Leica Year Doldrums

I started the Leica year with a lot of excitement and commitment. The usual ‘new thing’ rush. And now, I am in the dip – the valley of death. I think I have been in this valley for over 3 months now, and am only now accepting it.

What do I do from here? Try again? Or let go of this project? And accept that this was one more project I am abandoning?

The first 2 weeks of my Leica year project were great. I actually hit all goals. But after that everything just died. The only rule I’ve been able to keep – take photos with the Leica and film only. And the reason I’ve kept this rule – I don’t take photos any more.

It’s not that I don’t want to. But I can’t. And I don’t know what to shoot.

Over the past 4 months, these are the problems I faced:

1. I am taking a very long time to get used to the 35mm focal length. I just crave for the 50mm. But is this because I don’t have the 50mm? Is this just GAS?

2. It took me a while to learn to focus this camera and learn about zone focusing. I found most of my photos initially were way out of focus especially wide open.

3. I under-appreciated how low the depth of field on film is compared to digital. This compared with shooting in low light, wide open apertures and no knowledge of zone focusing = way out of focus photos.

4. I don’t know what to shoot. I have always been attracted to landscape photography. A film camera combined with a baby at home and full time work means I need to shoot whatever is around – city life / home life / suburban life / cats / dogs / street asphalt and traffic lights / whatever. This is very difficult and I don’t know what to shoot. I need to learn.

5. Rolls of film wasted because I didn’t load them properly. Demoralizing not to mention waste of money. How can I get better at film photography if I can’t even load the camera properly?

6. Utter fails in developing – because I wasn’t concentrating on details enough. Developer too warm. Not enough washing. Ugh.

7. The manual light meter part of my challenge – I just cannot judge my exposure settings well. Most of the time I am way off the mark. And combine this with out of focus photos and no attention to detail!

Yeah, this Leica year is much tougher than I thought. It’s a steep learning curve – which I’m just slipping off of – all the time.

Or maybe it’s not me that is the problem? Maybe it’s that the Leica M6 camera just hates me?

All I know is that I’m miserable. Miserable because I want to take photos but I cannot. Because I cannot make myself. Oh, I carry the camera everywhere! But I do not take any photos

Maybe, my problem is this: Am I enjoying wallowing in self pity so much that I cannot get off my bum?

Maybe my problem is that I am not carving out a unique time just for taking photos with my Leica?

So this is what I will try this week

A 1 hr date with my camera – just my camera and me. And my phone (for the Lightmeter app – yeah it’s a kind of cheating – that’s a post for some other time). Maybe some exclusive one on one time and my camera will hate me less?

Wish me luck folks!

Potted plant

Potted plant

Potted plant, Saratoga, CA

Kodak Tri-X 400. From the Leica year challenge.
Slighty overdeveloped: Developer – Kodak D-76 6.15min at 80F, Kodak Rapid Fixer with hardener (5 min at 80F).

Technical Details:

Camera: Leica M6 TTL Chrome
Exposure: 1/125 @ f/5.6
Focal Length: 35mm
Lens: Leica Summilux 35mm
ISO: 400
Date: May 2014

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Morning bench

Morning Bench

Morning bench, Santa Clara, CA

Kodak Tri-X 400. From the Leica year challenge.
Slighty overdeveloped: Developer – Kodak D-76 6.15min at 80F, Kodak Rapid Fixer with hardener (5 min at 80F).

Technical Details:

Camera: Leica M6 TTL Chrome
Exposure: 1/125 @ f/5.6
Focal Length: 35mm
Lens: Leica Summilux 35mm
ISO: 400
Date: May 2014

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Waiting at the carwash

Waiting at the carwash

Waiting at the carwash, Santa Clara, CA

Kodak Tri-X 400. From the Leica year challenge.
Slighty overdeveloped: Developer – Kodak D-76 6.15min at 80F, Kodak Rapid Fixer with hardener (5 min at 80F).

Technical Details:

Camera: Leica M6 TTL Chrome
Exposure: 1/125 @ f/5.6
Focal Length: 35mm
Lens: Leica Summilux 35mm
ISO: 400
Date: May 2014

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The Leica Year – Prelude

The LMMM challenge I set myself earlier this year was an attempt to figure out if I wanted to challenge myself with the Leica Year. Yes! I am ready (almost).

The source / inspiration for this challenge is a post by Mike Johnston in his TOP blog: ‘The Leica as Teacher’ post. Top make things harder for myself, I am combining this with the ‘Train your brain to guess exposure’ – exercise again set forth by Mike.

Here is a summary of rules / goals I plan to abide by:
1. Leica year is from March 24, 2014 to March 24, 2015.
2. Use one Leica Rangefinder for this one year- I bought myself a Leica M6 TTL.
2. Use the camera with only one lens, single focal length the whole year – Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 is my choice.
3. Shoot only one type of black and white film – Tri-X 400
4. Develop my own film
5. Pick standard developer, standard time – Kodak D-76, (development time to be set later)
6. Do not use light meter for exposure – I will use my M6 with battery removed.
7. Carry camera everywhere.
8. Shoot 2-6 film rolls per week
9. In a notebook write down exposure settings , and maybe scene details for every shot
10. Proof roll films and file them in a notebook. File exposure notes as well.
11. Get 1-6 work prints per roll
12. Every 5-10 rolls or so, get a ‘nice print’ made

Another blog I found helped me formulate my goals and what I plan to do: Tripodplaces.

What do I get out of this?

Here is what Mike says:
“A year with a single Leica and a single lens, looking at light and ignoring color, will teach you as much about actually seeing photographs as three years in any photo school, and as much as ten or fifteen years (or more) of mucking about buying and selling and shopping for gear like the average hobbyist.”

and from here:

“If you’re a younger photographer, you may also have heard tales you found hard to believe, of grizzled old pros and hard-bitten photojournalists working in the days before light meters were common, guessing their exposures by looking at the light. If you’ve grown up with automatically-coupled, multi-segmented in-camera metering, letting the camera set itself and barely paying attention to what was going on, such feats may seem as unreal and unlikely as the exploits of Hercules.”

“…GSOTPANWASTOTZSS …”

“What is it? Essentially, it’s a way to train yourself to guess exposures, just like those semi-mythical pros from days of yore. Don’t guffaw—read on. If you’re willing to do the work to train your brain, guessing can actually be an appropriate substitute for more technically precise methodologies.”

and

“What’s so great about training your brain to guess exposures is, rather, the way it heightens your conscious awareness of what you’re doing, and your intuitive feeling for light. You’ve made yourself into a sort of servo-mechanism. As you go back and forth from guessing the light to inspecting your negs, guessing the light to inspecting your negs, you quickly perceive—visually, not based on numbers in a book or computer—what exposure each type of light requires. You acquire a real sense of how to handle difficult scenes. Your confidence grows and grows. ”

and finally,

“What’s really required is awareness. Either by taking notes or just remembering, you have to be fully mindful of what you’ve done—and then, of what you get”.

I like that. I would love to become one of those ‘semi-mythical pros’ who’s not mythical, and who’s not a pro! But I will settle for learning to be a better photographer – however much the ‘better’ might be compared to my skill now.