Know your camera and you can do great things…create that bond

Know your camera and you can do great things…

By Steve Huff

So last night I was shooting the Seal show in Vilnius Lithuania and upon arriving to the venue I realized it was going to be my biggest challenge yet for shooting. Why? Well, the arena was sort of drab, dark, and dull AND I was sort of forced to shoot SUPER close to the stage, like, right up against it. To add to that, the stage was VERY high up, almost as tall as me, so I knew any shot I took would be from a bad angle. What to do? How about throw on a 24 Summilux to the M9 and hope for the best? Yea, thats it. Luckily I had a 24 in my bag.

I decided to use the 24 because I KNOW my camera, and I knew exactly what kind of results I would get from slapping on a 24mm lens in the situation I was in. I also knew how the 24 Summilux would render and how I could get away with slow shutter speeds due to the M9’s capabilities with a steady hand.

The fill in temporary drummer Obed at sound check.  24 Summilux at 1.4 on the Leica M9

For most shows I shoot the 50 Noctilux 90% of the time but last night I shot the 24 Lux 90% and the results are quite different, but I like it. I liked it so much that after the show I was inspired to write yet another article, this time on “knowing your camera”. How many of you really know your camera? I mean, really know it? I know I do, and that helps me out more than you know!

Do you know what settings give you the best results for different situations? Do you know what lens will give you the best result for a given circumstance? Do you know its ISO performance max limits and the way to get the best images you can from it? Have you “bonded” with your camera? Yes, BONDED.  It sounds strange but I know there are many of you reading this who do indeed have a certain bond, a certain “oneness” with your camera. I know I have this with my M9, and I am actually starting to get there with the Fuji X100.

Shooting the 24 meant I had to be CLOSE, and since I was stuck up next to the tall stage I knew I could get some dramatic shots and great audience interactions.

Once you have this “bond” with your camera you can shoot without stress, without worry, without hassle. You go by instinct and by “seeing” and “doing”. When I walk around the crowd or near the stage I am always looking for the next shot, and at the same time I try my best to not repeat myself every single night. The last thing I want is to stress about settings or lenses or whatever. By having this bond with my Leica, I do not have ANY worries when the night starts as I know that as long as my camera is working, I will have many opportunities to capture the spirit of the performance.

The 24 Lux ROCKED last night in Vilnius! As always, I shoot these lenses as they were meant to be shot, wide open!

My job on this tour, if you can call it a job (I don’t as it’s been my lifelong passion..a dream come true) is to document this tour while I am along for the ride. Concert shots, video, behind the scenes stuff..whatever I can capture. Seal is not really my boss, but rather a great friend who puts ZERO stress on me and gives me 100% creative control on what to shoot. With that said, I always strive to do my best every show even though when I look at my photos I usually only end up really liking one or two shots. But as may of you know, as photographers we are always overly critical of our own work.

But as I said earlier, by really KNOWING my camera gear I can let my mind be free and just shoot organically. Does that make sense? I hope so.

So how does one bond with their camera? First, you have to really like your tool of choice. You have to enjoy holding it, shooting it, controlling it. If you do not even like your camera then it will be very hard to get this bond. The most important thing for me is to really enjoy USING the camera. This is why I am such a HUGE fan of the Leica M series. Film or digital, the usability factor is HIGH and once you know it inside and out you can shoot quicker and more effectively with an all manual M9 than even an auto focus blazing DSLR.

The 24 Lux with the M9 sitting on the stage captures Gus Isidore  – love the rendering of the 24 on the M9. Gorgeous.

Again, the 24 Lux wide open. We met this Mother & Daughter the day before while street shooting and here they are in the front row.

Of course I did slap the 50 Noct on every now and then…

Knowing my camera allowed me to get this shot of Seals silhouette.

To bond with your camera you also have to know its menu system. Learn it, know it and set it..them FORGET IT. I never change anything in my M9’s menu, ever. It is set the same as it was months ago. This way I know EXACTLY what to expect from it. No surprises. Again, when you know what to expect, you have that freedom to capture without the stress of technical details. Stress free shooting equals better images IMO.

In order to really connect with your photographic tool, you also need to be passionate about photography. If you have a true desire to shoot and create then you are 90% of the way there.

Once you have the passion along with a camera you really enjoy using, and you know its menu system and have set it up to your liking, then it is all about SHOOTING as much as possible. Before you know it you will have that connection with your camera.

Also learn all of the characteristics of your lenses. For this shot I knew the Noctilux would give me this amazing flare, and IMO it adds to the atmosphere of the shot.

Also knowing your depth of field – what will be and wont be in focus is key to creating images that match the vision you have in your head.

Carol Jarvis rocking out during “Amazing” – check her out on facebook HERE and press like!

I get asked all of the time how I create these photos with a manual camera. How they are so sharp, focused correctly and capture the feeling of the show. I’m not any kind of photography master, far from it. I chalk it up to really knowing my gear and my passion for what I do. SO stick with your camera and learn it, live it and take it with you everywhere. Before you know it, you will have that same bond with it and your photos will improve dramatically.

Hope you enjoyed the post! I am leaving for Brussels Belgium in 2 hours so have to get packing! I’ll leave you with a few more shots from last nights show…

Paul Summerlin, a new and awesome addition to Seals band as well as guitarist Mark Summerlins brother!

How about a shot from the Fuji X100? Here ya go! f/2! BTW, the title image at the very top of this page was also from the X100. Seems to do quite well but I can focus my M faster every time.

after the show its all about winding down, having fun and hanging out for a while

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  1. This article could not have come at a better time for me. I have been using my Nikon D90 for a year now and can honestly say that fir me it’s the worst camera I have ever owned. There is nothing wrong with it as such, it’s just that I have never bonded with it.
    Years ago I had a Contax 167mt which I loved! It was a fleeting relationship as it was stolen only 4 months after getting it but it was a great 4 months. I had only just started out in photography but still think of that camera every time I think about a bond with a camera. It’s replacement did well, a Nikon FM2 which I had for a few years, and I soon was using it fluidly.
    Now a few years on I am looking to sell up all my DSLR bits and grab an X100 in the hope that I can gel with it. Finances are low and it will be my only camera but I need to get back to basics. I need that bond back. Reading this has reaffirmed that in my mind. Thanks dude!

  2. Great article Steve!
    Still working on the bond between my GF1 and I, but it is quite difficult. I am trying to use it entirely as a manual focus camera and I have all canon FD and pentax K lenses and no true M43 manual lenses. It seems like I spend too much time fiddling with adapters and not with the photographic element of the picture. I think I’m gonna switch over entirely to the Pentax-M lenses so I can just leave one adapter on, and I find that the pentax lenses are WAY sharper than the canon’s. They also have a lot better feel to them cause they are not plastic shells like the FD’s
    Cant wait for the Olympus 12mm f2.0 tho!


  3. If you don’t like the noise caused by high ISO and want deep DOF, you may have to adjust the carmera setting to ISO 200 and the aperture to f8.0. However, with very low light condition, the shutter speed may down to 1/15sec or even to 1/8 sec. Even with a very steady hand, I found out that when I enlarged the image, the image looked blur. Steve, what should I do to overcome this problem?

  4. Great article and superb photos as always.
    You wrote, you never change the settings of your M9, Steve. But what are these settings? Could you please answer your own questions from this article for the M9:
    What settings give the best results for different situations?
    How are the ISO performance max limits of the M9 and what is the way to get the best images from it?

  5. Totally agree on the “bond” thing. I used the same fully manual canon SLR, still from the FD age, for 30 years. I could do anything with it, blindly. That bond has withheld me from going digital until the M9 came around. I must say it has been a very smooth transition and the M9 has already grown on me like my trusty old canon.

    Have fun in Brussels. Nice city, only 60 miles from my home. Look for “Manneken Pis”, which is a little statue of a peeing boy, very famous in Belgium! The weather should be getting better towards the w/e.

    • Yeah, I don’t know if I really ever bonded with my M9. I’ll leave it at that. M7 is another story. I’m in love. I would marry the thing if I were another camera.

      Okay, I have to say this, MY M9 colors, and most everyone else’s that I see, on LFI master shots, DPReview, etc. none of them really like Steve’s colors, especially all of these latest shots from Europe. And I’m not talking about vivid I’m talking accuracy. If my color had looked like Steve’s I’d still have my M9.

      As it is, I look at the 23k shots I took with my M9 over 10 months as training, getting more comfortable with the Leica M rangefinder way of shooting. It’s not easy. Certain situations can be.

      As far as pulling out a 24mm when things are tight. You know… that’s really my goal. I’m a 50 shooter. I love both of my 50s and I’m going to have to make a decision soon and let one of them go maybe. But my dream is to have a second film M and a 24mm. Two cameras, 50 and 24mm on hand and ready to go.

      I agree with whomever said Steve is actually improving, which is scary thought. Fun to watch.

  6. Great article. It reminds me of what Bresson said of his camera, it was an extension of his eye and really that is what this article is about IMHO. The camera should not add an additional layer between you and your subject, but instead become an extension of yourself. It should become transparent and second nature. When you get it to that point, then you can work it as fast as your mind can go, no matter what kind of camera it is.

  7. Used to be we kept the same camera for 10+/- years but not today. I shoot with my GF1 mostly with the 20mm mounted on it. After a year and several thousand pictures, I pretty much know what I am getting in a shot. And like you, I have not changed my menu settings since setting up the camera. Great shots. Who gets to keep the originals? You could have a great book if they are yours to use.

  8. I think your photography gets better and better..I enjoyed reading this very much, every thing flowed, the pictures and writing…great stuff.
    Steve, did you expose manually for all the shots?

  9. Excellent, Steve. I see a 24 ‘lux in your future. It’s a fascinating, beautiful lens, and it pairs very well with the Noct f/0.95 in terms of look, as your have so adeptly depicted through your images. Seal’s lucky to have such an artist as you photographing these venues and finding the magic of the crowd despite the mundane venue….

  10. Could not agree with your sentiments more, Steve! But it is that bond with my D2H and the lenses I have that are causing me some trouble on my current quest to shoot with only normal focal length lenses as I have used my D2H since they were bought one of the first in 2003. It really takes some will power to leave all my “normal” gear (extra D2H body, several f2.8 zooms, etc.) and just take the normal lenses. But it was kinda exciting shooting a local ballet company’s outdoor performance this past Sunday evening and having only a D2H & 35mm AF-S G DX and a G2 & 45mm Planar!!!

    Still have a ways to go with the G2 as I have only had the camera for a month…..

  11. Good message! and my favourites are the top of the page one shot with the X100 (well I do have one too:-)) and the Nocti flare one which is awesome!

  12. Wow, those are all awesome shots Steve! It really shows your bonding with your gear. And how can one not bond with the M and it’s lenses 🙂

  13. Once again : superb pictures and amazing colors !
    Especially the ones with the drummer and the “Nocti flare”.

  14. i am getting my m9 at end of week steve!!! so excited!!!! lovely shots….look for the different.

    do you think the elmarit 24mm would work in those concert conditions (lots of bright light)


  15. Steve:

    My favorite part of your essay was: “I never change anything in my M9′s menu, ever. It is set the same as it was months ago. This way I know EXACTLY what to expect from it. No surprises.”

    I agree wholeheartedly. I have never seen a menu system, that could get to and change a setting faster than a specifically designed control surface, such as dial, wheel or in Leica’s case the shutter speed knob and focus and aperture dial. Furthermore, what these basic control surface settings do can be drastically affected by the other settings that are in deeper in the menu system. So if you don’t have a standard basic internal setting it will be very tough to truly KNOW what your camera will do for any given Shutter Speed and f-Stop combination! And in a manual control camera, this could be hell. But if you have a basic setting then you are truly free to make technical decisions, rapidly on fly, without relying on a cameras computer to guess your artistic intention!

    Love the shots, have fun on the tour!


  16. Hi Steve,

    You are absolutly right about needing a connection to your camera to get the really good images. I had absolutly no idea I had this kind of connection to my M8. I really noticed this when my camera broke down. On the same day I got a loan M8 from my very kind dealer. It sounds really daft but it took me a couple of days to get to know the camera to reach the same kind of imagery. I have enclosed a link to the first decent picture I got out of the loan M8. My own camera is currently residing at Solms. Can’t wait to get it back.[img][/img]

  17. Really nice shots. It is good to use less A settings to get that bond. As more people use fully manual controls as better they will understand the camera. Not just in critical lighting conditions.

  18. Steve – Best. Shots. Ever.

    Mate, you are just getting better and better! I love these images. Congratulations on continuing to find the unique perspective that conveys so much more than “just” the moment. These images build on those that came before and surpass them. Great job, and thank you for sharing.

  19. Beautiful photos. My favourite is Seal’s yellow shoes!

    My Canon and I have been working on bonding for 6 years, it’s not really happening!

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