If you’ve ever wanted to own an iconic Leica camera, but couldn’t afford to, here’s how to get the some of the best bits for a few dollars. Learn the Leica look, think differently about composition, retro pimp your iPhone and learn how to get the Leica look in your smart phones and cameras photos.
If that wasn’t enough, this article contains 2 x Leica style iPhone preset filters and several FREE Adobe Lightroom presets, as well as a generous helping of the expertise you’ve come to expect from Lightism.
My Affair with Leica
A couple of years back I was working on a Sony project with a chap who had shunned the usual Canon and Nikon’s hardware and had a Leica. I thought he was mad, but then I saw his images and my affair with Leica began. Leica cameras produce pictures with a wonderful aesthetic due to the amazing no compromise quality of their lens and the way the rangefinder forces you to rethink composition.
I went digital and forked out £6,800 for a used Leica M9 and a single lens! No zoom, no auto focus…what a culture shock! Still, first picture I took with it (below) was one of two of my photos which made last year’s Sony World Photography Awards.
Get inspired and learn the look
Leica manage a wonderful curated gallery containing Leica users best photos called ‘LFI Master Shots Gallery’, its available FREE on the web or Apple devices. The gallery is a wonderful recourse to get inspired, view great pictures (including a few of mine) and learn to recognize that Leica look.
I think the M8 and M9 galleries are my favorites and I like that strong graphical and street photography look in high contrast black and white.
If you’re looking for other sources of amazing images, I recommend two (non-Leica) ones in a popular article called How to train your eye to take better pictures.
Learn to see like a Leica
If you’ve never used a range finder camera before, let me explain the BIG difference:
what you see in the through the camera is a wider view of the world than the picture you can take.
The actual picture area is marked by lines within that wider view. This is because, unlike with a traditional camera, you never look through the lens. You focus and compose through a window on the top right, just like on a disposable camera.
Initially this sounds a bit mad and certainly takes a bit of getting used to. However, the wider view gives you the opportunity to see more of the world and makes you think differently about composition. So, unlike you normal camera you’d also use this type of camera with both eyes open.
That’s were Viewfinder Classic for iPhone comes in ($1.99), it has been designed to capture the decisive moment. The screen of the iPhone turns into that immense, bright viewfinder, that lets photographers focus on the act of capturing light and the essence of a picture.
There is no viewfinder blackout, no distractions, just the full picture, full screen, across the whole viewfinder, except on iPhone 5 where it uses most of the screen in this version.
When you first start it’s almost too simple, but that is the point.
The central square is that point at which the app reads the exposure and focus, the trick is to pop that over the subject and press the pass button to lock it. Then and only the do you re-compose your picture, whilst observing the wider scene that is visible.
The longer white lines around the frame show equivalent to a 50mm lens and if you pinch the screen, the lines move to 35mm which is wide angle. It does take a bit of getting used to and if you love simplicity, this will really deliver.
I was recently asked to beta test the new version and it takes this great product further into the rangefinder experience. The new version can be used in auto exposure or you can use the side dial to manually control the exposure.
Make your iPhone look like a Leica
For me Leica’s aren’t just wonderful cameras, but are beautiful to look at. They encompass iconic design, nostalgia and heritage. If you like the classic rangefinder camera look then you can pimp your iPhone with Gizmon. It’s not just a case, but has a shutter button, an optical viewfinder and above all looks cool.
Get the Leica look: Learn to shoot high contrast B+W
The best time to shoot high contrast is when the sun is out, but not directly overhead.
I prefer to shoot contre-jour (French for against the light) so the camera is pointing directly toward a source of light like below.
In these sort of conditions, you’re camera or device won’t be able to cope with the difference between the brightest (the high lights) and the darkest parts (the low lights) of the pictures.
Generally, what will happen is you will lose (blow out) details in one or the other, giving you silhouettes in the dark parts or white areas in the bright parts.
Usually this is a nightmare, but this is exactly what we want to exploit to create high contrast strong images!
Learn how to become the master of your camera or device
The trick is to tell the device or camera what is important in the frame so it can set the exposure accordingly; this is called spot metering and is super easy on many camera phone and tablet apps.
With all of these methods, you’re looking for that sweet spot, the one you’ll find just before the point of way too much! Experimentation is the key.
The poor man’s Leica
For Apple devices I love Hueless, its amazing! And the developers tell me it’s dubbed the poor man’s Leica at £1.49.
My favourite feature will help you with the above; it’s a simple exposure slider… it’s wonderfully simple app and has the ability to slide the brightness (exposure) up and down so you can instantly see the results.
Again, I was invited to beta test this app and it just got way better by producing images in a higher quality tiff format.
Leica style filters for iPhone
An amazingly powerful, well thought out iPhone camera app is Camera Boost and for £1.99 it’s a steal.
What I like about this is the ability to create and share image presets, these act like a traditional camera filter and you can see the effect live before you take your picture.
If you own an iPhone and are a regular here at Lightism, consider it an investment as we will be bringing you more filters for this app in future articles.
Spot metering is a breeze and you simply tap the screen on or around the part of the image which is important to you and again, you can instantly see the results, much like the video above.
So, the developer and I have created three exclusive Leica style filters to help you start taking strong stylish pictures.
There is one color and two black and white preset filters and all the pictures in this section are shot with them to give you a feel. Remember you can see the results live as you take the picture, not like many apps and instagram where effects are applied afterwards.
We are offering all three Leica style preset filters for download and immediate use once you have the Camera Boost app installed for only £0.99 from the link below. They are a great starting point, but feel free to modify them in Camera Boost to suit your own tastes.
Create your own high contrast lighting:
Another way to intensify the contrast of your photos is create high-contrast lighting. One technique is to shoot your subject in a dark room with a bright light source shining through a window. The sun works a treat, it’s best to start with the curtains closed and slowly open them bit by bit. The object is to light part of your subject with bright light and let the rest fall into shadow; this dramatic contrast is what you are looking for.
Even just a room light with a single window will provide enough contrast, even on a overcast dull day. The picture above was shot in those conditions using Camera Boost on an iPhone 5 and with our exclusive Leica preset filter.
FREE Leica style Lightroom presets:
About The Author
Simon Ellingworth is a professional photographer and the author of Lightism – a blog dedicated to helping people take better photos with whatever camera they have. This article was originally published here.