Photoessay: Catwalk fashion with a Leica M

Here’s an unusual challenge. During my ‘early Leica era’, I decided to challenge myself: I shot a catwalk fashion assignment with a Leica M8 and 35/2 ASPH, rather than my usual D3/300mm combination. How did it turn out? Different – and that was the point. The client magazine was pleased, which is what mattered. And boy, it was possibly the most difficult shoot I’d done up to that point – this being early 2009 – because of the combined challenges of extreme lighting, new and unfamiliar equipment, manual focus, and a much shorter focal length than usual. The plus side is that nobody seemed to mind too much when I was roaming in and amongst the guests; an M8 is surprisingly at home in this environment. One nasty surprise was the IR pollution issue – at this point, my UVIR filters hadn’t yet arrived, and I spent a LOT of time afterwards correcting the color. Even so, you’ll notice a higher than normal proportion of black and white images in this set. MT

Series shot with a Leica M8 and 35/2 Summicron-ASPH.

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  1. As Ming says,practice —–and anticipating the moment.All of these done with M6 or M7 and a 28mm Elmarit.
    Zygmunt von Sikorski-Mazur

    • plevyadophy says:

      Looking at those shots, it seems to me that you were shooting in much the same way as I would shoot if using manual focus. Namely, the vast majority of the subject were either stationary or movement of the subject back and forth would be minimal given their position and what they were doing at the time of image capture (e.g. the shots of people in the audience). What impresses me about Ming’s shots are that they are very sharp at the point of focus (sharper than what I normally encounter when looking at manually focused shots of moving subjects) and the subjects were clearly in motion. When looking at a model walking a catwalk it doesn’t seem as though they are moving that fast because our eyes have a very wide field of view,and they will move left and right, up and down, to take in the scene without us being consciously aware of our eye movement. But when one is confined to the relatively narrow field of view that one gets looking through a viewfinder, the speed at which a model crosses the scene is scarily fast in comparison to what the naked eye sees. So with that in mind, I am mightily impressed with MIng’s shots because at a catwalk show I often struggle to simultaneously compose and keep my subject in the frame and focus and shoot and …………… I would be using autofocus so I’d hate to think how much I would struggle if I was doing it with manual focus lenses.


      • MF on a rangefinder is MUCH easier than MF with EVFs or focusing screens. It’s much easier to distinguish what’s in focus and what isn’t.

        • plevyadophy says:

          Hi Ming,

          Funnily enough, I find manual focusing on a EVF much easier. But I guess it depends what aperture one has the manual focus lens set at (I find the very fast lenses soooooooo easy because you can actually see it “snap” into focus due to the very shallow depth of field drawing a very clear distinction between what is and what isn’t in focus and at wide apertures like f0.95 and f1.4 you don’t even have to bother with magnified view assistance) and it also depends I guess on how the EVF renders details (I found that on the Panny G1 for example, the EVF would give a slight “shimmer” and a “moire” type effect on edges where the lens was in focus). I guess the great thing about a rangefinder focus patch is that the indication of correct focus isn’t dependent on the aperture of the lens used but I have never really got on with them; tried the Leica M9 a few times, even going so far as going on an afternoon practical seminar and still couldn’t get on with it. I do think however,that the EVF in the new Fuji X100s, with it’s “split screen-cum-focus-patch” might work for me but i have yet to try it (and in any event if i did like it I would wait for it to be implemented in the next X-Pro model).

          You remind me of good footballers; you’re are very good at something so you are the worst person to learn from because …….. you just can’t explain how you do it because it’s so easy for you 🙂 I still think, even if you modestly don’t, that your skill with the focusing of the camera is praiseworthy (trust me, I have seen far too many manually focused M images not to recognise a skilled practitioner when I see one. 🙂 )

          Warmest regards,

          • Try over sharpening your picture settings out of camera. This affects the live view image and gives a halo when things are in focus, but won’t affect your raw files. If you have focus peaking that’s of course better still.

            Most of the misfocused images from M cameras you’ve seen are probably due to bad RF calibration or people not compensating (or even being aware of) field curvature.

  2. plevyadophy says:

    But how in God’s name did you manage to compose, and MANUALLY focus CORRECTLY on such fast moving subjects?!!!!!
    My technique for manually focusing moving subjects is to cheat ……………….. I wait until they stop!!! So if I am shooting people at a function my simple rule is that no-one moves constantly so I wait for animated moments where the animation (shaking hands, smiles, laughter etc) is taking place whilst stationary. But what has really surprised and amazed me is that most of your shots seem to have been taken whilst the model is moving (and boy do models move fast!!) along the catwalk. I would NEVER (but have always wanted to) try that; I would always instead grab my autofocus cams. So do you care to share the manual focusing secret?

    Thanks in advance.


    • None really, just practice and a well-calibrated rangefinder. The latter is critical.

      • plevyadophy says:

        I think you are being incredibly modest! :o)
        I was once taught that practising every day doesn’t help if you are doing it wrong.
        So I reckon there is more to it than mere practise; there is a GREAT deal of skill there.
        I would love to know what the technique is for getting these kinda shots so that I could practise that technique as I am sure that whatever methods I use, practising them more and more wouldn’t make a bit of difference. LOL!! :o)
        I suspect you have a technique that you have internalised and are therefore not aware of on a conscious level.
        I have manually focused most of a wedding using a Voigtlander Nokton 0.95 on a microFT camera, but even then I resorted to autofocus for some shots and I wouldn’t dream of manually focusing a catwalk show.
        I salute you!

        Warmest regards,

        • Really…it is nothing more than that. All you have to do is line up the overlapping image in the box, and ensure that your rangefinder is properly calibrated so what you see is what the sensor sees. But by practice, we’re talking at least hundreds of shots a day…

  3. I do like your shots in black and white in particular.I myself have been using this approach for a number of years—–with a Leica M7 and only a 28mm Elmarit!! You can see some of the results on my Zenfolio gallery:
    Please continue to produce such excellent quality images.

  4. Nice set! May I ask what ISO did you use on the M8?

  5. Breaking the rules!!
    Seems a casual viewer and no problem with the proportion of BW images. That’s what I would like to see rather than tradicional (and sometimes boring) catwalk pictures made with big lenses.

    • And I think that’s what pushing the envelope in photography is all about. If we don’t experiment, we don’t get different results, and your work doesn’t stand out.

  6. Very nice! You captured the elegance of the occasion very well.

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