Exploring breathtaking landscapes and mountainous sceneries, photographer Jens Franke is well acquainted with what nature has to offer: endless opportunities to document beauty. Previously, his 100-day hike through Germany was also featured in this blog, highlighting the use of his Leica M9 with his faithful companion, Aiko, his very photogenic husky as you can judge by the images below. Franke responded to a few questions regarding a new project involving the Leica SL and the colors and interest of winter, showing the fast autofocus this camera offers among other things in 9 images.
Please provide some of the details for accomplishing this project on the Leica SL, where did it take place and what were your objectives?
The basic idea was simple: As soon as there would be a decent amount of snow, I wanted to get out of the house and into the beautiful landscape of the Bavarian Alps. There is this unique, elusive stillness of winter inherent in the hours following the first snow fall that is raw and wild at its core. However, I had to wait quite a while until I got the amount of snow I had envisioned in my mind for the pictures. Therefore, most of my images from December were dominated by the color green instead of the coveted white.
This past winter there were only very few of the kind of winter days I had hoped for but the rather spectacular end to my winter season in the Dolomites made up for that.
You flew on helicopter, how was the experience? I imagine the perception from up above changes and provides a completely new and inspiring view.
This was my first helicopter flight and to make things even better, it had snowed the night before. There is no doubt in my mind that the Dolomites are one of the most beautiful mountain chains of the Alps, so I was really excited. The perspectives I was able to shoot were absolutely incredible and so I took one photo after another on the SL. This was the first time ever I managed to max out an SD card with a writing speed of 95 MB/s which made me very appreciative of the large buffer of the Leica SL.
Immediately after landing I used the display of the SL to go through the images I had taken. Quite a few of them turned out really well but looking at them I also got a lot of new ideas. The unusual perspective from the helicopter was so refreshing and the landscape was just to impressive. I didn’t have to think twice about getting on the helicopter again, this time on the other side. The pilot was nice enough to let me open the window so that I could take pictures without any reflection. During this second flight I managed to enjoy myself much more and was way more selective about the photos I took. But maybe me being more selective was also due to the fact that I could feel the wind and the icy cold in my fingers much more on this side of the helicopter. I was glad to find that even though the camera was practically frozen after the flight, it took every picture without fault. I did have to bring my frozen fingers back to life after landing though.
You’ve shot before other projects with the Leica M9 and Leica M240, can you share your thoughts on the performance and use of this camera compared to the Leica SL?
Pretty much from the moment you first pick up the camera, you know that you are holding a Leica. I figured out the camera handling of the SL pretty quickly and much to my surprise I really enjoyed photographing with the autofocus. I was really curious about the EVF as well because this feature had never really managed to convince me in other camera systems I had tried. As soon as I looked through the EyeRes-Finder of the SL I knew that this one would outshine any other EVF I had seen before. This also remains true when comparing the EVF of the Leica SL to the common view finders of DSLR cameras. Once you start working with the EyeRes-Finder you can’t help but see its advantages. Still, I will be honest and say that I will always prefer my beloved rangefinder over anything else when it comes to taking photos.
Comparing the SL to the Leica M9 or the M (Typ 240) isn’t easy as, for me, the M and the SL are two entirely different camera systems. There is quite the appeal to photographing with the autofocus of the SL and you never have to worry with this camera, even in the most adverse weather conditions. The camera handling is really easy and you can still operate the joystick even when wearing thick gloves. On top of that, the EyeRes-Finder makes other view finders look like dim peepholes. The possibility of being able to use telephoto lenses other than the older R-lenses in the future seems very appealing to me as well. On the other hand, there is an ease about photographing with the M that just can’t be matched and you can bring it pretty much anywhere you go because it’s so much lighter.
The images you’ve shared show an insightful look at snowy landscapes and provide a wide range of color perception in terms of whites, grays and blues. How does the Leica SL perform under these conditions and in terms of color?
The dynamic range of the SL is fantastic and with snow in particular it’s often very difficult for camera sensors to pick up all the different nuances of white and grey. Normally I work with higher exposure settings for these kinds of shots so that I have less work to do in post-editing. With the SL I can already make a lot of adjustments by choosing the right white balance settings in case I choose to forego the use of a grey chart.
The husky in the pictures – is this your dog? You used him as your subject on several occasions compared to the other images which are mainly still landscapes. Can you share the experience of shooting moving subjects as opposed to landscapes? What’s your preference with this camera?
Yes, Aiko has been my loyal companion on all my adventures for the past 9 years and he has had to wait patiently for me to find the right lighting conditions in so many different places already. Quite often he even ended up having to pose for the camera himself. Due to the fast autofocus of the SL and the option of shooting up to 11 photos per second I was able to take quite a few action shots of Aiko running and jumping that would have been a product of chance with the Leica M. Still, my most favorite images to shoot with the SL continue to be the landscapes of the Bavarian Alps. However, combining the SL with its fast autofocus with a telephoto lens, I’m sure you would have no problem taking incredible wildlife photos.
The monochrome image of the dog and road offers a beautiful range of grays. The shadow cast by the dog looks very precise and the horizon seems to almost disappear. What’s your take on monochrome with these images?
I’m a big fan of monochrome images in general which is why I’ve been thinking about getting the Leica M Monochrome for quite some time now. In this particular case the monochrome added a sense of calm and mystery to the image that, in my opinion, makes it much more complex than the original color photo.
The macro image, closing up on the dog’s ears, shows the strong depth of field and bokeh capable to achieve by this camera. How was the experience of shooting up close and with which lens was it done?
It really was a lot fun. The EyeRes-Finder in combination with the autofocus allowed me to switch between focal points much faster and more precisely than I’m used to with the M with its manual focus and add-on view finder. If needed, I can simply select a focal point via touch as well. It doesn’t get much easier than that. So, even though there’s the theoretical possibility, I never felt the need to focus manually with the SL.
This particular image – as well as all the other ones – I photographed exclusively with the 24-90mm lens.
The above images depict a sense of balance and timelessness. The composition of the images has the main subject very centered and balance – what was your objective behind these?
Personally, I think there is no need to place the main subject off center all the time. Having the main subject at the very center can help pull the viewer into an image and add a sense of calm to it. I really like using this image format, especially with monochrome photos.
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add or share regarding any other projects you might be working on?
At the moment I’m on the Lofoten Islands in Norway, a true paradise for landscape photographers. The sun only sets for very short amounts of time, so we have already had a lot of different, impressive lighting conditions during our first days here. I’m really looking forward to spending the next couple of days here as well and to going through all the photos once I return home. When I’m back home, I will start curating a selection of images for an exhibition that will take place next winter. In addition to photos from my trips of the last couple of years, it will also include images from the 100-day trip through Germany I did on foot.
Thank you Jens!