This Blog Has Moved

Friday, 7 May 2010

New Blog; New Home


Greetings folks. This blog has been wonderful and I've had the joy of meeting a lot of new people from here and hopefully shared some useful or interesting things with you all. Ok, before anyone get's too sad, I'm not shutting down the blog but moving it to somewhere new as I've outgrown what I can do on the Blogger platform. I shall keep this blog up but it will not be updated.

Kindly have a look at the new place, update your bookmarks and also click on the RSS feed so you're informed of new posts. Hope to see you all there :-)

Please do it now; click below as you might then forget!!

The new place is:

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer

Bag Review

As a photographer, bags are almost as essential to me as the photographic equipment I use. Everything I use has to be absolutely perfectly designed with a clear purpose. Then, it has to be perfectly made, ensuring that it lasts in the field.

I'm a lover of Think Tank Photo bags so much so, that I'm even on the design board. These bags cater for my photographic needs and using a roller, backpack and pouch system, occasionally a shoulder bag too, I have the perfect system for all my assignment needs.

However, I recently got hold of the Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer - not a photographic bag at all, but what looked like the perfect travel bag for business trips. I must admit to never having heard of the name until my good friend Daniel Beltra introduced me to them as he's a big lover and user of their bags for his constant travels.

I really liked the simplicity and design of the laptop part of the bag which then got me interested in the rest. The unique thing about this bag is how it unravels itself, opening up into three sections; this means that the laptop part can just be opened up on it's hinge and laid flat for X-Rays without having to take out the laptop. I must admit to not having tried this yet but from all I've read, airport security staff are more than happy with this approach.

I took the bag up to Edinburgh in Scotland for the workshop Jeff Ascough and I were giving. I packed a set of overnight clothes and essentials into the bag, including my 15" MacBook Pro, charger and bits and headed for the underground and then to King's Cross for my train up to Edinburgh. Naturally never without some camera gear, I also had my Think Tank Photo Shape Shifter backpack too.

I must say, I have nothing but praise for the Checkpoint Flyer. It was absolutely comfortable with it's fabulous shoulder strap and the design was very handy for times during my journey when I needed access to my laptop, documents and magazines. It was also the perfect size for an overnight stay and carried all my stuff in comfort. Last but not least the workmanship looks like it will last and last and last.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Ascough / Terakopian Workshop Update

Jeff Ascough showing his workflow using Aperture 3. Watford. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

What a fantastic week it's been. After filling in for Joe Buissink who was unfortunately marooned because of the ash cloud, I have met some extremely interesting people during our workshops in Watford and Edinburgh.

Edmond Terakopian talking with a delegate after one of the presentations in Watford. Photo: Ian Rudgewick-Brown

As you can see from the previous post, the combination of top wedding photographer Jeff Ascough who approaches his weddings with more of an ethical photojournalistic approach than I have seen from some of my colleagues and my background as a photojournalist and news photographer, has been very well received judging by the sea of kind and positive comments and the superb Q&As.

Here are some images from the workshops in Watford and Edinburgh.

Jeff Ascough talking about business practices in Edinburgh. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Edmond Terakopian talking on the subject of studio portraiture. Edinburgh. Photo: Jeff Ascough

Edmond Terakopian talking about directionality of light. Edinburgh. Photo: Jeff Ascough

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


This volcanic eruption in Iceland has certainly messed up many peoples plans, causing air travel to cease in Europe. One person who fell victim to the ash cloud was colleague Joe Buissink who has been trapped for days and alas cannot make the "Ascough / Buissink" workshops in the UK. Ok, so that's the bad news.

Good news is that all is not lost and when Jeff Ascough rang to see if I could help out, I jumped at the chance. So the workshops aren't cancelled and in fact the first one was today.

Jeff has very accurately been described by many as one of the very top wedding photographers in the world. If you haven't seen his work, I urge you to do so immediately; it's stunning.

Although I'm not a wedding photographer but a photojournalist, Jeff and I actually approach our differing subjects in the same journalistic way. Over the next few days I'll be presenting my work, approach and workflow at the workshops. So, let these workshops now be known as the "Ascough / Buissink who has been marooned because of volcanic ash and alas cannot make it / Terakopian" workshops. The small surprise I have in store for attendees is that I do actually shoot weddings too, so will be sharing my work and thoughts.

The four dates in Watford (April 20th to 23rd) are sold out, but there are a handful of places still for the Edinburgh workshop on the 25th and 26th of April. So if you fancy some great photography and conversation, BOOK NOW!!


Some feedback from Twitter, FaceBook and emails:

[Big thanks for all the kind words folks; much appreciated :-) Edmond]

I genuinely loved your presentation and seeing your amazing work was fantastic.

really enjoyed your session and loved your work.

Back from the Jeff Ascough Seminar. Joe B couldn't make it, but more than happy to see the work of and hear Edmond Terakopian.

back from a kickin' 2 day seminar with Jeff Ascough and Edmond Terakopian

you were superb (as was Jeff). Great to have met you: i really enjoyed hearing your stories and seeing your stunning work.

Hi Ed, saw you at the Ascough seminar yestdy. Loved ur work & found your genuine & no-nonsense personality v inspiring! Thank u.

enjoyed your talk yesterday, Armenian images were incredible...

Had a great time at the Jeff Ascough seminar.Wonderful to be treated to a session with @terakopian. Incredible photojournalist

@terakopian joined us today at the seminar and provided us with a great talk on his work and workflow!

@terakopian Once again, thanks for the seminar today! Your work is fantastic!

@terakopian Great presentation today.

I wanted to thank you for sharing your experiences and images with us at the ' Ascough-Terakopian ' seminar yesterday. Recalling the not too distant history of Nagorno Karabagh and the Armenian earthquake, I found your images both powerful and thought-provoking and appreciate the time you took in presenting to us.

Just had a great workshop with UK photojournalist Edmond Terakopian, really nice guy & great photographer.

Just been on a two day seminar with Jeff Ascough and @terakopian. Awesome images from both, and Ed has a new, firm fan! (nice guys too :))

Thanks again for an amazing 2 days, I was holding back tears during your earthquake sequence. Beautiful work.

@terakopian Such an inspirational pleasure to meet you at Jeff Ascough's seminar.

yes brilliant, got a lot from it. Can't wait to get my camera out! @terakopian was brilliant too!

Another great day with @terakopian and Jeff Ascough. V inspirational. The thought/depth behind each image is phenomenal

@terakopian Thanks again for today's inspiring seminar, I really enjoyed your work & your thoughts. Look forward to following your work.

@terakopian thank you for your talk and insight into your work yesterday . It left me motivated and keen to get out taking pictures!

just got back from 2day seminar/masterclass wedding photography with Jeff #Ascough and guest speaker Edmond @Terakopian ; well done lads!

2 day seminar with Jeff Ascough & Edmond Terakopian was superb - thanks to both for taking the time out to speak to us all

Twas a pleasure to meet you in Watford last week and to hear you speak, many thanks for stepping in

I attended your photo presentation yesterday in
Edinburgh. I didn't get a chance to speak to you so I would just like to
say a big big thank you for sharing your wonderful work. I particularly
liked the black and white projects at the beginning - what amazing images
so beautiful and so emotional.

I was one of the attendees at the Jeff Ascough seminar at Watford. I just wanted to thank you again for the fabulous slides and explaining your photographic process. It was very interesting and I am really glad that Joe didn't make it as I think I probably learnt more about photography in general that if he was there. Also, I must say that your iconic pictures of the London bombings are a gift to all of us, to never forget what happened.

The seminar was superb and getting Ed to stand in for Joe B was a master stoke. His presentation was amazing.

Thanks so much for an amazing seminar Jeff, I've never taken so many notes before; my hand was killing me from writing down so many inspiring, useful and brilliant things!! Ed was superb and hugely inspiring so many thanks for inviting him.

I enjoyed the two days and came away with a lot. Ed's Armenian earthquake presentation and his photographs of the London bombings most definitely put the photographing of weddings in perspective.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Worldwide Free Creative Education

Top chaps, friends and colleagues Chase Jarvis and Vincent Laforet have teamed up with a host of other photographers and educators to bring to fruition the world's first live and free internet educational channel Do pop by and have a look; it's well worth registering.

Is There A New Leica Coming?

Leica Making The World A Smaller Place

Found a very neat website setup by Leica sharing images taken on Leica cameras by photographers from all around the globe. It's based on Google Maps and well worth exploring as there are some nice images on it.

However, one thing did raise a question; in the text it says, "Each of them was equipped with the same Leica camera". The fact that it doesn't mention what camera and the way the map is used would lead me to guess that there's a new Leica camera around the corner and it has GPS built in.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Shot Down In Cold Blood

I'm so very saddened by this video. It shows how US Military Apaches kill over a dozen people on July 12, 2007, amongst which were two Reuters employees; photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40.

The Huffington Post article quotes some of the communications by the pilots responsible for thinking a camera was an AK47 or RPG (bazooka).

Rather disgustingly, they open fire on a van and the people who come to the aid of a survivor from the first attack, killing them and wounding two children who were sitting in the van.

I don't for a second think that the job of the armed forces is an easy one, but viewing the video clearly shows that their methods definitely need to be thought through and changes need to be made.

Remembering photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen by the New York Times

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Leica M9 - Full Review

Leica M9; the Marmite of the camera world

You either get it or you don’t!

“You’re so lucky”. This was the greeting I got from a wedding photographer; someone I had never met. Alas she didn’t seem to be talking about me, my dress sense, my personality or my photography. She was talking about the fact that I had a Leica M9 around my neck. There are occasions when cameras spark off conversations between complete strangers in the field, but I have to say that none have induced more talking and question asking than the Leica M9. It seems to be a magnet for chatty photographers from all spectrums of the profession.

Going back to me being so “lucky”. Actually, it was true. I was taking some photographs at a friend’s wedding, and all my kit which comprised of the M9, 24mm Elmar and finder, 35mm Summicron and 75mm Summicron lenses, fitted into a tiny Domke F5 shoulder bag with room to spare. The young lady making the “lucky” comment was weighed down by a back pack, two DSLRs with their big and weighty zooms and flashguns.

Whilst a DSLR is much more versatile in being able to help you photograph most situations, given the right lenses (which can range from fish-eye to macros and zooms to super telephotos) a small, light, precision made rangefinder is something else. If any camera can come close to being Marmite, it’s the Leica rangefinder. You either get it, or you don’t as much as you either love or hate Marmite.

The size of the M9 and the tiny lenses certainly has appeal, but it’s the way a rangefinder works and looks so non threatening that really appeals to me. Its been such a joy to use a Leica rangefinder for work again. In the days of film I used to use the Leica M4-2 and M6 for around 80% of my work. The rest would require long lenses and an SLR would be called into service. The number of times the people I’ve photographed have taken pity on me and told me that one day I’ll be able to afford a real camera. The first time seemed comical as they obviously had no idea about the cost or quality of Leica kit, but I soon realised that the advantage was that people were always relaxed in my presence as they didn’t take me as a serious professional photographer.

The Leica M9 in use. Photo: Antje Bormann

It’s All About The Lenses

I’ve been very fortunate in my career and have used and owned some fantastic lenses. Stunning lenses like Canon’s 35mm f1.4L or 85mm f1.2L II and the 50mm or 85mm f1.4 lenses from Zeiss have all been superb. These have been partially eclipsed by a superb 180mm f2.3 APO lens I had which was made by nowadays little known firm called Angenieux. However, by far my favourite optics have been Leica’s. The 21mm Elmarit, 35mm and 50mm Summicrons from days gone by have helped me make some of my favourite images on my Leica M cameras. The 90mm Elmarit on my Leica R6.2 also worked wonders.

Well, after the absolute disappointment of the M8 and the M8.2, the M9 is an absolute breath of fresh air. It’s not only full frame, but the sensor is great. It now opens up the digital photographer to the wonderful and amazing world of Leica optics; used how they should be used - full frame and without any multiplication factors. Thankfully, you can use the majority of the lenses ever made by Leica, dating all the way back to the 50s, with only a handful of exceptions (these are helpfully listed in the manual). To help out with older non-coded lenses, you can even manually set the lens in use on the camera using the menu system. Naturally there’s also the option of sending any old lenses to Leica for them to code it for you; at a cost.

The main thing with Leica lenses is that they just give a certain look to your photographs. I’d even say that some of the old Summilux lenses aren’t even that sharp, compared to the best modern lenses. However, they all have this magical ability of rendering light sources within the image beautifully and give you a beautifully contrasty image regardless of the light sources visible. In black and white you’d get an amazing tonal range and in colour the true rendition of colours as well as the tonal subtleties captured is wonderful. To finish off perfectly, you get beautiful bokeh. When shooting wide angle you also get such little distortion, as the design of the camera allows the rear elements of the lens to go deeper into the lens mount of the body.

I’ve used many camera systems during my career, starting with the Canon FD system, then the Nikon AF system, Nikon digital and for the past five or so years the Canon digital system. The one thing that remained constant through most of this time was the Leica M system and some R equipment too. What is also amazing is that Leica somehow has the ability to awaken a passion within photographers who generally only look at the equipment as a tool. Not only is it a passion for the cameras and lenses, but when the company gets it wrong, it’s almost taken personally. I have to admit to almost feeling heart broken when I tried the M8. The image quality didn’t live up to expectation, although in ideal conditions it would produce nice enough images, it just wasn’t consistent through its ISO range. To top it was the horrid problems with having to get IR filters for all one’s lenses. The cherry on top was the crop factor. I tried it when it first came out and then re-visited it around six months ago, and still, it was a disappointment. For a camera where zooms aren’t available and the majority of photographers don’t use the tri-focal lenses but stick to primes, it’s important to have full-frame; a 35mm lens should give a 35mm view. Well, thankfully the M9 and its full frame sensor have answered my criticisms of its predecessor. To top this, it’s actually a wonderful sensor and works rather well all the way up to 1250 ASA.

Portrait taken using the legendary 50mm f0.95 Noctilux at 400 ASA

Is It All Good?

You can probably have a suspicion that I’m rather fond of the M9; well, I am. As I mentioned earlier, it’s opened up the opportunity for us photojournalist types to use Leica for deadline work again, and this time, unlike with the M8, its with very little compromise. Its very nicely built and works extremely well.

The issues I came up with, apart from the sadness of only having it for a week and then returning it, was the buffer is easy to fill. I was originally shooting jpeg and RAW combined. I realised that shooting RAW (DNG) compressed made things much quicker and relatively snappy. It’s no Canon 1D MkIII when it comes to buffer speed, but compressed DNG works wonders. If there’s any visible quality difference between compressed and not compressed, I really can’t see it.

Another issue I came up with was the feel of the shutter button. Coming from the old mechanical rangefinders, it felt different. I could feel the stages in travel it has to have to accommodate the exposure lock for aperture priority use. However, the great news is that this can be changed in the custom functions. Another very useful function is to delay the wind on. I had these two custom functions (Soft and Discreet) constantly set and loved the way the shutter release now felt and worked. It’s still not the same silky smooth gentle release of the old mechanical Leicas, but then again having a yearning for it is unrealistic. After all, it’s a totally different camera.

Lastly, although thankfully there is now a dedicated ISO button, I’d welcome either a mechanical dial that showed the speed setting, or perhaps an LCD on the top plate showing the set ISO. For me it’s essential to be able to check this setting at a quick glance without having to go into the menu system.

In Use

I found the auto white balance to work amazingly well. It worked fabulously outdoors, like most modern cameras. However, it was under tungsten light where it excelled. The results are amazingly good. When shooting a series of images, you do occasionally get one in the set where for some reason the white balance jumps, but it’s generally completely constant. This in itself isn’t an issue if you shoot DNG as it’s very easily fixed.

Photograph taken using the 75mm Summicron

Although Leica offer the camera with a full download of Adobe’s Lightroom, my software of choice is Apple’s Aperture. I do applaud Leica for not bringing out yet another RAW format and the files from the M9 processed beautifully in Aperture. Editing through the 18 megapixel images has been a joy and the image quality began to remind me of looking at Kodak Ektachromes on a lightbox. Maybe the Kodak engineers who made the M9’s sensor were looking at the look of Ektachrome? Main thing is that the files look fabulous.

With the M8, anything over 400 ASA started to look terrible, especially early on when the IR filtering issue was not yet publicly known. The M9 shoots beautifully at up to 1250 ASA and nicely at 1600 ASA. Its maximum of 2500 ASA can be used in emergencies, but I’d personally steer clear.

Whilst the menu system works well, it does take a little getting used to as it’s not as intuitive as some of the modern Japanese camera systems around. I’d for example love to see the SET button placed inside the direction buttons. I have a small gripe with the delete mechanism too. I have a dislike with any delete function which gives the option of delete all. If in the middle of a fast moving news job, it seems a little to easy to delete all images by accident, even if there is a confirmation needed.

On a positive note, the bright-line frame markers work perfectly. The M8 had serious issues with the frame markers not corresponding to image view photographed. This was partly addressed in the 8.2, but the M9 seems to work even better and I didn’t have a single issue.

Does It Make Sense?

If logic were to dictate, then no, not really. At £4950 body only, the M9 is a very expensive camera. Leica have always been expensive, but this is expensive, even by Leica standards. Leica are not a mass manufacturer and there’s a fair amount of hand assembly and finishing that goes on. To top this off the quality control is extremely high and has always been so. However, I just feel that the price tag is too high. It pushes it outside the grasp of most professional photographers and possibly makes it only accessible to the enthusiast photographer who has a well paid day job. Its a shame really.

The image quality, especially at high ASAs, doesn’t come close to my favourite DSLR, the Canon 5D MkII; the Canon produces smoother files at 2000 ASA than the M9 does at 1250 ASA. It also is more versatile and being a DSLR can take lenses from 15mm to 800mm, making it much more useful. However, the Leica M9, and these wonderful Leica lenses just produce images with life; there is a quality and look to the images which no other camera system can produce. Logic dictates that a large and cheaper DSLR makes more sense; the heart though, wants what the heart wants; after all, photography is a passion. Also the form factor is fabulous; this tiny camera takes up so little room and the lenses even less. It affords a very subtle and gentle way of working which is wonderful. I applaud and congratulate Leica on the M9; it’s an amazing camera and as soon as this recession lifts, I’ll be making a visit to the Leica Store in Bruton Place.

For a full range of photographs taken with the Leica M9, please visit my Flickr page.

This article first appeared in the BJP on December 16, 2009.