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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

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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ISO on the street
Old 11-19-2012   #1
Bill Pierce
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ISO on the street

Gary Winogrand, one of the really good "street" photographers often used to push 400 ISO film to 1200 even though he was shooting outdoors in relatively good light. Why? It's not just to get a helpful depth-of-field, it's also to get that high shutter speed that negates the shake you get when you shoot quickly, raising the camera up to the eye and down, and the motion blur you get shooting quick moving subjects up close.

Of course, high ISO's are no problem with modern digital cameras. I often find myself shooting at 1600 in daylight, something I would never do a few years back and often do when I'm street shooting today.

I wondered what ISO you use on the street. After all, we want quality. And we've long associated quality with a low ISO. Is that true today?
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Old 11-19-2012   #2
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Usually 400, although there is no practical reason not to use 1600 these days. I guess it's mostly from habit stemming from the Tri-X film days.
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Old 11-19-2012   #3
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I tend to use 400 ISO film now, whereas I used to use ISO 100 or even 50 for the "quality". In reality, for me, ISO 400 film quality is easily enough, particularly in medium format.

I like the flexibility of the faster film, and as I tend not to use a meter, it helps me err on the side of over exposure, which Ilford XP2, Portra 400, or Fujifilm 400H handles easily.

I don't shoot moving things generally, but I do like to keep shutter speed above 1/60 if I can.
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Old 11-19-2012   #4
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400, but then I still use asa ... when the light is poor I go for coffee ... or beer if it's available

It's much less confusing to do everything at the same setting I find
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Old 11-19-2012   #5
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Mostly 200-400.

I'd question how often Winogrand really shot at 1600. His pictures (except maybe for some really early ones) just don't look like they were pushed much.
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Old 11-19-2012   #6
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To me, this is the best thing about digital cameras: variable ISO. I generally use Auto-ISO and let the camera figure out the ISO for me while I worry about shutter speed and aperture. Since the X100 (my digital camera) can shoot clean 3200, it's never a problem. Then I don't have to worry about shade, sunlight, inside, outside...very helpful and speeds things up. When I'm shooting film I generally shoot 400, but push to 800 frequently and to 1600 occasionally if I need it. I have stopped buying film slower than 400 anymore, since the grain isn't that big of an issue and slower films, for my use, are less versatile.
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Old 11-19-2012   #7
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My softspot lies in the 200-400 zone.
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Old 11-19-2012   #8
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I use anywhere from ISO 640-1600.
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Old 11-19-2012   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boomguy57 View Post
To me, this is the best thing about digital cameras: variable ISO. ...
A BIG +1 for the first statement but I never use Auto ISO.
320 outdoors and somewhere up to 4000 "indoor" street - i.e. markets.
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Old 11-19-2012   #10
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When zone focusing, I generally set my exposure to f/8, 1/500, ISO 400, which is good for summer midday light here in Toronto. Gives good latitude with shutter speed (1/125 is about as low as I want to go for street), and ISO 400 is super clean on the X-Pro1.

I'll only go up on ISO when I've run out of other options. But I'm not averse to ISO 6400 on the X-Pro1.
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Old 11-19-2012   #11
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As you had mentioned anything that would give me adequate shutter speed. So from 400-1600 (and higher if it's dusk).
+1 on variable ISO.
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Old 11-20-2012   #12
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Anywhere from 100-3200.
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Old 11-20-2012   #13
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Old 11-20-2012   #14
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Since I'm still using film then it is 400 for all applications. I do have some ISO 50 but the finer quality is more than just slower film. I tend to use it on a tripod with static, set up shots, focusing carefully, thinking about how much DOF I have/want, and so on. The 400 is for hand held photography. If I really need to then I push the film a stop but that is not often. If the light is that low I usually stop shooting.

Last edited by zuiko85 : 11-20-2012 at 04:48. Reason: bad grammer
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Old 11-20-2012   #15
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In bright daylight I use 400 or even 800. I never exceed 1600 as this is my cameras' (X100, XP-1) highest native ISO. If ISO 1600 means the shutter speed is too slow I just under expose and push exposure during raw rendering. I can push two stops without consequences. For B&W 1600 would enable high shutter speeds indoors with a one stop rendering exposure push.

I try not to exceed f 8.

Another advantage of high ISO with the X100 is fill flash works well because the leaf shutter has a high sync speed. You can open the aperture and take advantage of the strobe light while suppressing the ambient with the shutter.
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Old 11-20-2012   #16
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*clean* 1600? No thanks.
TMZ3200 shot @ 1600 with a yellow filter @ high noon...now you're talking.
So 1/1000 is the highest this thing will go?
Otherwise, 400 speed film during daylight works, kinda.
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Old 11-20-2012   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Gary Winogrand, one of the really good "street" photographers often used to push 400 ISO film to 1200 even though he was shooting outdoors in relatively good light. Why? It's not just to get a helpful depth-of-field, it's also to get that high shutter speed that negates the shake you get when you shoot quickly, raising the camera up to the eye and down, and the motion blur you get shooting quick moving subjects up close.

Of course, high ISO's are no problem with modern digital cameras. I often find myself shooting at 1600 in daylight, something I would never do a few years back and often do when I'm street shooting today.

I wondered what ISO you use on the street. After all, we want quality. And we've long associated quality with a low ISO. Is that true today?

Hi, i was wondering just the same but in a more naive way....great fact on the use of high iso....i never tried myself going to try such high sesitivity, so i´ll use it right now!

When using the m9 i go for suto iso up to 640, with film depends, clour up to 160 iso and b/W up to 400...

But i guess this will change since your info!

thanks!
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Old 11-20-2012   #18
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During the day on the street I shoot virtually nothing but 100 ISO colour slide (Provia ,Sensia, Velvia, Ektachrome, Agfa RSX 100, 3M 100, and whatever else is sitting in the 100 ISO box in the freezer), although as my stock of 100 gets depleted, I'll start using the mountains of Fuji ISO 50 stocks that I've also been given by my now-digital photobuds.
Using 100 ISO in bright sun, 5.6 @ 1/1000th (or a one or two stop faster equivalent depending on the camera body) works well, and in open shade 5.6 or f4 @ 1/125th (or again a stop or two faster equivalent depending on lens speed) usually does the job.
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Old 11-20-2012   #19
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Even slight noise in the image today makes people think the shot was taken with a camera phone, because its automatically assumed that no decent modern digital camera has noise at up to ISO 400.

I stick to ISO 100-200.
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Old 11-20-2012   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boomguy57 View Post
To me, this is the best thing about digital cameras: variable ISO. I generally use Auto-ISO and let the camera figure out the ISO for me while I worry about shutter speed and aperture.
Another +1 from me.

Not all noise is bad, anyway.

That said, I'm adding a new camera to my kit which probably will replace my current go-everywhere camera, and I'm specifically choosing the camera to get better detail and noise performance at higher ISO sensitivity. What I shoot now starts to lose detail, get mushy, and gain noise progressively and certainly not in a linear fashion once I let the camera wander above base ISO. I've held off updating for a couple of generations of tech but now with newer sensors with much better performance leading ultimately to more capability and versatility - what's not to like, except for the cost of acquisition of course.

Content, not noise or grain, is what I care about most when using this camera. When clarity is important and technique and circumstance allows, dialling back to base ISO is simple enough to do.
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