Urban Street Photography — Berlin at Night
I went out to take a shot of Brandenburg Gate with the Union Jack fluttering within a few feet of it.
King Charles III and his Consort Queen Camilla were in town.
The darkness beckons. More interesting than Kings and Queens. I took the bait and followed my instincts as a photographer.
I used my Canon 5D and an “L” lens. 24 mm-105 mm Canon L.
Experiences with this lens are good. But it is important to remember that the 105 mm part of the lens isn’t for distance shots – it’s not a long distance zoom. It gives a first class performance between 24 mm and 50-70 mm, after that the tack-sharp edginess of great shots starts to deteriorate.
If I use the L lens at 100 mm for food photography, or still life, it does a great job of capturing small ideas close up – 10–15 feet away.
I love the Canon L lens and the Canon 5D. It’s my go-to lens for when I’m not sure where I’m going to be, so it gives me the flexibility to adapt quickly. I get great shots with it.
The shot below is on the corner of Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse.
I love the darkness and how it can wrap itself around buildings and people. I stood and watched people come up from the underground, illuminated for a couple of minutes, before they walked away into the dark shadows.
When I watch these scenes I study how the light slips over their body, then darkness envelopes everything and they are gone. There is a small moment in there somewhere, a moment that creates a composition of light and darkness that, maybe, nobody has ever photographed; one day.
When I do street photography, I tend to find that I like the 35 mm frame. If I’m using the 24 mm-105 mm, I naturally, without thinking, adjust the lens size to 35 mm – bang on.
Canon 35 mm lenses are the original frame size. It was thought that we see roughly the same angle with our eyes. So it fits our feelings and thoughts.
The last time I witnessed Old Blighty’s Colours in front of the gate, I was in uniform marching behind a standard bearer. We marched with pomp and circumstance along 17th Juni Strasse, halted, and basically stuck two-fingers up at the Eastie-Beasties on the other side of the Berlin Wall.
That was a long time ago.
Lenin and Stalin’s doomed social experiment is history, and I now freely walk about with my camera and take shots of any building, or composition I please.
By the time I arrived at the Gate, darkness had fallen and King Charles III had been ushered away to private functions where he would give an excellent example of his German language abilities.
I took the flag shot. There was a slight wind fluttering about the Union Jack, and that was it. It’s included as the last photo in this post.
I wandered off down Unter den Linden. Street cafés illuminated the borders with dotted hanging lights. Like the side of an enormous ocean liner at sea. Blocks of darkness, patterned sparkles, and a heavy night sky; I didn’t think I’d get a good shot out of a 400-metre stroll along the central isle, but I went for it.
My first attempt at a decent shot, below, a temporary tunnel for pedestrians to pass a building site.
My thoughts were only about intense light surrounded by darkness, and the pleasant line of perspective that offered a composition.
Everything I do is an experiment — from photography to cooking.
There is always room for mistakes, and that creates space for successes. I have more success than failure, and I’m always surprised at how a shot can unexpectedly work out well.
Road Markings at Night, below, was an experiment. It’s fun to find an angle, or an odd object to photograph when I walk around the city; cities are built according to plan, so “odd” is hard to define, unless it’s an old building squatting between two skyscrapers.
I was thinking about how to utilize car headlights when they light up an object. I tried one or two shots of straight white lines, yellow double lines, then I saw this “Bus Lane” marking. It looked good enough, and offered a marked perspective that leads to the kerbstones.
I’ll definitely go back, find a more complex road marking and see what I can do with illuminated white road markings next time.
Below, not yesterday’s work, but recently. A dull day that turned darker. A storm brewing, the rain came in torrents.
When it rains hard it’s important to protect the camera, so it’s good to find a little “hide”, like a hunter. From that standpoint you can get a few good shots, and concentrate on the work and not the soaking you might otherwise get.
Descending into the light. A quick shot to illustrate an idea that I find interesting.
People rising and descending, the light changing from intense brights to deep azure.
Somewhere in the scene, with all its components there’s an opportunity to create strong drama. I’ll keep looking and working on it.
Finally, the British flag. In the background you can see the chariot atop the Brandenburg Gate; Built by Gottfried Schadow in 1793 under the orders of Wilhelm II (after Fredrick the Great).
The Gate was built after the Prussian army had settled disputes between Patriots and Loyalist in the Netherlands. Wilhelm thought peace had come to stay, so he built Brandenburg Gate to celebrate Victory.
The chariot is driven by the goddess of victory — all of it after the Greek Quadriga design.
Several years later, Napoleon marched on Berlin, and won a victory that lasted several years. He ordered the Quadriga to be removed to Paris, 12 years later he was ousted after sending his troops eastwards to conquer Russia — big mistake. He left a skeleton army behind to guard Berlin which created the perfect opportunity for the Prussian army to take control once more.
Today, Brandenburg Gate symbolises Peace.
I hope you enjoyed the photos. Any questions about photography, or Berlin, ask, and I’ll answer you.
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