15 Vintage Tips From Leica Photography Magazine


Classic camera enthusiast Daniel Neal has uploaded his whole collection of vintage Leica Photography magazines—published by the German optics company—making issues dating back to 1949 available to the public online. The archive (here) provides a look into the world of mid-century photography nerds, back in the days before one-hour photo labs or point-and-shoot cameras, when you couldn't find out your picture was blurry or underexposed until days later, after you had gotten it processed. Here are 15 pieces of analog advice we learned from digging through back issues of Leica Photography from the 1940s and '50s:

1. How to take color portraits:

For the Christmas 1949 issue, G. E. Herbert of New York gave readers some tips on color portraits. Color photography was still the domain of specialists and it was expensive. It didn’t become the norm among the general public until the 1970s.

For color portraits I would suggest that a child be used as your first sitter. The naturalness of the youngster will avoid the forced pose of the usually self-conscious adult. The background should be of a very light blue or gray—either of these tints are good complementaries of flesh tones. A colored blanket or wall paint of a dead matte finish may also be used. Use a room where all daylight can be eliminated, and place the subject as close to the background as possible. The child's clothes should be a pastel shade, preferably a pink or beige.

2. How to be a photographer in the Arctic, where cameras freeze solid: 

Photographer Richard Harrington of Toronto described the challenges of shooting Eskimo culture in the spring 1950 issue:

Now I carry two Leica cameras (IIIa and Illb models). One is meant for emergency, and stays in my packsack where it freezes solid. The other I carry in a tanned moose hide bag, sewn to measure, under my artiggi (caribou fur parka). It rests there next to my long underwear and keeps warm. At night in the igloo or tent, the camera is pushed into my caribou sleeping bag, and I sleep with it.

He also slept with his film:

By morning, the film has reached body temperature, and is no longer  so brittle. Sitting in the igloo, I could then transfer it into the camera.

3. How to be a photographer in the jungle, where your camera might get moldy: 

Rae Gilman Engebretson describes taking her camera to New Guinea while working for the Red Cross in the fall 1950 issue:  

Having been exposed to extensive advice on the effect of jungle living on clothes and cameras, as well as oneself, I worked out a health routine for the Leica. This involved keeping it in a waterproof bag and giving the 50mm Summar and 90 mm Elmar [lenses] judicious sun baths, on the principle that if sun killed other fungi, why not those fond of lenses? Something did help, for my lenses developed only the slightest ‘jungle rot.’ Fortunately, too, they were never overheated enough to affect the cement of the lens elements, but the practice is not recommended without qualification.

4. How to arrange an abstract image: 

Louise Haz of Skokie, Illinois advised readers on mixing colors in the Christmas 1950 issue:

In order to get snap and vigor in your pictures you must know what colors to put together. Warm colors (yellow and orange) put side by side or too near one another are deadened, and make flat images. The same is true of the cold colors (blue and purple). Complimentary colors (red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple) used side by side give extraordinary vitality.

5. How to photograph from an airplane:

C. Elvin Butterfield, a public information officer with the Illinois wing of the Civil Air Patrol, advises picking ideal lighting conditions in the Christmas 1951 issue:  

I usually pick the hour between 11 and 12 A.M. to have the shadows as short as possible. If necessary to shoot into the sun, the high wing monoplane, which I usually use, affords a very good shade for the camera lens.

But even in perfect light, it’s hard to capture a clear image from a plane hurtling through the air without a high-speed camera. Here’s how Butterfield compensated for in-flight motion and engine vibration: 

We travel downwind, in this case, with a wind of 30 miles per hour. The plane is pulled into a right chandelle, and as the ship is rolled out of this maneuver, just above stalling speed, the motor is cut, giving us a ground speed into the wind of about eight miles per hour. In this manner, the airplane is barely hovering and settling opposite the subject. In the space of time before it is necessary to clear the motor, and with the ease in which the Leica will operate, three to four shots can be obtained.

6. How to find a subject: 

Sophie L. Siegel of Philadelphia trumpeted her husband’s love artists in Woodstock, New York as photography subjects in the spring 1952 issue.

Painters at work and play offer a wonderful opportunity to the candid camera. And they love to be photographed. Working hard and playing with equal intensity, the chances for exciting shots are numerous.

7. How to keep photos looking sharp and in-focus: 

Manuel Komroff, a journalist and author, railed against blurry images in the spring 1952 issue. His advice? Among other things (like cleaning dust off your lens), use a sunshade: 

Does the sun shade help sharpness? It certainly does. On bright, sparkling days, while all the light comes from the sun, not all of it comes directly from this source. Some may be reflected by clouds or light colored objects. Some may, also, be reflected, in the form of sharp pencil rays, from shiny metal such as the chrome trimming of a nearby car. Reflected light may come from a hundred different sources and act like a fine spray on your lens.

While your sunshade will not cut out all reflected light, it will help to cut out the worst light, that which is reflected from the sides. 

8. How to photograph the big game:

Dexter Dawes, a photographer who followed high school sports teams in Englewood, New Jersey, recommended snapping photos at just the right moment in the fall 1952 issue:

I always try to take my sport pictures at the peak of action where there is almost no motion of the player. This is a moment of high strain which comes, for example, when a player is leaping for rebound in basketball or when he is ‘heading’ or kicking the ball in soccer. To take the picture at such a moment is difficult. Even when I' succeed in timing a shot perfectly, I sometimes find that the referee has stepped in the way or that I have jarred or focused my Leica incorrectly. Though I must expect disappointments such as these, I find that certain preliminary precautions give me a higher average of printable pictures.

By using about the same position relation to the play on the field for every exposure, I usually get a better picture. For variety, I try for a shot of the star player, a man scoring, or a kick-off. 

9. How to avoid barracudas while shooting underwater: 

Jerry Greenberg, a Los Angeles photographer, encouraged photographers to take to the sea in the winter 1952 issue, with one caveat: 

My underwater camera case had a chrome finish when I received it. As a precaution against barracudas and sharks, who are attracted by anything shiny or flashy in the water, I covered the case with ordinary adhesive tape. Barracudas, dubbed the ‘tigers of the sea,’ prey on smaller fish and have been known to attack men. They rarely ever give you any trouble if not molested. Occasionally, a curious black tip or hammer head shark would swim by, but would leave if left alone.

10. How to photograph the desert: 

In the spring 1953 issue, Louis G. Kirk, a park ranger at Arizon’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, counsels would-be landscape photographers shooting in the southwest to go out after it rains: 

The most dramatic shots arc usually right after a storm when the atmosphere is washed clean and the clouds are particularly striking. Late afternoon and early morning are the best times of day because then the low angle of the sun's rays emphasizes the rough character of the land, showing up its relief.

11. How to photograph a fossil: 

George P. Spelvin of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota discussed the intricacies of photographing subjects that have been dead for millions of years in the fall 1954 issue:

I find it most convenient to photograph small objects of this type with a near-vertical camera position. Actually, I tilt the camera up just enough so that the tripod legs won't interfere with the lighting by casting an unwanted shadow across the specimen…

In general, the basic lighting principles which apply to character portraiture can also be used for fossil specimens. One small spot is the main or key light. This light is usually placed at a low angle to the surface. Thus, its illumination skids off the specimen and reveals the texture of the surface as sharply as possible. Notice that I did not say that the light 'bounces' off the surface; skids is the right term. In other words, you direct the main light at the subject much as you would skip a stone off the surface of a lake.

12. How to protect your camera from industrial hazards:

When shooting on construction sites, Cleveland-based photographer Denny C. Harris learned the hard way that industrial work and delicate equipment don’t always mix, as he wrote in the spring 1955 issue: 

Along with all the advantages of portability, speed, flexibility, etc., there are certain precautions you need to take when photographing heavy industry with a 35mm. For instance, watch out for dirt and chemicals. Sprayed paint, for instance, may carry several hundred feet in open areas and speckle uncovered lenses. When you must shoot near such places, keep the camera covered as long as possible. Wipe off any stray paint immediately before re-covering the camera. Normally, when the camera is sealed and in its case, it is safe. But when changing lenses or reloading—watch out! After getting used to such an atmosphere there is a tendency to absent-mindedly reload wherever you are. Carelessness on this point sent my own cameras in for repairs several times in the first few months.

13. How to make an impact with an image: 

In art and photography, simple is often better. Bruce H. Burnham of Massachusetts advocated for more minimalist images in the spring 1955 issue: 

Whether you are shooting a harbor, a group of sailboats—or a collection of dead fish—select one center of interest and then make a ‘portrait’ of it. Eliminate all confusing elements, either in composing or in enlarging.

14. How to photograph birds: 

The key to great wildlife photos is the patience to wait for the exact right moment, Arkansas bird enthusiast Thase Daniel wrote in the summer 1955 issue:

Sometimes I wait all day to get one picture. Some days I don't get even one. If this happens, don't give up. Try again. Believe me, the reward you get from bringing home a perfect shot is worth every bit of the tiresome waiting.

15. And of course, what kind of camera you should buy: 

In the Christmas 1949 issue, photographer Chris Butler wrote: 

If I, as a professional news and magazine photographer, were asked to advise young people aiming at this field, I would confine it to three words—‘Get a Leica’!

Leica Photography magazine was, after all, in the business of selling cameras.  

All images from iStock. 

3 Fascinating Items in Abraham Lincoln's Newly Released Archives

The Abraham Lincoln collection in the Library of Congress just got a major boost. The 16th president’s full papers are now entirely available online in full color for the first time, giving you high-resolution access to his letters, campaign materials, speeches, and more.

Lincoln’s papers took a roundabout route to the Library of Congress. After his assassination, Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln sent the president’s papers to one of the former congressman’s associates in Illinois, Judge David Davis, who worked with Lincoln’s presidential secretaries to organize them. Robert Todd Lincoln gave them to the Library of Congress in 1919, and in 1923, deeded them to the archive, mandating that they be sealed until 21 years after his death. They were opened in 1947.

This isn’t the first time some of these documents have been available online—scanned images of them first appeared on the Library of Congress’s American Memory website in 2001—but this 20,000-document collection provides higher-resolution versions, with new additions and features. Previous papers were uploaded as image scans from microfilm, meaning they weren’t particularly high quality. Now, researchers have better access to the information with scans from the original documents that you can zoom in on and actually read.

There are searchable transcriptions for about 10,000 hand-written documents in the collection, including those written in Lincoln’s hand, along with annotations that provide contextual explanations. Here are three items in the collection not to miss:


Lincoln read this early version of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet in July 1862, telling them he was going to propose freeing slaves held by Confederate rebels. Secretary of State William Seward convinced him that he should wait until there was a major Union victory to announce the proclamation.


In the fall of 1862, Mary Todd Lincoln wrote her husband during her month-long trip to New York and Boston about her dressmaker and confidant, a former slave named Elizabeth Keckley, asking him for money to give to her to buy blankets for escaped slaves, then referred to as “contrabands.”


This may be the only copy of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address that was drafted before he delivered it. There are five known drafts of the speech, but three were written out for people who requested copies afterward. It’s unclear if one of the other copies was made before or after the speech, but this one was definitely drafted beforehand. It belonged to Nicolay Hay, Lincoln’s secretary, who also helped organize his papers after the president’s death. It differs a little from the speech we’re familiar with, so you should definitely read the transcript. (Click “show text” above the image on the Library of Congress page for the text and annotations.)

You can see all the documents here.

Keystone/Getty Images
5 Intriguing Details Found in the Newly Released JFK Assassination Papers
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

JFK assassination conspiracy theorists just got a major windfall, but so did history buffs. In 1992, Congress passed a law that ordered all federal agencies to transfer any records they had pertaining to the investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the National Archives. The vast majority of those records were declassified before this, but some were withheld or redacted. But the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act stipulated that all records that had been withheld, either partially or in full, would be released to the public 25 years later, on October 26, 2017.

Well, the time has come to open up the files, and there is plenty of intriguing content in the 2800 newly released documents to sift through. (At the last minute, the government withheld 300 more documents, which will have to undergo classified review over the next six months.) Here are five things we’ve learned so far—not all about the assassination itself—from the documents.


As the Boston TV station WCVB spotted, an FBI memo [PDF] from January 1964 detailed the agency’s search for a stripper connected to Jack Ruby, the nightclub owner who killed Lee Harvey Oswald. The FBI was trying to determine the identity of the performer, who went by the stage name “Candy Cane,” but only knew that her first name was Kitty. They went as far as to contact the American Guild of Variety Artists in New Orleans, who told them that one performer by that name had died several months before the JFK assassination, and the only other (whose real name was Vivian) had seemed to have left town sometime after paying her August union dues. The memo doesn’t say just how Ruby and Candy Cane were related or if they ever tracked her down.


The USSR was no fan of the U.S., obviously, but the Soviets didn’t cheer JFK’s death. The news “was greeted with shock and consternation and church bells were tolled in the memory of President Kennedy” in the USSR, a Soviet source reported. Communist Party officials, for one, went on high alert, worrying that it was part of some far-right coup.

“They felt that those elements interested in utilizing the assassination and playing on anticommunist sentiments in the United States would then utilize this act to stop negotiations with the Soviet Union, attack Cuba, and therefore spread the war,” the FBI memo [PDF] from December 1966 states. And even if it wasn’t part of a larger plan, they thought it could still lead to big trouble: “Soviet officials were worried that without leadership, some irresponsible general in the United States might launch a missile at the Soviet Union.”

Plus, they were very much of the 'devil you know' mindset. Soviet diplomats understood JFK and respected that he had “to some degree, a mutual understanding with the Soviet Union” and a desire for peace between the two powers, and they had no idea what to expect from Vice President Lyndon Johnson. “The Soviet Union would have preferred to have had President Kennedy at the helm of the American government,” the memo said, citing the USSR’s UN representative Nikolai T. Fedorenko.


In 1959, long before Kennedy's assassination, Oswald had traveled to the Soviet Union. Shortly after arriving, he contacted the KGB asking to defect, but the Soviet spy agency “decided he was mentally unstable and informed him he had to return to the United States upon completion of his visit.” He was hospitalized after cutting his wrists in his Moscow hotel room, and was allowed to remain in Russia for some time afterward, even marrying a Russian woman. After he returned to the U.S., he sent a request through the Soviet embassy in Mexico just a few months before the assassination, asking to come back to the USSR.

In the wake of the assassination, the USSR reiterated that it wanted nothing to do with Oswald, and never recruited him for espionage. “Soviet officials claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald had no connection whatsoever with the Soviet Union,” the memo states. “They described him as a neurotic maniac who was disloyal to his own country and never belonged to any organization.”


Perhaps unsurprisingly—what with all of those assassination plots, invasion attempts, and blockades—the Cubans were pretty stoked to see JFK go. “The initial reaction of Cuban Ambassador Cruz and his staff to report of assassination President was one of happy delight,” a CIA source reported on November 27, 1963 [PDF]. However, the Cubans realized that undisguised glee wasn’t going to be a good look for them. “Cruz thereupon issued instructions to his staff and to Cuban consulates and trade offices in Toronto and Montreal to ‘cease looking happy in public,’” the memo says.


The CIA’s foiled plots to kill the Soviet-aligned Cuban leader Fidel Castro are well known, but somewhat tangential to the assassination of JFK lies yet another misguided attempt to bump off Castro. In a top secret report [PDF] prepared during Gerald Ford’s administration, the agency admits that it tried to recruit the Mob to help. In “Phase I” of the assassination plot, formed sometime in 1960 or 1961, the CIA plotted to make poison botulism pills, then get members of the Mafia to deliver them to Cuba, into the hands of someone who could drop them into Castro’s drink. They tested out the pills on guinea pigs to make sure they worked, and set aside the money to make it happen.

In 1960, the CIA reached out to Chicago mobster Sam Giancana through an intermediate, and the agency approved a $150,000 payment for whatever contact in Cuba actually accomplished the task. The mobsters didn’t get any money, and they repeatedly said they didn’t want any, anyway—they were just looking to get back into the Havana gambling business. The “asset” assigned to slip the pills to Castro got scared, though, and didn’t actually do it, even though he worked in the Cuban prime minister’s office and had access. Then the CIA recruited a staffer at a restaurant Castro frequented, but by the time the pills arrived, Castro had stopped going there.

The plot was called off after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and in 1967, J. Edgar Hoover sent the U.S. Attorney General a memo that referred to the plot as the CIA’s “intentions to send hoodlums to Cuba to assassinate Castro.”


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