A Look at the History and Approach to Leica Street Photography

History of Leica Street Photography

It is hard to say if Leica rangefinders were created for street photography or if street photography was created for Leica rangefinders. When Oskar Barnack envisioned and built the first 35mm film camera in 1925, it was a significant development in the evolution of photography.

Street photography, as the name suggests, involves photographing people going about their life on the street or in general public. Barnack’s brilliant idea was to take 35mm film, which up to that point was only used as motion picture film, and build a camera body for it. Thus, the first Leica was built and it was the predecessor to the famed “M” line of rangefinder cameras that were popularized by Magnum co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The Approach

“Stealth” might be the most appropriate word to describe street photography. The Leica rangefinder really enhances a photographer's ability to capture those decisive moments (another article that might interest you is Famous Leica Photographers). Leica street photography is predicated around using the small rangefinder cameras so you can easily and quickly capture those images. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use hyper-focal focusing. This technique uses depth of field resulting from a stopped down lens, keeping your lens and picture in focus. Begin by loading a roll of 400 ASA film into your camera. Set the shutter speed to 1/250th of a second. Set your aperture to f/11, and check the camera's light meter to see if your exposure will work with these settings. In hyper-focal focusing, aperture takes priority over shutter speed. Adjust the shutter speed until your light meter indicates you have a correct exposure

Set the Focus Range

On your lens there are several different series of numbers. Closest to the camera will be a series of numbers representing the lens aperture settings. These numbers appear on both the left and the right of a center point. Find the number “11” on this dial, and adjust the lens so the “Infinity” lines up with the “11” on one side of the center point. Look to the other side of the center point, find the “11” on that side and the number that is on the focusing ring will be the minimum distance that the lens will be in focus. So if the minimum distance is eight feet, then you know that any subject between eight feet and infinity will be in focus without you adjusting the lens. If eight feet is too far away, then adjust the lens to the minimum focusing distance you want, and take note of the new maximum focus point.

Finding the Picture

Now that your Leica is set, it is time to start looking for pictures. Go to where people gather in your city or community. It could be a market, park or even just a street where people walk to and from work. Find a location that has interesting angles or light. Position yourself, compose the picture you want to take, and wait for the right moment when someone enters the frame. Press the shutter release and take the picture.

To help you master Leica street photography, check out these street photography tips and make sure you understand the laws of street photography.