Shutter-Chatter #1 – Florian Lang is shooting India
vintage-camera-lenses has grown tremendously since I started the website. I thought it might be a good idea to go beyond gear reviews and historical background. Hence I would like to present the new subsection called Shutter-Chatter, where professional photographers, amateurs, artists, darkroom aficionados, geeks, gear heads, collectors and everyone else can just chatter away about photography, their style, their favourites, their technique and whatever insights they want to share with us.
I am really excited about this first Shutter-Chatter! We will start of with my good friend Flo, who has been shooting in India for a long time. Florian “Flo” Lang is a professional documentary photographer based in Delhi, India. He has been working extensively in the subcontinent for various publications. He is a member of FreeLens, Germany’s largest association of photojournalists. Make sure to visit his website and check out his amazing portfolio. Contact him directly if you require a photographer in the region!
You have recently switched from a canon full frame system to a Leica M-P (Type 240). Why did you decide to switch and how it did go for you?
I have been starting to do photography more seriously with a second hand Leica M6, later bought a manual MP after my M6 was stolen. At one point of time I realised I need a digital camera and bought a Ricoh GRDIII which I totally loved, particularly with the little external optical viewfinder. It’s a great little camera for street photography. Later I moved to India and decided to give it a try to earn a living from photography. What was missing was a more professional Digital camera. I ended up with a Canon 5D MkII, another great camera. I tried to stick to my style of photographing by using only prime lenses mostly 35 and 24mm, no zooming.
I could get along with this for a while, but always dreamed to go back to the Leica M, as soon as I would be able to afford a digital M with a 35mm Sensor.
Did switching to the Leica system enable you to take more personal pictures than with a digital SLR?
I don’t think that the Leica really enables me to take more personal pictures. I always tried to come close to the people I photograph. It is more a matter of time, interest and maybe empathy, rather than the camera you use. But I feel that the Leica doesn’t come in the way, between the subject and the photographer. Also I am neither really interested nor able to handle too much technique. To use a Leica M is a very intuitive experience. You open or close the lens and you just feel how you let more or less light to pass the opening and reach the film or sensor. Another little wheel for the shutter speed, that’s it. I don’t have to think much about what I am doing in terms of the technical aspects. Therefore I can concentrate on my image – and of course the focusing with the rangefinder.
You have extensive experience using analogue camera systems, including Leicas. How does the digital Leica M compare to using the classic analogue Leicas. Are there similarities?
In many ways it is a quite similar experience. But what makes a difference is the ability to change the ISO setting according to what is needed in a certain situation. An even bigger difference makes the display which like in almost every digital camera (yes, there is an exception, the M60) allows you to check how your pictures are turning out. Some of the magic is gone as you don’t have to wait till you have processed your films. Instead, I often spent some time in the evening, going through a day’s shots. One more difference is, that the sensor is less tolerant to unsteadiness and object movements compared to films. With the manual M, I often took clear pictures with a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second. With the digital M, I try to avoid shutter speeds below 1/30th of a second or even 1\60th of a second.
People often complain about the rather bad image quality of the Leica when light conditions are not perfect? Do you agree? What is the highest ISO you use on the Leica?
I think, the low light performance of the M-240 has been much improved compared with the M9. Still it could be better I feel and I try to avoid ISO above 2000. But I am not looking for technical perfection in images, but rather for interesting people and scenes – I can live with some noise. Actually I am trying to become a bit better in terms of technical perfection, e.g by using a tripod in difficult light situations. But I have to remind myself again and again about that.
Can you give us an overview of the different camera systems you used as a photographer? Which ones did you particularly like and why?
For 90% of my work I use the Leica. I just like it too much to take another camera. If I need a long lens, then I take the 5DII. Also for night photography I find it more comfortable than the Leica M. That’s it. What I would like to use at one point of time would be a Medium Format Camera. But this is something I can only dream of, at this point.
What are your top 3 lenses and why?
- Canon 85mm f/1.8
I loved the Canon 85mm f/1.8. It’s a great portrait lens which produces a very beautiful bokeh:
- Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8
With the Leica M I use the 28mm Elmarit which has only 2.8 as a fastest F-stop. I like the 28mm focal length which I got familiar with while using the Ricoh GR Digital III. The 28mm Elmarit is a great lens if I just want to go out with a single lens. It produces really sharp and clear images and works perfect for zone focusing which makes it a great lens for street photography.
- Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2
But the lens I use the most is the 35mm Summicron, I use the current version. It is good for everything – portraits and environmental portraits, street, landscape. For me, it is the most universal focal length. The 35mm Summicron was the lens I started with, together with the M6. On the Canon 5D MkII I used a 35mm focal length for most of my work. Now, once more, I am back with the Summicron and if I could keep just a single lens, it would be this one.
What was your most memorable assignment?
In terms of assignments, I enjoyed a more recent reportage I did for a corporate magazine. It was about Gurgaon, a very modern Indian city and it forced me to take a closer look into a place and culture I normally try to avoid: The Indian middle class. And also it was the first time I used solely the Leica M for professional work. And it turned out well.
I have done many documentaries for an NGO, here in Delhi and those assignments were often great experiences, as they led me to some very remote areas of the country.
But some of the best memories I bring back from my personal trips. The Urs in Ajmer, a huge muslim festival in Rajasthan was one of those.
At the moment I work on a project about the Ganges or rather the people living along the Ganges. For that project I have been travelling to the Gangotri Glacier and even above, along the river and down to the Sundarbans, the huge Delta of the river. In the last 10 month I have been travelling extensively for that project and along with some nice pictures I have brought back some really good memories from the trips I undertook for this project. For example when I was asked to translate during a conversation between a young Baba, an eremite who lives in a Tapovan, a spiritual retreat in the Himalayas, above the Gangotri Glacier where the Ganges originates from.
The Baba did not talk as he had given a vow of silence. Me and a friend were staying with the Baba in his hut for two nights. On the second day there came a group of four young Russians who were seeking spiritual advice form the Baba. It was a tricky situation as they did not speak much English or Hindi. The Baba did only understand Hindi. As I understand some Hindi, I was asked to help during the conversation which was about god and spiritual stuff and I am myself not a spiritual person. Somehow it worked and it was a really good situation for me. Later that night I took a shot of the night sky and learned what I had mentioned before: That a good DSLR is working better than the Leica M-240, for night sky photography 😉
This project is ongoing has not been published yet. Here is an exclusive sneak preview:
The people living along the Ganges, shot with a 28mm Elmarit:
The people living along the Ganges, shot with a 35mm Summicron:
You are based in Delhi and specialize in documentary and editorial photography in India. How do you manage taking these incredibly personal and stunning images and what are the challenges shooting in that region of the world?
Thanks for that compliment. I think for me, the most important factor is time. It needs time to get closer to people. Most people behave different when they are in front of the camera. Often, Indian Man pose in a particular heroic manner. Young people often show some gestures taken over from western (Hip-Hop- and other Youth -)Culture(s). But after a while they let it go and continue with what ever they were doing and what attracted my attention in the first place. Being slow, I allow people to stop me from taking pictures, if they don’t want to be photographed. And it allows me, to get my pictures.
Flo, thank you very much for sharing your insights and talking the time for this interview
I have a few other Shutter-Chatter posts in the pipeline. In order to keep the website and Shutter-Chatter going I need you input! Contact me directly if you want to present your gear, your photos, your technique or that awesome camera you inherited from your grandpa! Let’s do this!