Ramblings Down South…..just me and my Leica

By October 12, 2013Blog, Photo Essay

Ramblings Down South…..just me and my Leica

So, I finally managed to take some time out and made the journey to the South Island, just me and the camera. Not only was this something I’d been hoping to do for some time but in light of my intentions for next year it was also a dummy run of sorts. 

There were certainly facets of both my character and this country that came to light on this journey and whilst I don’t regard it as being hugely successful in a photographic sense it has hopefully enlightened me enough to be able to make better use of my time on any future adventures.

I’ve shared some of my favourite digital images from the trip below, in the next post I’ll share my film images.

The Remarkables – Leica M Monochrom, 90mm Summicron f/2 – LFI Master Shot Leica SI-2

Zone focusing with the 90mm Summicron f/2 still requires a degree of patience, especially when waiting for seagulls to align themselves in to a formation of your liking!! This was taken en-route to Glenorchy which by the way is a picturesque run, despite the fact that it’s one of those settlements with only road in and out. Scenery wasn’t the only reason I was on this road, it’s also the home of a NZ landscape painter by the name of John Crump, I’d admired his landscapes online and figured it would be great to see them up close and maybe tap him up for some local knowledge at the same time. Alas, on reaching John’s gallery I was greeted by a polite notice that read – If you find the gallery closed, I’ve gone out to paint. or words to that effect. That’s fair enough I thought, it just wasn’t meant to be, or was it……..I’ll finish this later in the post. 

Arthurs Pass – Leica M9, 90mm Summicron f/2 Leica SI3

This is a well photographed spot on the South Island tourist trail. I spent ten minutes looking at angles etc and pretty much wherever I went this guy positioned himself in front of me, in the end I decided I’d move on so grabbed a shot with him in the frame, there’s something about it I like but I can’t put my finger on it. I tried several processing options and couldn’t find anything that worked for the shot, in the end I settled on this VSCO FILM preset for FUJI 160C.

Full Steam Ahead – Leica M Monochrom, 90mm Summicron f/2 Leica SI4

Disclaimer…..Please don’t lay on railway lines in diminishing light or at any other time for that matter!! This is a sceniic railway used in the tourist season and therefor out of commission at the time I took this. To give the appearance of steam rising from an approaching train I utilised a distant cloud of dust generated by agricultural machinery, it was successful to a point.

Cockpit – Leica M9, 90mm Summicron f/2 Leica SI6

I’ve chalked up a few shots that I like with the 90mm Summicron f/2, it’s great having it in my bag and it really gives you some useful options, it’s just a shame it’s pretty heavy……

Silence of the Lambs – Leica M Monochrom, 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph – LFI Master Shot Leica SI5

Apologies if you’re in any way offended by the dead lamb’s…….truth be known this is probably my favourite shot of 2013!! 

Stairway to Heaven – Leica M9, 90mm Summicron f/2 Leica SI7

More from the 90mm Summicron f/2, I really gave it some serious camera time on this trip, I’d love to see the 90 APO at close quarters…….

Catenary Ripples – Leica M Monochrom, 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar f/4.5 – LFI Master Shot Leica SI8

In many ways this is the perfect kind of shot for the fantastic little 15/4.5 from Voigtlander. I only used it a couple of times on the trip, but it’s aways worth taking. Whenever I get the chance I recommend this lens, sharp, small, light and no distortion. My user report and instructions on dealing with Cornerfix are HERE.

The Forsaken – Leica M9, 50mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph Leica SI19

I was drawn to the colours and tones of these wonderful old vehicles, it seems like every other rural property has a yard full of old vehicles.

The Gathering Storm – Leica M Monochrom, 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph, B+W Red 091 8x Filter Leica SI13

All too often, the weather was not my friend……I have used my digital M’s in drizzle before but some of the worst storms in living memory were to occur on this trip. When I did see the sun, it was harsh, the kind of light that washes away all detail. A couple of times I did find myself in the right place at the right time but all too often the light wouldn’t oblige. I really can’t stress the importance of good light, it can make the ordinary, extraordinary, thinking back to the last year when I was last in the South Island, spending just an hour in Wanaka I managed to get some of my favourite images because the light was so special. See those – (HERE)

Strangers in a Strange Land – Leica M9, 90mm Summicron f/2 SI17

“Strangers in a Strange Land”……more like that’s a strange title for this image!! I don’t title all images and a title definitely can’t improve an image, it can certainly impart additional meaning and context though. Some images are more about evoking a personal memory or association than they are about the content, at least I think.

Having arrived in Franz Joseph late in the evening I made a decision to wake early and walk up to the terminal face of the glacier. After a good nights rest I was on my way, pausing only to read the safety warnings and to acknowledge the alarming rate the glacier is retreating based on photographs from 2009…scary!! It’s a eire walk through the valley, beautiful, although not photographically so on the morning in question.

Approaching my destination, I’d already decided to go beyond the safety barriers and get as close to the glacier as I could, on reaching the barrier and reading the articles posted there about numerous unfortunate tourists crushed by falling ice I decided it wasn’t worth it…..risk and reward, lot’s of risk, not much reward!! 

Turning to begin the journey back I noticed a lone figure on the horizon, headed in my direction. As we drew closer I was able to distinguish the uniform of a DOC warden, clearly this guy was doing his morning rounds and inspecting the glacier and route to it. “Morning” I said as we crossed paths, “morning” came the reply in an accent I immediately recognised having been around it most of my life. “Blimey, are you from Sheffield?” I asked, “Sure am, Hunters Bar to be precise…..” came the reply.

Incredibly, two strangers meet in the middle of nowhere and on the opposite side of the world, not only are they from the same UK city, but they were born in the same district. New Zealand has a habit of doing this and at times it can feel like nothing more than a large village!! and there it was, we walked and talked, about where we were from and our lives in New Zealand until we finally bid each other farewell on returning to our vehicles. It really was one of those enjoyable moments that invariably come with travel.

Abandoned – Leica M Monochrom, 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph Leica SI16

Another gloomy shot, derelict properties aren’t uncommon in the south, however, unlike the East Cape (HERE) they tend to be uninhabited……

The Artist – Leica M9, 35mm Summicron f/2 (Pre Asph) v.1 SI14

I snapped this just outside Kiakora, what a lovely place to work, it almost has a fairytale feel to it, not to mention the Pacific Ocean right behind it!

Now, speaking of artist’s, before crossing country to Kiakora I’d made my way up the west coast, through Hokitia and Greymouth, headed towards Westport I noticed several easels at the roadside and group of gentlemen having a cup of tea and a bite to eat. Intrigued, I pulled up and walked over to say hello and take a closer look at the seascapes they were painting. An elderly gentleman who modestly described himself as a “Sunday painter” introduced the others, one of which happened to be John Crump!!! “I was at your house six days ago!!” I proclaimed, “You weren’t in…..” I joked. “Well I’m here now” came the reply and we shared a laugh. I had eventually caught up with him, 650km’s from his home and gallery and quite by accident, small world.

Southern Exposure – Leica M Monochrom, 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph, ND 1.8 Filter Leica SI18

Definitely not the kind of image I had in mind when I moved away from DSLR’s but there wasn’t a lot else happening at the time, 1 Sec f/16

Random Reflections……..

  • Being away from family is more difficult than I thought, that said, no pain, no gain.
  • I tried to do too much, by that I mean I visited too many places and drove way too many km’s.
  • Naively, when thinking of New Zealand and in particular the South Island one immediately thinks of vast open spaces, the thing is those open spaces are largely in private ownership. All too often I’d see a potential image and find a fence between myself and said image. I’d love to see something like the UK’s “Right to Roam” in New Zealand, or better still Sweden’sAllemansrätt’ I won’t hold my breath though.
  • What the point above highlighted to me is this – A) I had no desire to trespass and B) I had little inclination to seek out the owners permission. This in turn lead me to question my commitment, that being said if I’d seen something really special I may have trespassed or made the extra effort.
  • I don’t like the idea of planning too far ahead when I’m out with camera, its fun to just see what happens. Whilst thats fine, I have realised the importance of having a plan A and B up your sleeve, just in case.
  • I’m still carrying too much gear, Leica Monochrom because I prefer the B&W’s from it, the Leica M9 because there are occasions when I want colour and Leica M6 because shooting film gives you something extra special, decisions, decisions……
  • I’ve known the importance of having long term photographic projects for a considerable time, I think this trip really allowed me the time to reflect on that, I have a couple of ideas in mind and I need to action them.
  • Small trips in relatively familiar and comfortable surroundings aren’t lighting my fire, I feel like I’m repeating myself in my imagery and stalling in terms of progress. I want to be out of my comfort zone and if I’m going to continue I will have to seek out more ways of doing that.
  • It’s not all about the photographs, you must savour the journey, one of my fondest memories from the trip was eating fresh Crayfish by the roadside whilst watching hundreds of seal pups playing in the ocean.

Processing in LR4 and Silver Efex Pro 2

I’ve also started to use VSCO FILM 01 preset system for LR4, it’s early days for me but looking around the internet at some of the images people are producing the effects are quite something. Also, the preset system in LR4 makes it all pretty handy.

Remember the film images are up next, already scanned and ready to go!!

Cheers, Jason.



  • andygemmell says:

    Jason, yet again some great images here.

    Interesting reading your reflections…..things which resonate with myself include:

    too much gear – I ended up just taking MM and 2 lenses for my current trip overseas and was a great move for my head space. Not too much to think about.

    actioning photographic plans – i agree 100%. Sometimes they don’t don’t go as planned but at least it’s something to aim for.

    trips in comfortable surroundings – this is the big one for me from your points (also it’s not all about the photography). My recent trip overseas really allowed me the type of refreshing environments required to get that level of interest ignited again. That said though by week 3 of 5 I was getting a bit of photography fatigue. At that point just had a rest for a while.

    Looking forward to your “projects”!


    • janrzm says:

      Hey Andrew,

      Thanks, I certainly do my best to speak honestly on here so it’s good to read your thoughts and comments.

      I’m not certain that I’ll be able to apply that level of restraint to the gear I take on my trip in 6 weeks time but I know for sure it would help my “head space” if I did….:-)

      I felt a little of that photography fatigue you refer to, first time I’d experienced that!!

      Thanks again for your continued interest and sharing your thoughts.

      All the best, Jason

  • Avesh says:

    Great to see the posts coming in again Jason! Lovely work as always, a couple of titles ‘The Forsaken’ and ‘The Gathering Storm’ do make me wonder if you’ve read the Wheel Of Time series?

    Looking forward to seeing more!

    • janrzm says:

      Thanks Avesh,

      Its certainly good to get back out with the camera and try to build a little momentum again. I’m not familiar with the “Wheel of Time” series, is the connection purely the titles or images?

      How is your rangefinder experience progressing?

      Cheers, Jason.

      • Avesh says:

        Purely the titles, I have them on the brain as my wife has just started reading the series.

        I’ve been enjoying the rangefinder very much. I shot an event for my company just yesterday with my full Canon set up which really hit home how much easier the Leica is to carry around.

        Travel is also a great deal easier especially as I had become very much a 50mm guy with the Canon anyway.

        It’s still a challenge getting the metering right at times but the learning experience is proving rewarding.

        It’s great to see you posting again. I’ll look forward to more!

        • janrzm says:

          I’m pleased to hear you’re enjoying the rangefinder, it’s not first nature to everyone. There is an element of convenience to shooting the Leica but depending on what you shoot there may still be a requirement for both systems. Mastering the metering will come with extended use so don’t be concerned.

          It’s good to be back.

          Thanks again, Jason.

  • jorge rubia says:

    Jason,love this post. Honest inner reflections are so refreshing to read – I can relate to all your thoughts totally. Great images specially love “Abandoned”

    Looking forward to seeing the film images
    Thank you


    • janrzm says:

      Hey Jorge,

      Thanks so much and its great to hear from you, somehow it’s easy to be honest on here and very cathartic. It’s so reassuring to hear others say they can relate to these experiences.

      I’m a little nervous about the film images its been a while!! 🙂

      Cheers, Jason.

  • Lovely images and words. Thank you for sharing and introspecting.

    I have to laugh at how much we love vignetting. Both hardware mfgs. and software developers work so hard to prevent this. I wonder how much cheaper Leica could make a lens that purposely vignettes?

    Shooting Zeiss T* lenses on Hasselblad for 20 years, I was always amused how we would use matte boxes to create vignetting and scratchy, plastic Cokin soft focus filters to make custom negatives. This allowed us to control the image without paying the lab to do these things later. Maybe we should call that (pre)processing?

    • janrzm says:

      Hey John,

      Thanks I really appreciate hearing that.

      I for one love a vignette……ha,ha. You’re so right with that comment, much cheaper I suspect although I doubt they’d sell them for less, they’d just convince us its what we desired.

      It’s always fascinating to hear your experiences, my learning would be expedited if only you’d consider relocating to NZ….;-)

      Thanks again for sharing.

      Cheers, Jason.

  • Believe me, if the political/economic situation fails to change here in the states, sheep farming in NZ is not off the table 🙂

  • Hilmar says:


    I always love to read about your experiences and thoughts you had during the journey. I find it reassuring that you have hard times when photographing as your photos don’t reflect this at all.

    Encountering a beautiful landscape in average light can be quite disappointing. It’s much more rewarding if landscape and light match. But I guess this is what us photographers have to live with.

    BTW, once I had the opportunity to travel alone which I was really looking forward to. I was hoping to have enough time to explore the subjects I would face. But then, on my own, I found it hard to enjoy the loneliness and the fact that I couldn’t share my thoughts with my family. I felt a bit lonely and this feeling badly influenced my photography to a certain degree. A mix of loneliness and social life seems to be right but is hard to find at times.

    Great photographs, as always!!


    • janrzm says:

      Hi Hilmar,

      The truth is I hated all the images I’d taken on this trip, I now recognise it as a theme with me, once I have reflected on them and processed them they grow on me a little.

      It’s great when scene and light collaborate for sure, I learnt that I’m not the kind of person that can sit and wait hours for those to come together, I need to move on.

      This is interesting, I chose not to dwell on it in my post but I certainly felt the emotion you’re referring to. I’ll be mentally more prepared on the next trip, fingers crossed.

      Cheers, Jason.

  • […] In my previous post I showed some of my favourite digital images from my trip to the South Island, you can see those HERE […]

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