The “Best Settings” and How to Use The Leica M9 for Street Photography

After traveling and having done many workshops on street photography, I have met many Leica M9/rangefinder users who have had difficulty configuring their camera for shooting on the streets. There are lots of misconceptions out there, which make things confusing for people. Therefore here is some advice I have for Leica m9 users (or Fuji x100 or rangefinder users) when shooting street photography. (Note that for the original video, the audio gets cut out at 16 minutes, so I edited the video down). 

Check out the video below, and I have things written in more detail below!

Shooting a Film Leica M6 vs Digital Leica M9 in Tokyo

My good friend Todd Hatakeyama (and sponsor over at SimpleStudioLighting.com) and owner of the Hatakeyama Gallery (grand opening in Downtown LA this Saturday from 5pm-10pm) recently gave me a his old Leica M6 to shoot with and have. It has been great shooting with it–as it helps me slow down and be more critical when shooting (compared to my Leica M9). I can’t quite describe it, but I feel much more zen when shooting analog vs digital–as I don’t worry so much about the final image but focus on the process of shooting.

Also if you want to pick up a film case from Bellamy Hunt or find a sweet analog camera from Japan, check him out at JapanCameraHunter.com.

The Leica M9: The Ultimate Street Photography Camera or Just Hype? My Practical Review

My old M9 Blacked our.

Leica M9

My Leica M9P* (gaffer tape upgrade) and 35mm Summilux 1.4. 

Background

About a few months ago, I finally achieved one of my lifetime goals: purchasing a digital Leica (the Leica M9 to be specific). Although I was enthralled by the camera the first month I tested it (when Leica loaned me one for my Paris trip as well as a 35mm Summilux) the initial glitz and glamor faded away. However after shooting with one, I knew I wanted to get one nonetheless for a variety of reasons (explained in this article).

For this review I am going to give you my honest review of the camera, not focusing much on the technical aspects (other sites have already done this to death) but how it actually performs when it comes to shooting street photography. Considering that I have only been shooting with the camera around 3 months—I am not an expert with the Leica M9. However having shot with it enough when it comes to street photography, I am very confortable discussing how it performs when shooting on the streets.

How to Interact With Your Subjects when Shooting Street Photography

Alfred Eisenstaedt once said, “It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter“. Upon reading this quote, it made me start thinking differently how I approach my street photography. When I started off, I would avoid eye contact at all costs, often shooting from the hip or being a little more sneaky. However nowadays, I actually prefer making eye contact with my subjects the majority of the time and even interacting with them after taking the shot. Often times when things are a bit too hectic on the streets, I don’t talk much with people but whenever I have the opportunity I try. Keep reading to learn how to interact with your subjects more when shooting on the streets.

Christmas Came Early! Hands-on with the Leica M9

The day has finally come that I got my Leica M9 and 35mm 1.4 Summilux in the mail! I have always wanted one, and with the generous support of my loving mother paying for half of it, I am now a proud owner! I just wanted to thank everyone for my street photography journey and helping me live out my dreams. After all, if it weren’t you guys attending my workshops, writing comments, or spreading the word I couldn’t do street photography full-time. Also remember, the Leica is still just a tool. Don’t feel that you need to own a Leica to get good photos.

Also for those of you who are curious, I am using the Custom SLR strap and YN 560 Flash. You can also pick up some gaffers tape here.

I’m also planning on making a review for the Leica M9. Anything in particular you guys want me to go over? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

LA Street Photography Workshop: Day 1 (Street Photography Fun + Leica Orgy)

I am glad to announce that my first day of the street photography workshop was a huge success! Everything went off without a hitch, and the workshop has been great so far! We had a wonderful group of participants for the workshop and great food (courtesy of my mom and younger sister). Not only did we have a great time discussing about street photography and learning tips and techniques for the street, we were able to go out and test some Leica gear when we went shooting.

Many of the participants were able to test out Leica cameras such as the Leica M9, Leica X1, Leica D-Lux 5, and I had the great pleasure of playing with the Leica S2. All I have to say it is a beautiful camera (although a behemoth). The image-quality is unparalleled (it’s hard to tell on the web) and felt solid in my hands. It isn’t an ideal camera for street photography and was difficult to use in the streets, but it was fun.

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Also I am going to have my next Intermediate Street Photography Workshop in Los Angeles on August 27-28th. Please email me at erickimphotography@gmail.com if you’re interested or would like more details!

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Read more to check out the photos I took during the workshop with the Leica S2 and my Canon 5D with flash!

Leica M9 POV Through the Viewfinder with a 35mm Summilux

Another fun video of me shooting with the Leica M9 and the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux in Santa Monica’s 3rd street promenade. To record this video, I put my HTC EVO 4G Smartphone’s camera through the viewfinder and walked around and shot. Didn’t include the photos I took during the video because most of them came out out-of-focus (holding this setup was hard). But I hope this video helps you get a better sense of what I see when shooting street photography :)

Losing my Leica Virgnity in Paris

"Wrap Around" - Eric Kim

"Wrap Around" - Eric Kim
"Wrap Around" - Eric Kim

When I first got my feet wet in street photography and heard of Leica cameras, I couldn’t quite understand the hype surrounding it. Sure it looked like a cool and retro old-school camera, but why the heavy pricetag? After doing my homework, it seemed like everyone who owned one would rave and praise it. In Chris Week’s street photography documentary, “Documenting the Human Condition” he highly encourages everyone to try shooting with a rangefinder and noticed that the “haters” have never shot with Leica’s themselves. This piqued my interest, however I never even dreamed that I would have the chance to shoot with a Leica.

Shooting Street Photography With a Leica M9 and Flash in Los Angeles at Night [First Impressions]

My old setup from 2011. Leica M9, Canon 430ex Flash, GoPro HD 960. My street photography flash setup (for recording).
Eric Kim Flash Street Photography Leica M9
Leica M9 and Off-shoe Flash

With my Leica M9 set up with my Canon Speedlite 430EX, I experimented street photography with a flash for the first time in Los Angeles (3rd Street Promenade). Despite what people say, I didn’t get punched in the face or my camera broken (although I did get shoved once hard in the back). Overall, it was quite a fascinating experience, and I learned a ton about the process. Keep reading to watch the video of  my crazy stories, and also check out some of the photos as well.

Street Photography With the Leica M9 and GoPro HD 960 in Los Angeles

Many of you have asked me to record videos of myself shooting street photography. After a trip to Best Buy and picking up a GoPro HD 960 Videocamera, I rigged up an interesting POV camera to my Leica M9. Check out the video and let me know what you think. Read more to see some of the photos as well!

Paris Day 4: Leica Magnum Paris Convention and New Leica M9-P and 21mm f/3.4 Super-Elmar-M lens Announcement

Leica Magnum Paris Leica M9-P 21mm f/3.5 Announcement
Myself and Bruce Gilden at the Leica Magnum Paris Event. My hero!

Today was one hell of a day. It was the official Leica Magnum Paris event, and I was able to attend as a VIP attendee. I was able to meet Naseem (Political blogger), Magnus Froderberg (Photography magazine chief editor on Sweden), Cristina Garcia Rodero (Magnum Photographer), William Yan (Street Style Photographer), Thorsten (Overgaard.dk), Brett (Leica Workshop Photographer), Peter McCollough (SF Street Photographer), Jean-Jacques Viau (Leica Internet Head), Oliver Bachmann (Leica Camera Switzerland Head), and my beloved Bruce Gilden (Magnum Photographer). Did I also mention I met and took a photo with Elliott Erwitt? Watch the video below to read more about my day, and also make sure to check out the photos I took during the event as well!

Paris Day 3: Street Photography with the Leica M9 and Tough Parisians

Paris Street Photography Leica M9 35mm f/1.4 Summilux by Eric Kim
"Wraparound" - Luxemborg, Paris

For day 3 in Paris, I had another grand day shooting street photography with the Leica M9 and 35mm f/1.4 Summilux. Unfortunately I woke up super late (at 2:00PM in the afternoon) but still had a great day for shooting. The weather was a bit overcast and gloomy, but it was perfect in terms of lighting for street photography. Read more to see my video recap of the day (and hear the story of the old angry Parisian man who grabbed my arm) as well as see some of my best images.

Paris Day 2: Street Photography with the Leica M9 and 35mm f/1.4 Summilux with Yaniel

Paris Street Photography Leica M9 35mm f/1.4 Summilux by Eric Kim
"Left Out" - Leica M9 and 35mm f/1.4 Summilux

I just had my first full day of shooting street photography with the Leica M9 and the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux in Paris. The streets here are truly amazing, and the Leica M9 was definitely a great partner to help me capture memorable moments. I am proud to say that I had a very great crop of photos today and had the chance to meet the famous Yanidel— make sure to read more and watch my video below and look at my images!

Paris Day 1: Street Photography with a Leica M9 and Flash with Charlie Kirk and Damien Rayuela

Paris Street Photography Eric Kim
"Headlock" - Leica M9 and 35mm f/1.4 Summilux and Off-shoe Flash

I just arrived safely in Paris and spent an entire doing street photography with my Leica M9 and 35mm f/1.4 Summilux with Charlie Kirk and my host Damien Rayuela. We had a ton of fun, and Charlie even taught me how to shoot street photography with his off-shoe flash, and I got some pretty interesting results. Read more to watch all the videos I recorded and see all the images I shot!

Paris Day 1 Overview:

Heading to Paris for the Leica + Magnum “Past.Present.Future” Event

I am excited to announce that I am heading to Paris tonight to attend Leica + Magnum’s “Past.Present.Future” event. I am busy packing up my things as we speak, and I made a quick video to describe what I’m bringing and my thoughts about the trip.

Packing List:

Please wish me a safe trip! I will try my best to blog when I am overseas, but not sure how my internet access will be. Stay tuned on my Facebook and Twitter as well! :)

First Test Shots of the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux Shot Wide Open

Hey guys, I have been able to do a few test shots of the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux wide-open at f/1.4 and the shots truly blow me away. The images are tack-sharp, and the bokeh is so deliciously creamy. All of the shots are taken in RAW, and unedited straight out of the camera. Check out some of the shots below and make sure to click the images for the full-resolution images!

Test Shot #1:
Leica M9, 35mm f/1.4 Summilux @ 1.4

Test Shot #2:

Test Shot #3:

Leica M9 and 35mm f/1.4 Summilux Unboxing and First Impressions

You guys may have heard that Leica has generously sent me a Leica M9 and 35mm f/1.4 Summilux to test out and review. Here is a quick and dirty video I put together unboxing the work of art, and giving my first impressions. I have already taken a ton of great images, and have many exciting things to say about the camera. Stay tuned for more images and a full-review of the Leica M9 and 35mm f/1.4 Summilux.

Got any questions about the M9 or the 35mm? Leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to hit all the questions you may have!

What Makes a Great Composition? Adam Marelli Analyzes Famous Street Photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Great Compositions by Alfred EisenstaedtGreat Compositions by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Adam Marelli, who recently did a wonderful guest blog post on his experiences on shooting with a Leica M9, has recently written a great article on dissecting and analyzing famous street photographs by WWII photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. In the article, he is able to skillfully dissect images from a geometric standpoint, something that great artists and painters have been using for centuries. The post is a bit technical, but definitely worth the read if you want to understand more about composition and street photography.

Check out the article here.

So what do you think? Do you think that understanding a good composition is artistic talent, or something that can be taught and analyzed? Leave your two cents by writing a comment below!

Leica Rangefinder for Street Photography – Good Things Come In Small Packages

"Morning Ashram" - Adam Mareli (Leica M9, 75mm Summicron)
"Morning Ashram" - Adam Mareli (Leica M9, 75mm Summicron)

Eric’s Note: For this guest blog post, I am honored to have Adam Marelli talk about his experiences shooting with a Leica M9/M6 for street photography. This blog post will be especially helpful for those of you who currently shoot with a DSLR or are currently thinking about making the jump to a rangefinder. Make sure to read more to see his inspirational images and great thoughts on the pros of using a Leica rangefinder for street photography.

What Would Happen if the iPhone 4 and Leica M9 Had a Baby?

The i90 - Leica M9 and iPhone 4 Hybrid
The i90 - Leica M9 and iPhone 4 Hybrid
The i90 - Leica M9 and iPhone 4 Hybrid

A design company based out of Los Angeles called Black Design Associates, LLC, just posted some sexy photos of a Leica M9/iPhone 4 Hybrid concept. They imagined the i90 to take any regular iPhone 4 and make it something more powerful and did I say sexy? The imaginary specs and images are below.

Can the Fujifilm FinePix X100 be a Primary Street Photographer’s Camera?

Eric’s note: Below is a guest post from MarkB over at X100photo.co.uk. He is not only a talented street photographer, but he is passionate about the new Fujifilm FinePix X100. Check out his awesome review and thoughts below.

Question, can the X100 replace a DSLR or point & shoot and be a primary street photography camera?

Fujifilm FinePix X100
With the release of ever more capable cameras that have the maturity of DSLRs but in more compact packages, this seems to have created a renaissance in the somewhat related genres of street, documentary and photojournalism. So as I thought about how to answer the above question I realized that with more and more photographers considering rightsizing their camera choice for street photography, this really is the question of the moment. The X100 then, really has set the cat amongst the pigeons.

This is not another in-depth review of the Fuji X100. What I aim to do is outline the factors we might take into account when trying to answer the above question. Perhaps a little more controversially, I then present my own conclusions! If nothing else, I hope my approach in breaking down the considerations might provide a useful means of making what is for many photographers a very individual decision.

Are Rangefinders Just Hype or the Real Deal?

Leica M9 Titanium

Recently one of my readers named Reacher Rau suggested that I write a blog post on the pros and cons of using rangefinders. He told me how he always heard how awesome rangefinders such as Leicas were good for street photography, but never heard a discussion about the pros and the cons. Although I have to disclaim that I am not a rangefinder master, I still have enough experience using them so I feel that I can give a pretty unbiased opinion on both sides of the issue.

Disposable Camera Street Photography by Eric Kim

"America" - Downtown San Diego

$5 Disposable Camera from Walgreens. My new street photography camera.

When it comes to street photography, I am a huge advocate that it doesn’t matter what camera you have for street photography. You don’t need a $6900 Leica M9 to do street photography–whatever camera you have on you will work. In-fact, there is no “best” camera for street photography, as every camera out there has its own pros/cons.

To help bring some light to the issue that what camera you use for street photography doesn’t matter, I decided to do a new project involving disposable cameras. First inspired by the Mosaic photography contest, where contestants in Beirut, Lebanon had to take photos with disposable cameras– I was quite amazed by the results. And at $5, disposable cameras are certainly cheap. Sure buying a ton of them and developing the film isn’t, but I thought it might be a fun exercise regardless.

All the images taken below were with a disposable $5 Walgreens camera. I am quite pleased how they came out (no post-processing applied):

Featured Street Photographer of the Week: Yanidel

Note: Every Wednesday, I feature street photographers with great skill and soul. For this week, I decided to feature amazing Parisian street photographer Yanidel. I first witness Yanidel’s work when I googled “Paris Street Photography,” and his site came up on top. I’m glad it did. He roams the streets of Paris with his Leica M9, and consistently shoots great street images. Continue to read this inspirational interview with him! Oh yeah, also feel free to check out all of the other featured street photographers of the week here!

1. How did you get started in street photography?

"Rebel without a cause" - Yanick Yanidel Paris Street Photography
"Rebel without a cause" - Yanidel

It started with my move to Paris five years ago. Paris is absolutely wonderful for long walks since there will be something interesting inpretty much any corner of the city. During these walks, I started to notice scenes and atmospheres and took my first snapshot at that time. Parallelly, Paris is also one of the mainstay of photography so I was exposed to the work of famous street photographers through exhibits or magazines. At the same time, as I began looking for a new camera, I got attracted by rangefinders and discovered the big role they played in the history of street photography. All of that came together at the same time and soon after I found myself in the street shooting strangers. Not only was I taking long walk, but I had become a shot hunter with a finger always ready to hit the trigger.

A Video Interview with Street Photographer Craig Semetko

Today I was on Twitter and saw two tweets about this video, one from Jonathan Murray and one from RooshPhotog. It is a wonderful video which shows you Craig Semetko, a street photographer in action. He has been featured in countless exhibitions, and has even had his work side-by-side to street photography master Henri Cartier-Bresson. The music is great and gives you insight into Craig’s philosophies on street photography, which is quite inspirational.

His Bio from the Leica Camera Blog:

A street shooter in the tradition of Cartier-Bresson, his Leicas capture classic images that reveal the moment

Perhaps this says all you need to know about Craig Semetko’s inspired Leica photography: In 2008 his work was featured along with images by legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Open Shutter Gallery in Durango, Colorado, in an exhibition entitled, “Street Photography: From Classic to Contemporary – Henri Cartier-Bresson and Craig Semetko.” In 2009/2010 he mounted one-man shows at the Leica Galleries in Frankfurt, Germany, Salzburg, Austria, and at the Leica headquarters in Solms, Germany. His work was also recently shown opposite renowned photojournalist Elliott Erwitt’s in the group exhibition “The Art of Photography Today” at the Camera Obscura gallery in Denver, Colorado. In June of last year he spoke on street photography at the International Center of Photography in New York City and he was the keynote speaker at the Leica Historical Society of America’s 2009 annual meeting in Seattle, Washington.

Semetko is inspired by the humor and irony that crosses cultural boundaries and he travels the world to find them. A graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and a current masters candidate in Consciousness Studies at the University of Philosophical Research in Los Angeles, Semetko’s photographs have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and numerous other international publications. Twenty of his images were selected to be published in the exhibition book Family of Man 2. Also, his book “Unposed” came out in October from publisher teNeues.

He also has a an interview with the Leica Camera Blog where you can continue to read here.

The Best Camera for Street Photography

Leica M9
This is the best camera for street photography.
This is the best camera for street photography.

Haha–tricked you. As there is no “best” paintbrush for a painter, there is no “best” camera when it comes to the street photographer. The camera is merely a tool, and there are different tools required for different situations and tasks at hand.

In street photography as well as general photography, photographers can sometimes become more obsessed about camera gear over actually taking photos. Photographers who are obsessed with camera gear often feel that their images are lacking due to their equipment, when their underdevelopment of photographic vision is the culprit.

Therefore many individuals fall into this trap and go on a never-ending chase in the hope that buying more expensive camera bodies and lenses will help them get better images. However most of them are quite dismayed when they realize that when they buy the newest and most expensive equipment, their images don’t get any better. Now don’t get me wrong—nice bodies and lenses can indeed give you images with better sharpness, resolution, and color, but they won’t give one intrinsically better photos.

When it comes to street photography, I like to believe that the best policy is to have the least obtrusive camera and lens as possible. The antithesis of an ideal camera for street photography would be a 1D Mark IV with a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L lens attached to it.

Although my knowledge of cameras may be limited when compared to the 20+years plus photo veteran, I will try my best to outline the pros and cons of different cameras that street photographers use, including rangefinders, DSLRS, or compact “point and shoots”.

Rangefinders

Leica M9

Rangefinders are glorified for their ability to take images without a battery, being small and unobtrusive, quick in operation, and virtually silent in terms of a shutter sound. Rangefinders are fully manual, meaning that you have to manually focus and manually control exposure through aperture and shutter speed.

The most popular rangefinder (by far) when it comes to street photography is the Leica. It carries all of the fore mentioned characteristics and has a tradition for being built like a tank with superior optics. Shoot—the granddaddy of all street photography (Henri Cartier-Bresson) used a Leica for his entire career.

Taking photos with a rangefinder is much different than many other cameras because what you see through your viewfinder is not necessarily what your photos show up as. There are superimposed grid lines showing the borders of how much your camera will actually capture which many photographers claim that gives them a sense of freedom and seeing entire scenes.

However there are obviously cons with using a rangefinder camera. First of all, rangefinders are fully manual, meaning that one has to learn how to constantly adjust for the changing lighting in an environment with aperture and shutter speed, while modern digital cameras can do this automatically. Although many advocates of using fully-manual settings do not see this as a disadvantage, the aspiring street photographer may have a difficult time constantly adjusting his or her settings.

Furthermore if one decides to get a digital Leica rangefinder, they are most likely going to drop a huge chunk of change.

DSLRS

Canon 5D

It seems that nowadays many street photographers use digital SLRs (DSLRs) to take their photographs. DSLRs are massively popular due to their overall image quality, quick shutter speed, and their ability to interchange lenses, and relative affordability.

However the downside to DSLRs for street photography is that they are relatively large and clunky, and look intimidating to the average person. Furthermore due to the fact that it has a mirror inside, it makes a loud clicking (or clunking) sound when taking photos, which can disturb the serenity of a scene. There is nothing more apparent than the loud mirror-clacking of a DSLR on a quiet subway.

However that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to use a DSLR for street photography. I currently use a Canon 5D for my street photography and in order to make my camera more stealthy, I covered up my “Canon” and “5D” logo with black gaffers tape. I feel the advantage of this is that it converts my “professional-looking camera” into any old generic-looking camera. This makes the camera look less conspicuous in public, and makes people feel less anxious when you are taking photos of them.

Furthermore, DSLRS have great high-ISO capabilities, which make them ideal for shooting at night without having too much noise in the shots. The 5D is infamous for having creating clean images at even high-ISO’s. I never hesitate to shoot my camera at ISO 1600 or even 3200 at night when capturing scenes with faster shutter speeds.

Furthermore, another huge advantage of DSLRs is the ability to interchange one’s lenses. Therefore, one can switch up his or her lenses once in a while if you want to shoot at different focal lengths.

Generally for street photography, I recommend a 35mm “full frame equivalent” lens.

"The Corridor" - Shot by me with my Canon 5D in Prague.
“The Corridor” – Shot by me with my Canon 5D in Prague.

Point and Shoots

There are currently a handful of high-end point-and-shoots on the market that many street photographers use for shooting in the street. These cameras tout larger image sensors, which gives better image quality as well as cleaner images at higher-ISOs.

The advantages of point-and-shoot cameras for street photography is that they are small, have a virtually silent shutter, and that they are unobtrusive. However on the other hand, many point-and-shoot cameras have shutter-lag, which can make it difficult to capture moving people without getting them blurred out.

"Sunflower" - Shot by me and my 5-year old Canon Powershot SD600
“Sunflower” – Shot by me and my 5-year old Canon Powershot SD600

Micro 4/3rds

Micro 4/3rds cameras are also a fantastic option in street photography, because of their near instantaneous autofocus, small form factor and weight, as well as solid image quality. Their image sensors aren’t as good as Aps-c DSLR sized sensors, but they still make beautiful images you can’t complain about.

Learn more about street photography equipment

Check out my newest and up to date recommendations on cameras for street photography here: Recommended equipment for street photography >>