There is so little time
Left in Eternity
For our dearest dreams
To reach their climax
So little time
Written November 1968
Photography is a passion
Photography is a record
Photography is time
Like most photographers, digital happened to me years ago. Digital has exploded photography. Creativity is everywhere. Social media compounds the creative energy.
And whilst we all still compose and “take” pictures, in so many ways the computer is leading us. It takes skill, even bravery to override the camera’s automatic settings. The camera beeps and flashes if it is not focused right. Numbers appear, and symbols rotate.
Magic happens behind the view screen.
And it works.
A long time Glastonbury fan, I rely on the Nikon to capture impossible shots, zoomed way out, in lighting so bad. Serendipity plays a part, but the Nikon handles chance with its computerised dice.
The show of the ages
The Stones at Glasto. Everyone’s dream. Mick has been in special training, studying headliners, not wanting to copy U2’s disappointment. 50 years in the business and still at the top. And what a great gig it was!
But, much though I love Mr Eavis, those damn flags just get in the way. So imagine my surprise when a sequence of shots captured the three Micks, perfectly.
I was going through the images, comparing and contrasting, looking at the settings used. And then I remembered the very last film camera that I bought.
A Leica. M6. And a couple of lenses.
Time to dig them out of the family squirrel box.
A Noctilux, a lens that can see in the dark. Let’s try it. Where can I get 35mm film? Better yet, didn’t I read somewhere that the digital brother of the M6 can use every lens ever made by Leica? No messing about with new fangled mounts.
You still set the shutter speed by hand. You can’t actually see through the lens. The rangefinder glows bright, and your fingers twiddle and turn. You mess up, and there is no way the camera will rescue your image.
Is it sharp? Isn’t this taking too long? Wouldn’t the Nikon have taken 10 pictures by now?
Well, it works.
The rangefinder forces you to compose, to consider. The manual settings force you to re-learn how light really works.
And you rediscover time.
Time to think. Time to compose. Time to be sure the image is right. Once it’s set up, it also eliminates false precision. Set the exposure, and leave it. Don’t fiddle.
A trip to Ghent was a good test.
Usually, it’s a bag full of lenses, switching to match the possibilities. I am proud of the kit, and know how to use it. It takes time, of course, but it’s action, movement.
So it’s not a waste. It’s a positive to have such complexity. What happens if we drop all of that?
What happens if we keep it simple?
Let’s try just one lens, and not even a zoom. Let’s try 28mm.
And let’s push it as far as you can. Low light. Low shutter speed, hand held.
Technically, the Leica M9 has a smaller sensor than the Nikon. Lower megapixels. It has a more restricted ISO range. So grain shouldn’t be handled as well. But the eye is happy with the results, and that’s what counts.
It is true that the D800 takes absolutely stunning images. But never take a Leica to a rock festival and try to shoot from the other side of the field. Never take a Leica to a Formula One event. Yes, by all means capture the driver’s mood, their confidence, and their escorts.
But if you want the racing action, the Nikon wins every time.
Then remember that some of the world’s greatest photographers only ever used a rangefinder, a Leica. They did it on film, and they took their time.
I can never be Henri, and would never even dream that I could be. His “perfect moment” is etched in the world’s consciousness.
But when you spend a little more time, thinking about the scene, you calm down. Your brain is at work, not the computer. Images are more instinctively about the people, and less about the technology.
You take time to be sure the image is sharp, and that it is well composed.
And time slows down
It even deals with those damn flags.
Ok, maybe not exactly flags, but the wind blowing the streamers. The man, the piano, the cyclist and the streamers.
With one lens. One setting.
Those damn flags. Captured. Frozen.
A moment in time.