Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Street photography

street scene with txillida (Flexaret VI, Kodak T-MAX 100, EI 100/22°)

This picture is the reason why I decided taking a new challenge: doing more street photography.

We humans are social, gregarious beings. As such we have tended to be in small groups since the beginning of our long evolutionary journey as a distinct species. At first these groups were pretty small, but as we progressed and invented agriculture, the first surplus food was available and trade was born. We then realized that trade works better if the number of people in a group is increased: this marks the rise of cities.

But we still are social and we still look for our primeval small group and, living in a city, we need the interaction with others in order to live our lives. And, of course, the center of this human interaction is the street. People go shopping, meet with friends and family, go for a walk, go to eat, go to the market, or just wander around with no definite goal. All these happen in the street.

in the tunnel (Flexaret VI, Kodak Tri-X 400, EI 400/27°)

My challenge is to take a camera out to the street and try and make street photography, photos that convey this wandering, this pulsating life that you can find in the streets.

street (Retinette IA, Fuji Neopan 400, EI 400/27°)

Pictures in which the photographer loses all the prominence, pictures of the everyday life, of the everyday hustle and bustle of the city.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Photos I didn't make - the old lady

(Flexaret VI, Kodak Tri-X 400, EI 400/27°)

There was this old lady sitting on a bench at a park close to the library. She wore a fur hat and had her purse and her watch by her side on the bench. She looked at the watch every now and then.

She was clearly enjoying the wonderful late afternoon sun which, most probably without her knowing, was also bathing her with the most sublime of lights, warm and crisp. The sun stood at a low angle over the horizon, illuminating her from the left side.

I sat on the bench by her side and stayed there for a while, trying to muster up the courage to ask her to take her photograph. I repeated to myself the exact words I was going to use, trying several introductory lines.

After ten minutes struggling with myself, unable to overcome my shyness, I admitted my defeat and stood up. I smiled at her and murmured “Auf Wiedersehen”. And it was then, in the way she looked up and smiled back at me, it was in the expression of her clear blue eyes, that I knew she would have probably said yes. But it was too late.

Out of frustration, I made a picture of the library building.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Alfi Diarähmchen

alfi diarähmchen (+1)
(EOS 350D, EX DG 50mm f/2.8 macro, 1/50, f/2.8, ISO 100)

If you use vintage cameras you will probably end up using vintage accessories as well.

With my first medium format slide film I ordered slide frames. I guess my lab got stuck with a considerable stock of medium format slide frames back in the 90s, as digital photography began to take the lead. That's the only reason that I come up with for getting a product "Made in Western Germany", as the bottom of the box reads.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tabletop [stranger 4/99]

tabletop [stranger 4/99]
(Flexaret VI, Kodak Tri-X 400, EI 400/27°)

My fourth stranger was laughing, probably unaware of the fact that the sun, reflected on the library annex building, cast shadows on the wall and on his seat. My camera got him from the tabletop.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tabletop photography

One of my (photographic) pastimes these days is what I call tabletop photography. Here's how it works.

You sit in a bar or a café and, tired of carrying your camera around, you let it rest casually on the table. You look around, looking for a suitable scene or subject --for sure there is something interesting going on!

café wernbacher
(Kodak Retinette IA, Kodak Farbwelt 200 (expired 2008), ISO 200/24°)

You set exposure and focus distance and aim your camera to the scene trying to figure a beautiful composition. Looking through the viewfinder is not always easy, you have to be prepared for a certain random component.

Most important of all, you set the self-timer at the maximum setting and then shoot! You look distracted, ...bzzzzz...., take a sip of your tea or coffee, ...bzzzzz...., look somewhere else, ...bzzzzz...., do something else until you hear a!

at the bar (twin tabletop shots, #2, 6x6-120) (+1)
(Flexaret VI, Fujicolor Pro 160C, ISO 160/23°)

As the picture has been already taken, you ignore your camera for a while, acting cool. If you enjoyed it, start looking around for another interesting subject. Then, prepare for the next tabletop shot...

Caution!, tabletop photography can be very addictive! ;)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A crane flies to Japan

fuji crane(EOS 350D, EF 50mm f/1.8, 1/125, f/2.2, ISO 100)

This origami crane is ready to fly to Japan, to join a huge flock that's already on its way, to try and bring hope and comfort to all those who are suffering the consequences of the earthquake that struck the island on March 11th. The whole week I've had these people very present in my thoughts.

It is especially moving for us hobby photographers, because most of the stuff we use for our passion (cameras, lenses, films, ...) has been produced, designed, conceived or dreamed of in Japan. I wish for the best as my crane flaps her wings and takes off...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Push processing

off-center bar
(Hapo 66-E, Ilford Delta 3200, EI 1600/33°)

One of the things photographers and enthusiasts have to worry about is ISO speed, which together with aperture and shutter speed, is one of the three variables that control exposure. In digital cameras, the ISO rating is adjustable from shot to shot, and determines how sensitive to light the sensor is. In a film camera, the ISO speed is a property of the film, not a camera setting. That's why it is properly called film speed.

If you have a digital camera and want to take a shot in low light, one of the possibilities you have is to choose a high ISO speed, in order to make you sensor more sensitive to light. This way, you might be able to achieve a shutter speed fast enough to shoot hand held. With a film camera, you choose a fast film. Since there ain't no such thing as a free lunch, though, high ISO comes at a price: noise with digital cameras, grain with film. It is a matter of taste and depends on the picture but, in general, grain does not bother me that much. Digital noise is another matter, though. I guess grain, especially on black and white film, has a kind of journalistic quality about it that makes it look familiar.

If your film is not fast enough, you always have the option of push processing it. This is easily understood with an example: I am shooting a film with a nominal ISO speed of, say, 100. But I expose it as if it were an ISO 400. This is called film rating, I rate my film to be ISO 400 (in fact, you cannot talk about ISO any more, but of exposure index, EI). I am getting a consistent underexposure on all my shots (they would be all too dark). But, since I know that, I let it develop (and here comes the push processing) for a longer time than a normal ISO 100 film would require.

This picture comes from the first film roll that I let push process. It is taken on Ilford Delta 3200, which despite the name is an ISO 1000 film, but I rated it at EI 1600. I let my photographic lab push process it, but I am not that happy with the results, which came out a little too dull. I guess I would be happier having the whole thing under control, or at least I would have much more fun...

I am beginning to consider facing the ultimate challenge: black and white film development at home.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cinematic photography [stranger 3/99]

stranger 3 (21:9)
(EOS 350D, Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG, 108mm, 1/400, f/7.1)

I like cinema very much, especially because of the very powerful visual language that is involved and that plays an essential role in conveying a message. Inspired by my own prison's excellent shots on flickr, I decided to take a new challenge: to make more cinematic shots.

Now, it is not easy to define what a cinematic shot really is, there seems to be a broad spectrum of opinions about it. For me, a cinematic shot is simply a shot that could have been taken out from a movie, a shot that makes you wonder how the story would go on.

I tried to give the picture of my third stranger a cinematic look. I am not quite sure about how the 21:9 aspect ratio changes the composition, but it is my first try after all.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A photographic story - #1 Prehistory

[EDITED on May 2nd to add a picture of my dad's camera]

My first real recollection of myself using a camera goes back to 1988, as I was 12 years old. I went to Mallorca on vacation with my school class for a week. My dad let me have his camera, which had always fascinated me and had not been allowed to even touch unsupervised until then. I remember feeling a little afraid of breaking it but, at the same time, quite proud of myself.

The camera was a Yashica Minister D rangefinder, sporting a Yashinon 45mm f/2.8 lens. The Minister D was a very beautiful camera, kind of professional looking in my eyes. I felt a little weird because all my classmates had point&shoot cameras that didn't need any focusing, metering or, in fact, any user operation other than the pressing of the shutter button. I remember being ashamed of taking the camera out in front of the others, because it was quite sure someone would say something to me or laugh at me for, you know, being different.

yashica minister d
(EOS 350D, EF 50mm f/1.8, 1/40, f/2.2, ISO 400)

I received a photography crash course from my dad. I don't remember the part about aperture at all, I guess it was something like "set f/8 and do not change it". What I do remember quite well was my dad telling me about shutter speed and how I should normally use 1/125 except for freezing a moving subject, where I could go up to 1/250. This one got stuck in my mind.

We were attending a show at a marine park and I remember thinking as a photographer for the first time in my life: if I wanted to freeze the movement of the dolphins jumping out of the water, I should set shutter speed to 1/250. I think I set it even to 1/500, but I am not quite sure. What I do remember was how proud of my "photographic thinking" I was back at home, as we got the prints and there was this one picture of three dolphins jumping in my direction, perfectly frozen in the air thanks to my remembering my dad's photo teachings.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Saturn power service [stranger 2/99]

saturn power service [stranger 2/99]
(Flexaret VI, Ilford HP5 Plus 400, EI 400/27°)

I found my second stranger at the flea market by the Naschmarkt in Vienna.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

About using vintage cameras - Kodak Retinette IA

In January 2002 Mar and I spent a weekend in Paris for the first time. We were together for only five months then and I keep very dear memories from that trip.

One of these memories is the camera that Mar had with her. Her mom let her take the camera she had been using since she was young, a Kodak Retinette IA. I remember being fascinated by its old looks and the odd film advance lever on the bottom side. But, most of all, I remember the challenge of having to estimate your focusing distance and also how nice did the black&white pictures that we took come out.

Years after that, as we had already discovered our passion for photography, Mar's mom let us take the Retinette. We had it checked by a camera repairman, the last one still active in Salzburg. Even before we got the camera back, I was eager to start using it again. This was my first serious experimenting with film photography.

The Kodak Retinette IA is a viewfinder camera. That means that there is a viewfinder that allows to frame more or less what the lens will see.

Kodak Retinette IA - TTV
(Nikon Coolpix S200, 6.3mm, 0.3s, f/3.1, ISO 100)

"More or less" because you are not actually looking through the lens, as it happens with a reflex camera, so there is a small perspective difference, called parallax, which is especially noticeable when looking at close subjects. In fact, the Retinette has quite nice parallax correction aids, but there is no way of seeing what is in focus. The focusing is done by estimating the distance to your subject and setting this estimated distance on the focusing ring. In fact, the whole lens turns as it is focused. There are some quite whimsical graphic aids for the distance ranges corresponding to portrait, group photo and landscape.

Kodak Retinette 1A
(EOS 40D, EF 50mm f/1.8, 4s, f/8.0, ISO 100)

The lens is a Schneider Kreuznach Reomar 45mm f/2.8. The focal length (45mm) is very close to the diagonal of a frame (24x36mm means an approximate diagonal of 43mm), which makes it a normal lens. After taking a picture, film advance is accomplished by pulling a lever in the bottom with your right thumb. This same lever automatically cocks the shutter for the next shot.

What I love about the Retinette is its simplicity, compared to our previous cameras. You just need to worry about shutter speed, aperture and focus. Film speed has to be decided only once, as you choose which film to load. All the remaining energy can be effectively used to try to make great pictures. That means composing, excluding, simplifying, ... instead of fumbling with exposure metering modes and back focusing issues.

When using the Retinette for the first time after we had it serviced it was a wonderful surprise to see how incredibly smooth everything worked. I wonder if any of our modern cameras will be in such great shape in 40 years...

There is something that I feel, very difficult to describe but still very real, when I operate a vintage photographic camera. It is a mix of reverence, as this device was already in the world before I was born, and kind of a comforting feeling, because in spite of its age, it still works perfectly. You know you have a piece of fine craftsmanship in your hands, whose designers are most probably already dead, but I like to think that they would smile if they could see me. In a similar way some people, especially the elderly, smile at me when they see the Retinette in my hands, probably having happy memories of a time long gone.

Kodak Retinette IA (
My Retinette IA flickr set

Maker Kodak (Stuttgart)
Model Retinette IA, Typ 044
Type Viewfinder
Lens Schneider-Kreuznach Reomar 45mm f/2.8
Shutter Prontor 250S 1/30 - 1/250 + B
Film type 35mm (135)
Year 1963-66
Country West Germany

Sunday, March 6, 2011


NOTE: This post appeared originally on my other blog, Die Murmeltierjahre im Land des Frühschoppens, on 29th November 2010. Since this post contains the seed (“I think that artistic creativity needs new challenges permanently, in order not to fall into routine and boredom”) that made me decide starting this blog, a (photo) challenge a day ..., I thought it was fitting to publish it here, with some minor adaptations.

“Digital macht alles kaputt!”

The old lady complained from the other side of the counter, with the mixture of sadness and anger of the one who knows the enemy is so big that the only reasonable thing to do is to step out and wait for the end.

The place, Foto Bahnhof, close to the train station, is one of the last photography stores in Salzburg. After she told me that they did not have what I was looking for any more, I asked her if she knew about other photo stores in the city where I could find it. She shook her head and started listing stores that do not any longer exist. The last one she mentioned, Foto Mayrhofer, close to the Schranne, closed just a couple of months ago, after its owner went into retirement. It struck me that I was in front of one of the last members of an almost extinguished species. Her clear blue eyes darkened for a moment, as she realized that I had understood the bitter consequence of the syllogism she did not fully state.

The advent of digital photography, that reached the general public in the 90s, meant the last push to the democratization of photography. During the 20th century, photography evolved to come closer and closer to the point & shoot ideal, fine-tuning automatic processes in such a way that the only actions left to the user were framing and shooting.

The advantages of a digital camera can be summed up in three: immediacy, low cost and storing and compression. Immediacy on review, because the picture appears on a more or less big screen, with more or less colours, instants after shooting. Low cost of operation because shutter opening and closing has a total cost that tends very quickly to zero. Compression because, thanks to clever algorithms, the optical data captured by the sensor needs a tiny fraction of the total storage capacity of the device, which results in a great autonomy of operation.

(Diana Mini, Kodacolor 200, EI 200/24°)

Technological innovation has countless positive aspects, but its ruthless logic leaves old and sometimes venerable technologies on the side as road kill, because they make no sense any more or, simply, because they are not profitable. Digital photography sensors pushed film cameras to the background, making them museum display items or, sadly, mere pieces of junk that one does not know what to do with.

Christmas Engine
(Diana Mini, Ilford HP5 Plus 400, EI 400/27°)

But not all technologies are equal and when a technology, as it is the case with photography, is used as a support for artistic expression, I think that it is healthy to make a conscious effort and renounce to the multiple automatisms and advantages from time to time, because creativity and inventiveness usually work better when the first difficulties to overcome are technical limitations. I think that artistic creativity needs new challenges permanently, in order not to fall into routine and boredom.

curved architecture
(Kodak Retinette IA, Fujicolor C36, EI 200/24°)

I have worked you through this long introduction just to talk about the new territory that I am beginning to explore, pretty blindfolded at first, but with great hope and motivation. One of the photographic treasures that we brought from New York last year was Marona's new toy camera, a Diana Mini, from Lomography, that uses 35mm film.

Diana Mini
(EOS 350D, EF 50mm f/1.8, 1/250, f/6.3, ISO 100)

The second photographic treasure, this time from Barcelona, is an old camera that we borrowed from Marona's mum, a Kodak Retinette IA that, after its serial number, was made between 1963 and 1966 and that we let repair and adjust. In spite of the almost 50 years passed since its production, the camera works with a smoothness that a lot of present-day cameras can only wish for.

Kodak Retinette 1A
(EOS 40D, EF 50mm f/1.8, 4s, f/8.0, ISO 100)

The Retinette makes you really think: from distance to your subject, which you need to guess and adjust without any confirmation chance, to exposure, for which you have to make use of rules of thumb or the photographic eye that began evolving as we decided to measure exposure manually with our digital cameras as well.

First Advent Sunday!
(this lovely picture of me was taken by Marona!)

It is nothing more than another step in my going back to the origins, back to the basics, that I already talked about in a photographic context. I love this feeling of going back to the origin, because I feel like I am doing real photography.

Is it maybe vanity? Is it just that I want to stand out from the crowd? I don't know... But I guess the reason I went to Foto Bahnhof, to ask for advice about second hand twin-lens reflex cameras, gives a hint that what I really like is when people look at me as if I were crazy, as I take out venerable cameras (with no screen on the back!) from their old leather cases and I start taking pictures with them.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The 99 strangers challenge [stranger 1/99]

im zug [stranger 1/99]
(Flexaret VI, Ilford HP5 Plus 400, EI 400/27°)

The idea is very simple: take 99 pictures of 99 strangers.

This is the challenge that I chose to present first in my blog. One of the other challenges I am starting to face these days, shooting more street photography, has much in common with my friend A's new idea for a flickr group, 99 strangers, so she kindly invited me to share the group administration with her.

One first approach is to take candid shots, where your victimsmodels are not supposed to notice you taking their photograph. On my way to the 99th stranger I will try to bring the challenge to another level, though. I plan on approaching strangers on the street, tell them about the project and ask them if I can take their pictures. This is more the spirit of the original 100 strangers flickr group. I hope that this will help me explore and learn ways to establish a communication between photographer and model, and maybe I manage getting a little bit rid of my shyness as well.

This is my first stranger, 1/99. On our way to Vienna this gentleman fell asleep right in front of me and my camera... I wasn't able to resist the temptation.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

First post

«Why a blog about photography?»

It all started with my other blogs, Die Murmeltierjahre im Land des Frühschoppens and its Spanish twin, Und komisch spricht das Murmeltier....

At first I wrote a little bit of this, a little bit of that, mainly about my life and my thoughts. Then I started writing about photography from time to time. First I tried to take pictures that would match my posts. Soon I started posting random pictures as well.

After a while I realized that I had lots to tell, but almost all was about photography, and I started not posting at all because I did not want to convert Die Murmeltierjahre im Land des Frühschoppens in a photography blog.

It was not until I understood that I was starting to use flickr as a platform to talk about photography in a way it was not meant to that I realized what I needed was to create a new blog, a blog about photography. And here it is.

blurred sunday at the park
(Flexaret VI, Fujichrome Velvia 100F, EI 100/21°)

I'd be glad if you would come along with me... :)