Tae Kim Shares His Journey on Mastering Leica Rangefinders

Tae Kim talks about settling down with the Leica system which he found works best for him and compels him to master the essentials.

My name is Tae Kim and I originally created Cosmotographer as a site where I can have a creative outlet from my day job, a place where I can express my thoughts onto a collection of photos. I don’t have a simple and consistent aesthetic like most photographers because I believe that photography is more than just someone’s identity, striving to differentiate themselves from the curated world of Instagram. I believe photography should be used to express themselves and their creative moods without catering to followers.

Through my experience of almost a decade of shooting and trying several styles of photography using an extensive roster of expensive gear, I’ve come to the conclusion that worrying about gear is not the way to go. After years of chasing the latest gear, I have now settled down to one system that fits me and forces me to master the essentials, something that only Leica rangefinders can do.

“Das Wesentliche” as they say in German.

Billingham Hadley Pro Small – General Camera Bag

  • Leica M-P (Typ 240)
  • Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH II (11673)
  • Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 (11826)
  • Nitecore ULM240 USB Travel Charger
  • Leica BP-SCL2 Battery
  • Match Technical Thumbs Up
  • Artisan & Artists ACAM-316G Silk Cord Strap
  • Anker Portable Battery
  • Magic Fiber Microfiber Cloth
  • Zeiss Lens Wipes

Peak Design 5L Sling – Street Photography

  • Leica Q-P (Typ 116)
  • Leica BP-DC 12 Batteries
  • Match Technical Thumbs Up (Matte Black)
  • Artisan & Artists ACAM-301N Silk Cord Strap (Red)
  • Magic Fiber Microfiber Cloth
  • Zeiss Lens Wipes

I wouldn’t say it’s a project per se, but I’ve created a photography blog a few years ago that mostly involves Leica cameras. I believe this is a niche market just because the process of shooting a Leica rangefinder is different from a modern mirrorless or DSLR these days. Where users of those blogs talk about stretching the limits of their dynamic range and resolution, I like to focus on the process of taking the photo and being more intentional with your camera. I try to avoid a lot of tech talk (albeit it’s fun as I’m a tech nerd myself) but it’s mostly about sharing my journey on mastering the Leica rangefinder.

To be honest, I don’t hold a candle to most of the other photographers out there, but I love to share my photos with the world and include my story with them to make the reader feel like they were there with me as I take the pictures. This intimacy is something I feel will offer readers an experience behind the rangefinder rather that probably took a few seconds longer to take and hopefully produce good images.

Why did you get into photography?

I fell in love with the art of photography after I picked up my first DSLR (Nikon D40) years ago and took a week-long trip through Italy with a couple of friends. This prompted them to elect me as their official photographer for the trip and fortunately, I loved it.

Which photographers are your biggest influences?

This is a hard one as there are so many photographers that are better at what they do than myself, but off the top of my head, it would be Jonas Rask for general photography and Lucy Laucht for travel.

How long have you been shooting?

Over 12 years (and counting!)

Why are photography and shooting so important to you?

I’m a corporate finance manager at a large publicly traded company and the busy culture paired with the long hours would drain me as I start to lose energy and motivation. Photography is sort of like meditation for me to be more in the present and appreciate the world around me instead of trying to compare the past and the future in corporate finance.

Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?

I personally think I’m a bit of both as I like to go out and challenge myself when I try to create something new by looking at the environment from different perspectives. I do this by either using a different focal length lens or looking for different vantage points off the beaten path. This, in turn, is documenting for me which applies to my street photography as the very essence of street photography means to me, is documenting humanity.

What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically.

First, I look for light and color. Something has to catch my eye and nothing does it better than colors and light. Then I start to look for lines, which subconsciously lead to creating composition. I don’t like my camera to get in the way of my photography. Therefore, that’s one of the reasons why I’ve left Sony and started to shoot with Leica M rangefinder cameras almost exclusively.

Want to walk us through your processing techniques?

To be honest, I’m starting to fall out of favor of over-processing images that you see on everyone’s Instagram feed because that’s where you get lost and you lose your identity. You have to ask yourself, who are you shooting for? Are you doing it for validation from strangers that like the same trend? Or are you doing it for yourself so that you can grow organically through independence and not influence? Leica sensors with good glass make gorgeous DNG files where the only change you really need to make to your files is exposure. I purposely underexpose my photos a little bit to save for the highlights, despite what the light meter says on my Leica.

What made you want to get into your genre?

I like challenges and while photography itself can be challenging, I personally love analog things (manual transmission sports cars, Swiss watches, etc) and applying my love for these things into photography had opened my eyes into not necessarily a new genre, but a genre where it’s all about the mindset of getting the shot rather than the type of gear you have.

Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision.

After leaving DSLRs and Sony mirrorless cameras, I’ve since switched completely over to Leica cameras. I personally own a Leica M-P (Typ 240) and a Leica Q-P, where each serves a purpose. I believe in the philosophy of one lens – one camera, as this simplifies (and lightens) my gear while reducing gear anxiety before and during a photographic excursion (we’ve all been there). That nagging question on the back of your mind if you’ve brought the right gear (or enough of it) while waiting for your flight at an airport terminal, is no fun. Less thoughts on gear, more open mind for absorption.

What motivates you to shoot?

Traveling. Anything that involves travel gets me elated. It forces me to keep my head on a swivel when I’m in a new environment, which also indirectly forces me to notices things that are off the beaten path and less touristy.