Harsh Weather

I took a group of keen photographers to Iceland as part of my role with Leica Akademie Australia. I’d not been before and was expecting to be working in less than ideal conditions – ie rain, wind and relatively low temperatures. I did some research, made some plans, bought some new gear and I thought it might be interesting to readers of this Blog to take a look at what worked and what didn’t. I should also point out that this advice applies to ‘inclement weather’ rather than extreme adventuring conditions like snow and ice, or high altitude mountaineering.

Staying Comfortable

This is critical. If you are soggy and cold it’s really hard to be creative. It’s all very well being stoic but everything becomes that much harder, and deep down you end up wishing you were back at the hotel rather than shooting photos in the rain. Invest in good outdoor gear and err on the side of the better brands rather than being a bit hesitant with the budget.

Cold and wet in Iceland.

A good jacket is a must. It needs to be *genuinely* waterproof, not just showerproof, and should have a rating for millimetres of water pressure head. If it has no quoted rating it’s probably not waterproof and the rain will end up soaking through. A waterproof rating of 2000mm should be considered a minimum and over 5000mm is considered good.

A jacket with lots of pockets is really handy. In the rain you don’t want to be accessing your bag much, better to gear in your pockets as much as possible – filters, batteries, memory cards etc are much better off being within your waterproof shell.

I prefer a shell jacket to a big padded coat. Many brands offer zip-in fleecy liners and it’s the layering that does the trick in cold climes. Five thin layers with a waterproof shell will be much better than a couple of laters under a big heavy coat.

Shell over-trousers are an excellent option. Rain jackets shed the water as designed but where does it go? Down of course. Soon your trousers are soaked and, shortly after, your boots will start to fill from the top with cold water.

Choose over-trousers that are (obviously) properly waterproof and that have wide, zippered lower sections so you can put then on over boots and trousers. Lightweight ones are best as they can be worn over light trousers and thermals.

Shell layers, being waterproof, also keep out the wind, and in fact it’s this factor that affects how warm you feel rather than the actual temperature. You can be toasty warm on a still but freezing day, or shivering on a windy day at 10 degrees C.

I also find that top quality thermal leggings and undershirts work very well. The merino ones are great – Icebreaker from NZ is probably the best on the market and whilst is a bit costly, you won’t regret the cost when you are out in the elements and feeling all warm!

Keep dry at all costs!

Boots

Very few of the lightweight boots we tend to wear in the tropics are genuinely waterproof. I’m a bit of a Merrill affectionado. There’s no denying their comfort but many supposedly waterproof boots actually aren’t. Rather than buy special boots I chose to get a set of overshoes which go over your boots – like galoshes or gaiters with a built in sole. Lighter than a second pair of boots, and much better value. I’d not go off walking any great distance in them but in Iceland they were more than capable of keeping out the wet grasses and the occasional errant wave on the shore.

A word of advice – it’s tempting to wear your shell trousers inside the overshoes. Don’t: roll the trousers down *outside* the overshoes and strap them up tight. Water flows down not up, and properly overlapping layers can keep out a wave splashing right up to your thighs.

Gloves

Fingers get cold quickly, especially when they are wet. I use fingerless mitts from Katmandu that have a mitt flap that can be peeled back to access your fingers. Great for fiddly camera gear and warmer than normal gloves.

Well equipped and comfortable leads to good photos.

Cameras.

Keeping your camera gear safe and functional is, of course, critical . You could sit inside and watch the rain come down but you’d miss out on some awesome opportunities if you are too worried about getting your camera wet.

Shooting in heavy rain is almost impossible. If you absolutely have to, it’s certainly do-able but just not advisable. Shooting comfortably in light rain is a much better prospect but even light rain accumulates quite quickly so you need to keep as much off the camera as possible.

I shoot with a Leica SL which is almost impervious to light rain due to its excellent weather sealing but there is a bit of a gotcha with ‘rainproof’ cameras. They are rainproof but not airtight. This means you can shoot with them covered in raindrops but they must be dried off before putting them back in their cases or bags. The humid air inside a wet bag will gradually penetrate the camera and lens, leading to condensation issues later on. It’s not a big deal but do dry off your camera before packing away.

if your camera does get wet or if you see internal condensation on the lens, don’t panic. Put the lens along with some uncooked rice in a plastic bag and let it sit for 24 hours or so. The rice will desiccate the air in the bag, gradually pulling out the moist air inside the camera. You can ask the hotel restaurant for some or get it from a supermarket.

Simple bags like this can save the day.

For non weather sealed cameras and for those who, like me, are a bit paranoid about such things even with sealed cameras, I have found the Op/Tech range of camera rain-capes to be superb. They are cheap and light – almost disposable – with a simple and effective design. Just drag the bag over the camera, pull the drawstring tight around the lens hood and line up a small hole with the viewfinder window. That’s it.

Capes like this show up a value of using mirrorless cameras. You simply do not need to use the rear LCD screen at all – menus access, image previews and focussing can be all be done in the EVF window so a wet, steamy plastic cape obscuring the rear screen becomes no problem whatsoever.

Carry a microfibre cloth as well as a small chamois. Microfibre is not that good at collecting moisture and you can bet good money that your front lens element will get wet at some point. The chamois removes the worst of the water, then use the micro fibre to clean it thoroughly. Keep a close eye on the front of the lens – it’s very easy to forget and only find out too late that the perfect shot has been marred by drops of water on the lens (and it’s really hard to retouch out later!).

Don't get too close!

Bags

This is a tricky one but obviously you need some sort of bag that is either waterproof or, more usually, has a waterproof cover. Most bags are only really showerproof so the extra cover is essential if you know you’ll be out in the rain. The downside is that it’s then hard to get into the bag, which is where having pockets in your jacket comes in. Changing lenses is not an option in the rain unless you are extremely careful so having SD cards and filters in you pockets and working with one protected zoom lens is a sensible way to work.

I have a lot of bags and usually use a Tamrac wheeled backpack because it’s great in airports. However it’s not really much good for harsh conditions so I ended up with a Think Tank Airport Essentials which is lightweight and has a good rain cover tucked away inside. This bag performed very well in Iceland and my gear never got wet.

Iceland is a challenge for photographers.


Myanmar Photo Tour 2019

Our Leica Akademie trip to Myanmar was a whole heap of fun; it’s a terrific country for photography being both colourful and very friendly. We timed our trip for the Full Moon in November and had the privilege of attending the Full Moon Festival at Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan where thousands of monks from the surrounding regions gather in one place.

One a personal note, I was able to reveal the new Leica SL2 for the first time as it was officially announced the day we left on the trip. Many of the photos in the gallery below were taken on this camera and you can read my ‘first look’ review here.

Cheers, Nick Rains.


Craig Semetko Workshop - Guest Images

Last month we hosted a visit to Australia by Craig Semetko, one of Leica’s top street photographers. Craig conducted two workshops, one in Sydney, and one in Melbourne – here is a gallery of the participants’ results after two days.


The New Leica SL2 - A First Look

The Invisible Tripod

by Nick Rains

It’s finally here, the long awaited update to one of my all time favourite cameras, the Leica SL.

I have been using the SL for the past three years as my go-to camera for all my commercial work. It’s the camera I turned to when I needed to get the job done with as little fuss as possible, and yet at the highest possible quality. Sure, it was not a lightweight, but it gave me an extremely high hit rate of successful images and who can ask for more

Shorncliffe Pier, Queensland. 120 seconds

And now we have the SL2; very similar to look at, a slight change to the Leica name on the front (in a homage to the old R8 maybe) and a redesigned grip which is a big step up from the older model. It’s easier on the wrist muscles, and on the fingers, with a smoother, rounded upper shutter button area and a scooped inner groove to sink the fingers into. The finish is a more robust black coating with a subtle ‘hammered’ finish that seems very durable.

I know that other testers will be publishing comprehensive lists of features etc so I’ll just concentrate on the aspects of the camera that have impressed me most over the past weeks. Here are my Top Three Big Deals.

Sydney Town Hall - 90mm Summicron-SL
100% crop of previous image - 1 second hand held using 90mm Summicron-SL

Firstly, the SL2 introduces Leica’s first iteration of BIS – Body Image Stabilisation – where the sensor itself moves to counteract any camera shake. Sure, this is not ‘new’ as such, but Leica does tend to wait until technology is fully mature before considering implementing it. In this case their aversion to being an early adopter has paid off because BIS is a game changer for me – a term I do not use lightly.

I don’t know what the quoted ‘power’ of the stabiliser is – some manufacturers say 4 stops of shutter speed etc. All I know is that I can get reliably sharp image at crazily low shutter speeds. I have 1/2 second exposures with the 90mm Summicron-SL that are 100% sharp hand-held – yes, really. My *record* is 2 seconds with an 18mm Super-Elmar-M although I was pushing the limits and not every shot was perfectly sharp. Having said that, the fact that any shot could even be sharp *at all* whilst hand holding for 2 second blows my mind.

The amount of sensor movement seems to be quite substantial – when shooting video you can get a rock solid shot, particularly with the 24-90mm which has it’s one lens stabiliser working in tandem. I call it the Invisible Tripod because I can now shoot images that would normally be impossible without a tripod.

Craig Semetko - 90mm Summicron-SL

The second Big Deal is the jump to 47MP. This shows up clearly in prints, A2 prints look tack sharp even with your nose against the print and when I get my bigger printer going I’m looking forward to A0 prints looking as sharp as the A2 prints I get off the SL.

There is also a crispness to the images which surprised me. I’m used to sharp images but when using the new 35mm Summicron-SL and the 50mm Summicron-SL, not to mention the older zooms, the image has the kind of acutance I have come to associate with a Monochrom. I was concerned that doubling the resolution would reveal any shortcomings in lens quality but, it being Leica, I needn’t have worried – Oh me of little faith! You need to see this for yourself – it’s hard to describe or to show on a web image but it’s clear to me when I closely examine files on a high quality screen.

Melbourne - 0.7 sec hand held, 35mm Summicron-SL

The 3rd Big Deal; since I started working with Leica I have been banging on about how limiting the mandatory long exposure noise reduction (LENR) was. Sure, it produced a very high quality image, but I have been asking the senior designers for many years to offer an option to turn it off. For example it would be impossible to shoot a starry sky time lapse with exposures over a few seconds because then the camera would need to wait for the same length of time again before the next shot, thus resulting in gaps in the time lapse.

Well, my prayers are answered in the SL2, LENR is now optional and can be turned off if you need to – Yay! A quick comparison of 120 second exposures with, and without, LENR shows a subtle noise benefit but nothing you could not handle with good quality post processing noise reduction.

Melbourne - 0.5 sec hand held, 35mm Summicron-SL

In other news…

The viewfinder is improved, not to a massive extent, but it’s still the best one on the market. The numbers are deceptive. It’s 5.76MP, like some other recent cameras, but because the viewfinder glass is made to the same tolerances as Leica lenses, it looks super crisp; so sharp in fact that with wider aperture lenses you can judge focussing directly in the viewfinder with peaking and magnification turned off.

Video has taken a big step forward. The SL2 can shoot 4.2.2 color in 4K to a SD card in 10bit at 25fps. There are options for 5K shooting, higher frame rates to external recorder, 180fps in 1080p and up to 400Mb/s data rate.

There are lots of other tweaks and improvements – here are a few of my favourites:

– Charging batteries in-camera via USB. You can use a phone powerbank to top up the batteries if you are away from 240V power. This is very cool.
– The new menu system has a neat ‘quick menu’ on first press of the menu button.
– There’s a new button layout to align with the M10, Q2 and CL.
– Now we have more customisable buttons including a sweet little rocker button under your grip fingers, perfect for accessing, say, ISO and drive mode.
– There are now standard jacks for microphone and audio monitoring.
– There’s a nifty way of switching from stills to video with just a swipe across the LCD screen, which reveals a dedicated video screen layout.
– 20fps shooting speed. Using DNGs I got 27 consecutive frames, then it took about 60 secs to *fully* clear the buffer – that’s 2.3Gb of data! This might be affected by card performance, I’m using 95MB/s Sandisk Extreme Pros and have nothing faster right now.
– Top shutter speed 1/40,000 sec.

On balance, the SL2 is a significant upgrade from the SL with the combination of a 47MP sensor and some of the best lenses in the world competing head on with vastly more expensive medium format cameras as well as the highest resolution offerings from other brands. The SL was always a highly functional camera, the SL2 is the same, just more so.

SL2 - note the new style 'Leica' on the viewfinder.
New menu styles including this easy to use Quick Menu layout
Charlie - 1/15 sec @ f2.0 hand held. 50mm Summicron-SL
Melbourne - 1.5 sec hand held, 35mm Summicron-SL


Mossman Gorge Portrait - Behind the Scenes

During our recent trip up to Far North Queensland our Akademie group had the opportunity to shoot some careful portraits at Mossman Gorge of a local Kuku Yalanji man, our guide for the day, Skip. He was extremely patient with us, giving our group the chance to shoot for over an hour so we could get a wide range of angles, backgrounds, and most importantly, different qualities of light.

The key to these kinds of portraits is being aware of what the light is doing. In this case the sun had not yet risen over the hills either side of the river so the only illumination was the bright sky directly over the river. Sunlight would have been almost impossible to shoot in.

We were under some trees next to the river so the main light source was a large patch of sky high and to the right, plus a smaller patch of bright sky to the far left as we looked at the river. Being big and bright this upper right patch of sky was our soft ‘key light’ so all we had to do was orient our subject accordingly – you can clearly see the light cast by this source in the following photo:

Once the light direction and quality is assessed – you can do this by looking at how shadows fall on your outstretched hand are you move around – the next most important decision is the background. In this case the dark green foliage of the far bank made the subject stand out nicely, but you still have to watch for odd lines (trees) intersecting with the subject.

Then it’s a case of directing your subject into a position and pose that looks right. One thing to watch out for, the catch light in the eyes is often critical. It makes eyes look alive and so the best orientation of Skip was looking slight to camera-right so that the high light source passed across his face and just glinted in his eyes.

This last image (below) reverses the situation and goes for a rim-lit look, bringing out Skips profile and making the background go very dark. Be careful not to over expose the overall image – just the highlights are needed.

Remember, we didn’t control the light in any of these shots – it’s all about placement of the subject relative to the light source.

All these images were shot on a Leica CL with the 35mm Summilux lens at f1.4.


Daintree Photo Tour 2019

Leica Akademie Australia, in partnership with Accor Plus, recently took a group of keen photographers to Port Douglas where we spent four days in the tropical north of Australia, staying at the delightful Pullman Sea Temple Resort. The biggest draw-cards in this region are the Daintree Rainforest, and the Great Barrier Reef, both of which actually meet at Cape Tribulation, the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites touch.

Mossman Gorge turned out to be the highlight of the trip, we were able to gain special access to the National Park and were at the river beach by first light. It’s a very popular place with over 350,000 visitors per year (Uluru has 400,000 by comparison) so having some private access was critical to getting good photos. Our Kuku Yalanji guide, Skip, kindly agreed to don his ceremonial paint and pose for us to shoot some portraits. He was an absolute natural – very relaxed and engaging.

Here is a gallery of our experiences over the workshop…


Cockatoo Island Workshop Gallery

Bill Green recently ran an available light photography workshop on Cockatoo Island in Sydney with the able assistance of model Jacey Brown. The old warehouses and grungy environment proved to be an excellent location for both portraiture and general photography and the group of 8 guests learned a great deal from Bill's many years of experience. Here's a selection of BTS images from the day:

L1120930

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Tasmania Trip

Tasmania 2019

In March Leica Akademie took a group of guests to Tasmania for a five day trip, featuring Hobart, Port Arthur, Freycinet Peninsula and some truly fine dining at Hobart's best restaurants. As you can see from those photos taken by Instructor Nick Rains, Nature turned it on for us a few times and some excellent photos were taken by all concerned.

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Motion Blur

Akademie Instructor Nick Rains recently created four short videos on Motion Blur - what it is and how to use it. Here they are in suggested order of viewing:

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50/50 Photo Competition

5050_comp

Leica Akademie Australia is pleased to announce the inaugural 50/50 Photo Competition which aims to reinvigorate interest in that most humble of lenses, the 'standard' 50mm lens.

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The very first Leica prototype, the ur-Leica of 1914, featured a 50mm lens, and for the past 100 years, there has always been a 50mm lens in the Leica lens range - currently there are four to choose from, ranging from the new f2.4 Summarit to the exotic and legendary f0.95 Noctilux. Since 1914 many of the world's best known photographers have made extraordinary use of this simple lens.

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