Archive for Leica Monochrom

Dream Combo: The Leica M10 on the Streets (and Beaches) of Miami

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on February 29, 2020 by johnbuckley100
All photos Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux

On the last day of the Obama Administration, my Leica M10 arrived in Washington. I remember sharing anxiety with the good folks at the Leica Store DC about whether it would be delivered before the cordon went up around downtown blocks in preparation for a certain person’s inauguration. There were two silver linings to Trump’s inauguration: the Womens’ March which followed dwarfed the crowds at his fete, and was the greatest outpouring of civic protest I’d ever witnessed, and I was able to capture it with the Leica M10, which in so many ways is the perfect camera for street photography.

Flash forward to late February and my wife and I had a weekend trip planned to visit a friend in Miami Beach. I had a newfound embarrassment of riches to choose from when it came to bringing a camera, for the Leica SL2 was released November and I’d been working with the third generation Monochrom since January. Readers of this space will remember I had recalibrated what kind of camera could work for street photography, since the Leica SL2, with the smaller Summicron SL lenses and a nifty little Sigma 45mm, f/2.8 lens could make it seem — well, almost — like I could walk around with the invisibility of an M. And while Miami promised bright colors, isn’t the perfect answer to that confounding expectations by carrying the excellent new Monochrom?

I wisely came to my senses and brought along the M10, and I’m glad I did. While the new Monochrom surpasses it in the size of its sensor (41 mp vs. 24), and the SL2 is in a class of its own, both in terms of a 47 megapixel sensor and amazing color handling, the Leica M10 is as perfect an M camera as ever existed, and using it one could shoot from the hip, in crowds, with nary an eyebrow raised. Well, maybe one eyebrow raised.

We are intimately familiar with the M10 because it has lived in our hands in walks around our city, although over the past year, I suppose, I have carried a Monochrom more often. As a photographer I have what some might call a problem, though I can’t quite see it that way: I am equally in love with black and white and color photography. Obviously, when carrying any digital camera other than the Monochrom, once can have it either way, and carrying the M10 last weekend, I was glad to be able to process some images in black and white, for that’s how I saw them when I took them.

The M10, we already knew, is versatile and discrete, but spending the weekend with it reaffirmed what we believed from the moment we clutched its lithe body in January 2017: it really is a perfect street camera. Using the hyperfocal distance, and having practiced just enough walking through crowds with the camera held as flat as possible at the bottom of my chest, keeping eye contact with people even as I surprise them by pressing the shutter, most of the time you can get away with taking people’s picture without them freaking out. Though, of course, sometimes you get caught.

If ever there were a combination of camera and city that worked perfectly, it is the M10 and Miami. Sure, HC-B’s Leica iii and Paris in the 30s was a pretty good combo too, and Rui Palha owns Lisbon with his Leica Q. But given how bright and colorful Miami is, how big are the crowds along the beach and in the Wynwood Arts District with its famous graffiti walls, the city and camera combine like rice and beans. In certain moments, when a monochrome image is best, the image can be living poetry. Shooting the M10 in Miami is the Platonic ideal of Leica photography.

Of course it makes sense that what is widely believed to be the most successful seller of Leica cameras in America — the Leica Store Miami — is in Coral Gables. Fans of destination photo workshops take note: this is an ideal city to participate in one, and happily David Farkas, Kirsten Vignes, Peter Dooling and the legendary Josh Lehrer continuously play host with such genius photographers as Arthur Meyerson and even Alex Webb using the Leica Store as their hub.

Miami is a feast for the eyes, especially northern eyes weary of winter with bodies in need of Vitamin D. How much camera does one need, under these circumstances? There are rumors that Leica is planning on upping the megapixels in the M10 while retaining that edition, perhaps calling it the M10R.

One doesn’t really need more megapixels for street photography. Landscape, sure. But street photography? Not so much. We look forward to future winter visits to colorful Miami, with the perfect street camera in hand. For now at least, that remains the Leica M10.

On Leica’s M10 Monochrom, And The Apogee Of Digital Black and White Photography

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 26, 2020 by johnbuckley100
Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summicron

It has been a long time, but I can still remember the smell of the dark room, the odd feeling of being suffused in red light even as a print lay soaking in solution. I don’t miss processing black and white images, the chemical reek, the wrinkled fingertips, because fortunately digital photography makes it almost effortless to convert an image from color to black and white. And yet, since 2012, there has been another way of taking monochrome images. From the first moment Leica announced the Monochrom, which takes only black and white pictures, its purity appealed to me. It literally changed my life as a photographer.

I took the picture above the first day I laid my hands on what has become known as the M9 Monochrom, released in September 2012. For those who followed my journey using the original Monochrom – a journey so profound I wrote about it at several junctures — you may remember what a joy it was when the Monochrom was updated in April 2015 to what became known as the M Monochrom. Some Monochrom shooters resisted that transition, but I didn’t — I embraced the M Monochrom. Over time it became my favorite camera.

Those two cameras opened up an unforeseen dimension in my passion for photography. It’s not simply that the images each produced, coupled with Leica’s glorious lenses, rekindled my love of black and white photography. Their very limitations forced me to think about the act of photography in a different way. With a Leica rangefinder, you are already dealing with certain limitations — manual focus, until recently no ability to shoot with telephoto lenses. Taking away the color option was another, even more severe limitation. And yet it opened a world, and a way of seeing. And now, seven-plus years into the journey, the new M10 Monochrom has seemingly delivered the apogee of monochrome photography, the initial promise of that first black-and-white-only camera realized in what I can only describe as a thrilling manner. Before I get to this third generation Monochrom, let me tell you a little more about its two big brothers. The first was a poet, and the second was an athlete.

Leica M9 Monochrom, and 90mm Summicron

In 2014, I was fortunate to travel with my family to Botswana on a photographic safari, and I brought both the M-240 — the 2013 successor to the Leica M9 — and the M9 Monochrom. I shot color with the M-240, which having made the transition from a CCD to a CMOS sensor meant, for the first time with an M camera, being able to use long lenses via an adaptor. The Monochrom, however, was limited to a 135mm focal length. Because it was built on the M9 chassis and had a CCD sensor, it had no Live View and hence no way to use Leica’s superb telephoto lenses from the discontinued R platform. I quickly learned this wasn’t actually a limitation. I shot the image above with a 90mm M Summicron and the black and white images that combo captured are the only ones I choose to display on my photo site, or on my walls. It is as if, as a photographer, I visited Botswana with only black and white film, because the only images that matter to me, honestly, are the ones I returned with in monochrome.

I said that the original Monochrom was a poet, and I can’t analytically describe why other than to say there was something dreamy about the way it rendered images. The next generation Monochrom — the Monochrom M — was, as I said, more like an athlete. It happens that way sometimes in families. Because all Leicas Monochroms skip the step where a Bayer filter adds color pixels to the brew, they are able to serve up a purer distillation of grey shades, which means better high ISO shooting — with comparatively little noise or banding — than their color competitors. The second Monochrom had even better high ISO performance than the first one, and like the M-240 camera from which it was adapted, it was a workhorse. It could take long lenses. It seemed sturdier in the hand. The pictures it captured were amazing in their tonality and dynamic range, though as always with a Monochrom, because there were no color channels at all, if you blew out the highlights, there was nothing left, no data hiding in a red or green channel. (Another limitation of shooting with the Monochrom, and this one with no upside.)

Leica Monochrom M, with Leica R 70-180 zoom

In the summer of 2015, I brought the Monochrom M out West with me and used it with that same R telephoto lens that worked so well with the M-240. The picture above of Jackson Hole’s Sleeping Indian rock formation was shot at the 180mm focal length, and I have it in my office blown up to approximately 30×40. Few people would notice the difference between the original Monochrom images and those of its successor, which makes sense since they had much in common, including Leica lenses. It was when you were working with the files in Lightroom that you noticed a difference — the Monochrom M files in many ways superior to the original (better high ISO, at least as good dynamic range), but also missing a certain… something. Even as some Leica photographers bemoaned what was lost from the transition to a CMOS sensor, I put that out of my mind and concentrated instead on how much more versatile the M Monochrom was, how good it was in low light. It became, in so many ways, the camera I used more than any other, ever. Certainly, in 2019, the four-year old Monochrom M was the camera I clutched when leaving the house.

Leica Monochrom M, and 35mm Summilux

Cartier-Bresson referred to his Leica as an extension of his eye, and for months there last year, mine certainly seemed to be an extension of my arm. When I had the pleasure of spending a day with a man who is, perhaps, HC-B’s spiritual son, Rui Palha, I was able to wander the streets of Lisbon looking at the city the way he sees it, which is to say, entirely in black and white. While I had enjoyed using the M10 in the bright colors and sunsets of the Alhambra in Grenada, because I was with Rui — as poetic a monochrome photographer as there is on the planet — my mind jettisoned those color channels just like my camera had, and as we set out into the streets, my M10 was miles away, cozy in a seaside room. My beloved M Monochrom was in my hand.

Leica M Monochrom, 35mm Summilux

I don’t know how many pictures I took with that M Monochrom, but in the 55 months I owned it, it kept its position as my go-to camera even as Leica produced a number of new camera platforms, the SL (which I began using) and the Q, which I resisted. As it became obvious a new Monochrom had to be coming sometime — Leica had long missed its previous interval of 2.5 years between Monochrom — what I hoped for, honestly, was just an upgrade like the one between the M-240 and M10: a slightly smaller camera with an updated sensor, a further refinement of the Leica M digital rangefinder. I wanted the ability to travel with both the M10 and the M10 Monochrom and only have to bring one battery charger. I had zero expectations that Leica would boost the resolving power of the M10 Monochrom sensor from 24 megapixels to 40. Which was why the announcement earlier this month of just what the M10 Monochrom would be was like being hit by a thunderclap.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summicron

The first picture at the top of this post, and the ones just above and below this paragraph, were taken Friday when, to my surprise, I wandered out of my office at lunchtime and found the city streets crowded with demonstrators. They became an opportunity for me to test out what kind of street camera the new M10 Monochrom really is.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summicron

What was immediately notable about shooting with the M10 Monochrom was how delightful it is in the grip. (I remember receiving the M10 the day before Trump’s inauguration and using it two days later at the Women’s March, and it was a tactile revelation, a sense of a volume reduction to the Golden Mean — even as it was also clear what an upgrade in sensors the M10 had over the M-240.) By moving to a 40 megapixel sensor, it’s perhaps an unfair question to ask how the M10 Monochrom compares to its predecessor, but I should note that, while 35mm is my most comfortable focal length, having those extra megapixels has encouraged me to use the 28mm Summicron, and crop where necessary; I have, it now seems, pixels to spare. If I hadn’t been using that 28mm lens, I never would have gotten the first picture on this post, nor the one that concludes it below.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 35mm Summilux

The M10 Monochrom’s fastest shutter speed is 1/4000th of a second, but it has been grey in Washington these past few days and I was able to shoot the above wide open at ISO 160 — down from a base ISO of 320 on the M Monochrom — which protected highlights. I have been curious, at times, about the way the Maestro processor determines ISO when using Aperture Priority and Auto ISO, as I have over the past few days of testing. There were images that, had I not been using Auto ISO, I would have switched the external ISO dial (yay) to 400 or 800, only to discover that the camera’s brain decided the image was to be shot at ISO 160. I came to understand – duh – the Auto ISO is biased toward shooting at the widest possible dynamic range, which means the lowest usable ISO.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 35mm Summilux

I remember setting the ISO dial to 400 for the above shot, which was at f/5.6 @1/1500th. I’m curious whether the Auto ISO would have shot this at 160 and a faster shutter speed. I do know, however, that if you use Auto ISO when out at night, and take a shot you never would have even considered with the first-generation Monochrom, you won’t be disappointed. I won’t tax your patience with a series of images of dark alleys, but trust me when I say that shooting at ISO 10,000 produced images literally without noise.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 35mm Summilux

The above image was shot at ISO 400, on a corner so dark I could barely use the guy on the right’s glasses as the reference point for focusing. On my computer screen, it is clear how much latitude there is for making it as light as it’s posted here, or meaningfully darker but still with the two men distinct against the ambient lighting. It’s stunningly clean.

So, is the M10 Monochrom, with its amazing high ISO performance and subtle tonality in limited light, worth getting for that feature alone? No, of course not. At least not any more than one would buy a Noctilux simply because of its low-light performance; you get a Noctilux because you want that special look it provides, and the same is true for any Monochrom and this one in particular. In 2015, David Farkas of the Leica Store Miami did a test pitting the Leica M-240 against both the M Monochrom and the M9 Monochrom. His conclusion was the M-240 images converted into black and white were wonderful — but the M Monochrom’s were better at high ISO performance and dynamic range. I believe the smart testers — Jono Slack, Sean Reid and others — who say the M10 Monochrom has a likely two-stop advantage over the M10. Which translates into highly usable images shot at ISO 12,500 or even higher.

So does one actually, you know, need a 40 megapixel digital rangefinder than only shoots black and white? Of course not. But if the tonality of black and white images is your thing, I can’t imagine a camera shooting a shot like the one below — or better put, producing a file like the one below — with the same latitude and malleability in post-processing.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summicron

It is absolutely true that I could have converted the below shot from one taken by the M10 and gotten an image that would look very much like this. Grey as the day was, it’s still daylight.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summicron

The question is whether I would have seen the image in black and white, given the colorful Chinatown arch. By deliberately setting out today to take black and white images, the photo previewed in my minds’ eye had a very different set of values. Clearly one aspect of shooting with a Monochrom is an absolute embrace of the gestalt of black and white. But if black and white is your thing, and much of the time it is mine, then the M10 Monochrom is the best tool I know of for achieving your goal, short of going all in on a medium format or larger sensor.

It is said that because of the way the 40 megapixel Leica M10 Monochrom utilizes its pixel density without undermining it by first converting the image to color and then, in post-production, stripping the color away, it’s the equivalent of a 60 megapixel sensor or even higher. I’m not an engineer, but I can tell you that the detail visible on my computer screen when processing an M10 Monochrom file is like nothing else I’ve ever witnessed. I am just getting a handle on how detailed is what’s rendered by the 47 mp SL2, but early indications are that the M10 Monochrom renders even more visible detail.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summilux

We started with an image from Friday’s lunchtime walk smack into a demonstration in the Nation’s Capital. If properly rendered by Tulip Frenzy, you should be able to see significant detail in the frieze above the nuns — even though the image was shot at only f/5.6. We end with this picture from this afternoon’s New Year parade put on by D.C.’s Chinese community. On my computer screen, I can read the signage on the parade reviewing stand, and glean every nuance of the painted archway. It’s impressive. No, it’s actually pretty amazing!

If black and white photography is why you get out of bed in the morning, the M10 Monochrom is the camera for you.

John Buckley’s images can be found on Instagram @tulip_frenzy.

In Rui Palha’s Lisbon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 7, 2019 by johnbuckley100
All images Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summilux FLE.
John Buckley’s Instagram is @tulip_frenzy.
His photo site is John Buckley In Black and White and Color.

There are very few photographers who have as complete a grasp of, or association with, a single city as Rui Palha has with Lisbon. Sure, many of HC-B’s images of Paris are what first come to mind when you think of him, but Cartier-Bresson was equally associated with Mexico, China, Spain, even New York. Rui has pictures from other places besides Lisbon, but to those who follow the world’s preeminent street photographers, Rui Palha is Lisbon.

Rui Palha in his element.

He’s a joyful, engaging task master, curious what his new friend is interested in before heading to various neighborhoods, clear at the outset that he expects to see, and critique, his work.

Lisbon, we learn, is a city of hills and textures, stairs covered in graffiti, squares inlaid with patterned stone, street car tracks that reflect the afternoon light, pigeons everywhere, buildings festooned with tile. Though its literature is rich, there is to Lisbon an air of Garcia Marquez, of magical realism within portions that have seen better days, even as Rui would take me to places that are modernist and futuristic. It has a Metro and a station designed by Calatrava, and the possibilities for picture making are endless. Why, a master such as Rui could create a world from these possibilities. Could I?

If, as Rui prefers, you choose your background for the image first (another thing he has in common with HC-B), waiting for people to come on stage, as it were, there are neighborhoods in Lisbon like few others, and his work shows he knows them all. He’ll gladly take the Metro or drive through neighborhoods filled with people, but lacking the required stage setting, he moves on. Like all street photographers, he wants people in his images, but people alone aren’t enough, and in Lisbon, you don’t have to settle for any background less than the ideal.

Friends have left tickets for him at the Metallica show that night, but he doesn’t really want to go. He takes me near the site of the Metallica show anyway, to that area of the city with its Calatrava-designed train station, modern and mysterious with interesting possibilities for photos. It’s magical, the possibilities for photos in Rui Palha’s Lisbon. Ancient and modern, textured and streamlined, dark and light.

There are some cities made beautiful in prior centuries that rest on their laurels. Lisbon is not content to leave things as they were, to simply preserve under aspic what was built in the halcyon days of empire. It’s a charming, living city still in formation from the center to the docks. A culturally rich milieu, with book stores for readers and thinkers whose imagination is not limited by living in a comparatively small country on the water’s edge of bigger empires, of Europe.

On this day, as Rui takes a new friend around, he keeps a Leica Q suspended on his upper body by a small leather half-case and straps, but it’s only later that we see that, even as he so casually lifts his camera to his eyes to take pictures, he really is a master. My pictures below are pretty good; Rui’s version of the same scene — even granting that he knew just where to stand — is breathtaking.

A gentleman comes up to him. “Are you Rui Palha?” He knows him for what he is, Lisbon’s finest chronicler of the street. As it turns out, the man who greets him is one of Lisbon’s finest painters, and they had never before met.

Rui Palha is a poet in the camera sensor’s etching of black and white. He’s quite vigorous despite a back that is sore, leading the occasional photo workshops, including one this past March for the Leica Store Miami. (Hint: keep an eye on that calendar.) The next day, prominent photographers from Spain are coming to greet him over coffee, for if you are a street photographer, and coming to Lisbon, Rui looms like a giant, the man with the keys to his city.

Late in the day, in the bright sunshine and tourist ambiance of Chiado, we prepare to part. “Make sure you show me your five best pictures,” he says, and then reconsiders. “No, ten. Send me ten to look at.”

A maker of gorgeous images in a gorgeous city, and one of the nicest, most generous people you will ever meet.

Here are a dozen images, Rui, and an extra one of you in your element. How’d I do, my friend?

The Alhambra by Night and Day: A Photo Essay

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on July 2, 2019 by johnbuckley100
All color images Leica M10; all black and white images Leica Monochrom

As everyone living in the continent he sailed to knows by heart, in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Less well known to some of us is that, in that same year, the Christian Reconquista of Spain was completed upon the defeat of the last Moorish sultan. The Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella was peacefully handed the keys to the Alhambra, which the Nasrid emirs of Granada had built over the previous centuries. It remains the greatest example of Moorish architecture in Spain. We found it captivating.

Today, the Alhambra is the second-most visited attraction in Europe, even as it is limited to fewer than 9000 tickets each day. Having now spent time in both the Andalusian blast furnace of a June day and on an absolutely sweltering evening, it’s easy to understand why. What follows is meant to be neither an historical summary nor a visual tour, but simply a series of photos from both excursions, some in color, some in black and white, showcasing what was, to us, one of the most amazing places we’ve ever visited.

Visiting the Alhambra today is not like going to a Mayan ruin or Angkor Wat. It’s not like going to the Taj Mahal. It feels alive — from its gardens in the vast Generalife, to its fountains and ever-present flowing water. You can feel the presence of the magnificent Nasrid artisans and craftsmen who rendered the walls with poetry. One remains grateful for the wisdom of the later Christian kings who — contrary to their treatment of the Aztec and Maya — respectfully preserved the culture that came before them.

The three Nasrid palaces, as well as the hillside summer palace over the Generalife, look out onto Granada, from which the Alhambra was a separate royal town. The distance from the modern city isn’t far, but it’s a separate world. Visiting with hundreds of others at the same time leaves no space for contemplation, and it was too hot to imagine doing this anyway. But if ever there were a place about which one could say he felt transported to another time, it’s the Alhambra.

It’s exceedingly hard for a photographer to maneuver for position among the crowds and find a shot. Capturing the delicacy of the craftsmanship seems almost futile, but over the two different tours, we were able to take a number of pictures worth keeping.

There is such a blend of styles apparent over the transition from one palace to the next, it remains a miracle of sorts that neither Ferdinand and Isabella — the latter of whom chose to be buried here, before her surviving husband moved her to their mausoleum in Granada below — nor their heir Charles V obliterated the palaces they conquered. While there was a long period of disrepair, and at one point Napoleon trained his cannons on it, more than 500 years later, the Alhambra is preserved. In fact, you can visualize Moorish architecture as a beautiful undercoating to all of Andalusian culture, making it special even in a broader Southern European territory not lacking for cultural delights.

It’s hard to say which element within the interlocking palaces will stay with us the longest. The various ceilings of the Hall of the Abenerrajes, the last palace to be built before the Nasrid’s collapse, deserve monumental status in their own right.

We left in early evening and had just enough time to make it across to the Albaicin to look back upon the Alhambra in the fading sunlight. It’s a magical place.

We’re grateful to Blanca Espigares Rooney of Tours by Locals, who was our friendly and erudite guide for our group’s night visit, and in fact, her family were among those who have lived in the Alhambra over the past century. Thanks also to Maria Garcia of Viator who managed to conduct a 4:30 PM tour on the hottest of days navigating the gardens to keep us cool.

Further Adventures In Black and White

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 29, 2019 by johnbuckley100

A few weeks ago I wrote about my revelation — honestly, it was an epiphany — that the way to think about “black and white photography” was to ignore the description of it as “monochrome,” and instead to press down really hard on the blacks and the whites. Simple stuff, obvious to many, an eye opener for me.

My rediscovery of taking black and white pictures, as I have mentioned before, came when Leica introduced, in 2012, the Monochrom, a digital camera that records images without adding an array of reds, greens and blues to the initial capture of blacks, whites and grey. Prior to the introduction of the Monochrom, seven years ago this coming September, I had not understood that digital photography is based on an initial imprint of black and white on the sensor, and that a gazillionth of a second later, what is typically known as a Bayer array of color is pressed down upon it. (Engineers and sensor experts may have a more exact description, but that’s the way most people should think of this process that takes place in tiny fractions of a second. Color is, typically, added to the black and white picture first pressed upon the sensor.) And yet the Monochrom, with its reference to monochromatic photography, really is a misnomer, given everything we’ve learned.

If you follow street photographers on Instagram, surely you’ve noticed images like the ones above and below, where there is almost a chiaroscuro effect, deep blacks next to bright light. It’s a thing. This approach bears a relationship to all of the black and white images we’ve looked at over the years. Yet the actual strategy of capturing contrapuntal blacks and whites — with entire regions of the image blacked out — is, I think, something that has at least been emphasized in the digital era, and championed by a new cohort of amazing street photographers.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had gone to a photo workshop taught by the estimable Alan Schaller who is, in my opinion, the strongest exemplar of this approach. Instagram seems to agree, given his hundreds of thousands of followers. In the previous post, I alluded to his technique of dialing down exposure compensation so that images are radically underexposed, thus enabling darks to get darker, with what remains in the light intensified. It is, to my eyes, an attractive approach. Practical, if you shoot a Monochrom, which is brutally punishing if you overexpose what’s in the light. But as attested by all these pictures you’ve been seeing taken in subways and tunnels, where the light/dark juxtaposition can be, and often is, stunning, this is not a trick, a gimmick, a fad. It’s not even a trick like emphasizing bokeh with fast lenses (or a clever iPhone), which can get tiresome if overdone. This technique is simply an intensification of timeless black and white photography — itself a timeless art form — and in many ways its apogee.

There is drama in black and white photography if what is dark and what is light are each dialed up in opposition. Polarization is terrible for society, but man, does it work in photography. In the film and darkroom era, much of this manipulation of darks and lights took place when the enlarger was burning the image onto a piece of treated paper prior to its chemical bath. In the digital age, we’re given more leeway to capture it this way inside the camera, in these malleable, deeply forgiving files, with the picture’s actualization coming in post-processing in Lightroom. (Gary Winogrand once casually talked about how photography lets you make mistakes, and things could still look good, but digital photography offers an entirely wider permission structure.)

Penumbral photography, as Nabokov would probably call it, is when the counterpoint between light and dark falls in shadow. And so we go out into the street searching for shadows, for the drama of light falling in grids and patterns. We don’t really know why this is harder to achieve in color, given that one reason we all so love Caravaggio is because of the color that emerges from the gloom, not just the light. But the answer is, I guess, that in photography, it is just easier to make this work within the limitations of black and white.

When photographers typically are complimented by civilians, the nice, easy thing they hear is, “You have a good eye.” In recent weeks, I’ve been going out into the city seeking places where there is the clearest possible delineation between light and dark. That’s what I’ve been looking for. It’s not just a function of seeking out content and subjects that matter, though of course they do. The desire is to find light, and dark, in a formation where a human emerges from that meeting place.

Along the way, we’ve made pictures that would, six weeks ago, still have been fun. But by newly emphasizing what is black, things have, to our eyes, simply gotten more interesting. The picture above is something I would have enjoyed taking anytime over the last few years. I probably would have been pleased with the composition. But because it is now not taken as a “monochrome” image, but as black and white, I think it moves higher up in my own list of favorite images.

I would have been happy to have taken the above image because of the way it simply captures the baby looking at the camera, the little fella with the beret standing to the right, the reflection to the left. Yet because I went into the process thinking anew, because each of the 10 zones of black, white and grey have at least some representation, the picture comes out, to my eye, more interesting.

One of my favorite photographers, Rene Burri, is perhaps most famous for his pictures of people taken from above, freezing them in time. I love the idea of standing unseen and capturing the drama within the diorama before my eyes. Emphasizing the light and dark, though, opens up new possibilities. And of course, the little girl in white going down the steps makes the picture.

“Good things happen when light meets dark” is an aphorism for photographers, whether they shoot in color or black and white. Thinking of this in a wholly new way, thinking in the binary of BLACK and WHITE with shades of grey the connective tissue, the emollient; understanding that, as Schaller put it, there is no bad light, if you just think in terms of the contrast between shades of it, is liberating. We are seeing the world in a new way, and we find that thrilling.

If you wish to come along the journey with me, my Instagram is @tulip_frenzy. And if you’d like to see more work, my photography site is entitled John Buckley: In Black and White and Color.

Understanding Black and White Photography In a New Way

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 5, 2019 by johnbuckley100

All photographs taken with the Leica Monochrom

When I was a young photography enthusiast and learning to take pictures with an SLR camera, I loved black and white photography principally because I could develop and print photos in my school’s crude darkroom. I had no real appreciation of black and white per se, no consciousness of tones of grey, or to “thinking in black and white.” Black and white was the medium of journalism, and we all saw pictures every day in newspapers and magazines. I didn’t trouble to think about monochrome photography in the great tradition of an art form I barely understood. I was aware that if photography was “art,” surely its greatest artists all shot in black and white, and the classic pictures I saw — Paul Strand lived one town away from me — looked better than what was on the front page each day of the New York Daily News. Naturally, as soon as I was in a position to take pictures and pay to have them developed, I began shooting Kodachrome. And when many years later I got serious again about photography, I exulted in Fuji Velvia film, with its deep blues and reds.

It was only relatively late in the process of rediscovering photography that I recaptured my early love of black and white images, only this time for a completely different reason. I had begun studying in earnest many great photographers, ranging from Cartier-Bresson to Ansel Adams. For the first time, I became conscious of tones, of the minute differences in what Adams divined as a 10-point scale between white and black.

If there was one thunderclap moment, an epiphany when my life as a photographer changed, it was when Leica did the craziest thing, producing, in 2012, a camera called the Monochrom. The Leica Monochrom is digital, but it does not record photos with color. Walking out the door with it is like leaving home with only black and white film in your camera. Once I began using a Monochrom, more and more, I began visualizing images in black and white, began to focus on luminance values, not chromatic information. About half of all the pictures I took were now in black and white — street photography, landscapes. It didn’t matter. I began instinctively to understand the concept of tonal values.

Although there is a wide range of color photographers whose work I love in part because of their color palate — Alex Webb, William Eggleston, Steve McCurry, and in particular, Saul Leiter — the photographers I wanted to study were the ones who shot in black and white. Sebastião Salgado was an inspiration not only for his humanism, but because the pictures he took, even scenes of jungles and flora and fauna, looked so much cooler in black and white than they ever would have in color. I became a huge fan of a local D.C. photographer named Astrid Riecken whose use of chiaroscuro on streets I knew filled me with inspiration and awe — how did she do that? Through Black+White Photography magazine I learned about a young photographer from London named Alan Schaller whose work is simply extraordinary. When the Leica Store DC hosted a two-day photo workshop with him in February, I went.

It would be unfair to Alan, from whom 12 of us learned an enormous amount, to relate what he taught us here. Study his photos. Attend one of his workshops. I’ll say only this. He got me to understand in a way I never had before that black and white photography is just that. Black and white. Blacks. Whites. Shades in between. Accentuating any of those elements is one key to making a memorable photograph.

I know this sounds obvious. And it’s not precisely what he taught us. He had very specific advice for us on both how to take pictures and how to process them in Lightroom. I don’t think I’d ever previously understood how using exposure compensation to amp up the darkness in an image puts emphasis on what is in the light. And of course, once I thought that through, I went back to photographs I’d collected, to work I’d worshipped, and I began to get it, began to understand “black and white photography” specifically not as monochrome photography. B+W as the combination of intense blacks, intense whites, and shades of grey in between.

Since that workshop, the weekends have been rainy. I haven’t been able to test the techniques I learned at that workshop at the magic intersection of bright afternoon sunshine and the shadows caused by buildings. Nonetheless, I’ve been out there, exploring. Taking some bad photographs. But also photographs that astonish me because I can see things in a way I never did before.

I’ve had to take a number of photos indoors. In so doing, though, I’ve gotten a much better understanding of the magic you can create accentuating the blacks and the whites in an image. And new ways of exploring tonality: the range of shades that Ansel Adams would think of as Zones 3-7 are all the more satisfying if you anchor them with Zones 1 & 2, and Zones 8-10.

I’m just getting started. Learning how to see in black and white, which is what I thought I’d begun to do when I purchased a Monochrom six and a half years ago, is just the beginning. Learning to see in BLACK and WHITE is an incredible discovery, and I’m grateful to Shaller for having gotten me to think this way.

John Buckley is a photographer and writer in Washington, D.C. whose images can be seen at John Buckley: In Black and White and Color.

Washington, D.C.’s High Heel Race Keeps Getting Bigger And Better

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2016 by johnbuckley100

high-heel-race-2016We first took our Leica Monochrom and Noctilux down to 17th Street to photograph D.C.’s epic High Heel Race, a drag queen extravaganza taking place each year the week of Halloween, in 2014.  At that time, we published a photo gallery with images that caused a sufficiently positive stir — one of the pics was a winner of the Exposed DC annual contest — that we went back last year and photographed the event again, publishing what we thought were even stronger images.  And so last year, when we launched our sister site, Tulip Frenzy Photography, we made prominent among its galleries one called “High Heel Racers: D.C.’s Ladies Of The Night.” There was no way, therefore, that we could miss this year’s running of the race, and as the pictures below should indicate, the event is only getting better.

high-heel-race-2016-6high-heel-race-2016-13high-heel-race-2016-7high-heel-race-2016-14high-heel-race-2016-17high-heel-race-2016-8high-heel-race-2016-10tfrenzy-photo-high-heel-race-2016-supplement-2high-heel-race-2016-16high-heel-race-2016-5tfrenzy-photo-high-heel-race-2016-supplementhigh-heel-race-2016-4high-heel-race-2016-15high-heel-race-2016-3high-heel-race-2016-2

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