Learn from Markus

Recently Alessio Coghe had the opportunity to conduct this interview with fellow street photographer Markus Hartel. This is what Alessio had to say about Markus:

I have gotten to know Markus virtually over the past few years. Our conversations, conducted on various social networks, range from getting a hamburger in our respective cities (I’m currently based in Mexico City, while Markus lives in NYC) to each other’s web initiatives in photography. I know him to be extremely helpful and courteous. His affability, which was confirmed during this interview, is a lesson in humility for photographers around the world including me. Though Markus is certainly the better contemporary street photographer and I’m not the only who thinks so.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you get started with street photography?

A: I have a professional background as a typesetter, one of the remaining old school graphic and print designers. I remember using my grandma’s rangefinder camera for family pictures. I always had an interest in photography, but had never photographed in the streets until I moved to New York, which was a great inspiration to me. I grew up in a pretty rural area in Germany and coming to New York inspired me tremendously – there is so much to discover at any time of the day.

Q: How about the smoke in New York City?

A: The smoke is a very characteristic element in NYC during the winter and I’m absolutely fascinated by the visuals it presents.

Q: What’s your method when shooting in the streets? Are you constantly moving and looking for interesting scenes or do you simply find a backdrop and wait for people to fill it?

A: Normally I’m not very patient and can’t stick around in one place for a very long time. I need to keep moving to keep things interesting.

Q: Can you tell us about your project “Americans 2010”?

A: The idea of traveling the US by public transportation sounded romantic at first, but was incredibly hard to do within a short timeframe and a very limited budget. I have done some interesting work in the Northeast and the South, especially New Orleans, and I hope to get back on the road soon. The economy has been unstable for some time now and it’s apparent anywhere you go.

Q: It seems people have become increasingly suspicious of photography in public places and paranoid of photographers as well. Is this something that you’ve noticed and, if so, how does it affect your work?

A: The public gets driven by the media and is generally more aware of photographers in public. There certainly is a heightened awareness, but I must say that up and coming street photographers also need to be aware of their surroundings and should never forget to shoot with a courteous attitude in mind.

Q: As a photographer, how important is gear to you? What equipment are you currently using?

A: The camera is important on a subconscious level and one should use what feels right in their hands. After shooting with a lot of different systems, I keep going back to Leica because rangefinders feel right to me. They’re simple cameras that get the job done. Computer aids and autofocus tend to be counterproductive for my work; with some cameras I like to use aperture priority though. I use the Leica M9 and my preferred lens is the 28mm Elmarit.

Q: What do you think about the mirrorless camera systems?

A: The 4/3rd system does have potential, paired with the right lenses. Image quality gets better with every generation that comes out. Finally, manufacturers have learned that one can only cram so many pixels on a sensor without degrading image quality.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about “learn from markus”?

I love to share my knowledge so I created this section on my site with tutorials. Feel free to send me questions and I will publish a corresponding tutorial when I get a chance.

Q: What is one tip you can offer to aspiring street photographers?

A: Act natural in your environment, as if you belong there. Don’t try to sneak a picture.

Q: Do you have a favorite photography quote?

A: I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed. –Garry Winogrand

Q: Favorite lighting? Black & white or color? Film or digital?

A: I like natural light, especially during or after rain. Black & white. Digital.

-Leica Internet Team

You can see more of Markus’ work on his website, http://www.markushartel.com.

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8 comments

  • Great work! However, I would like to ask Marcus and photographers in general, why is it seen to be necessary to incorporate significant vignetting in today’s street photography, especially in black and white works. Leica and so many manufacturers have tried to eliminate this lens ‘defect’ in their designs, and yet I see so many photographers using this effect in digital editing.

  • Some very nice images here. I have to say, though, I prefer the look and feel of film. But, Markus has used the M9 to very good effect. As a visual device, vignetting leads the eye to parts of the image, and can give it a clandestine and candid feel. However, I feel that a strong image shouldn’t need anything more than tweaks to contrast and tone and vignetting can often cheapen a photograph.

  • I don’t know the percentage of photographers adding vignetting or not, but I suspect part of the trend is the higher percentage of images viewed on computers vs a print. If an audience is only spending a second or two looking at a shot online before clicking to the next one, you have to almost hit them over the head with the subject. Vignetting helps to narrow in the attention, as does focus. With a gallery or hand-held print, viewers are encouraged to spend a longer time looking the image, so the pull to add something else to focus attention is not as urgent. I like Markus’ work, but looking back at my own images my ratio of image to vignetting is inversely related: the worse my image, the higher the vignetting.

  • Hi Joe, Matt

    Yes, i think what Joe said is true. We look at images on screen almost 90% rather than real prints and the initial impact must be generated immediately to capture attention. It does however as Matt said vignetting cheapens some images, if overdone to an over dramatic effect. In the past, vignetting was a fault of the lens design, and wasn’t added in. It seems that this ‘fault’ is carried over to digital as a homage, no matter how expensive and good lenses are today. Admittedly, I do add shading, mainly to darken skies, but I’m now trying to tell myself ‘it isn’t necessary’! Cheers.

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