britt k leckman

MARCH 2013

I just received an interesting project which I have no idea how to proceed with. I have been asked to take a group photo of several hundred people and the client wants me to be able to isolate and identify several separate sub units from inside the main group.  This will be used to make up a kind of a key that will accompany the photo when it is published.  I remember that Time life used to do this all the time, creating outlines that floated over a photograph that were then numbered and used to form a key on a separate page.  Surely with Photoshop I could do the same thing, right?

I decided this morning to take a photo of objects grouped loosely into categories.  I call the photograph "total hubris", which will need no explanation after you look at the image below.

Shot in my studio, using a Canon 1d mkIII, Elinchrom Style Rx flash and Chimera 5 foot Octaplus soft box.

Ok, so the individual camera equipment will form the basis of the sub groupings based on brand.  The image below is the image pulled up on my screen as I work to create the outlines.   

An image taken from just above my computer screen as I trace on the lines for each group. I use a Wacom Cintique Monitor which is also a pen enabled tablet.

I speaking with the client I found that they don't want a separate key, they want the sub-units to be identified on the photo.  I suggested that if the demarcation lines were on the original it would make it very hard to look at.  They accepted my recommendation to consider a second photo with the original photo printed under the the key, as illustrated below.    

The final test product, ready for client review.

Ok, so why go through all this trouble to take a test image when I am sure that I could have met the clients needs easily on the day of the shoot? Well, three reasons;  

1) Just going through the mechanics of the setup, the test, and the post production kept my mind working on the problem, pointing out little things for me to watch out for on the day of the actual event. 

 2) Part of my job is educating my clients, so that on the day of production we are not working at odds with each other.  My goal is to make them happy, but they need to recognize what is and what is not possible.  I could have taken an older group photo with a similar number of people that I have in my files and marked up some sub-unit key lines and presented it to the client for review.  However, if the client sees a mock up that is too close to their actual project, then I believe the client automatically sees their project in terms of that photo, not the one that I am taking for them.  Critical thinking about a project that needs to be done prior to the event is lost because they believe they have already seen the outcome.  By introducing the principals of the project in a photo of an unrelated subject, then the client grasps the concepts of the photo I am going to be taking for them, but they are not prejudiced in a way that prevents them from having an open mind to new concepts that might possibly change the way the photograph will look in the end.  

3) I grab at any chance I get to work around with equipment and studio setups that are not routine.  Photography is all about constantly learning, figuring out work arounds and determining best practices for the future.   The head scratcher for this morning was figuring a way to trigger the camera remotely and have the flash go off in synch too.  I am sure there was a way to set up the timing of the delay using the Pocket Wizard, but I was at a loss to figure it out.  I ended up using a Blue tooth mouse to trigger the tethered camera via the computer. 

March 7th

A good friend of mine reminded me that I have not even looked at this web page in quite some time. So it is high time that I provide an update.

The GoPro

Just prior to going on our yearly Holiday cruise, I began to play with the new GoPro cameras, first a Silver version (which was a total impulse buy at Sports Authority), then the Black version after I discovered the short comings of the Silver version. For those of you not familiar with GoPro, Silver and Black designations do not refer to the color of the camera, but the actual camera model, with the Black version being the more feature laden version. These cameras are tiny, yet pack a very robust feature set, especially for video and time lapse photography. They come with a protective housing, and a myriad of mounting options for getting the camera up and away from the subject, yet allowing dramatic footage to be shot thanks to the fisheye perspective of the lens.

My first impressions of the GoPro are very positive, the housing is rugged, allowing me to take a camera into places I never would have thought possible.  The lens is very sharp, and the images in the video files have a wonderful look to them.  The Black edition features a faster frame rate in HD Video (1080p) than the Silver edition, which allows for true slow motion recording.  Both cameras feature a very good time lapse function with a fairly flexible set of tools to control the motion.  However after playing with the camera on several projects at work, I have gone back to my Nikon D4 and D3s for time lapse work, as they offer a much more complete set of parameters to work with, and I often found myself wanting a little more in the way of focal length than I could get from the GoPro, even in crop mode.

The two diminutive GoPro cameras, Silver version on Left, Black version on Right

I have produced several small projects with the camera, but like almost anything that involves video (or time lapse) the time spent on the backend after shooting can be quite laborious. This has been my particular sticking point with the cameras, even though I love some of the stuff I shot while on vacation, I donít have the time (or inclination) to spend editing and assembling the footage into meaningful packages. The exception being several time lapse events I shot for work which were incorporated into internal web productions, and this small piece of some Zipline action I posted to YouTube:

One thing I have found the little cameras excellent for, is documenting what I do at work. Several times I have actually attached the camera to the top of my Leica or on a light stand and let the camera roll as I work. It has proved invaluable as a way for me to look at the way I interact with clients. I am also considering using this setup when I cover Testimony on Capitol Hill, since it will allow me to capture video at the same time as taking stills, not either/or as with my Nikon D4.

leica m9 and gopro
The GoPro is attached to the Leica via the flash shoe using a foot I pulled off of an old Vivitar 285.

The Pentax 67

Late last year I decided to start a new project, to begin in the spring when the weather warms up a bit.  I will be photographing the Washington DC landmarks at night in Black and White with the goal of having the results displayed locally in print form rather than on the web.  I have long considered this project, but for various reasons never acted upon my inclinations. One of the reasons is that I have never been very happy with the results I get shooting digital at night, not even on the 39mp medium format Hasselblad. There is just something about the way the sensor renders the scene. Whether it is the lack of detail in the shadows or the way that highlights quickly bloom out of control, I have never found the magic in night-time shooting with digital as I have in the past with film. So, the answer is to go back to film and process the negatives digitally after development using a Nikon 9000 film scanner.

I have several options, the Hasselblad of course, but not being a particular fan of the square format, that leaves me shooting 6x4.5cm which I consider little better than 35mm for making large prints. I have and will use a 6x12 panorama camera, but I donít want to shoot everything with the extreme panoramic perspective, all the time. After a bit of thought, I decided that the 6x7cm or 6x9cm formats would be perfect.  Since I already have an Arca Swiss 6x9 view camera, I though I would be all set, however, since 911, Washington has become a fairly intolerant city when it comes to photography in general, and tripods in particular, and the Arca demands a tripod. What to do? The answer came to me in the form of the Pentax 67, a behemoth of a camera, similar to a Pentax K 1000, but on steroids. These cameras shoot 6x7cm format images, have a mirror lock-up to dampen the mirror slap, and can be found at very reasonable prices in the used market. If a tripod is not an option, I can steady the camera quite easily using something as simple as a light weight bean bag filled with styrene beads.

Pentax 67 resting on a beanbag, on a fence rail, and there are plenty of these in and around all DC landmarks.  With the beanbag, I can comfortably make exposures up to at least two minutes, so long as a bus does not go by. A beanbag resting on a firm support can also be more stable than a tripod in a strong wind when using a normal or wide angle lens.

Below are a few images form the Hurricane Sandy ravaged beaches of Allenhurst and Loch Arbor, shot using the Pentax 6x7.

Allenhurst, NJ
Allenhurst NJ breakwater. 5 second exposure shot using a beanbag resting on a rock as it was too windy for the tripod.

Loch Arbor, NJ
Loch Arbor beach club right on the LochArbor/Asbury Park town border.

Allenhurst, NJ
Allenhurst, NJ beach front from the breakwater. Notice the decimated beach club, which is at least 20 feet above the sand.


September 5th

I have started to rework a bunch of older black and white files with the aim of printing them to the highest quality that I can for display. I had forgotten how much I appreciate the look of printed artwork. For so long the screen was my primary method of looking at photographs, which is fine, but nothing I can do to present images on the computer can do justice to the actual prints.

A few of my favorites are below. I have actually printed all of the images. The images when printed full size measure 22 inches on the long side with pixels per inch that varies from 240 to 360 ppi depending on the native resolution of the file. The images were printed on Red River Polar Matte fine art paper, using an Epson 4800 printer with the matte black inkset.

Rainstorm taken from the top floor of the Federal Reserve - 2008

Rainstorm moving across the desert, south of Santa Fe, NM - 2009

Pre-dawn rowers on the Patomac River - 2007

white sands
Hiker in the dunes at White Sands National Monument, NM - 2009

asbury beach
Sand Fence in the off season, Asbury Park, NJ - 2011

Ice cornices and avalanches in the Denali Range, AK - 2010


July 30th

I went to my friend Bryn's wedding yesterday, a very nice ceremony, in a small church in Vienna Virginia. The lighting in the room was a wonderful diffuse light that painted the aged white wood pews and stark plaster walls a pearly opalescent. We were seated in the last row of pews, I positioned myself on the isle, hoping to get a few decent shots, unfortunately the official photographer and videographer parked themselves right in the center aisle for most of the ceremony. I did get a few interesting images, which are below.

Bryn _01

Bryn _02

Bryn _03 Bryn _04

Bryn _05

July 28th

I went to a gallery lecture the other night at the new Leica Store in downtown DC. The presenter was Jacob Aue Sobol, a Danish photographer, a member of Magnum, who was recently featured in Leica's LFI Magazine (4/2012). It was interesting, I am not sure that I liked most of his work, as it was consistently too contrasty and lit with direct on camera flash for my tastes. However, It was encouraging to see how well the new Leica Monochrom compared to black and white film. Mr. Sobol's assignment to photograph from Moscow to Bejing for LFI marked his first foray into digital, having worked only with film in his previous projects. I noticed immediately that the Monocrom images lacked any noise when projected. Mr. Sobol's, film images by contrast always had a pleasing amount of grain, which drew me into the image. I have decided to start shooting a bit of film, with my M4 just to compare the digital to the analog, and see what gut feelings I have. More about that later. Images from the gallery talk are available on Mr. Sobol's web site,

July 26th

Well the last few weeks have been busy. I went to California with Rachel and Sarah to visit my brother in Venice (West side of LA). We all went up into the Sierra to camp in Sequoia NP, which was fun, since neither of my girls had camped before. The girls were thrilled that we were in "Bear Country". They even saw a bear on the outskirts of the campground, that nobody was freaked surprised me more than that they saw a bear. However, after seeing the bear, Rachel did put her foot down and insisted I sleep in the tent with her and Sarah, and not the hammock under the stars like I planed. I didn't get many photos from the trip, too busy being a dad, but here are a few...

Rachel Sarah and Anika in front of a Giant Sequoia

Sarh standing in the burnt out heart of a Sequoia

Hasselblad 503cw With CFV-39 Digital Back, 180mm Sonnar lens

One thing that did interest me was taking photos of the stars, which were just about the best I have seen in many years. I encountered a problem with the Leica M9 common to most digital cameras, the length of time that the shutter will remain open has a hard limit. On the Leica it's only 250 seconds. With a film camera, exposure time is limited only by reciprocity, so a nice 30 minute to one hour long expose to capture star trails is no problem. So long as you calculate the necessary extra processing time when you develop the film. With long exposures, most digital cameras also need additional time to process the image after it is taken to reduce camera noise. Unfortunately it is usually the same length of time as the original exposure, so that 250 second exposure just became 500 seconds until I could make the next picture. That is why in the photo below, the stars seem to skip into three sections. The photo is actually three photos merged together, and the spaces are the 250 seconds process time.

Leica M9, 21mm Zeiss Biogon

Capturing the Milky Way is always challenging, because any exposure over 15 seconds, the stars blur. Even with the fast 35mm f/2 or 21mm f/2.8 lenses I used I was still at about 30 seconds. I didn't want to push the ISO up much beyond 800 with the Leica, because stars then become noise to the camera, or noise then becomes stars to the viewer. If I had my Nikon D3s, I would have been in much better shape since I could probably push the ISO all the way up to 3200 and had it look the same as the Leica at 800, even 6400 ISO would probably look just fine.

Leica M9, 21mm Zeiss Biogon

I rather like this shot, it just happened that the campers down the road a bit were night owls (as I am sure the entire campground was well aware!), but they did have this nice roaring fire to anchor the bottom of the frame with the stars along the top.

Leica M9, 35mm Summicron

July 6th

June Items have been moved to the Archive section of the website!

So Far July has been crazy.
I was in Rockport Maine for Stella Johnson's two week "Documentary Project" workshop, at Maine Media, then this huge series of storms and oppressive heat hit most of the Mid-Atlantic states, knocking out the power to our home in Alexandria, VA. Unhappily, I left Maine after only one week to check on the house and take care of the dogs and rabbit. After a long 14 hour drive I found the house, dark, quiet and very warm. The dogs were happy to see me, though I don't think that the person who was going to be watching the animals was very happy to be losing out on a week's cash, but It didn't feel right leaving them with her with no power. As it turned out, I was lucky to find an emergency generator and small window AC unit at Home Depot to keep the downstairs somewhat cool. Forget about the upstairs and kitchen, it never dropped below 91 degrees. Anyway after five and a half days the lights are finally back on, and life can get back to normal.

Images taken in Stella's Workshop have been added to the New Work gallery.

July 4th

For the first time in a number of years I found myself in DC on the 4th of July, with nothing really to do. Normally I would take the kids to my office to watch the fireworks, but since they are in New Jersey, that idea didn't appeal to me very much. Since I really don't like extreme crowds, the orgy on the mall was out too. I decided to walk from my office in Foggy Bottom across the Memorial Bridge to a little spot along the Patomac River I know, that lines up the Lincoln and Washington Monuments perfectly with the fireworks.

©Google Maps

I set off a little after three in the afternoon, and though the temperature was a sweltering 95 degrees, it was a pleasant wait for sunset and the main event. I positioned myself upriver from a throng of photographers that must have been from a photo club or something. By sunset the entire bank of the Potomac River was a sea of tripods, long lenses and inflated egos. I felt somewhat diminished with my tiny Leica M9 and two rather small lenses (the 50mm and 135mm Summicrons). The show went off right on schedule, and lasted for exactly 15 minutes. The battle to get home began immediately after the last ember fell from the sky.


While the fireworks were interesting, after a few minutes, I got what I needed for stock images for work. I decided to really push the Leica M9, just to see how bad the camera is at it's top end ISO of 2500. After the fireworks were through it was nearly pitch dark, puntcuated with bright lights at the security checkpoints and road crossings. The following are a few of the images that I think almost work, certainly for the web...

ISO 2500, 50mm Summicron f/2 1/60sec

ISO 2500, 35mm Summicron f/2.8 1/125sec

ISO 800, 35mm Summicron f/4 1/2sec

ISO 2500, 50mm Summicron f/2 1/60sec

JUNE 2012

June 10th, 2012 - In the Garden, more Flex-O

Quick shot I took of a spider in the Garden. Fuji X-PRO1, 50mm Nikon El-Nikkor lens, Flex-O focusing tube. The Flex-O tube was bent slightly upward, to give a plane of focus that encompassed the entire spider, and the web along the spider's axis. Taken in morning sunlight, with shade behind.

transit of venus

June 8th, 2012 - Flex-O focusing tube

I have been unhappy with the images of dead flowers I have been taking recently, I haven't really been able to get the focus to cover what I want. Depth of focus wont cover, even at the lowest of apertures, and refraction robs the entire image of sharpness beyond f/8 or so. I found myself wanting at least the most basic of front lens movements, swing or tilts to adjust the plane of focus to better suit my desired image. I am in the market for a decent set of bellows with front movements built in such as the Nikon PB-4 or Minolta Auto Bellows III, but until the box arrives in the mail, I am kind of stuck. Then I thought to myself "Several years ago I built a flexible tube that I could mount enlarging lenses onto the front of and mount them to my camera, which gave me really crude but fun movements". This afternoon, I built another of these contraptions to mount onto the Fuji X-PRO1 camera.

transit of venus

This is the finished unit, complete with a 50mm El-Nikkor enlarging lens. The tube itself is just a section of vacuum cleaner hose attached to the Leica to X-PRO adapter. Below is an example of the results, and a description about what makes this so special.

transit of venus

At this close to the subject, there is only about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of depth of focus at f11. Which makes getting more of the flower and stem in focus a challenge. Here the flower is placed at just under a 45 degree angle relative to the camera. If I were to focus on the flower, focus would be from the tip of the flower to about midway to the base (see red lines below). However, if I shift the camera over to the left, and bend the lens so that it is parallel to the stem, then the flower appears to be in focus all along the stem from the far petal to the tip of the flower (see yellow lines below). Of course depth of focus now runs parallel to the stem too, which is why things look so fuzzy in the background of the main flower. No free lunch, but at least I can pick where I want it to be.

transit of venus

June 5th, 2012 - The Transit of Venus Across the Sun...

It won't happen again for 105 years, so thought I would try to capture the transit of the planet Venus as it crossed in front of the sun. The weather was iffy all day, with mostly clouds and cool temperatures. The transit was scheduled to begin at 6:09, and the clouds were thick with a few breaks. This actually worked to my advantage as the clouds acted as an additional neutral density filter, otherwise I would not have been able to photograph the sun at all without special filters. I was able to shoot off and on for about half an hour before the clouds rolled in for good.

transit of venus

I shot this photo with a Nikon D300, and a 300mm Sigma f/2.8 with a the 2x matched converter. Which gave me a cropped 900mm full frame equivalent. The ISO was dialed all the way down to 200, shot in RAW, 1/8000 second at f/64.

June 4th, 2012

Playing in the studio with the Fuji X-PRO1 and the 50mm Nikkor, which has the closest focus of all the "Leica" lenses that I have. The subject was the same Elephant Ear bud that I photographed last week, only it"s partially dried out now.


Since I didn't have a lot of time, I set up a very simple lighting scheme, consiting of a 1000ws Visatec Monolight, with a deep snoot. This light lost 80% of it's power trying to force it's way through the 3/4 inch hole I drilled through a piece of black foam core places behind the subject. I placed a piece of white translume over the hole to soften the light, and break up circular hot spot from the flash tube placed so close to the subject. This light provided the rim light and the translucent light on the biger part of the leaf that formed the background. I also placed a Nikon SB-900 flash to the left of the subject dialed down to 1/32 power. I added a very deep snoot made from Cinefoil and an interior scrim to soften the light coming out of the pipe. The camera was placed 1.5 feet from the subject.

elephant ear

The image was converted to black and white in Photoshop using the "Black and White" tool. Minimal dodging and burning followed conversion. The image appears to be a bit soft from defraction caused by stopping down to f/11, also this lens excels at shooting wide open, and gets just so so at after f/8, so I probably loosing something there too. I should have a new set of bellows, and a proper macro lens next week to try again...

June 1st, 2012

It has taken a while, but I finally have reworked this web site to be a better portal for the review of my creative energies. In this blog section, you will find the more up to date musings and links to specific essays and photos elsewhere on the website, as well as links to other sites that I find interesting or pertinent to my explorations.

Blog items will be moved to the Archive section monthly to avoid cluttering. So if you previously saw something interesting, and it is not here, I probably moved it there.