Street Photography in Berlin

Street Photograph of man sitting on a railing in the Bergmannkiez, Berlin

Cities have always been curious places. People move to them to find out what the fuss is all about after hearing how cool a particular city is, or that friends can’t stop talking about how totally cool a place is to live.

I Love living in Berlin for its ability to adapt to change, but yet not lose its heart. Cities have hearts – the pumping life of its people, the streets and the clubs, the bars and restaurants. The vision of life and its relentless need to have more than just a supermarket on the corner, Berlin allows for change, experiment, and discovery.

I love to think about the city, photograph the streets and its happenings. Little moments in the long life of a city that has seen much, suffered much, but also has enjoyed the fruit found on its branches.

Most Berlin dwellers discover a little corner of life that reflects their own choices. Berlin can be a labyrinth of adventure, you can get lost in a complex plot of confusion. Cities that function well, and survive wars and economic disasters, build their own stories. Berlin has plenty of stories to tell.

The streets are long and straight, with small corners that people have made into curious havens to find some quiet in the middle of the noise. Hinterhöffe, or yards, that can hardly be referred to as patios, they’re not elegant enough. Berlin has always had a rough edge to it. I think that comes through the constant readiness to change, to adapt and keep going , in spite of set-backs.

You can walk around Berlin and pass doorways that reflect the mystery and enticing feeling that creates adventure.

The northern light mixed with the cool air, or sunshine that creates a beautiful mixed pattern on a simple street. When a person walks through the shadows, those patterns transform and adapt the shape of their body. A photographer has to be close by and ready to capture that tiny moment of Berlin that most people don’t stop to notice.

People come to Berlin to discover if it holds a secret for them, something to kick-start their own dreams. Some find it. others don’t give it a chance, so they leave and find their angle some place else.

Many cities offer a promise of wealth and excitement to a young visitor, but Berlin with its poor but sexy tag, seems to entice the adventurers. Those people who want to live a life from the heart and not buy life with the wallet.

Art, music, food, friends and the right clique to hang out with creates a good base for fun and adventure.

Berlin is no different, it’s cool, if you look for cool. It’s heavy, if you look for the heavy.

Life is what you make it. I’ve never been into this idea that if a city is big, like New York, or London, then it must be an exciting place to live – that type of thinking doesn’t equate with the desired outcome a enjoyable living.

Berlin is cool, and that’ll do.

Person walking on a Berlin Platform in a train station

It’s also a great place to walk around in, and take a camera with you. You will see things that make you think, make you stop and look. It’s that kind of city. Four million people, another two million visitors always coming and going, in normal times, and a lot of interaction between these people as they go about their business. Things will occur.

I suppose it depends on the type of person you are, as to what you see. I look at the streets and see nothing, sometimes. Then I’ll look with an intention, I need to find something that I can take a photo of, a fast moving car, a bike, and especially a dapper looking geezer who dresses snappily enough to be different.

Woman who love to get ready before they go out. They spend time dressing up in beautiful clothes that fit the time of year. They like to try something new, bright colours, high heels, or flat shoes and destroyed-jeans. A spring day, sun shining, and throngs of people that act like petals on a flower as she strolls along a Berlin street.

I hope the dapper geezer, or the well dressed woman, doesn’t mind if I snap a photo. Nothing wrong with that, and it should been thought of as a compliment.

A moment in time, caught, and always there to remind us that a city is made up of people and moments. Big events can’t happen without the flow of life and connections, so the small moments of life are where the action really lives.

There are things I wouldn’t want to photograph on the streets of Berlin. Those kitch moments, easy to find on Instagram, that look like the photographer accidently hit the button. The selfies that are nothing but bright, white grins of narcissistic, in-yer-face, look at me, look at me, photos.

I often think, when looking at a photo on instagram, that learning about cameras and photography extends no further than the instructions in the box, and anything that smacks of art, is ignored as if it belongs to another era.

If I go out to do street photography in Berlin, I’ll always take two cameras. Nothing technical about the reason for this. It’s just that I have a full-frame Canon 5D, and a crop-sensor Canon Rebel. Both are great cameras and take different types of shots. The Canon 5D Mark II has something special about the results it gives.

If I take a fairly good shot, good light where I got my settings correct, and the photo composition is promising, then it’s as if the Canon 5D II , delivers it in a special way. Smooth colours that seem to be true to what I saw, shadows that are deep and airy enough to contain details but also create a structure around my main subject.

There’s something about the Canon 5D Mark II, that I can’t put my finger on. I won’t be tempted to sell it any time, I’ll probably use it till it fails on me. That’ll be a sad day.

Lenses are always a contentious subject among photographers. These days, a lot photographers get mixed up in the battle to buy the best – the best is what the adverts tell you is best. For this reason, you’ll meet many a photographer who has too many lenses and not enough camera. Always believing that the other lens will do a better job.

Then, when they have a box full of lenses that they hardly use, they think the camera is wrong. So they start saving to buy a better camera – always the latest model, the best model, the most expensive model. There’s no end to it – there’s something terribly wrong with this mentality, too.

Imagine if you’re car was upgraded each quarter, and people told you that if don’t upgrade immediately, you’ll get left behind. It’s an expensive mentality to have.

I have two cameras and a few lenses. I use three lenses all of the time.

85mm Canon, a 50mm Canon lens, 35mm, and on my Canon Rebel Camera I can fit an Canon 18-55mm cheapo lens that is designed only for crop-sensor cameras. It cost me 50 euros, but delivers a lovely quality in texture and colour when I photograph architecture. It’s a good little lens that most techies would sneer at, I believe they sneer at it simply because the price is low, and the assumption in photography is that everything is expensive.

If you want professional quality then always pay up for an L lens, then you’re good to go. But don’t forget, you may not be a professional. A photographer is a person, and his or her knowledge counts for a big chunk of the results. The lens, the camera, are tools, as much as Photoshop and post-processing software are tools – an ends to a means.

Many of the claims about results with top quality, professional level cameras and lenses are claims about the ability to take a shot, then blow a photo up to poster size without destroying the quality – pixelation expands when manipulated, we want to keep those pixels in shape.

Printing and Paper, and Photoshop Skills

If you want to transfer digital photos to printed paper, then learn about the software, photoshop will help you get it right. Photoshop is a skill to learn. It’s the darkroom in digital taken a step or ten further. I use Photoshop to balance the light and shadow in a photo, it might take five minutes or less.

Other times, I’ll use Photoshop to learn on. I take a photo and manipulate it into something artistic, or I’ll read something about the use of layers and filters an see what happens. Photoshop is a world of discovery for a photographer and it represents the reality of where photography is today.