Street Photography with Yanick Delafoge and his Leica M9

Yanick Delafoge is a photographer who shoots on the streets of Paris capturing every day slices of life with his Leica M9 camera. Street Photography In Paris is his blog where you can see his photos of which he posts on an almost daily basis. Steve Huff, author of stevehuffphoto.com,  is a huge fan of his work and the “look” and the fact that he captures it all with a Leica camera makes it even better. Steve had a chance to ask Yanick a few questions about his photography, his website and his gear.

Hello Yanick! I have been a fan of your street photography for a while now and check into your site nearly every day and I am happy to have this chat with you about your photography. Let’s start by you telling us a little but about yourself and how it is you got into street photography…

My interest for street photography started when I moved to Paris a few years ago. During long walks in the city, I noticed many intriguing scenes unfolding in front of me and there came the desire to record them. After going through a few books on the masters (Gary Winogrand and Saul Leiter among others), I soon found myself biten by the bug of street photography. I especially appreciate the intellectual part of the genre as your brain must process in a split second multiple pieces of information and translate it into a two dimensional plane. The resulting shots are a mixture of your personal past experiences, cultural background and artisitic sensitivity with technical parameters set on the camera. Add to that the long hours of walk to hunt for scenes and street photography actually becomes both a great physical and intellectual exercise.

As for myself, let’s say I have a day job in marketing which allows me to pay the bills and therefore leaves me full freedom to shoot what I like when I want.

You have a real talent for catching those moments! I know you use a Leica M9. Is this your camera of choice for what you shoot, and if so, why?

In three years time, I went from an Epson R-D1, to the Leica M8 and finally to the ultimate digital rangefinder which is in my opinion the Leica M9. Besides evident advantages such as size and its extraordinary image quality, it is mainly the framelines system and the simplicity of operation that make the M9 my preferred tool for street photography.

The viewfinder framelines and its surrounding space help me anticipate traffic coming in the frame as well as composing without having to scan around. As for simplicity, I actually went backward in terms of technology, that is from using aperture priority and Auto-ISO to fully manual (I even got a lightmeter not long ago). Technology cannot replace a human brain, especially on an artisitic point of view. So while I still will blunder the exposure from time to time, the M9 and its simple and fast manual operation have greatly improved the consistency of my shots.

What lenses do you use and what is your favorite focal length on the M9?

The 35mm Summilux ASPH is my standard lens for its gorgeous look wide open and great clarity. I feel that you can cover all situations in street photography with a 35mm lens and it forces you to get closer to your subjects. I usually take along a second lens which is often the 60mm Hexanon 1.2. Lately I have been enjoying a lot the Leica 75mm Summicron, as it allows for tighter framing, more compression and a similar rendering to the 35mm Lux. This being said, I only allow myself the use of these longer lenses when there is either a physical barrier preventing me from getting closer or a strong aesthetics reason.

When shooting out in the streets do your subjects know you are taking their photos ahead of time? In other words, are any of them posed? If not, how do you blend in without being noticed?

I try to avoid paused shots because they no longer retranscript my initial perception of a given scene. Yet being quite tall (and often wearing a beret like any respectable Parisians), it is not an easy task for me to remain unseen before I snap the picture. Therefore  speed and decisiveness are fundamental to me. Once I identified a scene I just close in quickly to get the shot hoping my subject does not have time to alter its behaviour. This leads me to point out another strong point of the Leica M lenses which is the detailed distance scale of the focus ring. Indeed, it allows to precisely pre-set the estimated distance to subject without having to look through the viewfinder. Not having to fiddle with focus once the camera reaches your eyes is a very valuable extra time gain to get your candid.

Has anyone ever gotten angry with you after you snapped their photo? If so, what happened?

Dealing with people’s reactions is part of street photography and anger is obviously one of many the reactions you will face, so the best is to be prepared for it when you go out on the street. When facing angry people in Paris, I’ve found that the best way is to smile, apologize and quietly walk away. Attempts to argue back always end up in a verbally worse situation. Nevertheless, I sometimes get so absorbed by the photogeny of a scene that I snap before thinking of the consequences. For example, I got threatened quite harshly by street gamblers and strip bar touts. Luckily, I have never been involved into any physical fights.

Any interesting stories you have to share?

I am bad at recognizing people instantly and as Paris is full of celebrities, I do happen to cross ways with them. Once I was puzzled to witness a man fearfully running away from the scene I was shooting. It is only after reviewing the shot, that I actually understood the reason of his behaviour; this French actor probably thought I was a paparazzi.

One thing I love about your shots is that they are all consistent with their “look”. Do you post process your files in Photoshop and if so, why?

I exclusively use Adobe Lightroom for my processing. I find it provides a good balance between its capability and the time invested to come up with a satisfying picture. I usually apply standard presets to all my pictures then do some localized adjustments. I also pay special attention to colors and like to saturate a given one so the pictures retain a feel of modernity. I feel Lightroom is the digital equivalent to a darkroom as it allows to alter the basics parameters of a picture without getting in the pixel by pixel multi layers processing of software such as Photoshop.

What was it that prompted you to start your blog “Street Photography In Paris”?

At first, it was kind of an archive to keep track of moments of my life as well as some exif data on the technical aspects of a shot. But soon I saw traffic growing and realized that there was interest for visitors to discover a daily snap of life in Paris. I always add some text to provide some background to the pictures and therefore give insights of life in that wonderful city. Thinking about it, “Little facts of life in Paris” would be a better name for my blog. A simple visual and somewhat documentary daily alternative to the sensionalism of mass medias.

Finally, out of the thousands of street photos you have shot with your Leica do you have a favorite?

My favorite picture was taken in Barcelona, another amazing city for street photography. The shot, which I titled “The bodyguard” does almost look paused, yet it was a candid. Like most of my pictures, this shot has large out of focus areas, yet key details are in focus and a color is emphasized. My intention is to render how my memory records a scene or a feeling, that is a few clear elements surrounded by blurriness. The expression of the girl gives some hints to her personality as well as a careful read of some details in the scene. Add to that a bit of poetry, mystery and a touch of humour, and it represents pretty well what I aim to achieve in street photography.

Thank you so much for the images and the interview, it has been a pleasure!

-Steve Huff