Monthly archives: March 2020

Studio & Leica M10: Low Key Lighting

Tabi basa and greetings friends and family,

Today marks the 11th day of Movement Control Order, where Malaysians are required to stay at home and do not wander off without any purposes. We also have heard about hilarious episodes where the head of the house, mostly men, were asked to do grocery shopping. For some, this is something new, and it is like treasure hunt for some of them. But the good thing is, despite its terror and fear surrounding it, MCO gave most of us a lot of time to do the things we never get to do. For example, Tik Tok, cooking, singing at Smule, and for me, it’s studio lighting.

I have not been doing studio lighting project for quite sometime, so I guess it’s time for me to do it for learnings.

History of Leica M

Talking about Leica M means talking about Leica M, we have to go back to its original history. “M” means Messsucher, or rangefinder in Germany. In 1914, the founding father of Leica M that we know today, Oskar Barnack, an engineer at Leitz Company, who was suffering from asthma, decided to make a smaller camera, which begins with Ur Leica. In 1924, the camera was called Leica, an anagram of Leitz Camera. In his design, he used a horizontal film transport, allowing an extended frame of 24x36mm with 2:3 aspect ratio, a revolutionary design against the camera at that time, where the aspect ratio is 18x24mm, vertical. To complement this smaller film design, a high-quality lens capable of producing the image is required.  If he were to use the lens at that time, the larger size of the frame is partially required. The first lens created was 50mm, f/3.5, which was eventually known as Elmar series of Leica lenses, employing M39 screw bayonet. 

Leica M-mount that we know today was introduced in Photokina 1954, with Leica M3 as its first camera. That camera was a huge success and over 220,000 units was sold by the end of its production in 1966. Few notable users including war photographer Robert Capa, David Douglas Duncan and most famous of them all, Henri-Cartier Bresson. Henri was a 50mm user, where he can be seen most of the time with collapsible Summicron (first version), while Robert uses wide angle lenses, including 24mm during his early days with Leica.

In 1979, on the occasion of the centenary of its birth, the Leica Oskar Barnack Prize was awarded, endowed with 5000 euros and awarded in July at the Meetings of Arles.

Nowadays, there is a lot more Leica photographers, using M. The ones that I have met personally including Mathias Heng, Fulvio Bugani, Craig Semetko and Thorsten Overgaard. I also have met Leica Q2 Ambasassador, Anthony Barlan, based in KL.  

One thing that I appreciate if that all of us shares the same passion for Leica, and I could spend hours listening to them talking about Leica – its history, progress, creating images, composition and finding that “decisive moment” as popularised by Henri.

However, with limited movements due to COVID-19, one has to be creative to keep the photography flame alive. Whilst not much can be done on the streets now because of MCO, one has to be creative and take photography indoors. Whilst Leica M is popularly known as street photographer’s dream camera, it also can be used indoor as a studio camera, albeit with limitation. But this makes it more fun as it is more challenging.

For this episode, I want to try Low-Key lighting. 

Low Key (Not Loki, God of Mischief)

Low key lighting is an image where more than 50% of the image is dark. This type of lighitng is suitable for moody, or dramatic look. In film noir photography, they take it further by adding elements such as detective, smokes (because detectives like to smoke), long trench coat, and fedora hats. With that being the background, one has to properly illuminate the face of subject and a little of light to light tbe hair, to emphasist space, although you can always use one light only, to emphasis the mood.

So, now that we know what low key is, let’s get started

What Do You Need?

Obviously, you would need a subject. However, in this case, since there is no models around, I have to do it myself. This is also a good chance for me to update my Facebook profile picture, or whatever that needs picture. Then, you would need two lighting sources. You can use whatever lighting source, be it speedlight or strobes, but in this case I am using my Profoto B10, though you can make it using any light sources. That aspect is personal choice,  so I won’t talk much about it. Most importantly, you have to use whatever you have. Light is universal. Hey, you can also use continous light just fine, but that demands a topic of its own. Then, to make this setup works, you would need a black background to absorb any light that falls unto it. White also can be used, but that makes it more challenging as you would need a stronger lighting and uses a smaller aperture. 

In this case, since I am doing it all on my own, I have to use a tripod for my camera. Lens used was APO-Summicron 50, the best lens for studio photography if you have to use a Leica M. To control my camera, I am using my smartphone, using Leica FOTOS apps. It is a neat apps, and allows me to connect to my Leica using wifi, and I can trigger it from a distance.

Shooting Process

I will setup my equipment as per diagram below. For this case, I only approximate where my lighting it. My bad is I don’t have any lightmeter to measure the lighting precisely, so I have to make a guess. The goods news is, after playing around with the setting, I managed to approximate the strength of light required to create a desired image. As for its focus, Leica M being a Leica M, I will set it up first before I start shooting. This one is fairly easy to do, and I maintain an aperture opening of f/3.4 for the shot because I want to have an adequate depth of field for my face, so that I can see enough details. I can opt for f/2, but that means some part of my face is blurred out, which is not desireable.   

Another key things to be taken into account is the colour temperature. For me, before I start shooting, I will set-up my white balance using grey card because strobe lights tend to be cooler that what it actually is. For this photoshoot, since I want my final result in monochrome as I want to have that film noir-ish final image, I switch my camera to Monochrome. This neat trick was taught by Thorsten when I attended his course back in 2018. He’s a genuinely nice guy, and we talked a lot about Leica during that course over countless coffee sessions. 

Creating Monochrome From Colour Leica M10

First, you have to go to JPG setting.

Once you have selected JPG, then turn on Monochrome. This will enable you to create black and white JPG on the fly, but its raw file, DNG (digital negative) image will remain in colour.

I always shoot DNG because it is the best file format that you can have. I know it’s huge, but in the long run, you will appreciate it.

As mentioned, don’t forget to check your white balance. It will save you a lot of time in post-processing and eliminate all of the guess-works.

Result

The result that you can see are as follows. The initial image is good, but I want to add in film noir element, so I add more contrast and clarity so that the details will pop even more. For image editing, I use Adobe Lightroom. You can also amplify the effect using Silver Efex. In this example, I did not show it.

I have a strong affinity for these moody images, because when I was shooting this picture, solitary was in my mind. Also, it emphasises the low key because if I want to make a happy-looking images, I would use high-key photography technique, employing three or more lights.

End Note:

Throughout these processes, I had some fun despite the limitation that I had; have to do it myself, no models and have limited space. This experiment also gave me more insight on how to conduct a proper studio photography, and perhaps next time I will play with more light. It was one of the best decision to join Edwin Lay’s course back in 2019 about studio lightings, because it gave me new insight about studio photography.

If you are passionate about something, do it. Don’t just do something for the sake of money. I know some people that have been doing wedding photography for some time already, but because of the image they created, they cannot run away and has to keep the momentum although deep in their heart, they want to do something else, perhaps street photography?

Don’t become a victim of you own mistake. Own your decision and do what you love most. For me, my preferences are portrait photography, be it in the street or studio. That is where I will focus on. However, if there is any personnel that requries my services in other branch of photography, I will be able to support as well.

With that, I end my blog for today. Thank you for reading. Stay safe and take care! 

Your Tukang Rantek,
Del

This is High Key Lighting.

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Note: Claudius Weson is a “tukang rantek” (photographer in Bidayuh Pichin) based in Miri, mainly doing portraiture (indoor / studio / outdoor photoshoot), weddings and event photography.

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