Photos & Projects

Analogue Portrait Photography with Leica M rangefinder Cameras – by Marc Wick

April 21, 2020

This is not a review of Leica M cameras. There are quite a few, and every one has its pros and cons. All of them are rangefinder cameras and have one thing in common (at least for me), they look beautiful and work very well. I used an M6 but switched to a black M4 which I now use for most of my portrait photography. Like many analog cameras, the M4 is very easy to operate, there’s no need for a 500 pages instruction manual. Choose the film, measure the light, set the aperture and shutter speed and I’m all set to go.

My chosen films are Tmax 400, Ilford Delta 400 and the Tmax 3200 (shot at EI1600). For film development, I use X-Tol (1:1). The scans here were done with a Braun FS-120, but I now more often use the Negative Lab Pro. My favourite color film is Kodak Portra 400 (at EI200) which I develop with the Cinestill C-41 Kit.

Leica M4 with 90mm Apo Summicron

Leica M4 with 90mm Apo Summicron

Why portraits on film?

Why not? The short version of the answer is just because I like it. It’s nothing to do with the old digital vs. analogue discussion, it’s more just about what makes me feel better as a photographer. It is more or less an affair of the heart. Film has its own magic, its own aesthetic. In some light situations with strong contrasts, film is more forgiving. Furthermore, and this is very important for me, I do not need to spend a lot of time post-processing the images on the computer to I get a b/w photo I like. After scanning, I just control the contrast, shadows and lights and the work is done.

Of course, there are some pitfalls, the worst-case scenario is that I ruin a film during the developing process (which happened to me once, what a bad day). It takes longer until I have the final results too.

Kodak TMax 400 pushed to 800, M4, APO 50

I find the whole shooting process to be different. I cannot control or improve my results as I shoot. The model gets a mood board before the shooting begins to them to be prepared for the desired style as well as possible. Before we start, we talk about the lighting situation, clothing, poses, examples. I then choose the right film, meter the light, choose the lens (mostly 50 or 90mm), and then we start.

One of the big advantages of the M mount cameras is the viewfinder. It’s so clear and bright – it’s almost three-dimensional. It’s contrasty also in low light environment too. All this provides a great view which I like more than that from an SLR.

I then press the shutter. There’s no way to look at the monitor, no need for the model to hurry from one pose into another. After a little while, it’s a very relaxing way to shoot. There’s no machine gun shooting at 100 photos a minute. After a three hour shoot, I just have three or four rolls of film. That’s enough for me, and gives me just the same amount of keepers as I’d get from shooting digital.

Kodak Tmax 3200 @1600, M4, APO 90

Kodak Tmax 3200 @1600, M4, APO 90

The bad thing is I can’t really know my results. I can’t fully control sharpness, background, composition or the pose as I could with digital. The time until I have my negatives in my hand is very thrilling and, of course, there are situations where I missed a good shot because of something I did not properly control.

One time my lens was out of focus after a heavy fall and I didn’t notice, most of my photos were out of focus too. Life can be hard. But the moment when the negatives are good is very special not to mention from the moment when I first have a print in my hands.

Kodak TMax 400 pushed to 800, M4, APO 50

In low light situations or with a flashlight (which is very seldom, I prefer daylight) I also have my digital camera as a backup. If I push my film too much in low light situations, I’m not always happy with the result. But when comparing the results in almost all situation, I am more drawn to the analog results, though this may also be because I appreciate more the whole process more.

I know some might accuse me of giving too much weight to the process and insist that the results are a lot more important. Some will probably suggest that if I don’t want so much control, I should just turn off the monitor. Of course, this is absolutely true. But photography is my hobby and not my living. I don’t have the pressure that every shot be perfect, so I just like to have fun and enjoy what I do in the way I personally enjoy it the most.

Ilford Delta 400, M4, APO 50

Kodak Max 3200 @1600, M4, APO 50

Ilford Delta 400, M4, APO 50

With all of this said, there is no strict ‘only analog’ one way street for me and my kind of photography. For my next shoot, I will be trying something new. I will still be shooting with the M4 for film, but I will also be shooting digitally with a Leica M-D 262. It will be very interesting to use this special digital camera without a screen. I am very curious to see whether the M-D also gives some of the film feelings I enjoy. I can’t wait to start…

You can check out more of my work on https://www.instagram.com/wick_marc/

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40 Comments

  • Reply
    uncle Tang
    April 21, 2020 at 10:03 am

    very good picture,Leica is the Leica,thank you your picture.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 21, 2020 at 4:28 pm

      Thank you very much Uncle Tang! We all know that taking photos with a Leica is more an emotional thing , but of course this is also very important to have fun!

  • Reply
    thorsten wulff
    April 21, 2020 at 10:17 am

    Lovely work Marc!

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 21, 2020 at 4:29 pm

      Thank you Thorsten! I am glad that you like it!

    • Reply
      Dave Donnelly
      April 21, 2020 at 6:56 pm

      Great portraits, lovely feel to the images

      • Reply
        Marc Wick
        April 21, 2020 at 10:28 pm

        Thanks a lot David! I am happy that you like the portraits.

  • Reply
    Jens
    April 21, 2020 at 11:04 am

    Beautiful work, Marc! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the outstanding images.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 21, 2020 at 4:29 pm

      Thank you very much for your encouraging words Jens!!

  • Reply
    jenquest
    April 21, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    “…some might accuse me of giving too much weight to the process and insist that the results are a lot more important”.

    And they’d be horribly wrong. It’s totally up to you.

    Fab. work.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 21, 2020 at 4:30 pm

      Your words are much appreciated Jenquest, thanks a lot!

  • Reply
    Fer
    April 21, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    Amazing work. Really great!

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 21, 2020 at 4:31 pm

      I am happy that you like it Fer!!

  • Reply
    Adam Laws
    April 21, 2020 at 7:24 pm

    These are beautiful and timeless Marc. I never tried the 90mm as I always feared that I would miss focus with the small framelines. Do you use any magnification out of curiosity? I always found it odd that some photographers think of a Leica purely as a documentary tool. Not having your face covered allows you to interact with your model in a far more natural way.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 21, 2020 at 10:21 pm

      Thank you Adam for your kind comments. I do not use any magnification. The 90mm works fine, but of course I have some photos which I can not use because they are not sharp or the point of sharpness is not where I thought it should be, especially with 2.0. But with an aperture of 5.6 or more it is easier. For a very short period (one roll of film) I tried a 135mm lens but the results were really frustrating. But most of my portraits are done with a 50mm lens, not a typical portrait lens, but it works fine for me. And I agree with you, a small rangefinder makes the interaction with the model easier.

  • Reply
    VINICIUS QUAGLIA
    April 21, 2020 at 8:30 pm

    I’m trying to find out how you didn’t appear in the last photo

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 21, 2020 at 10:23 pm

      Ha ha, here is the solution: it was no a mirror, the photo was taken through the door of a washing machine.

  • Reply
    Ken Burg
    April 21, 2020 at 9:42 pm

    Tremendous work! I would not have guessed it was rangefinder as it has more of a SLR look to them.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 21, 2020 at 10:26 pm

      Thank you very much Ken! Maybe it is due to the film that there is not such a difference between a rangefinder and a SLR. I have an old but full working and still great looking Minolta XE-1 from my father-in-law which I use sometimes in combination with the Leica. But to be honest, looking at the photos after development and scanning, I do not see which photo was taken with which camera.

  • Reply
    Ken Bryson
    April 21, 2020 at 10:46 pm

    Do you use off camera flash and if so can you detail your setup a bit? Thanks!

  • Reply
    Ken Bryson
    April 21, 2020 at 11:20 pm

    Do you use off camera flash in your portraits? If so could you detail your set up?

    Thanks!

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 21, 2020 at 11:44 pm

      My setup is very very easy: I use natural light as often as possible, very seldom the flash. Depending on the effect I wanna have, I use frontal light, but not a strong frontal light which would prevent structures in the face. Or for a more dramatic look, light in an angle from approx 45°. I use a flash just to create a 70ties look or for a hard direct light (only the detachable flash SF-40). But for sure 95% are with natural light.

      • Reply
        Ken Bryson
        April 23, 2020 at 12:53 am

        Thanks! Do you leave the SF40 on camera? Just trying to decide on a flash set up for my Leica’s.

        • Reply
          Marc Wick
          April 23, 2020 at 10:09 pm

          Yes, I use it on the flash shoe and remove it as soon as possible. On a camera without TTL like my M4 you have to calculate with aperture, distance and guide number (I hope this is the correct English word). ISO 100: Aperture=guide number/distance

  • Reply
    eric
    April 21, 2020 at 11:46 pm

    Simply Great, wonderful, perfect …
    Thanks for this time of pleasure.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 22, 2020 at 6:14 am

      Thanks a lot for your kind comment!!

  • Reply
    Marcel Zyskind
    April 22, 2020 at 1:59 am

    Great portraits.

  • Reply
    Marc Wick
    April 22, 2020 at 6:15 am

    Much appreciated Marcel!!

  • Reply
    BobsBlips
    April 22, 2020 at 9:14 am

    Love the photos. I shoot film and digital but much prefer the process of film….and I prefer the look/feel of film. And the fun shooting it!

    I’ve a load of film cameras including an M3 and M6 but there’s something about the M3 that does it for me. No wonder it’s arguably the most iconic camera of all time.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Reply
    alex
    April 22, 2020 at 9:29 am

    Beautiful images!
    Surprising how good the 50 apo is on film though!

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 22, 2020 at 9:45 am

      Thank you Alex! You are right, the analog way is more laborious, but I also prefer the analog look which is not always 100% perfect. And it is a kind of handcraft until you have the result in your hands. And the M3 is really a stunner. Especially if you have one with a bright viewfinder

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 22, 2020 at 9:48 am

      Yes Alex, I also thought that the APO is too clinical, too sharp for film. But it isn’t at all. The bokeh is wonderful and you still have some “life” in your photos. And not to forget, it is very small and handy.

  • Reply
    Reuben Zuazua
    April 22, 2020 at 8:51 pm

    Im a little lost at the begining. You talk about Leica but scan with a Medium Format scanner? When you switch to Negative Scanner something plugin means you switched to a Digital process of taking a picture with a digital camera and then processing through LR and a plug in? I got lost in your words.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 22, 2020 at 10:32 pm

      Sorry to confuse you Reuben. I had the Braun FS-Scanner for 35mm and mediumformat. I had a Plaubel 67 and the Braun was one of the few which could scan both formats. Now I have changed to a system with the Software Negative Lab Pro. You take digital photos from your negatives and convert it in Lightroom with Negative Lab Pro. The results with the Braun were very good but it took a long time and was very loud. I do not want to spend such a long time in front of a PC. With Negative Lab Pro it is much faster and easier.

  • Reply
    Gary
    April 24, 2020 at 10:55 pm

    Excellent perspective Marc, nice to see these pics again. The next lot with the M-D262 will be interesting too, look forward to seeing them.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      April 25, 2020 at 12:22 am

      Thanks a lot Gary! I am also looking forward using the MD but as most of us, our radius is a bit limited at the moment. For sure, better times will come….

  • Reply
    James Kuo
    May 10, 2020 at 6:14 pm

    Terrific images. Takes me back to the fashion magazines of the 60s and 70s.

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      May 11, 2020 at 6:34 am

      Thank you James, much appreciated. I also like this style in analog portraits a lot! Not so clean, strile, sharp.

  • Reply
    Jenae
    September 20, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    Do you have any tips for shooting digital portraits??

    • Reply
      Marc Wick
      September 21, 2020 at 10:43 pm

      Hi Jenae,
      1.) practise practise practise
      2.) get some books of your favorite portrait photographers and have a look how these masters compose their photos, have a look at the lights, the pose of the model
      3.) get books about light, shadows, natural light. I think this is very important. A good light can turn a good photo in a great shot.
      4.) practise practise practise

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