(Day 1) (Day 2) (Day 2 Night) (Day 3)

8:30 AM
That was the starting time for Day 2 of Leica Akademie’s San Francisco Weekend. Knowing that we will be doing lots of shooting today, I wanted to travel a little lighter. Since I borrowed an M9-P, I figure I didn’t need to carry 2 body. I packed my bag with all the borrowed gear M9-P, 35mm Lux, and 24mm Lux. I wanted to challenge myself on using a range that I’m usually not comfortable with. I love the 50mm range. It gives me the comfort of standing just far enough away to capture the moment and not being in someone else’s face. Shooting all day with the 35mm or the 24mm will get me to step 2-3 step closer to the subject. So I left the 50mm at home. Not to mention, since I only have limited time with these borrow lenses, might as well get a good run with them. I also packed up my Macbook Pro 15inch loaded with Lightroom ready for the editing session this afternoon.

Go into the Light

I got to the parking lot early. I figure I had some time to kill so I went around shooting again. I have to admit, It was a pain carrying a laptop bag and a camera bag with a camera in my hand. I should be glad that the Leica system was a lot smaller and lighter than my Canon setup. I decided to shoot the same tunnel under a different light. It was shady but enough light to cast a blueish hue on the street. This was as good contrast to the neon green light from last night.

After snapping a couple pictures, I figure it was time to get up to the classroom to load up on caffeine. It is always tough to wake up this early on Saturday!! On the way up, I bumped into Tom Brichta. He saw me snapping away before class.

Well, this morning’s agenda was simple. We will get shuttle to the Ferry building and start snapping away at street photos. There was a farmers market going on and a lot of tourist with cameras, so it should be a good place to get comfortable shooting street. As we gather into the shuttle, Tom B. spoke a little about exposure and focusing. Also spoke about dividing group up based on what you want to focus on. As soon as we arrived at the Ferry building. Everyone was itching to start snapping. The 2 Toms did manage to get a group of folks to gather around to demonstrate some strategy on getting the proper exposure.

Tip #1: Manual exposure metering for high contrast lighting scene. Since M9 does center weighted metering, it might not be feasible to always count on the camera properly setting your exposure in Aperture Priority mode (A mode on the top dial).
1. Pick your f/stop (Turn the ring on the front of the lens to your favorite aperture. You can start with f/8 on a bright sunny day. Go up or down depending on the effect you’re looking for.
2. Turn the shutter speed dial to the red A.
3. Look through the view finder and point the center on the viewfinder on the ground at a shady spot. Take note of the number. It was 1/750th of a second for me on that day.
4. Now, point the center of the viewfinder on the ground at a sunny spot. Take note of the number. It was 1/1500th of a second for me.
Now you have two exposure reading for the light and dark. Depending on what you’re trying to shoot and the look you’re looking for there is a few things you could do. You can now turn the shutter speed knob to 750 when you’re shooting in the shade and turn the shutter speed to 1500 when you’re in the sun. If you’re shooting a scene that’s part sunny and part shady, you can pick a shutter speed anywhere in between 750 – 1500 depending on if you want the sunny side blown out or the shady side shadow out. This is usually a good guideline to get you started.

Tip #2: Red “A” is your friend. Usually when I shoot street photos, I’m walking in and out of sunny and shade area looking for that decisive moment. I don’t have time to turn the shutter speed dial. I use the aperture priority mode and trust the camera. You can easily set your camera up to use the wheel to change your exposure +-1/3 of a stop all the way up to +-4 stop. Before I walk into a scene, I would still meter the ground for both sunny and shady spots to get an idea of the latitude that I will be working with. Then leave it on red “A” mode. As I walk into a building where it’s mostly shade, I would hold the shutter button half way and turn the wheel 4 clicks clockwise. This would give me +1 1/3 stop. As I shoot I just decrease the stop if the pictures are overblown. I do the opposite when I’m in the sunny area. Hold the shutter button half way and turn the wheel 4 clock counter-clockwise. Turning the wheel while the camera is at eye level is a lot easier than trying to turn the shutter speed knob at the top. Make sure you set your camera in the menu option to be able to adjust the exposure compensation.

First thing I notice when I got to the Ferry building was how busy it was. Being a native Bay Area resident for over 20 years, I been to enough farmers market. Just never really thought it was an interesting place to shoot pictures. There are a lot of very colorful fruit, vegetable, and flower stands. But the theme of this round of shooting was to photograph people. There were plenty of people, just not too many of them are that interesting or doing interesting things. There are of course the street performers, but I’m sure everyone will have plenty of picture of them. As I started walking around getting ready to snap some shots. A gentleman stopped me. He didn’t look like one of the attendee of the Akademie. I thought to myself. Great, I haven’t even started and I already got caught. First thing out of his mouth was, “is that a M9-P?” Then he withdrew from his coat pocket a silver M9. We chatted about Leica and the market for ~10 minutes. As I learn the next day, this would have been a great opportunity to capture a shot. He did look a little like Donald Sutherland. Imaging a shot of him holding his M9… Priceless. I was not decisive enough to capture that moment.

As I walked around getting comfortable with the surrounding, trying to get into the Photogrpher Trance (As best put by Kim Komenich describing Cartier-Bresson’s shooting style), I just felt no inspiration. Snap some here, snap some there. Nothing was interesting. I did see some interesting moments, but by the time I try to capture it, it passed. The other problem I had was I just could not get close enough to the subject. I still had the fear of looking too creepy while shooting a family having lunch with their toddler daughter as I approach them. I was using the 35mm lens which is not my usual range. I’m usually more comfortable shooting with the 50mm. This weekend was about me breaking out of my mold!! While scanning the scene, I had Kim’s lecture about composition flowing through my head. Looking for patterns, contrast, the decisive moment. Maybe I was looking for too many things and not really seeing what’s in front of me. I decided to walk away from the bustling crowd to see if I can catch something more interesting. I walked towards the bay bridge towards this big rocket sculpture. Then something caught my eye.


A bright red Fire Alarm in the middle of the street. It seems to line up to everything. Contrast to the street, patterns with the building, the decisive moment of the red car in the background, the foreground, mid ground, background. As I compose the shot, I was getting into it. I started to see more things. It’s no longer a bunch of people or bunch of fruit stand. I was starting to pick out objects.



Window to Life

Deep Trance


Juicy Fruit

Walk this way

As lunch time roll around. Everyone gather back at the shuttle and headed back to the hotel. The Akademie provided lunch at the cafe downstairs. This was also a great chance to debrief as well as getting to know some of the other attendees.

After lunch, we all headed back up to the room for some editing tips. What came out of Tom S.’ mouth was surprising to me. I though it was going to be a session on some Leica secret sauce that you can apply towards the M9 in Lightroom. Instead, he spoke about the basics. But it was the fundamental thing that every photographer should apply. I’m guilty of not adhering to a big part of it. It was a session on workflow. What’s the best way to setup your workflow to get the images safely into Lightroom and sorting them.

Tip#3: Back up, Back up, and Back Up. Make sure you always have 3 backup of your images. If you’re serious about your photography, this is the fundamental. It doesn’t matter how good your images are or how good you’re at capturing images. If you don’t have backups, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Have a working external Hard drive that you edit with on the field. Have that backed up to a 2nd external Hard drive after you copy the images in. It’s also good to back up your Lightroom catalogue as well since all the editing you do in Lightroom is metadata. It doesn’t affect the actual image (The digital negatives) Once you’re done shooting and importing the image in, make sure you back that up to your central backup at home. It doesn’t hurt to also have a monthly backup drive that you place at a different location or use some online storage as a backup for your winning images.

I rather like Tom S.’ method of sorting. He would view the thumbnail and quickly flag the ones he think it looks good in thumnail size. His rule of thumb was that if it doesn’t look good small, it’ll look even worst large. This tip allow me to quickly sort through the images and flag the images that I would be interested in going back to look closely. I always had a tendency to take too long on the initial flagging since I like to look at each images closer. His follow on tip is to use the star system. Go back through the flagged pictures and put 1 star on pictures that you would want to touch up. This time around, you will be looking closer at the picture. Checking the exposure and focus as well as composition.

Since his assignment to us was to share the image as it’s coming straight out of the camera, so the instructors can help and critique on the photographic skills rather than touch-up skills. This becomes very challenging as your mark your pictures. Our goal was to select one picture that will be projected up on the screen so we can get critique by the instructors and the class. Through out our filtering process, both Tom, Kim, and Will (I will speak more about Will in a bit) were there to help us select. From being a hobbyist, amateur, semi-pro photographer, it was quite exciting for my photos to be reviewed by a Pulizter prize photographer.

Once we finish selecting, the next guest speaker William Palank started setting up his presentation. I remember briefly reading about Will from some of Leica’s website. He has taken some amazing ethnic diversify photo. His focus is mainly on Travel photography as well as street photography. He has been featured by Leica numerous times. As part of his presentation, he shared his experience while traveling and photographing as well as some behind the scene of how he captured his photos. All in all, it was very refreshing and eye opening.

Spy vs. Spy

The last thing for the day was to review the 1 photo each of what we took during the day. Kim was the lead and provided great feedback on all the images. It was great to learn by seeing other people’s work and how to improve upon them. I remember walking inside the ferry building and seeing this gentleman sitting alone eating. I actually walked passed him and ended up doubling back to capture this image. It was the contrast of his shirt and hat that first caught my eye. Then it was rare to see so many empty seats in such a busy location. The lighting was perfect with the white plate acting as a reflector to light up his face from bouncing the overhead lights. This was my shot of the day.

As the sessions come to an end, I decided to hang around to take some more picture while waiting for the wife to pick me up.

Continue on to Day 2 Night…

(Day 1) (Day 2) (Day 2 Night) (Day 3)

  1. […] 2011 Leica Akademie San Francisco Weekend Day 2 […]

  2. […] 2011 Leica Akademie San Francisco Weekend Photography Workshop Day 2 […]

  3. […] 2011 Leica Akademie San Francisco Weekend Photography Workshop Day 2 […]

  4. […] 2011 Leica Akademie San Francisco Weekend Photography Workshop Day 2 […]

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