It's always intersting to listen to how professionals do something. No matter if I speak to fashion designers, sales persons, hairdressers or photographers they always feel that what they do is very ordinary and they don't really apply any special knowledge or tricks. But to listen to them and learn their most basic rules is usually the key to understanding what makes them better. For example I saw the movie about Mike Tyson in which he reveals "I always aim [all the way from the front to] the backhead when I hit." He says it as an everyday fact, and it's probably in the movie because they thought is sounded cool. But in fact, just there he gave a piece of professional philosophy that can be used in other areas than producing knock-outs (of which Mike Tyson was the best ever). I can think of l other applications such as solving problems, but even in doing portraits (where I personally go for the soul rather than the face). In any case, after this dramatic introduction, here is the first in a series of interviews with Leica M9 photographers.
1: Birgit Krippner of New Zealand/New York
Birgit Krippner used to be a Nikon D700 user but then on September 12, 2009 decided to give the M9 a chance with a 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH f/2.8 and a 50mm Summilux-M f/1.4 ASPH. A week later the Nikon was sold.
Since then (this article was originally puslished in 2009) her career has taken off with several exhibitons around the world and with the book "Private View" in the making. Here is a video from April 2013 where I met with her at the opening of her expo "Private View" in Napier, New Zealand. A project where Birgit Krippner has visited the top of the art scene in New Zealand and portrayed them. You can help foundthe book "Private View" via indiegogo.com
Birgit Krippner interviewed in Napier, New Zealand, April 2013 by Joy Villa. Filmed by Neville Porter and Thorsten Overgaard with Leica M Type 240. Edited by Joy Villa. Signed limited edition prints are available from the Black Barn Gallery.
“A new chapter has started with the Leica M9. I'm not a technical photographer. At this point I feel quite comfortable using my new friend but I am still learning. But I really love the experience of learning about my Leica M9 and how to work with it more effectively.
“Sometimes I have a theme and I use the same shutter speed, ISO, focus and aperture settings for a series of shots: Just the other day I walked through an enclosed area which had a white wall. I stopped and waited, with my camera ready for the ‘right’ people to walk by. I avoided making eye contact with the subject. When I saw a person approaching at the right distance (which my camera was preset for) I took the picture. For about an hour I stood there having fun and got some good shots. People either starred at me or just looked through me, only one person turned around."
“At other times I don't have a theme but play it by ear, quite literally. My ears have an important role in my photography. I listen. Especially if I feel that looking is inappropriate.
“I shoot with both eyes open – I can’t close just one eye and I think that has worked in my favor. I'm always aware what’s around me and if there’s somebody stepping into my photograph (which can add good things!).
“Shooting with maximum aperture is always a favorite. I like the dramatic effect of the narrow depth of field.
“On other occasions I might favor a fast aperture image with no point in focus, so as to create uncertainty and atmosphere which requires the viewer to use their imagination.
“I prefer a ‘mood’ image rather than a crisp pixel-shot, thought the two things don’t need be inconsistent. In my opinion there is no clear right or wrong. At least not for me, in every case that decision is left up to photographer and the observer.”
What's your settings and workflow?
“I shoot with the exposure at -1/3 (to protect highlights which might otherwise get blown out) and the shutter dial set to A. I'm experimenting with manual setting of shutter speed, but so far I've been pretty happy with the M9's metering, so I don’t use external lightmeter either.
“White balance and lens detection are both set to auto in general.“
Do you use Auto ISO or a preferred ISO or other ways of setting the camera?
“Since I have a steady hand, I favor shooting at 160 ISO, also when day becomes night time. When it's obviously too dark I have no problem changing 1250 ISO. I haven’t gone higher though.
“Where I have the time to focus accurately I naturally tend to gravitate to fast apertures and a narrow depth of field. Where I don't have that luxury I tend to use a more forgiving aperture, say 5.6, present focusing and an ISO which will give me an acceptable shutter speed. I never use flash.
Do you customize your camera profile in Lightroom or is there any special workflow you apply?
“I shoot DNG and then convert to black and white (if that’s what I’m going for) in Lightroom or Nik Silver Efex Pro. I import DNG files to Lightroom using the M9 profile and can adjust the exposure if desired. I have a tendency to bring down Vibrance and Saturations in Presence. When shooting people, I generally take out most of the red. I never use the sharpening tool. Sometimes I bring up the contrast. But I try to be sensitive to the photograph and not change its identity.
“I recently got hold of Nik Silver Efex Pro and like it. But I use it in a sensitive way. I think that a lot of damage can be done if this software is abused or overused. I use Lightroom to work on my images. I feel good about the combination of Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro. I have an Epson Stylus Pro 3800 printer at home which is a nice printer for "normal" printing. For my upcoming exhibitions I'd like to print my images larger. I'm thinking of Lambda prints.“
How do you approach a shot - what do you look for?
“It can be anything normal or unusual situation. Sometimes a situation seems to be normal. And I know that on the photograph it will be something different, unusual or even funny. That's what I like best! I don't necessarily like sensational situations involving people – but more making the "ordinary" interesting.
“The times I like most are when the light is doing something unusual. When the shadows become dominant. Before a thunderstorm for example. Dramatic light. Or warm light in my house in the evenings. Capturing light is what makes photography wonderful.
“I never shoot from the hip. I shoot from my chest or from other places that might put the image in a good perspective. I like to stay anonymous. Ideally people look THROUGH me, not AT me. Sometimes I walk, other times I place myself somewhere and wait. And when the "right" person or situation appears then I shoot. When I walk (or stalk) I'm always looking around and ready for that special moment.“
How do you use your 50/1.4 and 28/2.8 ASPH lenses?
“It depends. I treat images as individuals. Saying so, I focus (or OOF) individually. More and more I discover the joys of the 28/2.8 ASPH but still, my favorite lens is the 50/1.4 ASPH. It works great for shooting people. And it's comparable with how I see things. I also think that shooting with my 50/1.4 ASPH is more difficult at times than shooting with my 28/2.8: It’s easy to crop an image in Lightroom but impossible to add to an image!”
Do you consider other lenses for the Leica M9?
“My husband has ‘lent’ me his Noctilux f/1.0 … and I like it a lot.”
Any experience with film cameras or other digitals?
“I used to shoot film years ago. My first camera was a Niskon F2, and I loved it. And still have it. But now I'm fully converted to digital. It feels very natural to me. My previous digitals include Leica Digilux 1, Leica Digilux 3 and the Nikon D700."
What's the most common thing people ask you about your Leica M9? “I’ve had people asking me if they could ‘touch my camera.’ Since I don't like being asked about my camera, and largely want to be anonymous, I taped over the red dot and the white M9 inscription with black tape. Since that moment, I haven't been asked any more questions about my camera."
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator.
Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.