Category Archives: Streetwisdom

Looking back at 2014, the year that inspired again

So, another year is over. And to celebrate the arrival of the new year, I sit in the Starbucks I wrote the majority of the blog posts at, have some English breakfast tea and think about the year that is not fading into a distant memory.

It was a bit of a weird year from a photography point of view. A year my photography lost it’s inspiration and then found it again. I guess most of us know that feeling. Looking at the camera but not going out and shoot. Or leave the house and just not seeing a thing that makes you lift the camera and press the shutter. And if you do, you come back home, look a the shots and think – meh.

Prime example is the trip to England I did in May. As much as I enjoyed the trip and Cornwall, I felt uninspired. Didn’t know what I wanted to shoot. Shots I had taken, thinking they would look great turned out mediocre. They lacked fire, passion. Just look at this one. It’s a nice shot but that’s all. It’s just nice.

Salisburry, a little town in England, where you will find one copy of the Magna Carta
Salisburry, a little town in England, where you will find one copy of the Magna Carta

Came Summer and it got even worse. I even let the house without camera on numerous times. It’s kinda natural that the only shots that were a bit inspired were shot in my apartment, watching birds. Thank you Capt’n Sparrow 🙂

Capt'n Jack, watching over his family and making sure the coast is clear
Capt’n Jack, watching over his family and making sure the coast is clear

Came Fall and with Fall the trip to Kyrgyzstan. It’s probably pretty obvious I loved it. It was a great adventure, a complete new, different world I experienced with good friends. And how could I not take pictures there? Back home I looked at them, worked with them and realized how much i love to do this. Take pictures and share them with the world, with you.

It's just incredible, how much dust one single motorbike can create!
It’s just incredible, how much dust one single car can create!

So, back home, after having worked on the photos, I started to think about where to go next, what to do to make sure I don’t loose that spark of inspiration. I looked at my photos, had a look at what felt right, what was fun and decided to concentrate on Black and White photography. So, for 2015, the only color photos i will take will be on the motorbike trip with by buddies. Everything else will be in 50 … ahm… lots of beautiful shades of grey.

I hope you will come along and like what I explore here 🙂

And with that – happy new year!

May the new year be full of joy and celebrations!
May the new year be full of joy and celebrations!

Shaken, not stirred

James Bond was right. He always was, and I should have listened to him.

But no, I, I knew better. Because you know, shaking the coctail can get a bit messy and so I decided to stir the stuff would be the better idea. I mean, the most important thing is to mix the ingredients, right?

Oh how wrong I was. The result was thin, lifeless. It didn’t have any of the magic everybody else was talking about. For over a year, I did it the wrong way. Frank Sinatra might have his own view about *Doing it my way”, but boy was I wrong.  I changed ingredients, temperatures, anything I could think of, but the results were still shatteringly disappointing

And so, discouraged,  I stopped doing it. I had started one, waiting for me for almost three months, but just couldn’t bear another of these stale, boring shots.  Still, I did come back reading about it, admiring the work of others and wondering what I did wrong.

And then, this very Friday, I had an brainstorm. Maybe it wasn’t about the igredients. Maybe, just maybe, shaken or stir did matter. I would not shake the stuff, that would be to much, but just… turn it up side down and back. I admit, I was quite nervous when I was done, emptied the shaker and saw the result.

And boy, did it make a difference!  When scanning the negatives –

Hold on – NEGATIVES?! What are you talking about?

Oh.. Sorry. I thought you know I talk about film development… So, where was I? Ah yes – 

And boy, does it make a difference!  When scanning the negatives, the histogram was no longer huddling all the way on the left side, but stretched nicely across the range.

Beautiful blacks, lovely greys and even delicate whites, they were all here. I guess the film bug got me again.
And a bit of a travel bug as well.

But that’s a different story.

Tmax400Testshots (29)corn wreath, taken with TMAX400

beams-2. Shot on Kodak Trix-400 (35 mm Gelatin Silver)Train station Enge, shot on TMAX400

ReisefieberAll important travel literature, shot on TXAX100 @ 80 ISO
(God, just have a look at the shine on the lens. Like melted butter 🙂

How to do Nightphotography

Night photography. The type of photography that makes cities shine, plays with light and even makes the most dull corners of your town look romantic. Sounds like simple photography, doesn’t it?

Well, it actually is, if you follow a few guidelines 🙂

15 minutes of glory

One thing to keep in mind though is that time is not your friend. Too early, and the sky is too bright and the city lights are dull. Too late, and the city lights are very nice, but the sky is black. You only have about 15 to 30 minutes if you want the city lights to sparkle in front of a dark blue sky like diamonds on a satin sheet. And because you want to use these few minutes for taking pictures you should:

Scout the location during the day

Get there early while the sun is still up. Decide where you want to take the shot, what you want to have in your composition and what not while you can see everthing. Decide for your lens, snap a few test shots. Just make sure that when the sun is gone, you know what you want to shoot and how you want to shoot it.

Shoot the dark side first

Nope, we’re not talking star wars here. But if there is more than one spot you want to take pictures of, take the shots facing east first, then those facing west. If you take the shots in the morning, do it the other way around. Reason is, that those 15 minutes of glory are first in the east in the evening and quite a bit later in the west. If you’re well organized, you can squeeze about 30 to 45 minutes of dark velvet sky out of one sunset.

Use spot metering

Even with the sky going dark, you will still be facing a very contrasty scene. Use the spot metering of your camera to find the brightest spot in the scene and then overexpose / push this spot as far right in the histogram as you can. Best tool for this is an external light meter with a spot meter. I use a Sekonic L-758 and it makes figuring out a good exposure really a walk in the park. In the shot above, all I had to do in post work was to pull the highlight slider to the left to get the details back in the store windows I metered for.
On most modern digital cameras you can push this bright spot up by 3 stops, on a modern sensor even 3.5 to 4. Provided of course, that you shoot RAW.

White Balance

White balance is a tricky thing in night shots and you will most likely want to tweak it to get the mood you’re looking for. The lights in the scene will have their light temperature all over the place and there simply is not one single white balance that fits all the lights in the scene. So be prepared to use that white balance slider in Lightroom quite a bit. Once you found a setting you like, just apply it to all other shots taken of that scene.

Other stuff to remember

  • Use a tripod. You know why
  • Use the lowest ISO your camera offers. You want as little noise as possible in your shots
  • Shoot in RAW format. You want all the flexibility you can have in your postwork
  • When in doubt about the right exposure, bracket your shots.
  • Wear warm cloths. Yes, once the sun sets, the cold creeps in
  • Don’t be afraid of werewolves. They don’t exist. However, robbers and thieves do, so consider the location you take our shots and maybe better don’t go there alone.
  • Evening is usually better than morning. Many cities only illuminate buildings in the evening and turn the lights off later to save energy (which is a good thing)

Oh, and while you’re on location, waiting for the sun to go down, just be prepared to get some nice sunset shots. Even if you’re there for night shots, don’t be single minded 🙂

Zürich-Lucy-2013-12-07 (1 of 3)

Street Photographers

Did you know that there are (at least) two types of street photographers?

There is the one who is very upfront, bang in your face, Erik Kim / Bruce Gilden type of street photographer. Always on the hunt, never hiding he (or she) is taking your photo. Like our friend in this scene.

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And then there is the other one, more relaxed type, with a little camera and tourist disguise, the one you never notice as he is taking shots from the hip. As you can see here, the up front type of street photographer needs to have quick reflexes and needs to be quick on his feet, while his buddy stays relaxed, being in peace with himself and the world.

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And then there is of course yours truly, who chuckles silently as he takes his shots of the scene 😉

Lil bit of statistics – and a new year resolution

Well, after having shown you my few favorite shots from last year, I decided to share some statistics with you.

    • About 14’000 shots were taken last year, 12’323 of them taken with the Leica
    • 11’500 didn’t survive the first cut
    • 1’132 I gave three stars, which means I might show them sometimes on Google Plus or here
    • 35 I gave 5 starts, with other words, I’m really proud of them.    35!

Actually I don’t know what to think of this statistics. I think, it’s quite a massive number of shots that were… crap. So i guess it is a good thing, we can shoot digital in these days. It would have been quite expensive, if that learning curve would have been with film! But it is also one reason why I decided to go back to film now and then. I took fewer shots and the ration between failed ones and keepers went up.

And so I share my new year resolution with you. I want to get more reliable results. I want to get to the point, where I know a picture is worth being taken before I take the shot. It might still not be good, but at least I don’t want to look at it on my computer screen, scratching my head and wondering what I thought when I decided to take it.

At least shot 12’323 with the M9 is a keeper 🙂

Friends
Friends

Having fun

You know, there are places in every town, that are quite the magnet for doing street photography. It may be the scenery, a stage only waiting for people to enter it. Or it is a festival, where nobody cares you’re holding a camera in their face.

One such place is the water fountain thing in front of the parlament in Bern, Switzerland. Little jets of water are doing all sort of tricks and it is quite fascinating to watch.

And best of all, it is a magnet for kids to play with in Summer. Or just anybody who kept a little bit of childhood fun in their heart 🙂

Having fun

Oh, and a top tip. If you don’t want to get wet yourself, use a longer lens than 35mm. Trust me.

The fisherman

So I was at this photo walk this weekend with a couple of guys I know from Google Plus. We met in Zug, Switzerland and the plan was to do some street photography and long exposure stuff. Only that the weather was not exactly good for photography. Very low clouds, very little, low contrast light. We came to this little harbor and while the others walked on, I stayed behind, trying to get a longish exposure of the scene. Sorry, no ND filters here so… all I got was a lousy 1 second exposure, not worth to be shown. While I was trying to get my shot, this fisherman in his boat was about to leave to go fishing on the lake.

Fisherman

I watched him prepare his nets and decided to ask him if he would be ok if I take a couple of shots of him and his boat. He was a bit hesitant first but then agreed to it and we went on chatting a bit. While I was changing lenses to get a one or two portrait shots, he watched the ducks swimming around his boat, looking out for a one eyed duck.

Duck spotting

He started to cut a small fish into pieces and for a moment I thought he would have a snack when he started feeding the fish to the duck. And much to my surprise, they were after it like crazy. He took care that the one eyed duck got some extra fish and when he saw my surprised face, he explained that they eat basically everything and prefer fish over dry bread anytime. Which explained the well fed, fat ducks I saw earlier at the lake. So… watch out for ducks when you go for a swim at Lake Zug. They might be hungry…

We continued to chat for a while, he talking about politics, me taking two more shots, until my buddies called me on my mobile, asking if I had fallen into the lake? I guess, looking at the way he was dressed, he stayed way into the night on the lake, catching a few fishes and probably having a laugh remembering the weird city slicker who had nothing better to do than to take photos on a miserable, grey day.

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So here you go. You never know when you stumble across an interesting scene, so better be ready!

Oh and – the grey heron nearby was not being fed by the old man. Guess he prefers one eyed ducks after all.

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