Kristian Dowling: Melbourne Spring Fashion Week With The Leica M Monochrom

Kristian Dowling is a celebrity-entertainment photography, formerly based in Los Angeles until November 2011 – now residing in Melbourne, Australia. His photographic roots and passion has grown from news, sport and documentary. Kristian is currently conducting Photographic Workshops throughout Australia and Asia named “Seeing the Light.” He has been shooting with Leica M cameras for the last 19 years and although his career has mostly been in the celebrity field, his passion is to shoot street and documentary. To see more of Kristian’s Fashion Week pictures, check out our album on Facebook, Flickr and Pinterest board.

This past week I have been extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to utilize the new Leica M Monochrom B&W “only” camera to capture the images behind Spring Fashion Week in Australia.  For the majority of my assigned client work, mainstay cameras such as the Nikon D4 and D800E were mostly employed, but I was able to sneak in some candid and fine art shots utilizing the uniquely designed B&W sensor of this newly introduced Leica camera.  My lens kit consisted of the Summicron 28/2, Summilux 35/1.4 FLE and the Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH lenses, all extremely high resolving lenses that were able to record fine details and subtle tonality.  Having personally had a extensive history of shooting traditional Leica M rangefinders, I felt right at home with this new Leica offering.

The first things noticed when shooting the Leica M Monochrom was its ability to maintain fine details throughout the entire ISO range from 320-10,000.  I had no hesitation in shooting from ISO 800-10,000, whereas with previous Leica M digital cameras, I’d often limit higher ISO shooting to 640, for fear of introducing image degrading digital artifacts and noise to captured images.   This enabled me to not only shoot in lower light, but more importantly, allowed me to stop down achieving more depth of field along with faster shutter speeds to capture moments passing by quickly.

My Nikon’s have been no-compromise cameras in the field with their high ISO performance, yet they at times can be large and intimidating cameras where quiet and less obtrusive photographic instruments would work best.   That’s why I am very excited that Leica has now provided me with a means of achieving great performance in any lighting situation. From ISO 320 on up, the camera delivers amazing clarity, bettering my previous M9-P (a camera also capable of recording color images) at ISO 160 with a very, very wide tonal range I haven’t yet to experience in digital images.

Shooting backstage can be a lot of fun, and what you’re not seeing is the other 99% of the work I’m doing for clients which is more structured and not quite as much fun as the free form shooting with the Leica M Monochrom.  My goals with the Leica M Monochrom were to capture random moments of action, feelings and emotions with models preparing for their shows.  I also included a few runway pics and portraits too. Backstage, I’m faced with very challenging lighting conditions but with careful choice of exposure in manual mode, I was able to control a wide exposure and tonal gamut that really made these images standout.

The Leica M Monochrom allows great flexibility with shadow detail and as long as you don’t push the exposure too far which would result in blown highlights, and loss of detail.  The DNG “Raw” files straight out of camera appear a bit flat and require some processing if you’re after a  higher contrast effect, but having this degree of flexibility is a actually a good thing for those who are looking to achieve a wide tonal gamut with plenty of shadow detail. In comparison, the JPEG files have more contrast than the Raw files and the easier to post-process images will satisfy the majority of users, whereas previously the JPEGs generated by the M9-P camera were often sub par and of little photographic value.

For those considering the transition from film, my opinion is that with careful image processing often utilizing the included Silver Efex Pro 2 software, the Leica M Monochrom comes very close to the film look, but with the added advantage of more detail, clarity and the ability to shoot continuously from ISO 320-10,000 without the need to change film or worry about the quality deteriorating as ISO increases. I never hesitated to increase to 6,400 or 10,000 when needed and I was more than pleased with the results, not to mention the attention the camera received from the beautiful models!

-Kristian Dowling

To see more of Kristian’s work, visit his website and Facebook page.
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  • A lovely series. I think one of the challenges of the Monochrom, that will take time for photographers to meet, is realizing the difference between taking pictures that simply have no colour and those which exploit the range of black / white in their photography.

  • Exactly the type of shots I had in mind when they announced the MM. Some great shots, I particularly like the beam of light going in the direction of the hairspray.

  • FINALLY some pictures that really help understand the true potential of the monochrom!

    i am happy with the BW i am getting from the M8 (and of course on film from my M4), the Monochrom looks fantastic – and priced accordingly 🙁

    thanks for sharing!

  • A couple more things I’d like to say about shooting with the Monochrom, compared to the M9 and converting to B+W.

    Firstly, when you’re shooting in pure B+W only, just as you would with film, your thought process is different, and you can (almost) completely ignore the temptations and distractions that color bring, and focus purely on photographic content and story telling.

    Secondly, I believe it does give back some of the credibility that B+W film users had over colors film users converting. It shows that the photographer was purely shooting and thinking in B+W during the photographic process. While this may not mean much to new digital photographers, old-timers and traditionalists like myself put a lot of value on this factor and was part of my decision-making process when deciding to purchase the M Monochrom.

  • Like Stefano, it’s nice to finally see some good photographs from the Monochrom. I was thinking of canceling my order, but Kristian’s pictures made me change my mind. Now I’m looking forward to getting it.

  • Great to hear that Peter. Only 500 at this stage have been made so who know’s….but you will certainly love this camera if you’re truly into B+W ‘photography’ – and not post-conversion 😉

  • Interesting and informative article. And it is nice to see high quality pictures . Not only because of the technique but also because of the eye of the photographer. It does not happen oft here. Bravo Kristian.

  • I tend not to leave a comment, but I read a bunch of remarks on this page Kristian Dowling:
    Melbourne Spring Fashion Week With The Leica M Monochrom

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