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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

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Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 05-21-2019   #41
DwF
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Yes to histogram particularly shooting with the Leica MM. I do find that once I begin to use and process with Histogram, I become more distracted from whatever I am shooting.
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Rarely work without one
Old 05-22-2019   #42
Tom R
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Rarely work without one

I keep a Sekonic in my back pocket, although for most situations it remains unused. When I do need do use a flash or when I want to compare exposure values (such as extremes) in a fairly static scene, however, I find the meter indispensable .... and I've been using these same films, by the way, for over 40 years.
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Old 06-04-2019   #43
Harry Lime
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A handheld meter is almost a necessity with the Leica M10 (or any other digital M).

The built in metering system is rather basic and can be unpredictable and inconsistent. I found hat using a handheld meter with he M10 and 'learning' the sensor characteristics produced far better results. The built in meter always wants to make everything you point it at middle gray. More often than not this works just fine, but a hand held reading leads to far less overexposures. After a while you start to learn a new set of 'sunny 16 rules for several ISO settings and the results improve dramatically with big gains in highlight retention and shot consistency.

While were on the subject of the M10, so far the worst thing about the camera is the battery life. If you are stalking the streets for hours on end looking for shots you will need 3-5 batteries. Preferably 5 or more. If you put the camera on power save the startup time is just long enough for you to miss a fleeting shot, which is infuriating. The only problem is that the batteries are $200 a piece, which is obscene compared to every other manufacturer. So, after you spent a fortune on your M10 you get to spend another +$1000 on batteries.
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Old 06-04-2019   #44
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Using a handheld meter slows you down and IMO is rather antithetical to the raison d'etre for miniature cameras.
Incident meters even more so. Further I invariably get the same readings with a reflected light meter used judiciously.

Chris
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Old 06-04-2019   #45
Harry Lime
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Slows you down? You take one reading on the sunny side of the street and one in the shadows and fire away, until the light shifts a stop or more.
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Old 06-04-2019   #46
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Quote:
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Slows you down? You take one reading on the sunny side of the street and one in the shadows and fire away, until the light shifts a stop or more.

Yes, of course.

How many human eyes - including those of experienced photographers - can detect a one-stop change in light intensity?

Mine can't, but my cameras built-in exposure meter can. Perhaps your eyes are more educated than mine...

Chris
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Old 06-04-2019   #47
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Originally Posted by ChrisPlatt View Post
Yes, of course.

How many human eyes - including those of experienced photographers - can detect a one-stop change in light intensity?

Chris
Practice makes perfect. It doesn't take long for your eyes to pick up on that.
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Old 06-04-2019   #48
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Practice makes perfect. It doesn't take long for your eyes to pick up on that.

One stop, really? I'm pretty doubtful. Sounds like a brag to me. My eyes automatically adjust to brightness and can be easily fooled.

So despite 45 years of "practice" I'll still always defer to the constantly updated readings of my camera's built-in exposure meter...

Chris
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Old 06-04-2019   #49
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After I started using a handheld meter for some meter less cameras I found that at least half the time (or more) no meter was required, because with just a little bit of practice you know what the light demands. You can always bracket anyway.
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Old 06-04-2019   #50
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Harry Lime View Post
A handheld meter is almost a necessity with the Leica M10 (or any other digital M).

The built in metering system is rather basic and can be unpredictable and inconsistent. I found hat using a handheld meter with he M10 and 'learning' the sensor characteristics produced far better results. The built in meter always wants to make everything you point it at middle gray. More often than not this works just fine, but a hand held reading leads to far less overexposures. After a while you start to learn a new set of 'sunny 16 rules for several ISO settings and the results improve dramatically with big gains in highlight retention and shot consistency.

While were on the subject of the M10, so far the worst thing about the camera is the battery life. If you are stalking the streets for hours on end looking for shots you will need 3-5 batteries. Preferably 5 or more. If you put the camera on power save the startup time is just long enough for you to miss a fleeting shot, which is infuriating. The only problem is that the batteries are $200 a piece, which is obscene compared to every other manufacturer. So, after you spent a fortune on your M10 you get to spend another +$1000 on batteries.
I have to agree with this (I'm not using a M10), I started by underexposing using my digital camera meter. But then went to my Sekonic.
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Old 06-04-2019   #51
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Indeed shooting without a meter though not ideal is certainly doable with most black and white negative films.

But would you like to see some of the 'chromes I missed exposure on when I was learning to use a meter?

Chris
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Old 06-04-2019   #52
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I don't find using a hand-held meter to be "essential" to getting good exposure with any Leica M digital. The Leica M digital cameras's meters are perfectly predictable and work very accurately, assuming you have learned the metering pattern, where to point the camera to take a reading, and know how to interpret that reading. It's pretty much the same as using a hand-held meter, modulo the option of incident reading.

I also don't find it much slower to use a hand-held meter than to use the in-camera meter if I'm trying to achieve critical, proper exposure. Both require understanding, skill, and practice to get the best results. Same for using the histogram or display brightness on a Live View camera.

I wouldn't say that I can see a one stop difference in exposure needs easily. However, with experience, I know when I'm looking at a scene when I need to adjust by one stop, a half a stop, a third of a stop, etc. Same for film (B&W, color neg, color slide) or digital capture.

Anyone who expects a camera with auto exposure to know what precise proper exposure is for every scene has an unrealistically high expectation of camera automation systems. Same goes for auto focus systems, for that matter.

G
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Old 06-04-2019   #53
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I use a hand-held meter when I use a camera without an light meter, and I use the camera's when it has it.

I sometimes don't even use a light meter.

Living with the tools available.
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Old 06-04-2019   #54
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
Anyone who expects a camera with auto exposure to know what precise proper exposure is for every scene has an
unrealistically high expectation of camera automation systems. Same goes for auto focus systems, for that matter.

I use manual exposure and manual focus almost exclusively, though I have
heard there have been some advances in those areas in the last 30 years.

My brain (i.e. my photographic knowledge + experience) is then
always a deciding factor in the success - or failure - of my photos.

An exposure meter only provides raw data, which of course must be analyzed to be useful.

Chris
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Old 06-04-2019   #55
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisPlatt View Post
I use manual exposure and manual focus almost exclusively, though I have
heard there have been some advances in those areas in the last 30 years.

My brain (i.e. my photographic knowledge + experience) is then
always a deciding factor in the success - or failure - of my photos.

An exposure meter only provides raw data, which of course must be analyzed to be useful.

Chris
We're in 100% agreement on those statements, Chris.

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Old 06-04-2019   #56
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisPlatt View Post
One stop, really? I'm pretty doubtful. Sounds like a brag to me. My eyes automatically adjust to brightness and can be easily fooled.

So despite 45 years of "practice" I'll still always defer to the constantly updated readings of my camera's built-in exposure meter...

Chris
I've worked for 25+ years in post production for visual effects in movies and commercials, where I have acted as a compositor and colorist. It's my job to be able to see subtle changes in luminance and color, so maybe I have something of an unfair advantage over the average bear.
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Old 06-04-2019   #57
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
I don't find using a hand-held meter to be "essential" to getting good exposure with any Leica M digital. The Leica M digital cameras's meters are perfectly predictable and work very accurately, assuming you have learned the metering pattern, where to point the camera to take a reading, and know how to interpret that reading. It's pretty much the same as using a hand-held meter, modulo the option of incident reading.

I also don't find it much slower to use a hand-held meter than to use the in-camera meter if I'm trying to achieve critical, proper exposure. Both require understanding, skill, and practice to get the best results. Same for using the histogram or display brightness on a Live View camera.

I wouldn't say that I can see a one stop difference in exposure needs easily. However, with experience, I know when I'm looking at a scene when I need to adjust by one stop, a half a stop, a third of a stop, etc. Same for film (B&W, color neg, color slide) or digital capture.

Anyone who expects a camera with auto exposure to know what precise proper exposure is for every scene has an unrealistically high expectation of camera automation systems. Same goes for auto focus systems, for that matter.

G


In my experience the M10 meter works fine if you have time to adjust. Like you said you need to decide what in the scene you are going to use as middle gray and go from there. Usually you can nail it with one or two test shots and a look at the histogram.

But the problem comes when you are shooting very quickly on the street, when there is no time to take a test shot and potentially fiddle with the exposure, because the moment will only be there for a few seconds or less.

On a sunny day a white t-shirt that takes up a sufficient area of the frame will throw the meter. Same for dark clothing. It works pretty good on overcast days and for some reason at night, but it will be fooled unless you have the time to adjust. That's where a hand held meter reading makes all the difference.

I do agree that you really can't rely 100% on automatic metering. Even a sophisticated matrix meter will at times get fooled or fail to give you what you intended.
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Old 06-04-2019   #58
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I learned on film, several times over, and never got on with shooting based on histogram. It seems like a sound technique and far easier to do these days with live previews and the like, rather than the bad old days of chimping and digging in menus.

Maybe it was more useful in earlier days of digital, but Iím with Chris, ďexpose to the rightĒ usually means more post processing work, and now that Iím using a camera from this decade, isnít really a necessity.

As for handheld meters:
Iíve got an old Sekonic Digi-Lite with the sensor epoxied back on, and thatís all I need. It matches my Bronica held together with gaffers tapeóI used to (well, still do) have a SQ-I finder with spot and centerweighted metering until I got bumped in a crowd and the rails sheared right off. Been using separate meters since.

I do have a light meter iOS app, but had mixed results over the years, especially with reversal film. The incident meter hasnít let me down.

On a related note, Iíve noticed more and more studio strobes coming with Wireless TTL. I like the idea of setting power levels remotely straight from the camera, but for what I do, nothing beats manual power and metering ratios separately.
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Old 06-04-2019   #59
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I worked for a daily newspaper during the days of Tri-X. I can recall a period of 2-3 years when I didn't own a working light meter. Good old Tri-X had so much latitude I could guess at exposures and always get printable negatives. After a while it was pretty easy to determine what exposure to use under what light conditions without relying on a meter. Experience was a good teacher.

But today, I shoot on digital cameras and I use aperture or shutter priority almost exclusively. Oh, I may adjust the exposure compensation dial to tweak the exposure a bit but automatic exposure on today's cameras is so reliable I see very few situations I would use manual exposure.
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Old 06-04-2019   #60
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Harry Lime View Post
In my experience the M10 meter works fine if you have time to adjust. Like you said you need to decide what in the scene you are going to use as middle gray and go from there. Usually you can nail it with one or two test shots and a look at the histogram.

But the problem comes when you are shooting very quickly on the street, when there is no time to take a test shot and potentially fiddle with the exposure, because the moment will only be there for a few seconds or less.

On a sunny day a white t-shirt that takes up a sufficient area of the frame will throw the meter. Same for dark clothing. It works pretty good on overcast days and for some reason at night, but it will be fooled unless you have the time to adjust. That's where a hand held meter reading makes all the difference.

I do agree that you really can't rely 100% on automatic metering. Even a sophisticated matrix meter will at times get fooled or fail to give you what you intended.
Hmm. I dunno, Harry: I almost never take any test shots at all. I just look at the scene, figure what to center the metering sensitive area on, set the exposure (or, if using Auto, tweak the EV compensation if I think I need to), then make the exposure.

I'm shooting with the Leica M-D so I cannot check my exposure until I get home (no histogram, no LCD so no review of captured images until I roll the raw files off the SD card and put them into a raw converter ...). The exposure is nearly always right on the money if I've set the exposure according to the meter (with my interpretation of the meter reading) or used AE with a quick tweak of EV compensation when needed.

I shoot landscapes, still life, street, portraits, etc. All the digital M meters seem to work fine, with a little thought and care in their use.

G
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