Introduction - The LEICA M Photographer: Photographing with Leica’s Legendary Rangefinder Cameras (2015)

The LEICA M Photographer: Photographing with Leica’s Legendary Rangefinder Cameras (2015)


What you are holding is a book about Leica M-series cameras, yet it doesn’t go into detail on the various camera types, models, and functions. This is pretty unusual!

The aim of this book is to communicate to you, the reader, the endless fun I have had during more than 30 years of shooting with Leica M cameras, and to help you find the same joy and satisfaction using your Leicas.

I have used many models over the years: I began with an M2 then switched to an M3. I initially skipped over the M4 and worked with the M6 for while before backtracking and acquiring an M4 as a backup body. I tried the M7, loved the MP, tested the Digital M8, and now shoot using an M9 and the M (Typ 240). If you are technically minded, you are probably thinking these cameras are not really comparable: some are analog, some digital; some have a built-in exposure meter while others don’t; and they even include a mix of APS-H and full-frame sensors. A debate about the relative merits of all these features could fill many an evening.

But this book is about the technical features these cameras share, and most of all about the effect these features have on the photos they produce. Nearly all the lenses Leica has ever produced fit all the bodies listed above. All these bodies have a complex base plate that provides access to the camera’s recording medium; and they are all mirrorless, about the same size, and can be used with Leica’s Bright-line viewfinders. This last item is what makes a Leica so special. One could argue whether using such an optical/mechanical masterpiece makes sense in the digital age. After all, every Micro Four Thirds camera has an electronic viewfinder that displays 100 percent of the image area so you don’t have to guess how the framing will look in the image you capture. The Leica M system now offers a separate electronic viewfinder, although this makes virtually no difference to this book’s central message.

As a professional photojournalist and documentary photographer, I work with whichever tools are necessary to fulfill my clients’ wishes. I use DSLRs and multi-megapixel cameras whenever the job or the client demands it. I use super-wide-angle lenses, ultra-long telephotos, macro lenses, and flash.

It is the aspects of photography that are close to my heart that I want to talk about. No, I don’t mean flower or landscape photography—I am talking about the aspects of photography that deal with people, which allows me to enter different worlds.

But let me begin by telling you about myself. I was given my first camera on my twelfth birthday. I was terribly disappointed because I really wanted a sports watch like the ones all my classmates had at the time. In addition to the camera, I was also given a book on photojournalism that, after an initial period of disdain, actually provided me with inspiration for many years to come. As my interest in photography grew, I acquired new cameras, practiced in my darkroom, started a photo club at school, and, in my free time, began to take photos for a local daily newspaper. My interest in photography varied up to the time I finished school and began studying medicine. To finance the soft-top VW Beetle that I so desperately needed to continue my studies, I began a side project I called “paid photojournalism.” I devoured many books, newspaper articles, and magazines on the subject, and I shot endless numbers of photos. Never having formally studied photography, I learned everything I know from studying the media, reading countless books, and visiting many, many exhibitions. I now also use the opportunities presented by the Internet to study images and documentary coverage of all kinds of events. I have never been particularly attracted by big names. Rather, my guiding light has always simply been the images that I like. I only found out later which of these were created by masters of the genre.

I was fortunate enough to turn my hobby into my profession and that is still the case today. The main thrust of my professional work is more corporate than journalistic, but my great love remains photographing people with my Leica—an aspect of my work that I incorporate in commercial projects as often as possible.

Throughout this book I use interesting and unique images as examples that will teach you to enjoy your photography and your Leica more than ever. I will show you ways to become one with your camera and how to shoot photos that will excite and interest other people. I want to encourage you to leave behind familiar ways of working and to follow new paths.

You may ask what this introduction has to do with a book about Leicas and whether the ideas I present would be as valid for any camera. My answer is a resounding “No.” Working with a Leica, especially in this day and age, represents a unique approach to photography. Shooting with a Leica slows you down and demands your full attention at every stage of the image creation process. This is a challenge that has its own rewards.

I bought my first Leica—a battered M2 with a standard lens—when I was 16. That was the camera that taught me photography and how to survive with a single fixed-focal-length lens. I used it to practice composition and it gave me the excuse I needed to be inquisitive. But it was a touchy camera, too and if it didn’t like the way I approached my work, it produced bad photos. In short, that camera was my earliest photographic mentor. During my entire career, it has always been my Leicas that demand humility, accuracy, and equanimity from me, and in turn have enabled me to continue to climb the ladder to photographic success.

I invite you to break the rules, take chances, and get creative. The end result is what matters, regardless of whether your image was captured using analog, digital, or hybrid technology.