Tag Archives: Craig Semetko

‘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.

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