Home Features Leica M10: Street photography in New York City

Leica M10: Street photography in New York City

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Something of an epicentre for street photography today, New York City has a huge draw for many photographers from around the world. Not surprisingly, as some of the great photographers we can think of today and from the past have cut their teeth on the streets of this busy city.

When I visited for a week in May, I took along one of these photographers with me for inspiration, in the form of a small book. Ernst Hass has produced some stunning images with his contemporary take during his years on the streets of New York. He was a great role model for me with his combination of documentary and expressionist photography.

I absorbed the book for clues while I was on the seven-hour flight. I didn’t by any means want to copy his work but rather infuse my eyes with the expressionist images. This is something I am very interested in, with the cross over between the photograph representing both a document of a time and something of artistic insight.

Majesty

Once I took my first steps on the streets I found all those ideas soon vanished. I was overwhelmed with the majesty of the city. This wasn’t my first visit to NY but I feel both the city and I had grown in the ten years since I last set foot there. I started shooting straightaway and this set my pace for the next seven days on the streets.

I found New York to have a rhythm and this was a groove I could fall into on a daily basis. There was so much going on and whispers of interesting scenes only a few steps apart down most of the streets.

To say overwhelming would be an understatement but I use the word entirely in a positive sense. I found myself reacting to this with my camera in a very free and easy type of way. I was relying on my sense of intuition to shoot the scenes in a loose way, and hopefully, capture the busy feeling of non-stop life that this city has in abundance.

While I was in NYC I found that the Brooklyn Museum was showing the colour work of Garry Winogrand. It was an event that definitely piqued my interest and a photographer that I have huge respect for. The exhibition is open until 8 December 2019 and I highly recommend visiting if you are in the city.

Rhythm

After seeing this show and becoming even more infused with the colour and rhythm of NYC street photography, I continued the path of shooting free and easy, also playing with colour and motion to add feelings to the photos.

I had visions in my head of Winogrand shooting from clips I’d caught on YouTube, I thought about how he worked so freely with his Leica and it made me feel more comfortable about shooting so loose. After all, is it important that a horizon is perfectly level? I don’t ever look at works of the past masters and think, “if only that was framed a little straighter”. The imperfections are what make the images perfect.

As I was working so quickly I didn’t have the chance (nor did I feel it was necessary) to check shots in the chimping kind of way that we can with digital cameras. I was shooting very much for the moment and enjoying the process. Only at night would I review the images to see what might have worked from the day’s shooting. The rest of the time there was too much going on to be thinking about “did I get that last photo”.

Leica M6

It’s quite liberating to shoot like this, like being back with film. Just enjoying the moments and process of photography. This was very much the style I shot the streets with last time I had visited the city all those years before but, on that visit, I was shooting with a Leica M6 and Ilford HP5 black and white film. There are many more ‘street photographers’ that we can see today who have chosen the M6 as their weapon of choice.

I don’t see anything wrong with this. In fact, I’m still rather fond of that camera and still own the one I was shooting with ten years ago. Also, because of the growing popularity, my M6 has become something of a good investment with its value continuing to rise.

I have been lucky enough to grow with the times and progress to digital Leica rangefinders. I’m sure many more would do this too if it wasn’t so impacting on the bank account and, yes, it does take me a long time to save to be able to afford these nice tools.

Instant results

Shooting digital makes it easier to try out new things without worrying about running out of frames. But I do feel that this comes at some cost. I’m not only talking financially but also with that important disposable element that is inherent to digital images.

Some of this come from the lack of time it takes to see the images. It’s instant – you don’t have to wait, and that waiting time has some magic wrapped up within it. I find that the images I take seem to be much more powerful to me when I come back to them after some time. I always revisit past images and the longer I leave them, the greater the impact they have on me.

This is a learning point and something that I have to remind myself of from time to time. I tend to shoot for only myself and personal projects so I don’t need to check that last image, I just have to keep in the moment.

That way I think more about the scene and how I want to capture it – I’m living in that moment rather than through a camera screen. This is why I found so much creativity in New York; I was living in the moment and completely enjoying the process. Every so often I do tell myself, stop worrying about that last shot, I don’t need to check. Trust your instincts and the tool you have. You know what you are doing, and the camera will capture it.

Leica M10-D allure

I can definably see the draw for cameras such as the new Leica M10-D (one of the latest digital M cameras to come out of Leica) with the lack of a screen on the back. It speaks of the past but has the modern convenience of a digital sensor. But why would you ever want a digital camera without a screen? On the face of it, it seems crazy but shooting like this today is something so liberating.

Yes, I have tried out this camera for a day of shooting and I’m a huge fan. I can hear many people saying, “why not just shoot with your M6 then?”. Well, that’s a good point, maybe I should. But what would I do then? I’d get the film developed, scan it into the computer and it’s then a digital image again. Hmmm.. let’s miss a step out here.

Yes, it’s a lot of money to minus a screen, but shooting with something like that is all about a feeling and, believe it or not, that feeling translates to your images on one level or another.

What’s the take away point here? Spend more money and buy more gear? No, not at all. There are always great new products out there and, yes, I want many of them as well. The main thing for me is believing in myself and giving myself some freedom to shoot. Get wrapped up in the process and immerse yourself in the images you’re taking. Enjoy what you are doing, and it will translate in your photos.

Gear

All the photos were taken with my Leica M10, a camera that I feel is perfect for shooting the streets of any city. It’s small and very discreet and I was able to zone focus, shooting from the hip. This, adding to the loose feeling kind of images I was wanting to take, just felt ‘right’ in the city.

I chose to take two lenses with me — a 28mm Elmarit and a 35mm Summicron. Both of them are very small, even by Leica M standards. I purposely left my larger and faster 35mm Summilux at home because it is just a little too bulky for what I was intending to do.

This allowed me to travel light and to be as inconspicuous as possible on the streets. I like to shoot wide and get into the middle of a situation, although, in retrospect, I realised I had shot 90% of the images with the 35.

This is a lens I’m most comfortable with and know how to pre-focus mainly by touch. This speeds up my shooting to the point where all I need do is press the shutter at the right time. I already have the manual focus where I want it before lifting the camera.

I also made myself a rudimentary waterproof housing for my camera because we experienced a few days of heavy rain. This came in the way of a clear ziplock sandwich bag with a hole for the lens to poke through. It made the viewfinder and focusing a lot harder but this added to my shooting scenes loose — at around f/5.6 and using zone focus. Patent pending!

Through familiarity with the 35mm focal length for a number of years, I have a rough idea of what the camera is seeing. I can’t always do this and, of course, I do get things wrong. But these failures lead to unexpected results, most of the time bad but every so often I get a lucky break.

Zine

I am currently working on putting together my first zine, featuring the work I have produced from this trip. But what is a zine? Basically, it’s a small magazine, more on the non-professional side of things. The primary goal isn’t a question of profit, but rather to deliver the work to as many interested people as possible.

My M10 and 35mm Summilux with a copy of the new Zine

Earlier this year I released my first book. It was a great process to go through and taught me many things. I’m now taking this experience to the zine. It’s a low-cost way to spread my work and it’s also great to take another step forward. I very much believe in being able to produce tangible prints from the work we all produce and, as such, a zine is an excellent way to get work out there into the hands of people who might be interested.

The key thing for me is a low price so the work is accessible to everyone. Of course, this is mutually beneficial, I get to publish work and allow many eyes to see it. And my supporters are able to get a low-cost publication. I have also taken this a step further and decided to produce this zine through a small printing business located here where I live in Grimsby. Find more information about zines here.


If you would like to grab your own copy you can order it now from my website while the stock lasts.

More on street photography from Dan Baker

34 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Dan,
    Lovely images and a very interesting narrative. I really enjoyed seeing the one with the reflection of the policeman. Thanks, Kevin

    • Hey Kevin, thank you very much. It was a great week of shooting around New York. The police man reflection photo was a quick spontaneous image on the last day but worked nicely.
      Thanks again,
      Dan

    • Beautiful colour from the M10, beautiful use of light. And some great shots in composition too , Dan. I love the one of the lady under the fire escape, for instance.

      Well done and thanks.

      Jason.

      • Hi Jason,
        Thank you for your kind words. Yes I do love the colours the M10 gives me, some of this is down to the micro contrast from the lens and the other is the slight post production editing (but this is only slight). I was reacting the the light and scenes as I found them, so the scenes were doing most the work. The fire escape photo was actually composed by me; the girl is my fiancee. I spotted the light and structure and just needed a human element in there too, so stood her in the frame. I would have waited for someone to walk by but this area was dead and no one about at all.
        Thanks for your comment.

        Dan

  2. Ok Dan, I click on your website to order and the Macfilos article, excellent as it is, repeats itself? So how do I order and Macfilos readers show their support and order?

      • I’ve fixed this now. It was a big mystery. I double-checked it when Kevin warned me earlier this afternoon and the link was perfectly ok. But it did loop back to the main article. I had to completely delete the link and put it back. Now, I think, you should see Dan’s shop page.

  3. Hi Dan,
    A great article and some very nice photos. Like Kevin, I particularly like the image of the policeman and his reflection. As for your thought of 28 mmvs 35 mm, I feel that with the 28 you need to get really close to your subject whereas the 35mm allows you to keep some distance from the subject although you do miss some of the surroundings.
    Thanks for sharing
    Jean

    • Hey Jean,
      Thank you very much for your kind words!
      Yes, I do sometimes like to get in the middle of a situation and shoot with my 28mm but I literally need to be on top of what is going on to be able to make a photo. obviously this is great in really busy packed areas but doesn’t always work well everywhere else. sometimes I just don’t get the opportunity to get close enough when something is happening and you need to react. Thats why for the majority of the time I find the 35mm is perfect for me. But its always great to mix things up and be able to choose the right lens for the situation you find yourself predominately shooting in.
      Thanks,
      Dan

  4. A very nice evening read, I like the way you just get out and do it, in all weathers. I am slightly envious of your M10 and 35mm cron set up – I’ve tried it and loved it, but my financial accountant isn’t warm to my acquisition of one at the moment.

    Personally I like the first image, the way the chap seems to be watching you, while you take the image of him. Nicely done.

    • Evening Dave,
      Yes I very much got out in what ever the weather, as I only had a week in the city. To be fair, the changing weather conditions give a variety of situations to shoot. Obviously it wasn’t the best in the rain but I think some of the best images I’ve seen from the city are of rainy days.
      The camera set up is beautiful as I’m sure you know. Something I feel very lucky to be able to use and another reason I relish any opportunity to venture out onto the streets and take the photographs. Hopefully the accountant will release some funds soon!
      Thank you, I’m glad you like the photos. There were several images where I met the gaze of the subjects.. some of them worked but others didn’t. That’s all part of the fun of street photography though!

      Thanks for your comment,

      Dan

  5. Thanks Dan. The kid throwing the football has energy and No.8 has a remote abstraction. Mumbai and Kolkata have a similar vibe.
    Keep Well, Frederick H

    • Hi Frederick,
      Thank you for your comment. The kid throwing the football was a throw away image that I snapped as I walked past. It wasn’t until later that I looked back and saw the energy in the simplicity of the photo.
      India some somewhere I have never been but would love the opportunity to explore, especially if its got a similar vibe, as I’m sure I would become immersed!

      Thanks,
      Dan

  6. I like that you didn’t do much, if any post-production, but honestly most of the images were taken with poor framing or from too great a distance. Most of them tell no story and fail to hold my interest more than a second or two and then are easily forgotten.

    • Hey Justin,
      Thank you for your open and honest feedback to my work.
      You are right there has been little post production done to these images as I felt they really didn’t need it. the city does all the work in that respect!
      In regards to the framing, I was shooting very free and easy. sometimes its limiting when you become consumed by the hunt for the perfect image. I chose to simply react to what I saw, very much in the way that Winogrand once did on those very streets. Im not saying im anything like the master himself but I felt liberated to work so freely. Im sad that I have not held your interest in my work and I fully understand that it isnt for everyone. I would like to invite you to view all the images in context of each other over on my site.
      I am also interest to know what type of image you would be more engaged with? does an image have to have a tell you a story to be successful?

      Thanks,
      Dan

  7. Gday Dan. Thank you for posting these images. They’ve set me thinking.
    My better half has an advanced Fine Arts degree. She’s always telling me to tear up the rule book, especially in regard to the rule of thirds. My type A personality finds that hard to do. So I’ll admit that the wide perspectives with central images aren’t for me, but if you like them that’s fine. You’re the artist, it’s your work.
    And she of the better half always insists that I find three images that I like whenever we go to an art exhibition. That said, I really like your reflected policeman and the two images that follow. The man on the wharf certainly isn’t a rule of thirds image, but it is an interesting perspective and composition. And my favourite is the next picture, with the lady in red referenced by the spool of red cable diagonally to her front, with the cable bookended by the yellow blocks on each side, and back to the lady contrasted by the three white clothing displays in the windows. It’s a picture that leads the eye to the subject in red, then makes the viewer move around inside the image. Well done that one.
    Enjoyed your article. The M10 serves you well.
    Again, thanks for a thought provoking exercise.

    • Hi Wayne!
      Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. I respect your honesty to my photos, I know they aren’t for everyone but they are not intended to be. Most of my images from the city are almost like fleeting moments that I quickly capture. I was working very loose and just enjoying the process of seeing and capturing without too much thinking. Obviously this lead to some interesting results; some unexpectedly good and others obviously not so much. I enjoyed the whole process none the less and felt liberated shooting with gut instincts.
      I find it very interesting that so many people hang of their hats on what the “rules have to say“. I’m not really one for following this so much. Yes I do observe the rules and have a very good understanding (or I hope I should as I took photography to degree level) but I want to capture images that feel right to me. It’s also nice to share these images and every so often I spark an interest in others, which is obviously nice too.
      Whenever I get chance to talk to any other photographers I do offer the insight to produce images for yourself first. Only follow the rules if you feel like it helps you otherwise do whatever feels right and natural to you.. who knows where that might lead.
      Anyway, thank you for your comment and if you have the time I would be genuinely interested to hear what do you think about my other work which you can find on my website.

      Thanks,
      Dan

  8. Lovely images, Dan. Took me back vividly to my own visit to NY and reminded me of the non-stop life and excitement all around in that city. I didn’t take images of this standard though but I will next time!
    Thanks again.

    • David Bailey! What a name for a photographer, I’m sure you have heard it all before. (Unless you are the original, then hats off to you sir)
      Glad to have struck a chord David, yes New York is a fantastic place to be and absolutely amazing to photograph. I took every opportunity to photograph the city, come rain or shine! I feel it’s character changes as the day and weather does too. The only thing that remained the same was the life and non stop activity the city has.
      I wish you all the best for your next visit and would be interested to see your images (if you wanted to share that is).
      All my best,
      Dan

      • From my perspective, I am indeed the original and best David Bailey. However, the other one has the better portfolio, a lot more money and all the supermodels! Unfair!

        I will indeed share some images in due course.

        Best wishes

        • Well very nice to message the original! they do say the original is the best haha.
          Well lets aim for the the other things.. hopefully there is more success to be had.
          Looking forward to your images David.

          Dan

  9. Excellent and unusual composition in some of your images, Dan. Their all very good, but the views from the upper deck of the ferry, between the bridges and of the fire escape really stand out. Shooting from the hip didn’t handicap your framing at all. Very well done.

    • Thank you very much Richard. New York is obviously a fantastic backdrop and certainly helps with the images! Some of the images were shot from the hip – tending to be the ones from a lower view point but some were composed by eye too.
      Thanks,
      Dan

  10. Great article. Ordered the zine. There’s a thing that means the pop up offering the signed option doesn’t display in chrome on the phone and it looks like nothing happens but it did work ok on the iPad. Odd glitch but zine successful bought 🙂

    • Good Morning Steve!
      Thank you very much for supporting abd buying a zine. I have posted it off this morning, so hopefully wont be too long before it makes its way around the world to you.
      …Bit of an odd glitch with the pop up not working, something that the hosting platform will have to repair for me.
      Thanks and I hope you enjoy the zine.
      Dan

    • Hey Dan,
      Such a flattering comment, I do really appreciate that. I’m glad you have enjoyed the article and images. It was so fun to shoot and obviously made writing about it easy too.
      I would recommend viewing Winogrand’s colour images of New York if this is something you are interested in. They really are very inspiring and seeing the exhibition definitely gave me another creative spark to carry on working.

      Dan

    • Oh wow, that’s taken a while to get to you! So glad you are happy with it though (and also that you have my work the other side of the planet!)
      Really happy to connect with you Steve!
      Keep well,

      Dan

  11. Got the Zine today, daughter held for my birthday that was yesterday, it is more than I expected, really great work, thank you.

    • Morning John, and happy birthday!
      Very happy to have my zine gifted to you and I’m glad you like it.
      Not many of them left now (feeling like I need to get back to NY at some point again in the not too distant future).
      Until then, I’ll continue to shoot the great British seaside!

      Dan

  12. Just a thought, I don’t know if you have or belong to any street shooters group, I just watched a utube Samuel l.Streetlife in conjunction w Tokyo Collective streetshooters, that this collective in the run up to 2020 olympics are going too rare producing ZINES all about changes to the city because of 2020. My thought or suggestion is you or you and your group and them put out Zine working together in Tokyo. Check out VOIDTOKYO Exhibition video. Think you guys would have a blast. John

    • Hey John,
      Actually, no I don’t belong to any group. I am a very solitary photographer, not by choice but rather location. Every so often I will have the opportunity to shoot with another photographer (which I do relish and bounce ideas off) but this would only be for a few hours and sadly without the ability to work collaboratively.

      I would love to do something like what they are doing in Tokyo but here in North East of the UK there is very little change going on. Perhaps I’ll come up with something / a new project to work on and maybe lead onto another zine. At the moment I am shooting a few different things and seeing where they take me.

      I’m sure there will be more zines in the future but I was tempted to keep them travel related (a week’s project and a zine to follow seems more.. ‘finger on the pulse’ that zines lend themselves to very well)

      Thanks,
      Dan

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