I want to tell you the story why I bought a Leica camera.
I. I want to be like HENRI
When I first started to shoot street photography — sooner or later (of course) you discover Henri Cartier-Bresson, the master.
I then wondered– if I want to make photos like Cartier-Bresson, what camera should I use? Of course, looking at him — he shot with a Leica. So I had the impression: If I bought a Leica, I can (finally) unlock my inner-potential to make photos like Henri Cartier-Bresson.
II. I just need to eat ramen for a year
When I first saw how much a Leica cost, I shit my pants. I wondered to myself:
How can I ever afford that? And how can normal human beings afford that?
I did some back of the envelope calculations.
It was simple: if I just ate ramen for a year, I could afford one.
Or I could play the stock market, make a shitload of money, and finally buy a Leica and solve all of my life’s problems.
III. I wanted to conquer my fears in street photography
I was a timid street photographer at age 18. I was an extrovert and social — yet the fear of photographing a stranger was like death to me. I started to shoot with my Canon Rebel XT 350D with a Sigma 18-200mm lens. I shot all my street photos at 200mm — because I was afraid to interact with people.
I thought if I just bought a Leica, I would no longer have fear in the streets.
IV. How I afforded my first Leica
Fast-forward, I get laid off my job (age 22, in 2011) and get about 5000 USD from my company (Demand Media) as a part of my ‘severance’ package. + stock options. I borrow 3000 USD from my Mom (who took out a 0% APR loan) to buy a used Leica M9 (5000 USD) + 35mm f/1.4 Summilux non-ASPH (3000 USD). I achieved my dream.
The first week was pure bliss. I felt fucking cool. I finally had a Leica. I was no longer a ‘wanna-be’ with a DSLR. I had the heritage and legacy of Henri Cartier-Bresson in my DNA. I was finally able to achieve my fullest potential (or at least I thought).
But what happened next? Eventually, I lost inspiration. I started to realize that my photos weren’t that different from my photos on my Canon 5D. I also realized that the Leica was heavier than I imagined, and I was still scared shitless shooting street photography.
V. I’ve changed
Now, my ambitions are a bit more modest. All I want in life is a blacked-out matted-out (murdered out) Lamborghini Huracan. Then I know everyone will think I am a badass, and I will be cool, and everyone will love me.
Even now, I care too much about what others think of me. I want to be ‘cool’ — but still I outsource or crowd-source my self-esteem.
VI. Why street photography has made me a better human being
I appreciate street photography because it has taught me some of the best ethics, virtues, and world-views.
To me, street photography is all about democracy. Openness. Everyone can shoot street photography — and everyone does. Anyone with an iPhone or a smartphone (is already) a street photographer.
Street photography helped me step outside of my comfort zone, to build my personal confidence, to not care about ‘haters’, and to become the fullest-version of myself. Street photography has helped me follow my curiosity, to interact with strangers, and to make photos with personal meaning — connected with the rest of society and the public.
VII. Leica is a luxury good
Buying a Leica didn’t make me a more confident person. It didn’t make my dick bigger. It didn’t make everyone love me.
I know it did make me ‘feel’ cooler– and certainly getting more stares at photo exhibitions (wearing a Leica necklace is like wearing a Rolex Watch).
BTW, I own both.
VIII. How to become a better photographer
So what is the moral of the story?
Buying a Leica will not make you a better photographer.
The only way to become a better photographer is to study the masters, to study composition, to add more emotion, soul, and depth to your images.
Also, to study philosophy, and all forms of art. To be a better photographer– you need to be a more spiritual, and connected human being.
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