-frame Leica digital rangefinder. I did not like my M9. I don’t like YOUR M9. (I’m kidding, I don’t know your M9)

Almost from the moment I first held my M9 something seemed to be not quite right. I’d been shooting an unused silver M7 for about four months, a camera that Ken Rockwell likens to a gun. I know exactly what he meant by that. The camera feels like a .45 caliber military side arm. Heavier than you would expect and more solid than you’d think possible for something made to simply take pictures.

The M9 did not have that feel. Mine didn’t anyway. The material used to cover the camera felt rough and uncomfortable to my hand. The camera had smear marks which showed constantly on the black metal top and bottom plates. From the start I was disappointed in the build quality of the camera.

Now I know these are just impressions. But those were my impressions of the camera. It never really felt comfortable in my hand or solid and impervious to anything other than gentle treatment.

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I also had issues with the color and working with the files out of the camera. Overall, my experience with the M9 was a downer and I sold mine a little over a year after buying it.

Then I shot film for almost two years. I shot my M7 and then also added a black M6. I shot and scanned probably a hundred or more rolls of color film. I learned a lot about shooting Leica by shooting within the limitations of a chosen film speed for the entire roll. I also learned a lot of discipline given the fact that 24 or 36 frames is all you get per roll and also given that you can not see what the result is of the frame you just shot.

But you might be thinking, if you didn’t like the M9 and you have two film Ms to shoot, why did you jump back into an M-E which is merely, in the opinions of so many, just a ‘cheaper’ version of an M9?

There are a couple of reasons. One I grew very tired of the process of having to drive somewhere, the dropping off for developing, then waiting, and then scanning the negatives. Having to do all of that just to see what kind of images I’d shot. I also got very tired of not being able to experiment freely with my great Leica lenses as one can only truly do with a digital camera.

But I also recalled some types of things that the M9 did really well photographically. Black & white, for one, and if I only used this camera for shooting black & white, and I loved my results, well, uh, jeez, aren’t there people out there who have made that exact choice by purchasing and shooting the Leica Monocrom?

There were more reasons. I thought that another M9, but this time much less expensive, but new and with a new warranty, wasn’t a bad thing to have as a second camera to go with the truly new M that I and so many others have on order.

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So I took the leap. Very nervously and apprehensively. Unsure of myself or my purchase. It’s still a very expensive camera. I’d heard the M-E was ugly, made of cheaper materials, gutted of at least a couple of rarely used features in order to save production costs. I heard that it was also viewed as the entry level Leica M.

And then, I really didn’t hear much else. No one that I’ve seen has even taken the time to write a review on this camera. Why bother? It’s just an M9 stripped and cheapened for ‘entry level’ users anxious to make their move into shooting Leica digital rangefinders.

At BelAir Camera, where I buy my gear if I’m not buying online, the guys were talking about what a great camera the M-E is. Our relationship isn’t one wherein they are inclined to try to hard sell me on anything and they all knew how much I really didn’t care for my M9. My buddy Rika would go on about the anthracite finish. I wasn’t expecting, however, that I’d have any different sort of impression or experience in buying and owning and shooting an M-E than I’d had in buying and owning and shooting an M9.

Well, my goodness, was I surprised. From the moment I took the M-E out of the box and mounted my 50 1.4 Summilux on it, and held the camera in my hands, I began to immediately bond to this mechanical object. The fit and the finish are unlike anything that I’ve ever owned. Ever. It is the most flawless and solid piece of digital equipment I’ve ever seen or held in my hand. That alone was a huge surprise for me.

Where do I even begin? How about the anthracite-paint finish. I have to confess that I’m notoriously bad about wiping down my gear when I’m done using it. It just doesn’t happen unless I’m doing a job and my hands have been sweating, both of which are rare things these days. While my M9 showed everything, the M-E shows absolutely nothing, even after weeks and weeks of use. It’s as if this paint has properties that resist the accumulation of the oils from your hand.

But one of most important changes that improves the M-E over the M9 is that the body covering is now *LEATHER. Soft luxurious LEATHER. The camera is a pleasure to hold and to grip with one hand. It is never hard feeling on your fingers. The camera feels incredible compared to the much rougher feel of the M9.

(*correction. the body covering on the M-E is synthetic leather. it feels soft and fantastic, but oops on me, it’s not real leather. maybe there’s a language mishap to blame, but Leica shouldn’t refer to the body of the M-E as having a leather covering as they do “its leather trim offers superior grip” on their product description page. It’s only when you read the specs page where they mention that the leather is synthetic. Not so good on them.)

The application of the leather on the body of the camera is so perfectly accomplished that looking at the camera itself makes you wonder how it isn’t selling for MORE than the M9, as opposed to much less.

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I said on dpreview in a thread on the Leica forum a few weeks ago to someone that they should buy an M-E, that it was a better camera than the M9. That statement was met with just a little bit of questioning of how such a thing could be. How could it be better than the M9 when it is essentially an M9 with some slight changes in the finish and covering and two rarely used features removed?

My question is how could it NOT be better? Just think about what I’m saying. It is an M9, right? The camera that so many people are crazy about. But it’s missing two holes from the body that give moisture two places to enter into the camera. Those two missing features are things that you can feel with your hand as you hold the M9 and believe me, they are things that your hand enjoys NOT feeling on the body of the M-E.

Leica says on their product page for the M-E.

The top and base plates are discreetly and unobtrusively finished in anthracite-grey paint. The design of its body expresses clarity, and its leather trim offers superior grip. The mechanical yet almost inaudible sound signature of its shutter release remains as a reminder that this M too is a masterpiece of unparalleled craftsmanship.

Look, if you’re someone inclined to dismiss this as just some corporate marketing bullshit, then we’re both probably wasting our time in this review. But this will be your mistake. And you won’t be able to say that you weren’t warned or at the very least that no one came forward with a user review to give their impressions or feelings about the Leica M-E.

But the truth is that Leica did not strip some expensive features off of their flagship M9 in order to produce an entry level M made up of either less or lesser body components. That’s snobbery talking and it’s not at all a reflection of what Leica could or would do. The M-E is a refined M9. That is the news I’m delivering to you now in this reveiw. It IS a masterpiece of unparalleled craftsmanship and it WILL be classic camera for years to come.

I have bonded with this camera and love it more than any thing I’ve ever owned. I can not express to you how different those feelings are for me than how I felt about the M9 that I ultimately could not wait to get rid of. I am sure that over the years of manufacturing that camera some refinements were made in the quality control or subtle changes that maybe account for how happy people have been with a camera that so displeased me.

Maybe that is what is reflected in the M-E that enables me to agree with the Leica product blurb that calls the camera a masterpiece of unparalleled craftsmanship. I honestly don’t know the answer to what my issues were in comparison to the satisfaction of others. But this camera is, by all accounts, simply an M9 that’s missing two unsealed openings in the body that make the earlier camera that much more vulnerable to moisture or the elements, and the M-E’s anthracite paint and sublime leather grip make it an unparalleled pleasure to hold and shoot with.

So much so that I now find myself dreaming of a second M-E far more than I’m dreaming of the new ‘M’ that I have on order.

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That’s about all I have to say. Except I’ll add this for anyone who thinks I might be just another Leica fan-boy or merely sucking up to Leica.

I’ve been on record in the past as being very critical of the Leica M9 and especially the color issues that were ultimately something I just couldn’t live with any more. And I mean, I have been brutal. I despised not only the color I got from the M9 but also the color most everyone else was getting. A visit to the M9 Master Shots on LFI is still like a trip to the dark side of a year of bad memories for me. Sorry, Leica.

I still and always will hate the look of the M9 images as produced by a majority of M9 shooters. I don’t like what people are doing with their images, but I believe I’ve come to understand that it’s not the camera’s fault entirely and the hint that I might be right about that comes from something that Monocrom users often say about the files that camera produces. You have to REALLY work with them to get good results.

That applies, I contend, equally so to the DNG color files that come out of an M9 or an M-E. Anyway, I’ll have a lot more to say about all that in the coming weeks and months.

And that brings me to what will be the next part of the discussion about the M-E and that is what I’ve done to make myself as happy with the camera’s images and color as I am with the body itself. And I AM happy with the color I’m achieving at the end of my processes. I don’t know that I can replicate a process, however, or that I plan on outlining exactly what I do because that would be impossible. It varies so much for every lighting condition.

Anyway, thanks for reading. If you are a person who frequented this blog in the past, thank you for coming back and for your patience and for, I hope, excusing my long absence. If you read the blog from the early days you know that last year was a very difficult one for me. It’s taken a long time to feel like posting about photography and Leica equipment again.

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Bottom line, thank you, Leica, and bravo. You’ve outdone yourself with the M-E. Unfortunately very few people in the Leica community seem to have any idea of how true that is. I sincerely hope that this review begins the process of changing that fact and awakening the deserved recognition for this amazing camera.

Thank you,

donald barnat

First Time Out With Leica 50mm Summilux 1.4

Was back in May at the Los Angeles Sparks Media Day. I’ve published these shots and posted them elsewhere, but I came to realize that I’d never posted them here on the blog. Duh. All shot with the aforementioned lens which lends its name to this blog, and a Leica M7, with Kodak 800 Max color film. The last show below of the LA Times reporter holding a video camera is just a gratuitous oh-that’s-my-first-shot-of-the-bokeh-I’ve-always-dreamed-of shot. Please excuse.

Black & white street shots…


Just a few quick shots from the Fuji x100.

WNBA Star, Jamba Juice Tackle Childhood Obesity

Attended an event at the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Monica co-sponsered by the WNBA and Jamba Juice.

Talked to Los Angeles Sparks guard Alana Beard about what they hoped to accomplish in their combined efforts to impact the national epidemic of childhood obesity.

Grabbed a lot of shots with my Leica M7 and M6, the Leica 50mm Summilux 1.4 ASPH and incredibly useful Leica 35mm Summicron 2.0 ASPH. All shot with Kodak 800.

And the kids. I broke a record for sweating I’m sure. There was a guy following me around with a mop. Hope the pictures are okay.

Tonight is Fashion’s Night Out 2012 in Beverly Hills

I’ll be there shooting 400 and 800 speed color film. Hope to have a lot of great images in a few days. Here are a couple from last year’s event.

Slivers of Quirk and Light

There is a fairly famous street/fine art photographer whose style is images with mostly shadow area and only sunlight to illuminate his subject’s profound humanity as displayed on their faces. His name escapes me as I write this but I think he would certainly qualify as a king in the world of those who stalk the light.

I didn’t know about his work over the many years when I would employ a similar solution to the difficult light here in the city of Los Angeles. The profundity of it all only became apparent to me after the fact, I have to admit.

I’m very often looking for some revealing expression on the face of subjects on the street. Something that reveals what I may see that someone else might not see that I can maybe photograph as proof or evidence that it exists. But somehow the combination of this natural spotlight on the faces of subjects combined with some moment of human vulnerability revealed on those faces seems to me to be over the top. It works great for this other photographer, but it wouldn’t feel right to me.

I find it works better for me in order to isolate a person or group but more from a distance where it may be something about their posture or circumstance or a gesture that I find interesting. I don’t have a lot to say about this all right now. But I hope the pictures have something to say to you.

These are all shot on film. Leica M7 with either the Zeiss 50 1.5 Sonnar or the Leica 35 2.0 Summicron ASPH

Thanks for looking.

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Cheerleaders: A Love Story

When I first started shooting women’s basketball, the instructions from my boss at the publication were to not just bring back action shots from the floor, but shots of fans, cheerleaders, the band, etc. Everything and anything that would capture the atmosphere in the arena.

But he made it pretty clear that what he really wanted was cheerleader shots. That should be perfectly understandable; it’s an online publication, he needs traffic just as much as any other online publication does. And pretty girls equal heavy traffic.

No better place on Earth than to fulfill our need for click bait than the campus of USC, where the cheerleaders are icons of youth, beauty, energy, and style. I’ve seen a lot of cheerleaders, but USC’s “Song Girls” (that’s right, they don’t even call them cheerleaders) are in a class all their own.

But these fabulous ladies strut their stuff at Rose Bowl games played on New Years Day which decide the national championship of college football. (Or they did back then, anyway.) There can’t be any question that sitting on the baseline during sparsely attended women’s basketball games would be on the other end of the spectrum for the Song Girls in terms of the excitement and exposure they enjoy as USC’s finest.

So, in that first season, when a pasty middle-aged male pointed his long lens in their direction as they dutifully performed their Song Girl responsibilities at women’s basketball games, more than once I came away with looks like this.

Beautiful, yes. But I pride myself on being able to read people’s faces and maybe, hopefully, photograph what they might be feeling or thinking at the instant I trip the shutter. This was not good.

Where’s the famous USC ‘V’ for Victory sign? This seems to be teetering dangerously into ‘Hit the Road Jack’ territory and I’m just glad the razor thin depth of field on this shot only captured the scornful glare of Song Girl number one. I don’t know that my ego could have survived all three of them giving me that look.

Okay, I’ve had my fun with this shot. It was just an instant, it wasn’t planned, I know that. But I don’t think the looks being given to me here are at all misleading. After all, I was there before and after this shot was taken. I kind of know.

But I persevered, as a man with a camera is sometimes known to do. I continued to work the baselines of USC and other schools and accumulated my share of pretty good cheerleader shots to go along with hundreds of, I hope, pretty good basketball shots.

It was probably in the third season when I had prints made of some digital images and, just to see how colors in these lighting environments transferred to print, I threw in to the order a handful of the better cheerleader shots.

Well, I really liked the way the cheerleader shots looked from USC. The lighting in the Galen Center is fantastic. Colors were gorgeous, the subjects were stunning.

And far from the somewhat violated look I got from the ladies in the image above, the Song Girls had gotten used to me and went about their business and I went about mine. The images I took of cheerleaders became very good.

So I decided that I should share the prints of the images I took of them with USC’s Song Girls. I put about a half dozen in an envelope, including the image at the very top and the two below, and, I think, it was at halftime one afternoon that I handed them off to the sports information director for women’s sports at USC, who shall remain nameless because she’s a wonderful lady and we subsequently become pals and I don’t want to drag her into any of this.

At that point, however, she really didn’t know me and when I said I had some cheerleader shots that I really liked she kind of gave me a look and muttered something about not being interested in pictures of cheerleaders. But I handed her the envelope anyway and asked her to pass them along to whomever is in charge of the Song Girls.

Never heard another word about my cheerleading pictures. As I said, the SID and I became pals as I continued to shoot USC basketball for the next couple of years. USC even presented one of my shots, blown up large, to a graduating senior. That was a tremendous honor. The SID told me once to keep doing what I was doing, calling it a ‘fine art’ style of baseline shooting. Oh yes, that SID was a pal o’ mine.

But here’s the punch line. Starting maybe the next season, and for the rest of my two or so years shooting USC, I literally could not point my camera at the USC cheerleaders (or majorettes even) without finding them already looking at me. Smiling broadly. I would notice them looking at me as I sat there doing absolutely nothing. It was all so obvious. I told my significant other about it, she agreed it was happening and we would laugh about it.

The USC Song Girls were now very willing subjects for me. Too willing. It was hard to get the spontaneity, the far off looks in someone’s eyes that you only get in truly candid moments. It was no longer sports journalism; it was something else, and the pictures were never quite the same.

And, of course, I LOVED every minute of it.

Anyway. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, as my mom used to say. And I’m not going to be humble regarding the images. I think these shots are almost iconically wonderful images of the USC Song Girls, caught candidly doing what they so cheerfully do for the University of Southern California.

Hope you like them as much as the subjects seemed to.

How to take a pretty nice portrait in really bad artificial light…

You can start with a high ISO monster camera like the Nikon D3 and a great pro-zoom like the 24-70 Nikkor 2.8. But I’m sorry, that’s not going to get it done in light as as bad as this was. Color falls apart even on the D3 at a certain point in the higher ISO ranges and especially in gross fluorescents like we see here .

The 2.8 is a help of course. There again, however, and I’m sorry for the equipment-fail negativism, but I think even that great lens has to be stopped down a little bit to be as good as it should be.

What to do?

Well, you have to do things the old fashioned way. Long shutter speed, in this case i believe it was 1/15th of a second, and instructions for everyone to be as still as they possibly can. Just like 150 years ago.

Of course, with a flat Leica rangefinder pancaked against your face, 1/15th of a second is like your comfort zone. lol. No problem on your end, ever.

But with a D3 and THAT monstrosity of a pro-zoom, with all that heavy glass, sticking out 8 inches in front of the camera, huh, just try it. That’s why this picture stands out in my mind as a minor accomplishment.

And don’t forget the instant-after shots when everyone relaxes. Have to have those.

Broadway: The Hard Way

About ten years ago we had some family come out for a week or so. On their last day here we needed to run them down to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles because, adventurers that they are, they were taking a train out of town. Okay.

So to get there, we decided that we’d take them up Broadway, something we did once or twice a month on our way to Chinatown for some Sam Woo’s Barbecue Restaurant, probably the best Chinese I’d ever eaten up till that time.

Anyway, Broadway, is a trip all its own. And this busy hot Saturday was busier and hotter than most days we’d taken the drive. This is a part of L.A. that doesn’t look like L.A. at all. It looks like New York City, but in another era, certainly in another century. It is the home of a historic commercial and theater district.

But the Broadway of old is not the Broadway of today. It is close and very real.

The old giant office buildings and theaters that line the street block out the sun except for the middle part of the day. People line the curb and it almost seems like they could reach into your car. They’re almost exclusively Latino. The merchants blaring Mexican pop music are as loud as the people are close.

Needless to say, we knew this was going to be an experience for our small-town lily white relatives.

So down Broadway we moved at a crawl. The smell of garbage, car fumes, meat cooking. People practically breathing on us as we slowly made our way up the crowded street. The tension in the car was incredible. Fear, even. Oh yes, there was fear.

No one made a sound. When we stopped at a red light, I thought people in the back seat might piss their pants in our nice leased automobile.

Finally, a break in the traffic right at the point where the business end of Broadway, well, ends, and things open up, with City Hall off in the distance to the right.

The explosion of relief coming from the back seat at that moment is something I will never forget but can’t adequately describe. It was as if people had just bungee jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. It was uproarious. After sounds that aren’t words, I’m sure I heard ‘Oh my God!” and “I’ve never experienced anything like that before in my life!” and some actual squealing.

Anyway. lol. Enjoy the pictures.

Negative Space

That’s really quite positive if you catch my drift.

Keepin’ it Real

Downtown Los Angeles on a glaring Saturday morning this spring. Leica M7, Walgreens 200.

Sheri’s Wedding

Just remembering one of the happiest days of my adult life. The wedding of my best friend Sheri just five years ago. I’m not a wedding photographer but she didn’t trust the one she hired so she told me to be sure to bring my gear.

Good thing, he was a hack. She loved my shots and everybody was happy. All pictures were taken with a Nikon D3 and either a 70-200 2.8 Nikkor VR or the 24-70 2.8 Nikkor. Would give anything to go back to that day.

The First Roll of Film Put Through My Leica M7

Back in mid-2010 and it was Ektar 100 and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing with a Leica rangefinder. The setting was beautiful and I hope that comes through in these humble offerings. But it was contrasty and I knew Ektar is kind of contrasty and that my 50mm 2.0 Summicron is contrasty and this is the first roll of film I’d shot in almost two decades. I had very little confidence that I was getting anything but blown highlights and shadow with detail. It wasn’t that bad, however. I should have been concentrating a little more on composition and using the attributes of the lens. Oh well. I still like them.

I’m Dreaming of Another Time of Year

Summer has finally arrived in Los Angeles this week. We didn’t even have our portable air conditioners in the windows until July 19th and have barely had to use them since then. We’ve been very very lucky while the rest of the country has sweltered in record breaking heat.

At night, every night this summer, the temps drop to the very low 60s. Run a fan out of the kitchen window and by morning you’re pulling three blankets up over your head.

But now, LA is slowly beginning its annual and inevitable imitation of the surface of Venus. Toxic gases replace the sea breezes and the blistering sun scorches everything it touches.

But I’m thinking of that drive I love to make across the desert to Las Vegas. The Cajon Pass. The chill wind blasting over the landscape.

The top photo is at the far reaches of one of our drives, near Zion National Park in Utah. It was absolutely freezing as the sun set that Saturday night in between Christmas and New Year’s Day. You can see the snow clinging to the faces of the cliffs in the distance.

The bottom images was taken out of the car window near the aforementioned Cajon Pass on the same trip. Snow on mountain tops. Wish I could roll down a window and breathe in some of that cold clean air right now.

How About Something Non-Controversial for a Change?

Two shots of light coming through the trees reflecting off the creek that runs through the Muir Woods National Monument in the San Francisco Bay area. Leica M7 with the 50mm Summilux 1.4 ASPH and Walgreens 200 film.

The obligatory daily greenish quirky LA street character shot…

The Road to Somewhere Else

“I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.” – ‘Shug’ Avery in The Color Purple by Alice Walker

(Originally published on stevehuffphoto.com – July 2011. Feels appropriate for another blistering July.)

I-15, the highway to and from Las Vegas, is traveled by an endless caravan of Southern Californians every year, alternately speeding and crawling their way to Sin City to pass the hours into weekends throwing money away in smoky casinos. With the disposable income gone and the pool parties over, the line of cars moving back through the desert to Los Angeles is most impressive in the sheer single-minded execution of its purpose. Eyes fixed (we can only hope) on the road ahead, it’s pretty clear that everyone just wants to get home.

The setting of this perpetual movement of cars and people is what calls to mind The Color Purple thought quoted above. More on that setting in a second.

But first, does God really get pissed off when we pass by the color purple without noticing? For an athe-nostic like me, the question would go more like this: if nature has created something spectacular to behold, what does it say about us if we routinely pass by it all with our eyes squarely focused on the road ahead, our perspectives blinkered by our desire to simply get someplace else?

Whether it’s an angry God watching down on us or the collective guilt of too few of us, given the sheer magnitude of both the transgression and the number of souls involved, the 270-mile drive between Las Vegas and Los Angeles — through the Cajon pass and over the Mojave Desert — would surely amount to something of a worst-case-scenario for someone as thoughtful about such things as the fictional Suge Avery.

The vast empty expanse of the high desert alone has a visual silence that borders on the metaphysical. One turn of the head and the eye takes in endless vistas completely absent the presence of humans. Appropriately miniscule in scale, the only people to be found are contained in the narrow band of highway snaking through the midst of a truly timeless landscape.

Drivers blow through the desert as fast as they can. Except for a few small towns, there’s only a smattering of rest areas along the way and the occasional supersized gas stations. With nothing really for hundreds of miles but great scenery, it would be difficult for anyone inclined to deviate from the beeline of automobiles to actually do so.

We take the drive ourselves just about every year, always in the winter or late spring. There’s usually weather off in the distance and sometimes we run right into it. We stop occasionally at one of the rest areas for 10 minutes or so, in a hurry, like everyone else. There’s a wind that seems to live at those huge gas stations that can’t in good conscience be called a breeze and, while the cold smack of it after two hours on the road is exhilarating, it always feels really good to get back in the car.

There were the familiar clouds, rain, even thunder, and snow on the ground in the mountain passes, but this time driving through the higher altitudes there was the disorienting sight of even more ominous looking clouds lying in the valleys far below the highway. There was sunshine, maybe mostly sunshine and, of course, the wind. Not surprisingly the air smells like desert and I guess to recall the old vent windows in cars from my childhood, I like to open my driver’s side glass just a crack to hear the whistle of the wind as I drive.

Maybe it’s too much of the things we did back in the seventies, but my imagination plays in the flat desert and hills there in the wide panorama shot. I’d like to hire a helicopter and tell the pilot to set down in the hills underneath the clouds in the left part of the image, get out, take pictures for a while, breathing in the desert, then point to a sun-drenched valley in the distance and say, “Okay, let’s go over there.”

I’m not a natural scenery shooter and I think the snapshots presented here will attest to that. I hesitate to add that the Leica M system of cameras is said not to be well-suited for landscape photography. The hesitation is because the M7 was more than adequate given my capabilities.

I hope these shots from the California high desert find you in a place and time where you can take notice of its incredible beauty. With most of the country sweltering in a mid-July heat wave it would be wonderful if this article even briefly transports some of you to the brisk springtime captured in the photographs here. If you try, you just might hear the wind whistling at my car window and imagine for a moment the cold desert air in your face.

Remember, God may be watching. Personally, I don’t think so, but I’ve been wrong before and these shots and this piece amount to my own personal penance just in case.

All the images taken with a Leica M7, Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm 1.4, and Kodak Portra 160 VC.

db

Peace, please…

Sometimes the message gets lost in the flow and crush of humanity. Click on the image for a larger version.

Fujifilm X100: The Only Digital Camera I Own


A life-long dedicated Nikon man, I bought my first Nikon digital camera back in the very late 90s. That was the very cool indeed and twisty Coolpix 950.

When the D70 hit the camera world like a cyclone in 2004, I got my first Nikon DSLR, along with a gazillion other people. From there I got a D2Hs to shoot sports. Not my favorite camera in the world, I replaced it with a pair of D80s. The D80, with its D2x-lite sensor, was and still is one of my favorite cameras ever.

But once you get used to a pro body in your hand, you can never really be happy with a consumer-grade camera again especially when you’re using your gear in pro-settings and putting it all through the wear and tear of celebrity rope lines or basketball baselines.

So when the D3 came into existence, the first full-frame digital Nikon, I got one of those. Soon I backed it up with a D200 and then I added the D3’s little brother, the D700.

Wow. I’m losing track. That’s a lot of cameras. I know some of you have me beat by a mile, too. You know who you are. 😉

I threw in a Lumix LX3, a kicky little gem that set the standard for point and shoot cameras for more years than it should have.

Then…  I bought a Leica M9. The first full frame Leica M camera was mine. I shot the M9 for a solid year. 24k shutter trips. It was a love/hate relationship. ‘Nuff said.

They’re now all gone. Every one of them.

The only digital camera I currently own is the Fuji X100. And I love it.

Here is what I love about it. It is the only small sensor point and shoot camera that I know of that allows for actually narrow depth of field / wide aperture shooting with good bokeh and out of focus areas.

This really hasn’t been something doable much on point and shoot cameras do to the inherent small size of the sensors.

But the Fuji X100 does something else with that capability that’s even more remarkable.

I allows you to SEE that narrow depth of field and out of focus look, exactly what you’re getting, on the LCD before you shoot.

And we’re not talking about the barely usable Nikon version of Live View. This is a standard point and shoot LCD, but with the added joy of showing you, instead of you having to imagine, what your narrow depth of field image is going to look like.

Can you imagine what this feature would be like on a Leica M, working with THAT glass?

It’s a wonderful advancement. I know some other camera systems now provide it but this is the first that I’ve owned and it has to be one of the smallest cameras that gives you this capability. But this isn’t a blog that is even remotely about keeping up with the latest gear. I’m happily out of the loop on much of the latest gear and what it all does.

Do I shoot the X100 a lot? No. I wouldn’t say I do. The reason I don’t is because I’m in love with shooting film and I shoot my Leica M7 a lot. But this camera is a keeper for a guy like me.

I even use it at the Staples Center in Los Angeles to grab shots for my sports coverage articles. Yes, you can even manage a couple of passable sports action shots with this camera.

2500 ISO, f4, 1/250 sec

High ISO capability is better, in some ways, than the D3/D700 sensor. I think the x100 files retain good color integrity further up in the ISO range than those two Nikon pro cameras do.

Anyway. From the outset I found the X100 to be a fantastic addition to my own personal photography. Mostly all of the images here in this post were taken last November, the first month I got my hands on the Fuji. Hope you enjoy them. They’re a little ‘creative.’ (insert wink here)

Fashion’s Night Out Beverly Hills 2011: T-MAX P3200

Leica M7, Zeiss 50 Sonnar 1.5, T-MAX P3200 (click for larger version)

Nothing much to say here. Just a slideshow from a couple of rolls of this very fast and grainy film. I liked it. I just didn’t really have the easiest time scanning it. Actually shooting it was also something to get used to as well. Would have to get used to it and think about shooting it much differently than I did.

Details: Sheri’s Apartment

When Sheri moved back from Maryland she had an apartment she didn’t like for a year. Then she got to work finding a place back up closer to where she used to live. Finally found the neatest little one bedroom in Beverly Hills. Built probably back in the 1930s, the owner was meticulous in keeping up the details of the place. Sheri was always finding things to perfectly accent her environment. When she first moved in she told me to bring a camera over to take some pictures.

All shots taken with a Nikon D3 and a 85mm 1.4 Nikkor D.

Sheri’s details…, a slideshow on Flickr.