Leica Akademie - Street Photography with Quinton Gordon

It’s been over a month since I attended the Leica Akademie’s workshop on “Street Photography” here in Calgary. If you are anywhere near a city where this course is being offered and you are in the least bit interested in Street Photography (Leica user or not) or want to get a feel for what it’s like I highly recommend this workshop. I attended because I wanted to spend sometime with other photographers in real life rather than online, to learn from everyone’s experiences and soak up as much information as I could.

The workshop I attended was facilitated by Quinton Gordon from Victoria, BC. Quinton’s a damn fine photographer and enjoys teaching and getting the best out the attendees. I hope that Leica will bring his other course “Truth in Photography” to Calgary in the future.

Day one started with a quick overview of Leica and we had a chance to “fondle” the M9, the Monochrome; unfortunately there was no M Typ240 on hand. Since I had the M9, I signed up to use the Summarit 90/2.5 as I’ve been using the 45/1.8 on my E-P2 to cover that portrait focal length (remember, 45mm in m43 has the same FOV as a 90 in 35mm) and wanted to see if I should save my change for that or a used Elmarit 90.

After the usual howdy-do’s Quinton launched into an overview of street photography, various street photographers from past to present and the changing styles of street photography. As a side note, I’d highly recommend Eileen Rafferty’s video “Art Movements Through Photography” on BHPhotoVideo’s channel on YouTube.

Quinton then spoke about the importance of understanding composition: not only the rule of thirds or the golden section but also the concepts of perspective, framing, motion and flow. Of course, he reminded us that these rules are guides and once understood can be bent, modified and ignored as required. He spoke about the lack of “classical art instruction” in most photographic schools or courses of instruction and how vital this is for making compelling images.  If you want to improve your composition, go to a museum and study what the masters did.

If I had to summarize the first day, I’d boil it down to the following:

  • Be aware when you are in the presence of a photograph,
  • Be discreet, blend in but don’t be a voyeur,
  • Be intimately familiar with you gear, not only from an operational perspective, but how different lenses in you bag will render a scene and what lens works where,
  • You won’t apply everything you learn here tomorrow or the next day. They will come to fruition later when you are ready for them.

After lunch we headed to Stephen Avenue and worked the streets for the remainder of the day until the light our feet got sore.

I really liked using the Summarit 90. I’ve always enjoyed this focal length (or close to it) and some of my favourite film shots have been with the Olympus Zuiko 100/2.8 on my OM cameras. It allowed me to shoot discreetly and although I was worried about mis-focussing with a narrower depth of field it went fairly well; mind you I was “f8 and be there” for most of my time with this lens. A 90mm M-mount lens is in my future. I have no idea how I’m going to fund it though.

Day 2 we met up in Inglewood for more practical work. I got there early in the morning as the aviation forecast called for overcast skies around the meeting time and snow about two hours afterwards. (The civilian forecast didn’t say anything about the weather going sideways).

I struggled a bit as even with what little light there was in the morning, the whole vibe on the street just wasn’t working for me. I muddled around a bit but my mind just wasn’t there.

As the forecast snow squall descended we returned to the classroom to edit our two days of shooting down to three images. In the days of film and soup I might have finished 2 half days of shooting with maybe 4 or 5 rolls to develop. Editing down 180 images to three from 5 contact sheets is a lot different than editing down the 500 images you can stuff on an 8 gig card and display in Lightroom. I wasn’t multi-shooting all that much; you know, shoot, re-frame a bit, shoot again and so forth. I’d work a single location or subject from various angles but there wasn’t a lot of wastage.

Like Quinton suggested, my editing (and I don’t mean post-processing here) has been multiple passes, starting with a rough cut of “1 star” images. I then progress up through the star system. If I have two similar images I use Lightroom’s candidate/current view.
After every pass I filter on the current number of stars I’ve given. Ideally, once I get to 3 or 4 stars, I like to let my catalogue sit for a few days and then revisit the images but we had to get everything ready for critique in three hours so, like the Iron Chef I soldiered on.

By the time I got done, I was down to 3 images of two different themes: “Different Directions” and “Graphics”. I went back and forth and back and forth and decided on “Different Directions” by tossing a coin.

Quinton’s comments where encouraging. He suggested that I had a surrealist streak and preferred formal compositions. He liked my telephoto work in that he said I understood how the focal length compresses stories together and allows for juxtaposition of stories. He told me that I need to work on my framing, that is, I frame too tightly and don’t give the story enough room to enter and exit the frame.

What did I learn?

I learnt that

  • I need to work on visiting with people to photograph their stories. I visit but I end up listening to their stories and forget to take the picture!
  • my preference for distance from the subject is natural because I’m comfortable with the focal length and know how to use it to say what I’m trying to say
  • my framing is sometimes too tight; my photos need to breathe more
  • I need to stay on top of my writing, a month is way too long for me sit on a post!
I don't know about the surrealism bit. I always visualize Dali when I hear that word but HCB was an original surrealist so who knows?

Different Directions

Over There
Look Here
Different Directions


White Stripe

Vinyl Dress

The Blues Can

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