Maintaining Your Leica Creativity at a Time of Social Distancing

Apr 1, 2020  By Jason Schneider

How to stay calm and keep at a safe distance while still shooting great pictures

The current Coronavirus Crisis has vastly altered all aspects of our social interaction, but that doesn’t mean you have to curtail your creativity. Indeed, shooting pictures with your Leicas is a great strategy for coping with anxiety and social isolation, and overcoming fear—a positive affirmation of life and the transcendence of the human spirit. Here are a few suggestions that will help make it a rewarding experience that’s safe for you and your human subjects.

Subjects safe for close-up shooting

Remember that there’s a world of subject categories and creative niches out there where the “6 -foot distance” rule does not apply. This includes virtually all inanimate objects you don’t physically touch, such as architecture, houses, landscapes, still life and abstract compositions, flowers, trees, deserted streets, and nature scenes. Wildlife, dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, or other animals encountered on, say, a solitary nature walk generally does not require any special precautions other than keeping your bare hands off the critters. You can also shoot close-ups of people in your immediate family group who are already living with you in close proximity, but bear in mind that anyone who leaves your home to shop for groceries, go to a medical appointment, etc., is at increased risk to transmit the disease to family members. Bottom line: Family members often make great portrait subjects but try not to get closer than 3 feet when photographing them. Wash your hands frequently and watch the hand-washing videos posted by the CDC and other official agencies.

Telephoto lenses: Shooting intimate “people pictures” at a safe distance

Many savvy photographers rely on fast moderate telephotos in the 85-105mm focal length range as their go-to “portrait lenses” and there are a host of vintage and current Leica lenses in the 85-105mm focal length range that qualify. These allow you to capture frame filling headshots and head-and-shoulders portraits at safe shooting distances in the recommended 6-foot-plus range, while minimizing apparent perspective distortion in close-ups.  They also deliver very shallow depth of field at their widest apertures, creating compelling pictorial effects by isolating the sharply rendered subject against a pleasantly soft background. Since they effectively double the working (camera to subject) distance compared to normal lenses they not only fulfill current 6-foot “social distance” requirements, they also make the photographer less intrusive and intimidating—a big plus when taking portraits of skittish subjects like pets and little kids.

Telephoto prime lenses ranging from 135mm-200mm and zoom lenses in the 70-210mm or thereabouts range deliver all the above-mentioned advantages of moderate telephotos and allow even greater camera-to-subject distances. They’re a superb choice for capturing incisive, detailed, low distortion portraits or action shots of your kids or grandkids playing in the back yard or bicycling down the street. The creative possibilities are endless.

Digital zoom: Instant telephoto at the touch of a button

Don’t have a telephoto lens handy? Most digital Leica cameras provide a digital zoom feature, which essentially captures a cropped image of what’s recorded on the sensor—in effect a telephoto effect image that looks the same as an image taken with a longer lens. Despite some manufacturer’s claims to the contrary, there is no way to do this “losslessly” but given the high-performance parameters and resolution of the sensors in digital Leica cameras, their high-spec Maestro image processors, and the exceptional quality of Leica lenses, images shot at a 2x or even 3x digital zoom can look quite impressive. Bottom line: Back off and try digital zoom with your trusty 50mm Summicron, Summilux, or Noctilux, or order a shiny new Leica telephoto or tele-zoom from your favorite Leica dealer. Whatever you do, have fun, and great shooting!

Legal Disclaimer: While I’ve done my level best as a layman to provide accurate and safe advice to my fellow Leica enthusiasts, I am not a medical professional and this article has not been vetted by certified medical experts. Neither I nor the publisher of this article can, therefore, accept any responsibility for the consequences of following any recommendations in this article, which are offered solely as friendly suggestions. We strongly urge you to err on the side of caution and to comply with the requirements of local authorities in all cases.

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