Posts Tagged leica

Seconds2Real: Guido Steenkamp

“The most exciting aspect of Street Photography for me is that there is nothing you have to prepare and almost nothing you could plan. All you have to do is to step out on the street and have your camera ready.” Guido Steenkamp
Guido-Steenkamp-Berlin-2011_1

This is part of an interview series with members of Seconds2Real street photography collective, in celebration of their forthcoming exhibition in Berlin in October.

How did you begin doing street photography, and why do you love it?

I started Street Photography in 2006. I wouldn’t say I consciously decided to focus on Street Photography, it’s more that I stumbled into it by accident. I like walking in the streets and I like to watch people. At some point I started to capture the moments when I noticed something unusual or funny – just small details of daily lives.

The most exciting aspect of Street Photography for me is that there is nothing you have to prepare and almost nothing you could plan. All you have to do is to step out on the street and have your camera ready. It needs a lot of patience, experience and mostly luck to get a decent shot. But when this happens, it’s fantastic – nothing beats that.

Guido-Steenkamp-Berlin-2009

And how do you pay the bills?

I am fortunate enough not to have to earn my money by working as a photographer. I work as a head of a consulting department at a Berlin based software company. That’s not the most fun job in the world but at least I am free to photograph whatever I want to in my spare time.

Which photographers inspire you?

I admire the works of Alex Webb and Trent Parke, I own every single photo book they ever published. There are also some less known (Street) Photographers that I found to be very inspiring, Lukas Vasilikos and Jack Simon just to name two. (ST84Photo notes – Jack Simon was recently announced as one of the winners of the Street Photography Now Project, a year long project run by The Photographers’ Gallery)

Guido-Steenkamp-London-2010

Editing/selecting which images to show is crucial for a street photographer. Has being in a collective helped you with this process?

Indeed, editing and selecting images is the hardest part. As you may know the Seconds2Real members live in different cities, some in Germany, some in Austria. It happens only once or twice a year that we meet in person. Most of the editing is done via the internet. We use a forum for discussions, Dropbox to manage and edit our picture pool and Skype whenever something needs to be clarified short-term.

We all know that Flickr is certainly not the best place if one is looking for serious comments. That’s why I show my work to other Seconds2Real photographers whenever possible. Of course honest criticism is hard to take, particularly when it comes from friends, but it’s always very much appreciated.

Guido-Steenkamp-Berlin-2011_2

In the UK, street photography has become very popular over the last year (the Street Photography Now book published, Format Festival dedicated to street photography, the London Street Photography Festival, your work on show at Look11, and lots of popular workshops). Have you felt that street photography has also been more popular recently in your own country? And do think that street photography will continue to be popular in this way?

That’s true. The recent one and a half years have been truly awesome for the Street Photography community in the UK. From my perspective all of this started when in-Public published their book ’10’ in 2010, followed by ‘Street Photography Now’ and the different festivals this year.

Unfortunately Street Photography in Germany is not as popular as in the UK. There are virtually no contemporary Street Photography exhibitions in Germany. Besides the very strict publication laws we have, I do believe the main problem is that there have never been such strong Street Photography advocates in Germany like you have in the UK with supporters like Nick Turpin and Matt Stuart. Hopefully this will change soon, at least we are doing our best to improve the situation. In the recents six months we already did Street Photography workshops in Hamburg and Berlin and we are working on two group exhibitions in Berlin and Vienna.

Guido-Steenkamp-NYC-2008.

Any tips or “words of wisdom” for other street photographers?

I don’t think I am the right person to give advice on this, but I am happy to summarize what worked for me:

* A good way to start Street Photography is to attend public events or to visit touristic spots. Photographers are expected at these types of events or places and no one will bother you when taking pictures.

* Learn to use hyperfocal focusing. A lens with a depth of field scale marked on it will help (like most Rangefinder lenses have).

* Learn to get close to the subject. Don’t make yourself think that a picture of someone’s back will look good – this is usually not the case.

* Find places with lots of people, know the times when they are present and the light is good.

* Make sure to read “Ways of working” at 2POINT8

* Learn to accept that getting a decent Street Shot is just a happy accident. As you get better you have more happy accidents.

Guido-Steenkamp-Berlin-2009_1

What would be your ideal gear for doing street photography with?

Ah, the Inevitable gear question. I guess I am now supposed to say “It’s the photographer, not the camera!”? This of course is true, but I am quite gear head too. Now then, I did about 95% of my work with a Leica M6, loaded with Tri-X and using Summicron 35mm or 50mm lenses. I must admit though that I found myself using digital more and more recently.

With analog the choice of camera is very easy, get a Leica and you are done. With digital it’s way more complicated. Either the camera sucks because of poor battery life, like the Leica M9 I owned for some months, or it’s unusable because it’s too big/too loud to be used on the streets.

My current digital gear consists of a Nikon D700 I use at bigger events and a Nikon D7000 that serves as my carry-with-me-always camera, both with 35mm/35mm equivalent lenses. The Nikons are decent cameras but they are not ideal for Street Photography. For me it still feels wrong using a DSLR on the streets. Camera-wise I certainly enjoy Street Photography the most when using my 25-years old Leica.

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Thank You! Yes, This Means YOU…

Taking a cue from these lovelies, ST84Photo is taking a moment to say a round of thanks to a bunch of people who have helped me out with various pernickety questions and the such that I’ve had to deal with lately…

First up, a shout out to Duckrabbit and David Hoffman, who were really great at providing oversight when I had to field requests from the police about images I might have shot. Appreciated being able to check in with them that I’d acted in a professional way to protect the privacy of my subjects. Turned out to be a minor issue, but it was a first for me, so I was a little scared I’d miss something out.

Next up, a big holler to McGrory Creative who run Antler Studios in Liverpool. I’ve recently been shooting on a Leica S2, which was on loan to John Davies, a landscape photographer I assist. Shout out to him for leaving the S2 with me while he was away for a social event. 🙂

The camera is ideal for studio shoots. Which is something I never do. But, I teamed up with Rob who runs both McGrory Creative and Antler Studios, for a day of trying it out in that setting. He arranged some models and make up for the shoot, and we had a really fun day getting to grips with the S2 in studio settings. The team are down to earth and chilled out, and made me feel completely comfortable in my first studio session. They also make some frankly amazing pictures on a regular basis for some very high-end clients. But you’d never guess that talking to them, as they’re completely ego-free. I’m looking forward to doing more studio work in the future, and Antler Studios and their team will be my first port of call for this.

And also a big shout out to Nick Dunmur for some much needed and very impromptu professional development and business advice recently. When I look around at colleagues like him, who have so much experience in the industry, I feel like a total baby to photography. But it’s great to have a supportive network of people I can get in touch with when I have specific questions, and Nick has been great at making me feel a less like I’m working in the dark when I get surprise requests that I don’t know how to handle. Appreciated. I’ve been looking at his work for a while now, and suggest you give it a browse too, for commercial photography the guy really knows what he’s doing. And, just like the team at McGrory Creative and the others I’ve given a shout out to here, is proving my theory that the people at the top of their game are also often the nicest.

Other shouts outs…

Graeme Vaughan photographer about to depart to Berlin, for scintillating conversations about photography that always inspire and humble me in equal measure, coupled with some top quality humour. Will miss that when you leave *books plane ticket to visit Berlin in 2012*

Leica and their awesome team who graciously loaned John Davies the Leica S2, have been very supportive throughout, and generally been an absolute pleasure to deal with in my work for John.

Phil Coomes for documentary photography discussions that I value really highly, and David Campbell and Harry Hardie (HERE) for raising the bar I set for myself.

Simon Norfolk, for Ozymandias.

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Leica Shoot A Real Keeper In Customer Service

Okay, so by now, we all know the story that Leica have had some compatibility issues with their M9 and the SD cards used in them. Here at ST84Photo Blog, we’re really hoping this gets fixed by the time the penny jar has filled up enough to drop several £k on becoming a Leica user.

I’m quoting a story here as reported in Amateur Photographer magazine, although I’ve read it in a few places now. It regards a photographer who suffered from this compatibility issue…

“On his blog, he wrote that a SanDisk Extreme Pro 8GB card ‘crashed and became unresponsive’
The photographer – who has since complained to Leica – added: ‘ Afew days after, I had a high-profile portrait photo shoot for an important client… I took the M9 and my beloved 90mm with me, together with a new SanDisk SD card, not before installing the newest firmware update. It was a very long photo shoot with heavy production [and] a tight schedule…
It was just before the end of the shoot that the other new SanDisk Extreme Pro card crashed inside the M9, making the camera dead and the card unreadable in any device. With all the embarrassment, I had to shoot everything all over again with my back-up equipment.'”

Now, my initial reaction upon reading this was: hang on, you experienced problems with your M9 and SanDisk memory cards, and then you decided to use that very same combination of tools on a “high-profile” shoot for “an important client”? And one with “heavy production [and] a tight schedule”?!?

It seems a fairly rookie mistake to make – use the gear combo that might well be duff, as evidenced from earlier use of said combo. I’d be loathe to use that combo in a professional setting again until I was convinced it was not going to go all sad face on me.

But maybe that’s just because I spent some years working as a techie on tour, so I’m prone to hazard-check when gear is involved. And maybe he did test it thoroughly and that bit just got omitted somewhere along the line.

Still, anyone reading this, please note: If your gear screws up once, don’t use that same gear combo on the most important gig of your life soon afterwards. Instead, do thorough testing and avoid using it in a professional setting until you’ve corrected whatever went wrong the first time.

Leica, on the other hand, were not quite so scathing in their response to this photographer’s news as I have just been (I mean, seriously, it’s called “professional photography” for a reason…). No, instead they offered the photographer in question a gorgeous* Leica S2 Medium Format camera to use while they fix the M9/SanDisk card compatibility problem.

I mean, wow.

Leica sometimes get a bit of a bashing for being primarily owned by doctors and lawyers, and not thinking enough about the working pro photographer. But it looks like they’ve really stepped up to the plate here in acknowledging the M9/SanDisk fault and arranging an awesome replacement camera for this photographer while they work out the kinks in their rangefinder system.

Leica, there are caps being doffed in your honour. 🙂

*I reserve the right to call this camera “gorgeous”, having recently arranged one for landscape photographer John Davies to use. It is beyond gorgeous, even (yes, there is such a thing).

Update: A Note From JJ at Leica
We doff our hat back.
Thank you for the article! We are communicating on the SD card issue under http://uk.leica-camera.com/news/news/1/8251.html Have now isolated the problem and will offer a solution as soon as possible.
^JJ / Leica-camera

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