In this series of blog articles we invite young photographers to share their journey to becoming a pro and their continued efforts and experiences in that direction. Our first photographer up to the plate is eighteen year old Ben Webster from East Sussex with examples of his images.

How I bought a Leica at 18 years of age.

My photography started for me around ten years ago on a family holiday. I remember my dad buying a brand new DSLR, this being a Nikon D50! I’m sure you can understand my excitement when he let his eight year old son go explore beautiful Mexico with his expensive new toy. I’m glad he did, because I instantly fell in love with the process of taking a photo. From this point, any given opportunity  to use his cameras, I was there!

Five years later, after countless holidays and thousands of awful, blurry and probably out of focus snaps, I was awarded black belt In karate! As a result of my hard efforts, my parents gifted me my first DSLR camera! A Canon EOS 100D with 18-55mm lens. Wow, a very lucky thirteen year old indeed! 

So what photography did I enjoy, what area  and genre did I spend every second focussing on? Simple answer – everything! Looking at photographic based videos by DigitalRev and Kai W inspired me to do street photography. Ben Brown inspired my interest in travel and landscape photography. Lens and camera recommendations were dangerous videos to watch. The result being that the following year I was lucky enough to purchase my first prime lenses! For me the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 alongside the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II (there is a newer STM model now!) and the Canon 85mm f/1.8 changed my entire view on photography and my own compositional choices. Being restricted to one focal length forced my eye to look for new and exciting compositions which instantly switched my images from snapshots to photographs. 

I therefore urge and recommend anyone who owns any form of interchange lens camera,  to pick up a nifty 50mm prime. The Canon variant can be picked up for not much more than £100 new and prices  are similar for other brands.

Images open in lightbox

The next year saw more savings and more G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)! Further research and self-taught knowledge led me to the choice of a Canon EOS 70D. An absolute workhorse of a camera for any photographer looking to expand their photographic potential. It provided much faster autofocus, improved image quality (especially with low light and dynamic range) and weather sealing. Unfortunately, the faster autofocus simply demanded this to be tested, which led to my interest and craving to explore the world of sport photography. Still using my 85mm, I quickly realised that this might not be the best choice for fast and quickly changing sports such as football, rugby….or karate! More research, more G.A.S. and more headaches soon resulted in me concluding that I wanted to buy the legendary Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM II (the mark III is out now!). After many months of saving, I was able to purchase this incredible lens at the age of fifteen. This soon became the workhorse and my go to lens for most of my photography. Yes, even street photography! To date, this lens has paid for itself multiple times. 

Taken with Canon EOS 70D f/2.8, 1/319, 160mm. Ben Webster.

Fast forward to January 2018. I have now been working at my local camera shop for two years. An absolute privilege that has given me more experience, knowledge and understanding than I would have achieved otherwise. Great fun and still now, something I enjoy and love doing. Talking and selling photographic equipment, and being paid to do it! What an entrance to the photographic industry! 

Eighteen months of saving led to the biggest camera purchase yet, a massive jump up. The previous model was widely used by photographers and enthusiasts alike, for years before. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking abut the Canon 5D Mark IV! A full frame, 30 megapixel camera that (in my testing) achieved 14 stops of DR and low light performance like I’ve never seen before – usable results at 16000 ISO. With the best weather sealing on any Canon camera outside of their 1D line, the 5D Mark IV is one of the best all round DSLR cameras.  This is the camera I’ve worked so hard for and finally, in January of 2018, I placed my order, and it was mine! And in just a year, through heavy marketing and self-promotion, I gained traction with my photographic business (benwebster.org) and the camera has paid for itself easily. 

A few months go by and I find myself wanting a smaller camera that still delivered superb image quality,  can be thrown in a bag, forgotten about and isn’t going to take up too much room on days when I want to carry a camera, but not the large beast that is my 5D! 

One company that was coming onto the radar at the time, was Fujifilm. Their X-T2, wow! So many customers and photographers with similar demographics would not stop praising this camera. Interesting! So I did it. I managed to pick up a second hand Fuji X-T2 with a basic, yet still impressive 35mm f/2 for under £1000. What an incredible set-up. A tiny APS-C 24 megapixel camera that packs a lot of punch. I found myself wanting to take so many photos, whether they were good or not, it was fun!  Nothing can match the performance of my 5D, but that being said, it simply reminded me of work. Fuji rekindled my love of just taking photos for fun.

So as 2018 draws to an end, my Fuji arsenal is quickly growing. With the lens additions of the 16mm f/1.4, 27mm f/2.8 and the 56mm 1.2. Unfortunately, it was at this stage that I realised I was almost matching my Canon set-up. Curiosity took over and I made the mistake of comparing my Canon’s results to my Fuji’s. Little to my surprise, the Canon was better, but not by much. My photographic style changed and soon enough my preferred genre switched from landscape, portraiture and sports to travel and street photography. This meant that the difference in image resolution, low light and autofocus was simply irrelevant to me. Even on professional jobs, I found myself using my Fuji more because my clients don’t care about ultimate image quality and quite frankly neither did I! As a result of this, I found myself using my Fuji for 90% of my professional paying jobs. 

So two setups, almost identical, with one costing almost double the amount with double the size and double the weight that I’m only using 10% of the time. Quite sad really. The camera and set-up I dedicated hours of work into, become irrelevant in just a year of use! A few months into 2019, I do it. I make the jump and I sell it all! A set-up made exclusively of Fuji and their APS-C cameras. 

The problem I now faced was that the cameras I use for pleasure and fun have now become the tool and a reminder of work. This was dangerous and nothing was sparking my love of photography for what it is. So I’ve got all this money sitting here from my Canon sale. Maybe I could invest in a Sony? That’s what everyone else seems to be doing! Nope, not for me. I wanted something simple, basic. Something that gets out of the way and allows me to just focus on doing what I love photography. 100% about the experience and the act of taking a photo rather than one that is obsessed with ultimate resolution and quick autofocus that can track an eye using AI (which is insanely impressive by the way). 

“The answer to all my problems was of course … Leica. A company founded on heritage and the love of photography. As I learn more and research the exciting community and family environment that Leica has created, I learn about the slightly older model of the typ 240. A traditional camera with Leica’s first CMOS styled digital sensor. All the joys and experience of their flagship rangefinder M10, but a lot cheaper.”

Research led me to a Leica dealer in London, who would sell me a camera that for me defines the purest expression of photography; minimising that gap between intention and execution. They had recently bought in a second hand, mint condition, Leica M-P typ 240. Which was special as it’s the “P” variant. This removes the red dot on the front, adds the traditional Leica Script to the brass top plate, doubles the buffer to 2GB and has a gorilla glass rear LCD. Minor tweaks but they make this camera that little bit more special and exciting! 

Leica M Type 240 Images by Ben Webster

So I did it. At eighteen years of age, I bought my first Leica. Paired with the Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2 and the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.2, I had a complete set-up for my street and travel photography that would reignite my passion and enthusiasm for photography for the rest of my lifetime. And for just shy of £3500. If you know anything about Leica, you know that this was a bargain! A hand made rangefinder camera made from brass in Wetzlar, Germany. Wow, lucky me!

Photographers who inspire me now include artists such as Craig Whitehead, Josh K. Jack and Alen Palander. While following buying advice from colleagues as well as Danish photographer, Thorsten von Overgaard. Their work features very detailed and abstract shapes, textures and lighting of people and scenes of the streets. 

Now in October of 2019, I eat, sleep and breathe photography. It’s my job, hobby and passion for life. Photography and ultimately, Leica are all consuming. 

Today, I own 2 business’ (websterphotography.co.uk & benwebster.org) as well as running a photography based Instagram account (@benwebster.ig). I’m taking some of the best photos of my life every time I pick up the camera. I’m learning more and more about the immense community that is photography. With countless sleepless nights editing and researching, combined with daily exhaustion due to temptation to leave the house and just take photos, photography to me is an addiction as much as it is a passion. It’s a special community and this feeling is only backed when meeting other Leica photographers. It’s a talking point and bond that Is shared whether you are eighteen or eighty years old. Leica feels like a family and one I’m proud to be part of. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my photography story about my interests, my passion and my love for Leica. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful and interesting. I hope and intend to write more posts in the future about where my career, equipment and photo stories takes me next! 

Ben W Webster  Benwebster.org  @benwebster.ig 

Words: Ben Webster   Editing and Post Design: Dane Pestano

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