My Leica year comes to an end

A year has passed since I began my delayed gratification photography project—an attempt to broaden my horizons by limiting myself to a Leica M3, one lens (50mm), and one type of film (Tri-X), for one year (as recommended by Mike Johnston). In the end I shot 18 rolls of film—about one and a half per month—a far cry from Mike’s recommendation of 2-4 per week! I had all of my negatives scanned, so one could argue that this was “analog photography” in name only. Early on I had designs to take a darkroom class, but the timing never worked out. It’s something I could always pursue in the future.

I filtered through the 650-odd photos I took and whittled them down to the strongest 18 (technically 19, as the panorama below was stitched together from two separate photos). It’s purely coincidence that I shot 18 rolls of film and ended up with 18 winners. I didn’t constrain myself to picking one shot per roll. Several rolls, especially in the beginning, had no winners, and several had more than one. Not surprisingly, the majority have appeared in prior blog posts (as indicated). I’ve arranged them below in the order that they were taken.

16th Mission BART Station
16th Mission BART Station (from A hybrid commute)

Rondel Place
Rondel Place (from A study of power lines)
A shadow cuts across an empty lot
A shadow cuts across an empty lot (analog version of a digital shot from An empty lot)
San Francisco dreams of New York
San Francisco dreams of New York
Flying over a solitary boat
Flying over a solitary boat (from Leaving France by plane)
Pigeons, two pairs of shoes, and a jump rope
Pigeons, two pairs of shoes, and a jump rope (portrait version of a shot from A study of power lines and pigeons)
Palms and power lines
Palms and power lines
Infinite BART
Infinite BART
Airplane contrail
Airplane contrail (from Yosemite in black and white)
Channels of dry salt 1
Channels of dry salt 2
Channels of dry salt 3
Channels of dry salt (triptych from Salt ponds in black and white)
Ocean Beach footprints
Ocean Beach footprints (from Snowy plovers)
Spume of snowy plovers
Spume of snowy plovers (from Snowy plovers)

Mojave panorama

Mojave panorama (from Mojave landscapes in black and white)

Kelso Dunes
Kelso Dunes (from Mojave landscapes in black and white)
The Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer
The Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer (from Golden Gate Bridge in black and white)
Boardwalk through tall grass at Sonoma Coast State Park
Boardwalk through tall grass at Sonoma Coast State Park

If I had to pick my favorite from among the 18, it would probably be “Flying over a solitary boat”. Though it might be a toss up between that and “Spume of snowy plovers”. And “Pigeons, two pairs of shoes, and a jump rope” is definitely up there. Those would probably be my top 3. Ooo, but I can’t leave out the “Channels of dry salt” triptych—is there such a thing as a “top 6”?

After a week on eBay, the M3 is ready for its next adventure. I bought the body and the lens separately on eBay for $1550. I spent $212 getting them cleaned, lubricated, and adjusted. And I sold them together on eBay (to someone in San Francisco, no less) for $1125. Not quite break-even, but not terrible either.

I really enjoyed the experience, so I’m sad to see it go, but at the same time, I’m also glad to part with it. I appreciated the camera’s simplicity, the grainy drama of shooting with black and white film, and the anticipation leading up to seeing the shots I had taken days or sometimes weeks afterwards. That said, I didn’t enjoy the cost of developing and scanning the film (~$20/roll), knowing that someone had seen my photos before me, and discovering weird imperfections in otherwise workable shots (that the CLA didn’t entirely eliminate). I think the experience improved my eye for contrasts of shadow and light, form and space, but I still feel clumsy choosing the exposure. I expect that my future photography, digital or otherwise, will invariably be marked by this experience. I’m just not sure how yet.

7 Comments

Next camera?

The flying over a solitary boat photo is brilliant. Big fan of it – well done!

Tim, good question. Something smaller and lighter. I’m thinking seriously about the new Ricoh GR (the one without the number). As you might recall, I previously owned and quite liked the Ricoh GR Digital II (which you may or may not recall that I discovered through your blog).

I don’t want to rush into anything. I would have likely picked up one of those new Leica-esque Fujis, had Ricoh not upped the ante.

Paul, thanks, glad you like it. It’s one of my favorites.

Great shots. Love the beach footprints one the bestest. Is there some light digital editing going on around the footprints near the bottom?

GRDs are great cameras. I dig Ricoh’s whole GR series and use a GR-1 myself for some low light film shots.

Doc, besides tweaking contrast and selective cropping (and stitching together that panorama), the only shot I did any photoediting to was “Pigeons, two pairs of shoes, and a jump rope”—I removed two stray wires that I felt distracted from the composition. In the case of “Ocean Beach footprints”, I actually did nothing to the photo, that’s exactly what I got back from the scanned negative. Glad you like it.

Hi Justin! My “winners”are your photos of power lines. Its a kind of abstract ….oh yes and also on top is the picture of
beach footprints. My mothers familie has saved lots of black and white photos during there escape in the time of second war. I love this photos so much. Dont know why they seam more expressive than colour photos. Greetings from cold and rainy Germany! Geli

Geli, I’m glad you (and others) like the photo of the footprints in the sand. I worried people might find it a little too “cliché” (or commonplace), but I thought it came out so nicely that I’d included in anyways. Perhaps you can scan some of your mother’s black and white photos to post online one day.

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