Traveling through the land of color with a Leica Monochrom and M9 by Daniel Maissan

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Traveling through the land of color with a Leica Monochrom and M9 by Daniel Maissan

I think it’s always nice to put myself up for new challenges in life and not take the easy way. Most of the time it ends well, even though I tend to get a bit frustrated and impatient at the start. As I was leaving the Netherlands two months ago on a photographic journey through India, I got the idea of giving myself an extra handicap once again.

So traveling through the land of color I decided to bring a Leica M Monochrom and see what that would do. Since a year and a half I’m completely in love with my Leica M9 combined with the Summicron 35mm. So of course I brought these as well.

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At first I did get the frustration that I expected. Several times I switched my lens back to the M9, to capture the beautiful colors of the saris. Writing blogs and facebook  posts on not knowing what to do. Should I just shoot black and white and obey my challenge or should I capture the trip of a lifetime with that what I was comfortable with? After a while though, I did start to get the hang of looking at life in black & white. I soon started to notice that the lack of color made me focus more on what was happening. No distraction of color, only the light, movement and most important the contact with my subjects. For me photography isn’t so much about making the perfect shot. The main reason I use my camera is to make contact with a world I understand less every day.

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Getting more comfortable with the Monochrom along the way, I started to experiment a bit more with it. Compare black and whites that I shot with the M9 and then converted in Silver Efex, with the ones I made with the Monochrom. The difference was huge. Specially when shooting at dusk or at night, the higher ISO options were very welcome. Also the amount of detail in dark areas and the sharpness of the pictures were a treat. I was starting to fall in love with this new way of working.

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After a month I shot almost everything with the new Leica, my M9 was drastically neglected at the bottom of my bag. I noticed that the way I looked at things had changed. A lot of times it looked like I didn’t even see colors anymore. Not until I arrived in Jodhpur, the bleu city. There was no way around color here… the bleu houses, the beautiful dresses of the Rajasthan women, the colorful turbans of men. It was time to bring out my old precious again.

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Now I’m comfortable with both cameras. The two rangefinders again have done, what Leica did to me the very first time I used one. They make me think about what I am doing every single time. They force me to slow down, make decisions on the settings I’m using, and anticipate on what is going to happen. From now on I also have to decide whether to use color or black and white. I believe these cameras actually make me a better photographer.

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Working with the two different cameras changed my perspective of the world I’m traveling through as well. They made me even more aware of what is happening, what situation I’m in and who the person I’m photographing really is. Therefor they make me understand a little bit more.

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Don’t forget guys, if you have a GREAT B&W shot and feel lucky, the I-SHOT-IT premium Monochrom competition is underway and heating up. Prize is a Leica monochrom and thousands in cash. How cool would it be if a reader of this site won? AWESOME! – Steve

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60 thoughts on “Traveling through the land of color with a Leica Monochrom and M9 by Daniel Maissan

  1. Beautiful pictures!!! Congrats!! Really lovely!!!
    I just sold my M9 to buy the MM…but am so happy with it!!!!! Just came back from the Carnival (Venice) and did more pics in b&w than in color ( I still shoot color)! I am totally in love with this camera I must say!!!! It’s a different way of taking pictures, a different way of seeing and feeling and I never felt I was missing something not having the possibility to shoot color…
    When I see your colored pics reminds me of how much I loved the colors with the M9!! 😉 but that’s ok…

    Thanks again, beautiful work!!

  2. The image of the gentleman with the yellow turban against the blue background should be in National Geographic at a minimum if not displayed in a fine art gallery somewhere. Fantastic…my favorite of the group.

  3. Best shots I have seen for a long time from that side of the world 🙂
    I realy actualy like the BW shots more here 🙂
    Awesome work. Thank You.

  4. That’s what I call a GREAT photo set !
    Bravo ! These are the most beautiful, well framed photos of the Monochrom I’ve seen so far !
    No useless blahblah, the essence of a photo : a frame, a light and a subject that tells a story.

    To all the so-called “photographed” that “suffer” from so-called GAS : watch and learn ! Stop thinking that a new camera will improve your photos because you have no skills and get out and DO TAKE photos !!!

    Once again, bravo Daniel ! I hope the prints match the high quality of these photos.

  5. Yes, beautiful and captivating images. What strikes me though is that the b&w images, particularly the one of the girl, are almost unpleasantly sharp, albeit with admirable 3d rendering.

    Did you add any sharpness in pp (you certainly increased contrast)?

    Cheers,

    Michiel

    1. Hi Michiel,

      Yes I increased contrast, no I didn’t sharpen more. Maybe it has to do with the the structure ( and specially the fine structure option in Nik Silver Efex pro.) I used in post process.

      I’ll be more careful next time 😉

      Daniel

  6. As someone who has been to India, experienced Mumbai and the rural south, I must say, I was transported straight back looking at your amazing images!
    I’m relatively new to this site, and the almost daily, wonderful images from photographers, I don’t think I’ll have the funds ( or be able to justify it to my wife!) to buy a Leica, (the only rangefinders I have are a Yashica J, and Zorki 4. The Zorki does have the quietly awesome J8 and J12 though…)
    I’ve also started to fall in love with B&W photography, but lugging a DSLR around (with large lens) is counterproductive to the experience, so I’ve been using my trusty Panny LX3, and I’ve been rewarded with some decent images, yes it’s slow, the sensor isn’t massive, but it’s very small, has a decent lens ( Woo Hoo, I do own a Leica after all!) and has wetted my appetite for the fixed lens Fuji X100, especially after seeing the results on here, I’ve also got back into film photography using the Zorki 4 ( or the “tank” as I call it!) for a much maligned and cheap camera the J8 50/2 lens produced some wonderful Bokeh, this collision of old and new ways has also sired a few unusual hybrids, old glass on a new DSLR ( again, picked up cheap) the weirdest being a J8 50/2 on my Canon 600D! no chance of infinity focus, but it gave me some dreamy macro shots!
    I’m off to Mauritius soon, and I’m going to have a camera glued to my eye the whole time, and hope to capture some images off the beaten track away from the beaches, if I can produce anything approaching a fraction of the brilliance of the images I see on here, I will be very happy, I may even pluck up the courage to send Steve and e-mail and a few shots!

  7. Reviews and these kind POSTs why I love reading this site. Story & and the photos to support your vision was indeed excellent! Thanks for sharing Daniel!
    Cheers from Haarlem;)

  8. While travelling with Daniel, it’s amazing to see to process of making the pictures to de final results.
    The dynamic during the whole day is full of energy. However, besides the energy Daniel is giving, he is capable to make contact with his subject in a way which is fragile.
    Some of de subjects are really making contact with the camera through there eyes and body language. After making the photo, they shake their head kindly like Indian people do.
    Other subjects don’t make contact with the camera, but continue with what they were doing in the first place.
    It’s wonderfull to see that the subjects, in both ways, feel safe in front of the camera.
    In the and it comes down to a combination of great photography skills and a unique way of making them.
    Thank you dear!

  9. Frankly, the quality of these images show why the camera, focusing speed, etc. is of so little consequence to creating great images. The subjec matter, composition and use of color, is superb. Your emotional connection to the subject shows through to create stunning artistic photos. WELL DONE.

    1. I cannot agree, the quality has much to do with the eye but the lens, sensor and postproduction take an image further. I base that on my 43+ years experience in film making. The photographer is the instinctual creative genius but excellent equipment also add to the equation.

  10. Daniel,
    these are absolutely beautiful pictures. I love the color images, but the B&W images are outstanding!

    Congrats, very well done!

    Kris

  11. Really enjoyed your images and story.
    It certainly would be a challenge and you did so well.
    I agree the color images are very special as well.
    My favourite was number 3 and 8 .

  12. Like almost everyone else, I think these are marvellous pictures and you do what you say: make contact with your subjects. It shows and allows us to share the contact. And your reflections on choosing B&W or colour are, for me, very instructive. Just as a learning experience for myself, I lightened the shadows and toned down the highlights of both the girl and the littleboy in the alleyway, and I think for both these subjects a considerably lighter touch works better, whereas the man on the stairs by the window works superbly in this high contrast version. Just my taste, but I found it interesting to do the experiment.

  13. Great pictures Daniel, they really capture the essence of northern India. The MM really works in available light much better than full sun. The shot of the man on the stairs and the girl are something special and really show the dynamic range well.
    The colour in the M9’s are super and have that unique look that only Leica seems to render. I also like the fact you are using the 35 cron. You have to get far more personal with picture taking using that length and it makes the viewer feel more involved.
    Great work. I’m off to sell some body parts now to get an MM.
    Zakk

  14. I agree the compositions are key to your work, you’re a good photographer..I haven’t liked the rendering of any MM shots I’ve seen but your eye is great and that is the main thing..your MM shots taken on film instead would be beautiful.

  15. Fantastic shots. I think you shot a great trip and you did we’ll to break away from your self-imposed rule when you needed to. But man oh man, how I want a Monochrom!
    Well done!
    Andy

  16. Followed your journey from day one! Wonderful pictures!
    Love them! So much atmosphere! Enjoy the rest of your journey! Can’t wait until the next pictures appear.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Het ga je goed jongen!

  17. What a great set of images thanks for sharing them. I use both cameras as well and have found that I use the MM 80-90% of the time, only bringing out the M9 when the shot is screaming for color. As a result I am happier with my color images than I have ever been.

  18. The girl and the man on the stairs take me back to some of Sebastio Salgado’s earlier work and for me they sum up the Leica lens quality for monochrome, whether film or digital. Is it me or is the M not so good in brighter light.
    The colour images are worthy of National Geographic. A great set of images & thanks for showing them.

  19. Love your writing and the photos. Very straight forward and revealing with regards to the M9 vs Monochrom. You make me wish I had both.

  20. Fantastic images,the lady by the river and the Yellow turban man are very fine work indeed.
    How i would love to own either camera.

  21. I love the M9 pics, but the MM doesn’t work for me. I don’t like the watercolor effect, the blown highlights, the greyishness of some images. It reminds me the monochrome that comes out of Fuji cameras, and many others. Still, the only digital B&W that works in my opinion is Ricoh’s grd and Sony RX1 (but this one I don’t have it, I speak from others’ pics). However, your color work with the M9 is delightful.

  22. A breath of fresh air after those awful shots from the “Magnum” photographer that Leica put out to publicise the new M. They should have given the camera to you – these are a real demonstration of what a good photographer can do with top of the range gear. Great stuff!

  23. beautiful photos
    i love the b\w but one can not deny the fantastic colors that only the Leica M9 is capable of.
    It is completely different than those of Nikon and Canon,
    So as much as i love the MM’ i must admit the colored pics you have shown us are beautiful as well
    great job

  24. Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for sharing your experience, I feel the same way about B&W, it lets you focus on expressions, movement, texture, composition. I find color very distracting sometimes. Currently I own a Fuji X-Pro1, which I love, but my dream is a Leica Monochrom. I still can’t afford it, but some day…

  25. Wonderfull – whether M9 or MM – actually makes me long just a liiiitle back to color of digi-M’s;o) but will stick with my Monochrome for now and get that little beast under full ‘control’,,, And I totally agree with You regarding the two camera’s ability to render in b/w…. However, that doesn’t really matter here – great shots! You make me long for Rajasthan once again… Thanks & best
    klehmann

  26. I enjoyed reading about your experience and images as you grew into your Monochrom. I don’t have a Monochrom and I’m sure I’d have the same challenges as to yours in trying to decide which body to shoot with. Fortunately I don’t have to make that decision but I do gave my M-E set up to shoot DNG+JPG with the JPG set to B&W.

    At least I get a chance to pick whether the color or B&W very works best. But the Monochrom’s high ISO capability would be a great advantage.

    So all you shot with was the 35 Cron? A one lens traveling light setup takes a lot of confidence in my book!

    1. First of all thanks for your comments and question. To start with the last one; yes, I shoot nearly everything with the 35 Summicron. I do have a 75 Summicron with me as well, but I’ve only used it twice and decided to leave it in the bag.

      As for your comment on shooting JPG + DNG to get the black and white; I would recommend shooting just DNG and convert your color pic with Silver Effex Pro. But that’s just my personal opinion. That still doesn’t give you the high dynamic rage and high ISO possibilities, but it does give you more flexibility in post production 😉

      Good luck!

      1. That is what I shoot, using the 24mm Summilux or the 50mm Summilux, simply shoot raw and use Nik as my lab. By the way I find these images awesome, the emotional energy is very high. Thanx

  27. Very good shots Daniel! My favourite is the one with the cow and the boy. Amazing tones and rendering. Keep up the good work and see you back in Holland in some time!

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