The fact that black and white photography is thriving so many years after the advent of colour film is testimony to the impact that this medium can have when trying to capture memorable images. Berlin as a city lends itself to monochrome images and in spite of trying to see how I could use colour to enhance the subject most of the photos I took there recently ended up being processed in black and white. There is no point in using colour unless it adds something significant that cannot be addressed through black and white alone. The scale of that city, the huge monoliths that line the wide streets, the great halls of culture, the wide open spaces and scars of the past also tend towards wide-angle photography. All of the photographs in this post were taken with a Fujifilm XT1 camera and Fujinon f2.8 14mm lens.
Most of the time during the visit the light was not good – overcast skies caused diffuse rather than dramatic lighting and the sun only shone on one day out of the five. This took away a lot of potential for dramatic skies in the outdoor shots but you have to work with what you have. The camera was set to ISO Auto (maximum ISO 6400, default ISO 200 with minimum shutter speed of 1/200). All of the shots were done using aperture priority with the shutter speed set to automatic. This set up is simple, prevents camera shake if subjects are moving, and allows you to concentrate on the subject rather than the camera settings. The photo above was taken while walking back from a day of street photography – it was early evening but to get the starburst effect on the lights the camera was stopped down to f 22 with the default shutter speed of 1/200. This is rather counter-intuitive as it forced the ISO up to 6400 and people always advise you to shoot wide open when it is dark. Sometimes you have to break the rules to get the results you want and the image leapt out of the viewfinder as I framed the shot.
Berlin lends itself to street photography and is generally safe for this as long as you are sensible as for any big city there are some places more edgy than others. I had a run-in with some locals in Mariannenplatz who took exception to me photographing street art near their squat but it was nothing serious and soon resolved by a little discussion. The chaps in the photo above nearly ran me down after I took this photo – the perils of wide-angle photography!
There are many powerful images to be captured – the memorial above is in the Neue Wache on Unter den Linden near Museumsinsel (Museums Island). It is a powerful monument that was dedicated in 1993 as the “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship.” To get the effect above I exposed for the highlights and knelt down to emphasis the subject against the lighter walls.
One of the characteristics of Berlin is that it is full of parallel lines – cobbles marking out the pavement or the grand squares are everywhere. If you have a wide-angle lens you can kneel down and use the converging lines to draw the eye into the photograph as in the photo of the Konzerthaus above and the Berlin Wall below. The three main areas to see the Wall are at Niederkirchnerstrasse (below) where you will find a large section of preserved Wall near the foundations of the Gestapo HQ in Berlin. Part of the site is the Topography of Terror Museum and running parallel to the Wall here is an exhibition on the destruction of Warsaw. Powerful stuff. The best preserved piece of the Wall that we found was at Bernauer Strasse http://www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de/en/ which has a Berlin Wall memorial and a long section of the Death Strip along with lots of photographs and interpretation panels. For street art on the Wall the best location we found was the East Side gallery at Mühlenstrasse in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.
The large museums and cathedrals also offer great opportunities for photography – a few more examples are below with the locations. The next post will be in colour and on the Berlin street art scene (with some suggested locations and a contrast with the street art in London). After this trip I have once again fallen in love with Berlin and one thing I can say for certain – I’ll be back…