Film Photography for Street Photographers: The Basics (Premium)

Fifth Avenue, New York, 1978. © Mason Resnick

Street photography has, over the past few years, seen a revival thanks to the rise of relatively affordable “street-savvy” digital cameras, and the fact that the cost of taking a picture is a lot less when you do it digitally. Since street photography is a high-risk, high-reward approach, which means you have to take a lot of bad pictures to get to good ones. So, since the cost of film is so high, street photography has, for the most part, gone digital.

And yet.

Some of the greatest street photos ever shot have been on film. Garry Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt..the list of iconic film street shooters goes on. Even today, many street photographers continue to shoot film. Jeff Mermlestein shoots color film; Bruce Gilden goes back and forth between color and black and white film.


Chinatown, New York, 1980. © Mason Resnick

The skyrocketing cost of film can make shooting film more expensive than digital in the long run, but there are ways to mitigate the costs. One is to bulk-load. A 100-foot roll of Ilford HP5 Plus, for example, can cost under $60. You can pick up a bulk loader and reusable film canisters on eBay. You can typically get around 30 36-exposure rolls out of a 100-foot roll, reducing your cost to about $2 a roll, which is pretty good compared to the $3.50-5 per roll you’d have to pay for a pre-loaded roll of 36 exposure ISO 400 film. You can even experiment with low-budget films such as Kentmere 400, which costs $39.95 for a 100-foot roll.


New York, 1978 © Mason Resnick

You can also save a lot by riding the retro DIY wave and processing everything yourself. This may require some adjustments to your living space that are beyond the scope of this article.

Why go to the trouble when digital is relatively cheap, you can check the results immediately, and doesn’t require designating a room in your domicile for stinky chemicals?

I put it to you that the key reason for doing street photography on film is that there is none of the instant gratification that comes from shooting digitally. There’s no LCD monitor; you can’t check the photo you just shot (come on, we’ve all done it). Without that distraction, you can be more present—more in the moment. It frees you up to be perceptive to new possibilities.


Outside Democratic Convention, New York, 1980. © Mason Resnick

Since you need to wait to process your film, time can go by, separating you from the experience of taking the picture, which can bias your opinion of your photos. You’re more likely to look favorably on images you shot on a warm, sunny day while in a great mood than photos you shot on a gloomy day when you were mad about something…even though the images themselves, seen by somebody who didn’t have your picture-taking experience, may have the opposite reaction. So, letting time go by and approaching the images “cold” helps you do a better job editing your work.


New York, 1980 © Mason Resnick

Winogrand’s process

This isn’t just my opinion. Some of the greats, such as Garry Winogrand, left thousands of rolls unprocessed for a year or two in his prime, (When he died in 1984, he left around 2,500 unprocessed rolls and over 6,000 contact sheets that had never been printed.) I was lucky enough to see Winogrand’s process film shooting process, which has pieces we could all learn from. I’ve written about of a workshop I took with Garry Winogrand in the past, but never went into detail about how he shot and processed film.

Until now.

Fortunately, Garry went into great detail about his shooting and film developing workflow during the Master Workshop I took with him in 1976. While the casual observer may consider Garry Winogrand’s shooting technique to be haphazard, it was actually anything but that. From looking for vertical (rather than horizontal) points of reference to working at intimate distances from the people populating his photographs, Winogrand didn’t follow the traditional rules of composition, or developing.


Flushing, New York, 1981 © Mason Resnick

Garry exposed everything manually. He used bulk-loaded rolls of Kodak Tri-X exclusively (it was in the days before T-Max, and Ilford HP-5 was not widely available then), and knew the film so well he could accurately set exposure without a meter just by looking around. He was intimately familiar with his gear and could change exposure settings without looking, allowing him to focus on the scene around him. Since he used a Leica M camera and a 28mm lens, he also knew when he was in focus before looking in the finder by simply moving the focus ring tab. He was precise and fast.

His camera bag had dozens of strips of white photo masking tape affixed to the top. Every time he completed a roll of film, he would jot down notes on one of the strips, attach it to that roll, and drop it in the bag. This information would include lighting conditions (cloudy, sunny, hazy sun), scene contrast, location and perhaps a note to pull or push process. It was in his own time-saving shorthand code and provided valuable exposure and shooting environment information to help him process the film appropriately.


57th Street, New York, 1979. © Mason Resnick

Back in the darkroom, Winogrand would develop film anywhere from 6 months to two years after taking the pictures. He’d choose his developer based on shooting situations. High-contrast sunlit scenes were processed in a lower-contrast solution; push-processed film was done in finer-grain developer. He processed by inspection: Halfway through developing the film, he’d unroll it each roll a few frames and look at it, illuminated by a green safelight (which is the only light source that is safe for film), and adjust development time according to what he saw. When shooting in lower light, he would push-process up to ISO 1600, using a finer-grain developer.

Moving on to printing, Winogrand would make work prints by batch-processing, to save time. He would print entire rolls in one batch, exposing the negatives that he wanted to see larger, and then store them in a safebox. After exposing 25-50 frames, he’d process them all at once, constantly shuffling the images while they sat in the developer tray so they would be fully processed.

He’d then go through each print and divide them into “yes” and “no” piles, and then fine-print the “yes” images.

Other street photographers work differently. Cartier-Bresson, for instance, had no interest in processing his photos, and simply handed his negatives to a master darkroom technician, who processed and printed the photos for him, so he could continue taking pictures.


Broadway, New York, 1979. © Mason Resnick

Film for Street Photography

Since typical street shooters need to capture fast-changing moments, the faster the film the better. Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP-5 Plus, are excellent choices because they can handle being push-processed from their native speed of ISO 400 up to ISO 1600. Both have a wide dynamic range and are more forgiving of exposure errors or impossible lighting that often comes up on the street. Ilford XP-2 is another choice. It’s a chromogenic B&W film, which means you can take it to any print lab and have it processed in the same way as color film. The negatives are remarkably fine-grained, and you can also print them in your home darkroom.


Lower East Side, New York, 1982. © Mason Resnick

8 great film cameras for street photography:

Here’s my short list (and brief explanations) of classic film cameras that are small, quiet, precise, and ideal for street photography. I have, at one time or another, used every one of these on the street. Price range based on a recent look on eBay.

Leica M2 or M3 ($750-10,000, body only)
This is the camera used to take some of the most famous street photos you’ve seen, and is still the only way to go for some street photography purists. I used mine for almost 40 years, until its shutter finally gave way.

Rollei 35 ($75-400)

Tiny, two-handed camera (shoot rightie, wind leftie) has a collapsible 40mm lens, and you have to guestimate focus. You get used to it. Optically superior, gave me big-camera images. The German-made models are better.


New York, 1983. © Mason Resnick

Olympus XA 4 ($185-300)

The XA’s clamshell design was groundbreaking, and its pocketable size and quick focus and is virtually an invisibility cloak. The XA4 is the only XA with a 28mm lens.

Leica CL ($350-$800 body only)

Jointly produced by Leica and Minolta, the CL is an honest-to-goodness rangefinder and takes most M-mount lenses (including the specially-made Minolta M Rokkor 40mm). Leica joy at a fraction of the Leica price!

Minolta TC-1 ($720-1,600)

One of the last brilliant posh compact cameras of the film era, the TC-1 features a 28mm f/3.5 autofocus lens and manually-set aperture and shutter speeds and spot metering. This felt good in the hands.

Canon Canonet GIII QL17 ($85-200)
The “Poor Man’s Leica” has a built-in 40mm lens with a focus tab, honest-to-gosh rangefinder focusing, manual everything, and a nice, low price. Don’t point it towards the sun, though; the uncoated lens flares like crazy.

Yashica T3 ($150-350)

It might have been an auto-everything camera, but the T3 had a unique waist-level viewfinder, which lets you actually compose hip shots without guesswork. I got some really interesting pictures with this one.
Editor’s note: All photos accompanying this article were taken by the author with either a Rollei 35 or Leica M3 with a 35mm lens and either Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP-5 film.

Three Years Ago, Hasselblad Announced the Sony a99. Let’s Be Thankful They’re Not Doing This Anymore

A few years ago, the weirdest thing happened: Hasselblad announced the Hasselblad HV–which as much as they claimed otherwise, is a rebadged Sony a99 camera. In fact, my headline upset them and cut me off of their press list for a while. Now what Hasselblad did isn’t exactly new. Companies have been working together on collaborations for a while. Leica and Minolta did it years ago to create one of the most famous ones: the Leica CL. Leica also works closely with Panasonic in a similar respect. Hasselblad decided to try this with Sony and unfortunately for them, it backfired pretty hard.

We all laughed, all of us. If you enter forums, Reddit, or other conversations on the web you’ll read someone saying that they’re so glad that the Hasselblad of today is actually trying to innovate. And they truly have with the Hasselblad X1D. With their old CEO out of his position though, the company is going to see some new steering and we’re going to need to see how they pan out. But I’m sure that we won’t anything like the Hasselblad HV happen again.

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Want to Shoot Film with Sony Lenses? You May Want a Minolta a9 With SSM Support

If you look at the surviving DSLR manufacturers out there, you’ve got Canon, Nikon, Sony (Minolta), and Pentax. All of the brands have made big advancements and changes in the years since digital took over film, but none probably as much as Sony. In fact, using a camera like a Canon 1v, Canon EOS Elan 7, or others are very straightforward and compatible with most of the newer lenses. Sony lets you do the same thing with the Minolta camera bodies, but if you want to utilize the SSM technology in some of the lenses then you probably need a Minolta a9 with SSM support.

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This New 17mm F4.5 Lens Makes Your Pancake Lens Look Huge

Leica owners have a new 17mm F/4.5 handmade lens from MS Optics to spend their hard earned money on, and this lens makes pancake lenses look huge. The Perar Ultra-Wide 17mm f4.5 Retrofocus features a viewing angle of 100 degrees and weighs almost nothing at 60g.

MS Optics notes in their press release that the lens itself features four elements in four groups, with a wide open aperture of F/4.5 and minimum aperture of F/16. The Perar Ultra-Wide 17mm f4.5 Retrofocus can also focus on subjects as close as 0.4m meters to infinity.

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Review: Leica M10

The Leica M10 has to be one of the worst kept secrets from Leica in a while. Perhaps it’s because it generated a whole lot of excitement, and indeed it’s worth the hype. For the purist photographer, this is bound to be a tool that they’ll closely look at. With a 24MP CMOS full frame sensor, this camera is the company’s smallest M digital camera and this was done by creating a camera that more or less is super densely packed. It’s around the same size as the company’s film M cameras.

We’ve been playing with the Leica M10 for a while now, and in truth, we really like it.

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The Leica Summilux-SL 50mm f1.4 ASPH for the SL System Finally Makes a Splash

Today, Leica announced their new Summilux-SL 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH lens for the Leica SL camera system. It’s most likely a very exciting time for lots of photographers who own the absurdly expensive system due to the fact that Leica’s 50mm f1.4 Summilux lenses are typically very good.  In fact, this is the SL’s first prime lens. With 11 elements in nine groups and two aspherical elements, you should also note the lens’ E82 filter mount–which only the 21mm f1.4 for the M system has. And the price? $5,295–which is quite a bit of money.

Plus there’s a new firmware update for the SL. Tasty bits from the press release are after the jump.

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Methodology: Composing Landscapes with Andrew Stuart (Premium)

All images by Andrew Stuart. Used with permission.

Working with black and white often sounds like a restrictive approach to photography; without the option of using color to tell your story black and white forces you to see the world differently and rely on the technical skills that are the underlying foundation of photography. Specifically black & white forces you to understand how to capture light to recreate the world around you.

To get some more insight, we reached out to Leica Photographer Andrew Stuart to break down the elements of composition and take a look at his workflow. Although primarily an editorial and documentary photographer, Stuart tells us that he loves shooting landscapes because he “[loves] the luxury of taking [his] time” and not needing to rely too heavily on gear and autofocus – allowing him to instead connect with his surroundings.

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Leica Releases an APO-SUMMICRON-M 50mm f2 ASPH With a Red Finish (No, They Really Did This…)

One of Leica’s most popular lenses is their 50mm f2 Summicron; and so they just went and completely ruined it oh my god why would you do something like this it makes no sense painted it all red–you know, just in case you want that. It’s a special anodized Red version that will be available in December for $8,950.00.

On the inside, it’s the same as the silver and black versions. It has eight elements in five groups, and focuses as close as a little bit under a meter away from the subject. Of course, it’s also a Leica M mount lens–which means that it will mount to Leica M cameras, some Voigtlander Bessas, and some Zeiss Ikon rangefinders. It’s also compatible with pretty much any and every mirrorless camera system out there via adapters.

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The Leica M10 Leaks Online; Reported to Come Later this Year

Leica has been reported to be working on a new M camera for some time now, and if these recent leaks (which seem to be pretty cut and dry) are legit, then it appears that upcoming M will be called the M10. This will be a pretty big change overall in Leica’s history as they’ve never had an M camera with two numbers in the name overall.

So far the rumors are not specific about that the internals will be, other than that they expect it to carry the same 24MP sensor as the Leica SL. That would also mean a similar ISO range of up to 50,000 ISO. Considering its predecessor’s (The Leica M) design, it’s also bound to have video upgrades and weather sealing of some sort.

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The Huawei Mate 9 Smartphone Has Dual Leica Cameras

It seems that dual cameras is the new ‘it’ feature for high end smartphones as Chinese manufacturer Huawei has unveiled its new Mate 9, which features dual rear facing Leica cameras.

This is not Huawei’s first smartphone with dual Leica cameras, nor is it even one of the first dual camera phones around. But it is clear that smartphone makers are starting to place priority on setting their highend phones apart from the lower budget offerings, and one way they have been doing that is by adding these multiple cameras.

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Leica To Auction Herbert List’s M3 And Others For WestLicht Anniversary Celebration

Image by _bunn_ on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons License

Leica is gearing up to celebrate the 15th anniversary of WestLicht by auctioning off several prized historic cameras. Highlighting the cameras available is the 1958 Leica M3 owned by Magnum Photographer Herbert List (1903-1975). Leica expects the List camera to sell for somewhere in the range of $45,000-$55,000. Continue reading…

First Impressions: Leica Summaron-M 28mm f5.6 (Leica M Mount)

The Leica 28cm f5.6 lens (or the Leica Summaron-M 28mm f5.6) was recently re-released by the company–touting a classic look that it can deliver in addition to an incredibly small size overall. The lens was,and still is, a favorite amongst many street photographers who shoot during the daytime. With a 5.6 aperture, it’s very tough to miss any sort of moments passing you by. As the old saying goes, “F8 and be there.” The lens is very close to being a truly pancake offering, and includes a few cool features that many photographers are bound to like.

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Leica Announces Return of the Summaron-M 28mm f5.6, Titanium Leica Q

Today Leica announced two new product offerings, the arguably more exciting of the two is the return of the Leica Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 wide-angle lens. Additionally, there is an all-new Titanium color for the Lecia Q. The Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 expands the collection of lenses available for the Leica M rangefinder system and introduces a modern rendition of a classic Leica lens. While the new Titanium Gray finish available for the Leica Q offers an alternative color option for users wanting a camera that reflects their individual style. Continue reading…

The Leica Collection by ONA is Your New High End Camera Bag Lineup

ONA are known for their stylish, functional, and high quality bags for photographers, and Leica is, well, Leica. It was announced today that the two will be teaming up again, but this time on a line of exclusive bags that will be sold in Leica stores and boutiques internationally.

Previously the Leica and ONA had collaborated on bags such as the Berlin and Berlin II, as well as the Bowery, for Leica. This new collection of bags, which will be called, “The Leica Collection by ONA”, will feature several of ONA’s messenger style bags as well as one of their photography backpack-style bags. Each of the bags will feature detailing with that classic Leica Red as well as the special hand crafting of premium materials that Leica is known for.

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Leica Announces Special Edition Leica M-P “Grip” Set by Rolf Sachs

Today Leica announced a new product in collaboration with artist and Leica photographer Rolf Sachs, the Leica M-P(Typ 240) “Grip” Set. The exclusive set consists of a Lecia M-P (Typ 240) camera and fast classic lens Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH. The combination of unexpected materials in an eye-catching choice of color and classic design lends the camera a unique look, making the set a true collector’s item. Continue reading…

A Photographer’s Predicament – Creating Value in a Low Barrier to Entry Environment

This is a syndicated blog post from Street Silhouettes. It and the images here are being used with exclusive permission from Horatio Tan.

Doesn’t it bother you that there are so many photographic images out there? If it doesn’t, it should. It is not like the more pictures the merrier. With an abundance of photographs floating around the internet, there is essentially what economists call an oversupply.

The consequence of oversupply is diminished value. This is the basic premise of economic supply and demand. The more we have of something, the less we value it. To put it in layman’s term, we take for granted the things that we have in abundance – like water and air – hence our polluted environment.

To make matter even worse, photographic images are posted online for free – essentially rendering its value to zero. As a result, there is an expectation in the eyes of the public that photographic content should be free, despite the effort taken by photographers to capture the image.

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LEICA Unveils the SOFORT Instant Camera

Leica proudly announced today, the newest member of its family, the Leica SOFORT instant camera. The SOFORT boasts a unique Leica design with special features, offering quick and easy access to photography that will have users seeing and sharing real photographs within seconds. With the SOFORT, Leica brings its photographic expertise, commitment to creativity, and ease of use to the world of Instax instant photography.

In automatic mode, the SOFORT utilizes available light as much as possible before triggering the flash, creating pictures with a more authentic, natural look that are one-of-a-kind. In addition there are preset modes including Automatic, Party & People, Sports & Action, Macro and even multiple exposure and time exposure modes.

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The Leica M-P Titanium Will Shoot the Most Expensive Selfies Ever

Leica has put out Titanium edition cameras before, and the latest set will include the Leica M-P (Typ 240) digital camera, Leica Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH. Lens and the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH. Lens. Only 333 of the sets will be sold worldwide; and so you’re probably not going to be able to afford one.

You can stop reading here if you want. But for the rest of us that like to drool over stuff that we clearly can’t afford, you can head past the jump for their press release.

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Leica Magazine Leaks an Instant Film Camera Coming at Photokina

Information about a new Leica instant camera is reportedly leaked in the latest issue of LFI magazine, according to some news that Steve Huff Photo received from a reader. The name of the rumored Leica instant camera is “Sofort” which translates to instant in German. The Sofort bears strong similarities to the current Fuji Instax Mini 90 model, and is also compatible with Fuji Instax Films.

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Has Digital Technology Ruined Black and White Photography?

This is a syndicated blog post from Street Silhouettes. All images and text from Horatio Tan. Used with permission.

There was a time when all photographers shot black and white film. For the most part, the decision to shoot in black and white had very little to do with choice or preference for black and white photographs. In most cases, it was because black and white film was more convenient to develop, when compared to color film. And in case you’ve forgotten what develop means, it’s not when you drop off your film at the local photo-mat. It means going to the darkroom and developing it yourself.

It was in developing film and printing images that separated real photographers from those who just took photographs. Whereas the latter group had no control in optimizing the look of the images (after it was developed and printed at a photo-mat), the former had complete control limited only by the scope of his ability in the darkroom.

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