Cameron Salehi: Firecracker with an Eye, Part 2

In the second part of this interview , an emerging 24-year-old photographer develops her natural talent through hands-on experience with the Leica M9

Her “post-graduate” education on 5 National Geographic mentored trips provided her with a firm foundation in the nuances of travel and street shooting, enabling her to create a remarkably mature picture portfolio documenting life in Cuba. These incisive images are featured in a premier exhibition at her newly opened gallery in Dallas, Texas that’s designed to provide a springboard for future projects. Here the irrepressibly vivacious Cameron Salehi tells us how the Leica M9 is playing an integral role in launching her career.

Q: You were obviously thrilled at receiving the Leica M9 of your dreams as a present from your dad, and you mentioned that it’s the ideal camera for your specialties of travel and street shooting, but what is it about the M9 that you find particularly suited to your work?

A: If you look at my Cuba portfolio you’ll see that I do a lot of night shots. I’m really pleased with how the M9 captures the visual effect of the light even at the highest ISO settings. I was a little concerned about this because I had heard M8 wasn’t that good at higher ISOs.

Q: What ISO settings to you typically use with the M9?

A: I’m usually at ISO 1600, especially in low-light situations. There’s a time or two when I bump it up all the way to 2500 but usually I’m at 1600.

What other types of pictures do you take besides night shots?

A: As you know I took the M9 to Cuba with me and I was basically getting to know the camera, its controls, and capabilities. I loved experimenting with it in that environment and street shooting under all kinds of lighting conditions was a lot of fun. I was simply taking pictures–normal touristy pictures and pictures of daily life. However I avoided going to every single monument to create picture postcard images. I preferred to sit in one place and have people walk by.

Q: Your typical mode dress is expressive and upbeat and would tend to attract lots of attention. Did you change your attire when shooting street pictures in Cuba in order to blend in more?

A: Whenever I travel, I try to dress in the local style so I don’t stand out as much. I’m extremely short and it helps that I can go in and out of crowds without attracting undue notice. Being female and using an unintimidating camera are also advantageous.

Q: Besides its compactness and fine performance at high ISOs what other characteristics of the M9 do you find particularly helpful for your work?

A: One thing I really love about the M9 is that you can’t take a ton of shots in rapid succession. It’s responsive and quick but it’s not optimized for bursts. To get the most out of this camera you have to really take your time, compose your shots, and slow down the process. The result is that you really immerse yourself in your work. Today’s typical DSLRs provide autofocus, auto-exposure, and lots of firepower, but with the Leica you have to select your aperture and focus with care. The act of focusing, really knowing distance to the subjects, and the timing of creating each frame really help you to slow down and see, and control the end result more precisely. This is helping me bring my photography and my art up to a new level.

Q: Would you say that shooting with the Leica M9 is a different experience because it encourages you to look at the world directly first and compose the picture in your own mind before bringing the camera to your eye?

A: Yes, that’s it exactly. I completely agree. It’s a different way of looking at the world. And you can compose the picture exactly how you want to because you can see the area outside the frame. With a DSLR you see all of the shot or none of the shot. There’s not an area where you can see a person coming toward the frame, but with the M9 you obviously can. The camera actually forces you to be more conscious and aware of your subjects.

Q: What about image quality?

A: When I did a quick comparison between my DSLR and the M9 it was clear that the image quality of the Leica is really out of this world. The combination of the camera’s amazing performance and the image quality of the 50mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH is breathtaking.

Q: Do you find that shooting natural and authentic looking pictures of people is easier with a Leica M as many photographers have commented? The theory seems to be that the Leica M is less likely to alter what you are observing by its presence. Do you find that to be true?

A: Absolutely. The M9 is much quieter and far less intrusive than a DSLR—it doesn’t interfere with the people’s daily lives and it’s a lot more discreet. Look at it from the subject’s point of view. If somebody taking my picture used too large a camera with enormous lenses, I’d feel awkward if someone pushed it in my face. With the M9 people aren’t as apt to notice it. It’s more conducive to portraying daily life and how everything actually is. As I mentioned, being small and female can be an advantage too. People tend not to notice me, which is nice for the type of work I do.

Q: How doe you see your future rolling out, in terms of equipment and in terms of the work you do?

A: Well, I know I eventually want to acquire a wide-angle lens for my M9 but I’m not sure which one right now. I hope to be more successful and to continue to be able to travel, and have more opportunities like those I’ve had thus far. I hope to get my name out there more, and I hope that opening my gallery will expand my opportunities as well.

Q: With the M9, do you think you have found your system?

A: I really have. Quite honestly, I only use the M9 and the Leica D-LUX 4 at this point and I really can’t see any other camera in my future. Those are the cameras I’ve learned to love and nothing really compares to them so there’s really no point [laughter] right?

-Jason Schneider

To learn more about Cameron, visit her website. Her gallery is located at 4528 McKinney Ave, STE 101, Dallas, TX  75205.