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.