one day at a time


© Verena Fischer 2013

Berlin | © Verena Fischer 2013

These two sisters were whirling around the pole trying to catch each other. Interestingly the person holding the hoops in the foreground had nothing to do with these kids, just a coincidence. I really love it when coincidences like that happen.

© Verena Fischer 2013

Berlin | © Verena Fischer 2013

There is one thing that is rather a shame about the Berlin subway system: Most stations have only one platform, so that you cannot take pictures of the people on the other platform. If you see pictures of another platform, it’s more likely to be a slow train station. I still rather enjoy taking pictures in the subway though, because it has such a weird atmosphere and you can see so many strange things and people, not only on the platforms. For example, I have no clue what’s going on with these kids in the foreground there.

© Verena Fischer 2013

Berlin | © Verena Fischer 2013

At some point I still want to take pictures at every subway stop of at least one line. They all look different and some of them are really old and interesting. Zoo is one of the not so old ones, but the decoration still looks interesting enough.

All pictures taken with my Canon EOS 450D and my Canon EF 35mm f/2.0.


“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

I’ve been thinking about this quote yesterday and wonder how it translates to the digital age. I have taken well over 10,000 pictures by now, but I think it will still need a lot more than this. The interesting part is that I now shoot less in the same time, i.e. a year ago I would have shot about double the amount of pictures in the same time out on the street, maybe even more. I don’t randomly shoot everything anymore, but only the scenes that might actually work. Keep in mind also that in this I don’t count the “failed attempts” pictures where I used to shoot the same subject 3-5 times, just to get the composition and exposure right. The learning process makes you more selective and it makes you more sure about your ability to get that shot. My first 10,000 pictures went fast, lots of mistakes, lots of over- or underexposed pictures, lots of blur and shake. My second 10,000 pictures are going slower now and they are in general considerably better. A lot more pictures are keepers, especially when I take the time to do some post-processing.

I do believe, that it’s not only about the actual picture taking process. Sure, you need to go out there and shoot, but the more time you spend looking at good pictures, trying to make your shots work in post-processing and planning the way you would like to shoot next time you go out there, the better the outcome will be, because you will know better what you want to get out of your pictures.

I also thought about two different ways of shooting – artistic and technical. If you shoot in a technical way, then you are someone who spends a lot of time composing the shot, waiting for the right light, you use a lot of filters, tripods, flashes and artificial lighting or long exposures. Landscape, architecture, portraits, these all can be shot that way. The aim is to produce the perfect picture that manipulates or controls reality to fit the camera. The artistic way is more experimental, more spontaneous, less focussed on the detail. I guess for landscape, architecture and portraits you can reach this stage also once you have mastered all the technical aspects, but this will probably take years. In all this time you will take “perfect” pictures, but they will seem flat nonetheless, because something is missing. I see a lot of such pictures on 500px. A lot of them have a bit of a wow effect the first time you are on 500px, but soon you realise that a lot of them just look like “another beautiful landscape” or “another beautiful girl”. What is missing is tension. Everything is already there, pleasing to the eye, perfect, plastic, but where is the content? What makes these pictures “interesting” apart from their technical perfection? After 5 minutes of 500px I am already bored to death, because the answer is: nothing. Of 20 landscape shots there is usually only one that goes beyond the “beautiful wavy landscape with clouds in the sky” stereotype.

Well, what if you shoot in this technical way, but don’t want to end up with flat pictures? The conservative way would be to first master all the technical aspects of your chosen subject matter and then free yourself from these restraints. However, that won’t always work, because rules warp the mind and at some point you will just lose all your spontaneity. I think it is important to keep both ways of shooting going even if you prefer the technical way for now. This way you will learn what makes a shot interesting and will recognise it also for your more technical shots. By the way, this is nothing that generalises easily, what’s interesting for you might be boring for someone else. There is usually some common ground though with people who share a similar artistic vision.

I personally don’t really like shooting in this technical way. If I set my mind to it I could probably produce some okish landscape shots myself, but for me this is too boring, and too dependent on getting up early, the right timing and so on. I prefer just going out there and shooting. The technical aspects are for me that I am able to get the shot I want without relying on the automatic features of my camera. I’ve been shooting in manual mode for quite a while now and I can even get rather spontaneous decisive moment shots in manual mode, at least if I’m not in an impossible situation – like just having had a major change of light that needs me to change the ISO setting. One example is when I go down into the subway. Depending on the light outside I might be at ISO 200 or 400, with aperture f/5.6 for street photography. When I go down into the subway I’d have to change the ISO to 1600 to keep at f/5.6. My lenses are faster than this, but for street I prefer to also see people in the background, because you never know what might be happening there as well. If I were in aperture priority mode I could quickly try to get the shot at a bigger aperture, but it wouldn’t quite be the same. In program mode I wouldn’t even have to worry at all and the camera would hopefully get the settings sort of right, but I would have to rely on the technology. Usually I just change the ISO setting when I’m on the stairs.

Since I have shot in manual mode for more than a year I think I could now safely switch back to a less complicated setting, knowing that I could get it right by myself as well. I needed this time to figure out what the effect of different settings would be, which is still the basis that everyone needs. At the moment I think that I will generally stick to manual mode still, because the time it takes me to get the settings right is often the time people need to accustom themselves to get over the “someone with a camera” shock. The longer you stand there with your camera in the same position, the more likely it is that people will act naturally again. However, I will definitely try out how it feels to shoot in a less complicated mode after a year of manual shooting. It’s going to be interesting and maybe more spontaneous than how I have been shooting recently.

As a result of these thoughts and also because of the book by Thomas Leuthard I read the other day I went out to shoot people in aperture priority mode with my Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens. I got some nice shots, but it’s really difficult to get close enough. There is this barrier of not wanting to offend, of being afraid of the reaction and so on. And then there was the problem with the autofocus, which kept focussing on the wrong thing. Being quick with such an unreliable autofocus is really problematic! The ones where it did what it was supposed to do are definitely not close enough. I also think that I should use shutter priority next time, because I had some shake issues. For my 50mm on the crop it needs at least 1/80 to be shake free when I’m shooting quickly and it was already getting dark. I guess it’s a learning process, whenever you try new things. I got a few really interesting street shots though, which was not my main goal for once.

Normally I wouldn’t even have seen the pictures for a while, because I wouldn’t have copied them right away, but since I installed Lightroom yesterday, the import process was so quick and easy that it involved little effort. Thanks to Lightroom my editing process is now so much simpler, that I already edited 18 pictures since yesterday. I better slow down or I will run out of pictures to edit before I get out there to shoot again.

I also got the rest of my prints from the lab and I’m really happy with them. Now I just need to put them on some cardboard and can hand in my portfolio next week.

Well, I sure kept busy yesterday and I really enjoy working on my photography with such intensity. For quite a while already I have been feeling like I didn’t really have a purpose. I don’t work because of my health and quite a number of my plans haven’t really worked out, so things have been difficult. I have to say that working on my photography really helps with that wretched feeling.


One response

  1. Great post! I read this a little late but I’m going through your old post I did not yet read (sorry for this). It is true, there are two ways to take photos. Technique is important, and you already know this (shooting in manual mode) but it is not enough. It is important that the photograph has a soul, a meaning, an emotion. I see many tech perfect pictures but without emotion, just like “ability exercises” . But your photos have something inside, you are on the right track. Brava!

    April 5, 2013 at 9:44 pm

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