‘Leica Pro Photographer’ Mansplains Why You Need a Leica M For Street Photography

Craig Semetko is a “Leica Pro Photographer”, whatever that means. I assume he’s paid by Leica to shill their product. Nothing inherently wrong with that, of course; I’d love it if Leica paid me to shill their products. And I’m sure Mr. Semetko is a fine guy, probably worth sitting down and talking shop with, although, after watching his video I’m taking any advice he wants to give me with a grain of salt.

In the above video, he argues that the Leica M is the perfect camera for ‘achieving your vision’ (oh boy) doing street photography i.e. taking pictures of strangers in public places. IMHO, everything he says to justify that claim is simply wrong, or at best verbal filler, nonsense that makes for banal, self-conscious photos much like the picture above that serves to introduce the video. According to Semetko, there are three camera functions the M simplifies – framing, focusing, and exposure – making it the ideal camera for street work.

The truth is that control over those variables is essentially irrelevant in the street photography context. Let me explain.

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Scale focus, Point and Shoot. See What you Get. Pretty Simple, Actually.

I’m not arguing that the M isn’t a good camera for street photography. It is, but just not for the reasons Mr. Semetko says it is. The video is marketing word salad, designed to bypass the viewer’s critical faculties through an argument from authority i.e. ‘famous’ NYC photographer tutors me, camera-bug insurance salesman from Toronto, how I too can become a “street photographer”. Just buy the new M11 and frame, focus and expose. Yup, stand there, point the camera at some guy with funny sunglasses pushing a hot dog cart in Soho, put your $9000 M11 to your face and frame (always looking at what’s outside the frame because, unlike other cameras, you can do that with a Leica), now focus carefully with the focus patch (see details in manual), fiddle with the f-stop and aperture settings in a way that achieves your photographic vision, and press the shutter. Voila! A perfect “street photo.”

Prior to watching this video, I’d not heard of Craig Semetko. I googled some of his photos and they’re not bad. One thing I’m fairly certain of is he wasn’t framing, focusing and exposing as part of his process. Frame, focus and expose is a recipe for the worst type of “street photography”, banal photos of self-conscious subjects mugging for the camera. You might as well ask your subjects to say “Cheese!”

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A Girl With Funny Sunglasses. In This Case, I Achieved My Photographic Vision With a Ratty Old Ricoh That’s Too Cheap to Include a Rangefinder/Viewfinder

Digital rangefinders like Leica are good for street photography, just not the for reasons Mr. Semetko would have you believe. Because they’re manual focus they allow you to scale focus i.e. set a focus point and forget about it. They are full frame and allow a 21 or 28mm optic for tons of DOF. Their sensors are good enough to allow you to set your ISO to 3200, your aperture to f8, and forget about it. They’re small and discreet, not freaking people out when you approach with what looks like a bazooka; you can simply hold it in your hands at waist level and shoot. To hell with framing. Find the good ones on your contact sheet later, because, whatever Craig Semetko, Leica Pro Photographer would have you believe, most of it’s 1) serendipity coupled with 2) an eye trained by years of looking at photos to recognize a good one when you see it.

Of course, you can make the same argument about any number of other cameras, but you’re not going to feel like a famous Leica Pro Photographer walking the mean streets of Akron with your Ricoh GXR ( which, with an M-Mount module and a VC 21mm f4 is the perfect “street photography” camera). But Mr. Semetko isn’t paid by Leica to say that.

9 thoughts on “‘Leica Pro Photographer’ Mansplains Why You Need a Leica M For Street Photography

  1. Dan Newell

    That’s right folks, the new Leica M12 themed “Pavement Commando” that has the brand new mode- Visually Interesting.

    Color? Black and White? Who cares!! It’s just so garl darn interesting!

    You’ll be the talk of the coffee shop with the all new M12, especially when you accessorize your new Commando with the genuine Leica Stealth Strap (“Gee Bob I can hardly see it!”) made from a mix of carbon fiber and frog hair.

    Sure it’s 12 grand, but hey, ain’t that the motto of every photographer “There’s no money in it but they told me to love it anyway”.

    Loans available-How long? Don’t you worry, it’s just like a student loan.

    Get yours today!

    Reply
  2. Rob Campbell

    So I watched, and was mildly embarrassed for doing so.

    But that’s advertising, and advertising is its own little world where anything goes unless it actually breaks, beyond stretching point, advertising rules regarding standards, truthfulness and the sex/alcohol prohibitions that have come about in recent years. Well, they have in Britain and, it would seem, in parts of wider Europe. I have no idea if this control exists in America, too.

    For a little company, Leica does seem to have a remarkable advertising budget, unless like Vogue, it has the power to get folks to work for it for the “glory through association” that may or may not be imaginary.

    I think street has become the latest photographic genre to be glamorised and, thus, subject of the exploitation present in the camera companies’ publicity stuff. Was a time it was all about travel photography, but maybe that, as with birds, has gone a bit stale. I guess it’s dangerous today to push the old nudes/art photography theme in this current climate of political correctness.

    I have a suspicion that part of the attraction of street lies in fear of confrontation, and overcoming that fear. It can’t be accidental, the emphasis put on the difference in size between a rangefinder camera and a dslr. It seems to me that both Leica and Fuji try to sell the idea of invisibility if you buy their smaller cameras. For myself, I think I’d feel just as uncomfortable using either. There’s a world of difference between shooting a paid model and a possibly unwilling stranger. Personally, I don’t have the stomach to face unnecessary altercations in the street. Maybe if I had been born a Rambo.

    For me, the rewards of shooting street, in the tight sense of just people, are just not there; far more rewarding to look at the work of those who do it well.

    Or is it really an age thing? I have noticed that several old photographers say much the same thing: it was a different world back then when they were doing it (street). Was it really different, or has age simply brought about a heightened sense of self-preservation?

    Reply
  3. Markus

    I have learned – and that’s not limited to cameras – that a certain style of attempted persuasion in favor of a brand is usually just marketing, trying to mute the receivers critical judgement with hollow arguments. And me, I try my best to exclude this blubber from my eyes and ears.

    What I am wondering is why Leica follows this marketing path. They have a lot of excellent photographers using their cameras, and their LFI-blog ( https://lfi-online.de/ceemes/en/blog/ ) showcases very good photography from many genres. Even if the texts sport (rare) Leica marketing keyphrases, they are mostly good reads and don’t detract from photography.

    But then, with my acquired knowledge that the weakest part in photography is usually not the camera but several inches behind the viewfinder or display, I am certainly not their target group.

    Reply
  4. Dogman

    The whole time I’m watching this video I’m thinking, “What’s in the big bag?”

    The guy is carrying this small, discreet camera–extolling its virtues as such–while on his shoulder is like 25 pounds of…what? A half dozen extra cameras just in case?

    The only time I’ve been confronted recently about taking photos in public was when I was using a Fuji X100, a camera smaller, more discreet than the Leica. Quieter too. The irate lady actually called the police, who set her straight.

    Well, I’ve got an “acceptable” Fuji XP2 and a Voigtlander 21/4 so I know I can be a great street shooter. Tim told me.

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Given your gear choice, you are well on your way to becoming a Street Photographer, Dogman. It’s not easy. It takes time and attention. Just remember: You’ve got to fiddle with a lot of buttons and stuff before you can achieve your photographic vision.

      Reply
  5. Régis

    It’s always the same commercial blablabla when it comes to Leica rangefinders! Who is this advert aimed to?
    It’s hard to believe that newcomers are willing to pay that amount for a professional camera body -Leica lenses are another bill- without already knowing the pros and cons of this camera system. M-owners already know why they want to upgarde their camera body.

    With these over-used arguments, I believe that Leica communicators are either laughing at their potential customers or wasting the money of their patron. In no way I am desiring to upgrade my M camera with such creativeless arguments.

    There are 3 main reasons why I love rangefinders over reflexes. These are mine, but I’m probably not the only one:
    1. Eye-contact : when I press the shutter, I never loose eye-contact with my subject. With a reflex camera, I feel like I’m blinking, it’s odd and it makes me shake a little. With a mirrorless camera, the electronic viewfinder is less realistic.
    2. Slower speed : you can easilly use a rangefinder at 1/8s (sometimes 1/4)s with a 50mm lens without bluring images
    3. Confidence : you have to choose manually your speed, aperture, focus and framing, so that you have more control and thoughts on your image. Errors are yours, not camera’s. The more you practise this process, the more it feels natural, the more you forget your camera and concentrate on the creative side. Other modern camera are mostly auto-everything, manual-everything mode, although possible, is less natural with them.

    Reply
    1. Rob Campbell

      Well, Régis

      1. When I shoot pictures, I prefer the certainty of a proper reflex viewing system, one with full coverage, and through the shooting lens, not a tlr.

      I do not want to have eye contact with the subject: I want to have eye contact on the focussing screen so that I can catch what’s there as it happens. That’s why I preferred my Hasselblads in the studio over my Nikons: bigger screens. The “delay” between seeing and firing is always up to your own reflexes, and the time between pressing the button and getting the exposure down on film or sensor is really so tiny as to be irrelevant, though I do appreciate that rangefinder vendors do have to make a bigger deal that it is – they have to have something to make them seem better.

      2. I’m certain you are correct.

      3. Any decent digital camera that I know anything about allows manual mode in almost everything. Confidence comes with familiarity, rangefinder, slr or dslr.

      😉

      Reply

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