Rolling Stone Contributing Photographer Drew Gurian on the Leica M9

Drew Gurian is a music and portrait photographer based in New York City. For the past five years he has been the first assistant to long-time photojournalist and National Geographic photographer Joe McNally. Last month, Gurian shot the Wakarusa Music Festival, which included running a backstage portrait studio. Read about why Gurian chooses Leica for this work.

Music Photography with the Leica M9
by Drew Gurian

I’ve been a big fan of Leica rangefinders for the last few years. I own an M6 and am on a wait list for the new ‘M’.  For this particular shoot, I really wanted a digital Leica body (the M6 is film) so I picked up a spotless M9 body and 90mm lens from BorrowLenses. Though I shot the festival with a few different cameras, here’s what I love about the Leica:

  • It’s a completely non-intrusive camera system. Waving a DSLR with a 70-200mm lens in front of your subject isn’t exactly a comforting feeling for them.  Whether you’re shooting static portraits or street photography (which, in my mind, is what Leicas were made for), I find a noticeable difference in a subject’s mood and energy with a Leica.  You’re there with your subject and not hiding behind a massive machine.

Jackie Greene ©Drew Gurian

  • It’s as simple as a camera can get and Leica’s design hasn’t changed almost at all since the first models came out in the early 1900’s.  All of their rangefinders are fully manual focus, almost all lenses are fixed focal lengths, and they’re incredibly sharp.

The Bright Light Social Hour ©Drew Gurian

  • The M9 is much slower than a DSLR (though frustrating, it’s become a love/hate relationship). Simply put, I spend more time composing frames and, in the age of 11 frames-per-second shooting, I find it incredibly refreshing to slow down and pay more attention to how and what I’m shooting.

Snoop Lion ©Drew Guran

  • The M9 sensor treats highlights like film used to. That’s something I’ve always missed like crazy about every digital camera I’ve put my hands on. The M9 comes pretty close to a filmic feel and I love it. This comes into play most when shooting concerts with bright lighting.

Dispatch ©Drew Gurian

  • I submitted 10-12 images from the live sets I shot at the festival to Rolling Stone, where I’m a contributing photographer, and they ran my  photo of Gogol Bordello which was shot with BorrowLenses’ M9. The photo editor at Rolling Stone said he was intrigued enough with the lighting outcome and that he had to look at the metadata to see what it was shot with. He wasn’t surprised at all that it ended up being the Leica!

Gogol Bordello ©Drew Gurian

Huge thanks to BorrowLenses for getting the right gear in my hands exactly when I needed it.

Alexandria Huff's photography and lighting tutorials can be found on 500px and her blog. See her lighting tutorials here. She is a Marketing Associate Manager at She learned about lighting and teaching while modeling for photographers such as Joe McNally and has since gone on to teach lighting workshops of her own in San Francisco. Before focusing on studio portraiture, she shot motorsports for X-Games, World Rally Cross, and Formula Drift. See her chiaroscuro-style painterly portraits on her website.

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