Brett: Leica M Photographer; Part 2

Articulate and thoughtful, he brings a street shooter’s sensibility to the demanding genre of wedding photography. He also teaches other Leica M users how to transcend their mind-set and get into “Leica think.” Rather than paraphrase his biography, let’s let Brett (who doesn’t use his last name) do it himself and then go on to give us fascinating and thought-provoking answers to our follow-up questions in his own inimitable style.

“My passion for photography started when I was five years old and was given a plastic camera and darkroom kit.  I would spend hours developing prints in the bathroom at home.  After leaving school, I was offered an apprenticeship at the Birmingham Post and bought a Leica M2 with my first month’s wages.  I went on to set up my own wedding and portrait studio in the West Midlands, at the age of twenty-one. I now work as an independent photographer, with a thriving wedding photography business.  Alongside my wedding photography, my practice also encompasses, travel, PR and bespoke commissions and projects. Since purchasing that M2, I have been a lifelong Leica enthusiast.  I now act as a consultant for Leica Camera UK and lead M9 workshops at the Leica Akademie in Mayfair. I am passionate about passing on knowledge of how to get the best from these unique rangefinder cameras and I have developed bespoke workshops for both my peers and non-professional Leica enthusiasts.  Workshops are created around the individual photographer’s needs, working with them to offer advice, tips and techniques to expand and develop their knowledge and skills.”

Q: You mention that you are currently using a Leica M9 with 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux-M lens. What is your general impression of this outfit and do you use the ultra-speed 50mm for low-light shooting or primarily because of its very shallow depth of field and beautiful bokeh?

A: My general impression is near perfection — full frame capability, signature bokeh, low light capability and consistent image quality when stopped down. The one meter minimum focus distance can be limiting, but then details in the images are a little overdone so I prefer to shoot in context. The f/0.95 aperture allows me to work with available light to a maximum of 1000 ISO in most situations; however, I shoot wide open wherever possible simply for the bokeh. A year ago I had never handled a Noctilux — now it’s my style provider.

Q: Have you ever pursued your innate potential in art or architecture in your photography, either in terms of subject matter or your general approach to composition, etc.?

A: For many years I was shooting commercial and industrial, working with UK property developers nationwide. As an architectural enthusiast, when shooting architecture for architects, my style was formulaic rather than art. If I ever hang up my cameras I intend to paint and draw.

Q: What is it about the 50mm lens that you find so congenial for your work? Many photographers who pursue a photojournalistic approach to weddings or documentary coverage say that they favor a 35mm or 28mm as their favorite lens. Have you ever considered this and if not why are your reasons?

A: Out of my peripheral vision the 50mm angle of view is what my mind’s eye selectively isolates from a scene. The rangefinder viewfinder also provides me with an extra field of view (the 50mm bright lines in particular sitting comfortably within the finder area). I feel that the 50mm equates to what I look at rather than what I see. This is the opposite of the better known phrase “look but don’t see.” My standard lens (and most often sole lens) is therefore the 50mm — you could call it single-lens rangefinder.

Q: Why do you think the Leica D-Lux 4 is an ideal walk- around pocket camera and have you ever captured images with it that are worthy of your portfolio?

A: The D-Lux gives me all the things that are unavailable in my minimalistic 50mm M set-up wide-angle, video, close-up, flash(!) so it is either my M companion or M alternative. I’m also looking forward to trying out the D-Lux 5 with its extended zoom coverage of 24-90mm equivalent (and funky live viewfinder). With this camera I am already coasting (and probably shooting on P!) so the pictures act in a supportive role rather than being worthy in their own right. However I really did enjoy Ray Scott’s feature on street D-Lux, so maybe it will be a little project for the future?

Q: Can you tell us some of the tips and suggestions you have given in your workshops that you have found to be particularly effective for enthusiast and professional Leica M users? As a corollary, what are a few of the most common mistakes people make when moving from, say a DSLR to a Leica M?

A: My favorite tip is: Shoot and think in B/W (DNG & JPG). Also, read the image not the histogram. Some common traits of DSLR users are: shooting portrait format with the shutter release at the top, using EV value to adjust exposure and trying to compose an image in the viewfinder.

Q: Can you tell us something about any recent commissions you have executed, particularly those you found especially fulfilling or that enhanced your creative process?

A: I’ve recently had the (commissioned) privilege to shoot for the prospectus and contribute to a Timeline History book of Harrow School. There is an illustrious past of old Harrovian photographers — William Fox Talbot, Lord Lichfield, Cecil Beaton. The ongoing shoot is, wherever possible, reportage to portray a real life look at school life.

Q: Your  statement about using your Leica to “crop the real world” is very interesting. It certainly distills the essence of using a rangefinder camera as differentiated from other cameras where you look at the image formed by the lens rather than through a separate optical viewfinder. Can you say something more about how this experience feels to you and why you find it so fulfilling?

A: Going back to “trying to compose an image in the viewfinder,” M shooting for me is more about pre-visualization. I try to compose the image in my (50mm) mind’s eye and position myself to frame the picture before I raise the camera to my eye. This is what I mean by using the Leica to crop the real world. After focusing and recomposing the image to the one I’ve pre-visualized, the bright lines and extra field of view are merely a confirmation of the success of the process. Be a pedestrian for longer and a photographer for less and you’ll become a better street observer. Then I apply this philosophy to my wedding photography.

Q: How do you see your photography evolving going forward? Do you have any special projects in mind, any different approaches you like to take either creatively or in terms of subject matter?

A: I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba; I’ve seen so many portfolios of Cuba that have inspired me. However, I would want to achieve something creatively different. There’s a challenge. Also I do enjoy mounting a body cap pinhole lens to my M9 every now and again. Other than that, I am fascinated with space.

Q: Since you began your Leica M odyssey with an M2 and have shot with the M8, how do you feel the M9 is distinctive from 35mm film Leicas and the M8, both operationally and in terms of its capabilities? Are you at all interested in trying out the Leica S2 which mates Leica’s superlative lenses with a rugged, compact medium-format DSLR system body?

A: Many of my wedding peers changed in haste to DSLRs and are equally successful. I’ve never used a DSLR or S2 and I think it would be counter creative. I waited for the M8, having shot M6 and M7, since I didn’t want to lose my hard earned rangefinder style. It makes you shoot differently; I feel oddly exposed and liberated at the same time. I try to capture and teach M photography with a film mentality, using the M9 as a rangefinder with a “Polaroid” back loaded with transparency film — it develops B/W images and captures digital positives!

-Leica Internet Team

You can learn more about Brett on his website: http://www.bybrett.com/.