USER REPORT: Leica M Landscape Thoughts by Ben Miller

Steve,

I’ve never really been a landscape kind of guy. Let’s just say that I wasn’t until my wife and I spent a week in Moab, Utah.

I’ve always been into the outdoors. I was eleven years old the first time my folks dropped my twin brother and I off in the woods and said “Hike to your aunt’s house if you get into trouble. Meet us at this spot in a week.” It was the mid 1980’s and parents had much more freedom and didn’t have to worry regarding public criticism from the media as they do today.

Backpacking and hiking have always been a passion in my life. Other outdoor hobbies have followed. I do not bring many new hobbies into my life as it is already full and I’m not willing to lessen the time with loves I already have.

The great thing about photography is that it does not interfere with the activities that I do or the adventures that I take. It compliments them.

My love and I always take at least one week-long outdoor trip per year. We fill the rest of the year with weekend trips as one week a year isn’t enough for us. On occasion I sleep out in the back yard for a quick fix.

While planning for the Moab trip my wife asked “Are you going to take some landscapes for me?” My love doesn’t feel as much passion as I do for street photography or my attempts at documentary style visual story telling. I used this opportunity to reply back “I am. But….. if we want to print the photos big I should probably invest in a wide-angle for my M9.” I still can’t believe that she agreed without hesitation or question.

I ended up purchasing a Voigtlander 28mm Ultron f2. I made sure that I went to your site and clicked the link to B&H for the purchase. I visit your site everyday and want to give back.

I must say that after spending a week in Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park I will definitely look forward to taking more landscapes. On a side note, many men ask how I get my wife to head out into the wilderness for a week at a time. I always respond…… Keep her gear light and comfortable. Keep her warm. Don’t forget to hold hands and snuggle in the tent. Tell her you love her.

A Leica M seems to be the perfect on trail, off the grid, landscape camera and here’s why I feel so:

SIZE: No explanation is really needed. Pack a DSLR on the trail with a battery grip attached and you’ll understand. On the trail no one has anything to prove. Carrying a heavy pack doesn’t make you any more tough. Have a good time. Pack light and enjoy the trip.

OPTICS: Corner sharpness? Micro contrast? I don’t really think about these concepts as I normally only care about composition and light when shooting street or documentary style. This matters when printing landscapes. I look at the landscapes I took during this trip and don’t really focus on a single subject but admire the composition as a whole. I actually look into the corners and into the details of the rocks. The quality from the M9 and M lenses amaze me.

TRIPOD: What are those for? With no mirror slap I shoot handheld. I’ve been known to shoot as slow as 1/8 of a second with my M9 in a dark bar while having pints with friends. I’m amazed that the photos actually turn out pretty sharp. I actually take a Zipshot Micro for the occasional self-portrait when on the trail. We occasionally run into people when out and about. When people ask to take our photo for us I’m nice, oblige, and hand them the camera. But….. we all know where that gets us.

CONNECTION: My buddy has a great saying “It feels right.” When I’m on the trail with a pack on, the pack feels apart of me. It feels right. When I’m on stage my guitar feels apart of me. It feels right. I hold a rangefinder to my eye with a finger on the shutter release. It feels right. Shooting a manual rangefinder feels pure. That’s also why I head out on the trail. It feels pure.

Attached are several photos from our trip. All photos were processed using Lightroom 4. I couldn’t resist converting them to black and white. I couldn’t get Ansel’s photos out of my head. My only two M lenses are a VC 28 mm Ultron and a 50 mm Summicron V4. I used both for these shots.

L1000805

L1000808

L1000813

L1000873

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You can view more of the photos at:

www.photographsbyben.com

www.photographsbybenmiller.tumblr.com

www.facebook.com/photographsbybenmiller

Thank you for keeping such a wonderful website and giving all of us something to look forward to everyday.

Cheers,

Ben

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42 thoughts on “USER REPORT: Leica M Landscape Thoughts by Ben Miller

  1. See, I don’t find these images to be all that compelling in the sense of landscape. To be constructive, landscape in the modern era is NOTHING like the error before digital. I’m a younger landscape photographer, but I shoot everything from 8×10 to my Pentax 645D w/ a tilt. Landscape photography is supposed to evoke emotion across the vastness of the land “scape”. I find most modern photographers thinking (subconsciously and passively observing) feel the wide angle lens is the mastery, and no field technique is required. As a strong critique, your lines are evoking and your processing is not emotionally compassioned for the consumer. Also, the shift/tilt lines are just distraction against probably one of the most beautiful landscapes in the South West outside of maybe Needles and Antelope in Page. They have qualities of what may be considered good by standards of the lenses you are using and the camera that goes along with it, but this is a craft that requires more than f32 @ ISO 100, on a f21-28mm lens. Everything is slanted, and falls back on itself. leaving me wonder if technical execution was an after thought. Sure we can just go *click* to BW but your tones are horrid across the gray scale and just sloppy. To be the negative point of the spear, someone needs to just stop the coddle of lack of execution, because software “seems” to make things compelling. Study …. go out and take a ton more pictures .. and don’t waste your time in the field .. MAKE IT COUNT! You have a wonderful eye, but it looks amateur. Potential needs harsh critique and this is mine after many years of obsessive landscape study.

    Gluck

  2. Those are absolutely lovely black and whites. I love the darker moods as well. My favourite lens are my 28 and 50 M lenses. Thank you for the inspiration.

  3. Thank you for the kind comments. When I owned a Panasonic GF1 people sometimes complained that the IQ wasn’t on par. Now that I own a Leica people look at photos I’ve taken with the GF1 and assume they’re from my M9 and praise the quality. It’s quite comical. I miss that GF1. Cheers!

  4. Excellent shots Ben! I am like you, don’t care too much about the technicalities of a camera and I believe ultimately it all boils down to composition and light (exposure). Your shots proof that!

    Great work and inspirational

  5. Very promising, Ben.

    I’ve been using the Ultron 28/1.9 (with an N-7) for about a year and find it tack sharp. Plus the build quality is superb, enough to survive some severe potential damage (after an unscheduled drop test..).

  6. I find the images on my calibrated monitor dull and lifeless, not to mention a tripod could have given a few more f/stops to deal with DOF problems. Sorry, but turning landscape into ‘street’ photography is confusing two separate means of communication. Don’t get me wrong, I love for instance the essence of Holga’ness in photography, so I don’t mind going out on a limb, but photography is a myriad of languages and these images don’t say much.

    1. Very Nice composition and subject matter – but the lack of tones, the uniform greyness makes it difficult to judge the equipment and the advantages of it when used to create these landscapes.
      B&W is about tones, and B&W landscapes can become dull and lifeless if they lack tones, and even if they have the tones required, they need something extra to warrant them being in B&W ie. Drama and atmosphere.

      1. Ibraar, Could you clarify you comment regarding lack of tones? I’m always looking to improve my post processing skills and would appreciate the feedback. How would you have processed the files? Thank you for your comments. Cheers.

        1. Ben, I recommend The Art of Black and White Photography by John Garrett – brilliant book basically explains everything you’ll ever want to know about tones and B&W. Also take a look at some of Don McCullin’s Landscapes – in beautiful B&W – and just looking at them will teach you (as they’d teach me and anyone else) about what a BW landscape needs to really work. You’ll then know what to tweak in LR/Aperture/PS etc to work the tones. A little bit of work will make your excellent photographs shine and pop! Trust me – I hope i wasn’t insulting or anything, it’s just that BW needs to be worked on, unlike colour.

          1. Had a look at your Site – marvellous stuff, 🙂 makes me shamed to admit that you don’t need any hints from me at all – and I feel very sheepish, your street and portraits are excellent, so you should be able to easily make this series work!

          2. Thank you Ibraar. I’ve followed you work here on Steve’s site. I’ve enjoyed your thoughts and photos. I appreciate your comments and did not take offense. Cheers my friend.

          3. Thanks Ibraar, now I’ve just gone and bought me yet another book for the Mrs to moan at me for when it arrives. lol

            Seriously though, I’ve missed that one so thanks for the rec and it only cost me 1p + postage on Amazon too.

          4. @Cidereye
            haha!!
            That book taught me everything, from visualising, themes, seeing in BW, to tones, values, developing and printing. And I followed up by buying his other two books which are gradually more advanced. His very latest one (which is yet a good few years old) has Photoshop techniques so worth getting.

        2. Ben, for what it is worth, I have found SilverEfex Pro a good program for B&W. It is easy to draw out the highlights and apply various color filter effects. Also, I think this kind of landscape shot would benefit from correcting the vignetting. It is pretty strong in your shots and you are trying to present the whole scene, not highlight something in the center. I hope that is helpful.

          1. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate the feedback. I normally add vignetting to most of my work. In this case I left the vignetting occur naturally from the lens. I like the classic old lens feel that it gives. I welcome your thoughts though. Cheers!

  7. Thanks for sharing those almost other worldly photos. It is amazing how creative one can be when you love making beautiful things and sharing them. There is still hope for me.

    1. Mina, I have found that we all have our own individual vision when it comes to photography. I’m sure that your photos and vision are wonderful. You don’t need hope. Cheers!

  8. Hey Ben, thanks for sharing your images! I really like most of your compositions and of course the subject matter is amazing; Moab is such an awesome place to visit. Personally I find your B&W conversions a little muddy and dark, but that is just a matter of personal preference.

    My only other nitpick is on the issue of a tripod. IMO a tripod is a necessity for most landscape shots, even shooting a Leica. Once again a matter of personal preference but I think all of your shots above would be better tack sharp from corner to corner…which the gear is more than capable of if you would have stopped the lens down, focused at the hyperfocal point and used a tripod.

    Anyway, doesn’t change the fact you got some great images from a beautiful place! It would be nice to see some of your other work! Cheers!

    1. Clint. Thank you for the comments. Please feel free to visit my website. The link is provided above. You will find that I meant what I said. I’m not really a landscape kind of guy. Cheers!

  9. Hi Ben: Thanks so very much for taking the time to describe your adventure and to post the photos. I have been using the Leica M Monochrome to take black and white landscapes. Frankly, the results have been rather astounding and can rival the results obtained with my 8×10 view camera.

    Elliot

  10. Love the photos. I also take a 50 and 28 on backpacking trips but want to invest in a 35 as that may be the best of both worlds and be one less thing in my pack. How do you like the tripod? I enjoy long timed exposures and have yet to find a cheap and light adjustable tripod.

    1. Rob, the tripod works well for my OM-D. The weight of the M9 pushes the Zipshot Micro to the limit. I would probably go with the Zipshot Mini (it’s slightly bigger). Thank you for the comments!

    1. P.s.: twenty years ago I used an FM2n with 24, 35, 85 and 105 glass. I shot in colour, and couldn’t escape the postcard look. It turned me off photography for some time.
      I should have used B&W for the strong, almost graphic effect you achieved.

        1. Translation, it is the photographer, not the camera. Any good camera/lens can record these images…with the skill of the photographer that took them.

          1. Thanks Karl. That wasn’t my point though. My point was I found that landscape very frustrating to photograph. Ben has shown a way I coildn’t think of back then.

  11. I’ve been to Arches recently and found your pictures superb images from that amazing place. Maybe just a little dark (at least on my cheap display) considering how bright the landscape is there. Agree with your use of a 28mm lens for landscape; for me it’s just the perfect compromise between a 24mm and a 35mm. A perfect landscape lens. Thanks for sharing.

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