1st World Moans

I’m trying hard not to be paranoid here, but it seems anytime I write about the wall of angry cranes flooding the horizon another one appears.

This is semi suburban Berlin, not some central office utopia, but every day brings more and they are all in a rush to get the buildings built with floodlights blinding the local residents deep into the night.

Really, are there so many desperate rich people out there who want to buy a luxury a apartment so near to us, their much poorer cousins?

As a consolation I do occasionally get this War of the Worlds lighting effect.

A small mercy I suppose.

70-200MM, f 4.5, 1/8th sec, ISO12,800


A Tale of Resilience

One of the major differences between film and digital photography are the stories one can tell. In the digital realm to tell someone that you underexposed 10 or 12 photos 2 or 3 stops without noticing just means you are not very good at what your doing.

Alternatively, mistakenly putting a 50 ASA film in the camera and metering for a 400ASA film will extract humorous groans from those who have also done it. It becomes an more interesting tale when you compound the mistakes. In this picture which I shot two weeks ago I never noticed that the film was not the much faster HP5 that I thought it to be and I consequently metered and developed it as if it was. But what makes the tale interesting for those who like such things are the extraordinary details. Such as because the film was over ten years out of date I was reluctant to buy new developer and the internet said that Rodinal  film developer could be kept for a few years before it went off. I had an open bottle of it that had been hanging around for about a year and a half so I thought  why not give it a go, even though the chemical’s colour had shifted from light amber to almost black.

The fixer (just as old) smelt a little, but what the hell.

The end result is that the chemicals did their job and properly developed the film , but due to the massive underexposure  when I shot the film the negatives are seriously thin and it took a slow 3200 dpi scan to get a sort of image.

Considering everything, a 4-second handheld exposure, terrible lighting conditions, gross underexposure, old out-of-date film and failing chemicals, I was surprised to get anything and yet I still got a picture. And it looks like a very old photograph  straight out of the camera, which is cool.

Film, it’s amazing stuff.

Bronica SQa, 50mm wide angle, f4, 4 second exposure, Ilford Pan F, ISO 50.

Altrenative Berlin

While watching TV the other night I was struck by what can only be the inconsistencies in the way people see the world, the difference between one person’s reality and another’s. The speaker, a writer who had recently moved to Berlin for creative influence, stimulation, alternative lifestyle (whatever, the expressions always seem to be the same) was waxing lyrically about what a wonderful city it is, full of excitement and change, grand open spaces and interesting people. He was talking about the area around Gorlittzer Park, where he lives, which is all of those things, give or take a superlative.

Marzahn, a suburb on the far eastern edge of the city, does not have many people waxing lyrically about the superb lifestyle their area offers. In its early years Marzahn did have a reputation as the ideal communist workers’ suburb, boasting wide streets and lots of public space. After reunification it fell out of favour with just about everybody and became renown for racism and other nefarious reasons.

Today it’s just another Berlin suburb and opinions differ as to whether it would be a nice place to live or not. To me it seems a soulless place and the wide-open spaces a bit bleak and intimidating, but the blog GDR Objectified


sees things in a more positive light.

In an effort to be objective I’ve included two views. The landscape was shot from the S-Bahn over pass, it’s what you see when you arrive and the shopping center was photographed from where the buses stop.

Why do I go to places like this in the middle of winter? Because I think it’s important to leave one’s comfort zone occasionally, it makes making pictures more interesting.


Fujifilm X20, f5.6, 1/125, ISO200

Working the Room

Photographing Literature festivals rarely offers the opportunity of a great picture for the obvious reason that in most instances the main performers are doing nothing more than reading poems or short excerpts from books, which are interesting intellectually, but not visually. The light is generally bad or terrible for photography and the photographer should be unobtrusive and as quiet as possible, which means no flash, not moving around to get a better angle and shooting as few frames as possible.

Preplanning where you will stand is of paramount importance.

This poet, Jayrome Robinet, gave a wonderful performance, made all the better for me by providing the opportunity for a wonderful picture.

85mm, f4, 1/80sec, ISO10,000.

Permission to Shoot

After jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops permission was granted for me to shoot a portrait in the Berlin Museum of Natural Science on Wednesday.

It seemed like a wonderful location for a portrait and it does have a series of visually interesting backgrounds; however, there are so many different coloured light sources that getting the correct white balance  was often next to impossible.

I was allowed to use a tripod and a speed-light with a snoot, but because the museum was full of visitors I could only take in a small kit and it’s when you get into such places that you find out you need more things than you have with you. In this case it was a warming gel for the speed-light. The tungsten light in the museum creates a wonderful warm atmosphere to view the exhibits, but it is a nightmare to balance light temperatures when using flash to separate a person from the background.

In the end the officially sanctioned tripod  got the job done, but if you shoot in such a location, be careful, the bright spotlights play havoc with the auto focus.

35mm, f2.8, 1/10sec, ISO100


Nice weather with the sun shining at last and nothing to do but shoot some frames. So out I went to photograph a few urban landscapes, an activity which is an all time favorite of mine.

Buildings don’t move, don’t need direction and are never critical of the way they are rendered – what could be a more perfect a subject?

Still lifes, but they are difficult to arrange and you need to light them properly or else they look amateurish and besides, who wants to be indoors in this weather? Not me..

In contrast to many major cities Berlin doesn’t really have a special area where one can go for rows of large skyscrapers throwing the strong contrasty shadows that can add drama to even the most bland of compositions.

I was out near the Messe Nord today and was struck by the view of dramatic contrasts between the old and not so old Berlin, from the Dresselstr. Bridge.

Completing the view was the divide between the two by a valley of the most noisy and virulent consumer of public space, the ubiquitous auto.


50mm, f4.5, 1/400sec, ISO100

Rethinking Positions

With a free day in front of me I thought I’d take the S-Bahn to Friedrichstraße and get some mental exercise by exploiting the new battery pack to shoot frames with the camera in the vertical position. It’s not that I never use the camera like this, just not for prolonged periods. Also, I’d never taken much notice on the compositional requirements when shooting vertical, it has always just been the format that that picture required at the time.

So today I conce­ntrated on how the compositional elements of the lenses differ shooting vertically from shooting horizontally. What soon became clear is that it’s much like shooting with a wide angle: more often than not there’s too much foreground or too much sky unless you get really close, which is why I tended to avoid shooting in this manner. Also, heavily ingrained habits are hard to control, even with technological help. All morning my brain kept demanding I return the camera to the horizontal position, only by conscious effort did I avoid doing this – most of the time.

The picture was shot with a focal length of 200mm

70-200mm, f4, 1/60sec, ISO100