Transitioning from DSLR to Leica An Olaf Willoughby interview with Steve Hunter

This month’s Olaf Willoughby interview is with Steve Hunter, a UK based photographer who tells the backstory of his transition from DSLR to Leica and on to his love for the landscape.

A Journey into the Landscape

I’ve enjoyed photography for many years and owned a variety of cameras. I eventually acquired an extensive Nikon pro camera system; 3 zooms, and a couple of prime lenses, certainly a bag full. But after a visit to the Leica Mayfair store in 2012, I decided it was time for a change. So I sold my Nikon system and bought one of the very first UK Leica M ( Typ 240) bodies along with a Summicron 35mm lens. I wanted to get back to basics, where I’m the critical part of seeing and taking photos. The Leica M fitted the bill perfectly. Not only in terms of its size and quality but most importantly it slowed me down and gave me the freedom to focus on taking photos. I started out with Street Photography and increasingly created monochrome images, many on Leica Meet outings. This was a new genre for me and posed new challenges, in particular capturing that “elusive moment”, especially when everything is manual. What a rush. I subsequently bought the magical Summilux 50mm ASPH lens. A truly classic lens especially used wide open.

Although I enjoyed using the M on my travels around the world, I’d never really spent quality time focusing specifically on landscape work. Then in 2015 a bunch of guys from The Leica Meet team headed North to visit the wonderful Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands, just to shoot landscape. By now I’d acquired a basic Lee Filter system, lightweight tripod and cable release. This was the beginning of me “doing landscape properly”. While the M is super compact and produces outstanding quality images, the relatively small LCD screen and low resolution EVF proved challenging to accurately review the scene to ensure that everything was in focus. Therefore I found myself taking multiple images. Once I’d overcome these limitations I managed to capture some great images, enjoying the simple unobtrusive Leica philosophy. Just the basics no added complexity. I soon realised that I was passionate about landscape and that was the start of a new journey.

In 2016 I decided it was time to learn, so I went on a Melvin Nicholson Landscape Workshop, a guy with a wealth of landscape experience. My aim was to understand the “Art of Landscape”. I quickly discovered that while seeing and feeling the beauty of the landscape was important, I needed to develop new skills to ensure that I captured the scene in camera, and importantly to pre visualise how it would look as a finished print. My images through the week showed positive improvement; primarily better composition and use of filters, but more about this later. I felt emotionally connected with the landscape, and started seeing the landscape through my eyes. By now I owned a Leica Monochrom, primarily bought for Street shooting and the amazing Leica Super-Elmar M 21mm lens, plus extra Lee filters. The learning curve was steep, but thoroughly enjoyable. The M system performed impeccably and certainly held its own compared to others on the workshop who used mainly Canon. I really enjoyed the Leica Monochrom and captured a number of very pleasing images. Trumpet Falls, the only B&W shot in this portfolio was the very first shot where everything connected for me, strong graphic shapes and lines, uncluttered and high in contrast.

The M system performed without a hitch, even when it rained. However, it still proved a challenge using small apertures and multiple Lee filters, especially in low light and ever changing weather. I decided there and then that I needed to buy a different Leica camera system, specifically for landscape. Along came the Leica SL, Vario 24-90mm ASPH lens, plus professional Gitzo System tripod and an extensive Lee filter system, including a set of graduated ND filters (0.3/0.6/0.9) both medium and hard, plus Little (6stops) and Big (10stops) Stoppers for motion blur. While many think that due to the huge capabilities of Photoshop filters are no longer required. I, and many others believe filters are a landscape photographer’s best friend. They allow you to see and control light levels and tonality to achieve the desired effects in camera and ensure that you capture the optimum file before leaving. It also saves you time when you return home and simplifies postproduction.

I’d definitely got the “Landscape Bug” so I took the SL for a week on the Isle of Eigg, this time with Bruce Percy a hugely talented tutor. His philosophy encompasses the complete start to finish process and was a real eye-opener for me, particularly his ability to pre-visualise the final print before the picture is taken. Thanks to his guidance the camera set up process became intuitive and helped me discover my personal “Landscape Vision” creating images that went beyond pure record shots. Eigg is a truly magical island with huge photographic potential offering a variety of scene types from simple to complex.

The Leica SL was amazing and is now my system of choice. It performed impeccably. With its professional rugged build quality and uncomplicated functionality it proved highly reassuring. Refreshingly it helped rather than interfered when taking shots, especially when minutes count in fast changing weather. The dual function buttons on the back are perfectly positioned and soon became intuitive to use. The viewfinder is outstanding especially when using the “quick click” x10 zoom feature, delivering pin sharp focus every time. The Vario was my lens of choice, especially the hyper focal function with manual focus. I had also bought a Super Tri-Elmar. It proved fantastic for landscape, producing stunningly sharp images covering the critical 16-18-21mm range.

My one concern is that under landscape conditions, changing lenses still resulted in dust on the image despite the auto-cleaning function. I discovered my preferred range was 21-35mm, occasionally also 16mm and 90mm. A 200mm would have also been perfect for selective framing or when I just couldn’t get close enough. I can’t wait until the Vario 16-35mm zoom launches late 2017, I so wish it were sooner.

Landscape photography inspires me to capture the beauty of the natural world around us. My newfound passion and aim is to capture the essence of the scene and ensure that those who look at my images experience the same emotional connection as I did.

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Olaf Willoughby is a photographer and writer. He co-founder of The Leica Meet a Facebook and website group (10,000+ members) who hold meetings in major cities (NYC, Boston, Wetzlar, London, Paris, Lisbon…) In 2016, Olaf has co-taught numerous creative photography workshops including ‘Visual Conversations’, with Eileen McCarney Muldoon at Maine Media College, Rockport plus Leica Akademie workshops in New York and London as well as having exhibitions in both locations.

If you have an intriguing project or body of work that we might feature, completed or in progress, contact Olaf at: olaffwilloughby@gmail.com or www.olafwilloughby.com

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7 comments

  • Dear Steve I really enjoyed your landscape photos, great work! Hope to meet you this year again with the other guys, best Rosi

  • Dear Steve, fantastic landscape work. I really enjoyed it at home on the big screen. Hopefully you found the right bagpack to carry your gear. As Rosi already said above, hope to see you again this year. Take care and happy clicking, Flo

  • As usual Mr willoughby presents us with interesting and educational photographers and their specialities, thank you!

  • Thank you for sharing your Leica journey. One can tell you make the most of your tools and enjoy your landscape passion!

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