Munich’s letters

In search of a creative exercise, I came up with something quick, that just required me to go out and take a walk across the city: Take photos of the alphabet, one letter per photo. Try to find the most interesting letters and try to avoid the boring ones.

I got the idea from one of the videos at Kelby Training, who were giving away 75 day passes today. Interestingly I haven’t found a lot more on this exercise on the internet, besides over at Chris Corradino, who did the advanced version of the challenge. I kept it simple and tried to find as many letters that had some connection to Munich as possible. For example, the ‘Z’ is from a local newspaper, the ‘P’ is from a local brewery. Walking around the Glockenbachviertel exposes you quite a lot to graffiti, which can be quite interesting to take pictures of.

Surprisingly, the letters that were open until the end were ‘N’, ‘R’ and ‘Q’. ‘Q’ was a natural, since it is the least frequently used letter in the German language (0.02%). Therefore it was actually quite hard finding interesting Qs. Most were in antiques shops, but rather boring than interesting. In the end I found a Q at an Italian ice-cream place.

By the way, quick tip for Lightroom. Apparently you can easily create you own custom sort order of images by dragging them around in the grid view. You just have to make sure that you are only displaying photos of one particular collection/ directory, i.e. turn off Library → Show Photos in Subfolders. This was in particular handy when checking whether I had my alphabet complete or not (oh gosh, that moment when I though I forgot to take a photo of an ‘E’).

Looking at the grid below, it looks like a ransom note.

Going underground

In the quest for new photographic challenges the fabulous Anna and I went on a mission to take photos of the most spectacular subway stations in Munich. We researched, which stations are the nicest, planned our itinerary and bought a day pass for the public transport. The idea of a underground photowalk came from PhotoWalkingMunich. The stations we chose were (in order)

  • Marienplatz – gorgeous orange walls that reminisce of the 1972 olympics that were in Munich
  • Münchener Freiheit – recently renovated with wonderful blue ambient lighting
  • Westfriedhof – nice lights hanging from the ceiling
  • St. Quirin Platz – not really underground
  • Candidplatz – most colorful station

I hoped for instant inspiration when arriving at those stations. Instead, all I got was total uninspiration. I didn’t know what to do, what to shoot, I felt helpless and stupid. But, being together with a fellow photographer, I just watched Anna doing her thing. And after a few minutes I started getting some ideas and into the groove, taking long-exposure pictures of incoming trains and escalators, enjoying the colors and trying out different angles.

The one thing I was quite unprepared for, was feedback from people. Not people, we were shooting, but people just passing by. Some were accusing us of spying for the Chinese (who’d be able to copy escalators by looking at my photos). One woman passed by, shouting at me that I didn’t know what I was doing and had no idea what I held in my hands. Apart from those episodes, it was quite a fulfilling experience.

Photography resources on the net

If I find something interesting, I tend to over-read on it. Like Malcolm Gladwell explains it in The Tipping Point, for an idea to reach a tipping point and spread, three kinds of people are required: Connectors (distributing an idea through their social network), Salesmen (persuading others) and Mavens (“people we rely upon to connect us with new information.”). I am part of the latter group. I read … and then read some more. I can spend an entire afternoon (and more) researching on the net what camera bag is the most appropriate for me, reading reviews, watching YouTube clips and browsing national and international shopping sites. It’s just something I really enjoy doing.

And since I read a lot of stuff on the internet about photography, it might be helpful to provide a list of my ten most favorite info sources. Here we go:

  1. This week in photo: This is one of those podcasts that I’m really happy about, when a new episode appears in my iTunes podcast subscriptions. It’s a weekly audio show about photography, gear and tips, that I typically listen on my way to work or wherever I go to.
  2. TWIT photo: Also a weekly show, also available as an audio file for download, but way better when watched. Each week they invite a photographer and talk about her work, her way into photography and her tips. Less gear focused and more about the general ideas about photography.
  3. Knackscharf, der Nikonians Podcast: A German podcast on photography with two very likeable guys from the Northern part of Germany. Despite the title it’s not that much focused on Nikon gear and has great tips for non-Nikon photographers as well.
  4. The blog of one of the two hosts of the above mentioned Knackscharf podcast (also in German). Lots of tutorials, reviews, tips. He writes on a daily basis and the content is really good.
  5. Digital Photography School: Although I don’t spend as much time on this site as I used to, I found it the biggest source of inspiration and explanation of photography when I started taking pictures with a DSLR. Very well structured and tips for every imaginable aspect of photography. I spent literally days browsing through the content. Here I learned about aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and here I also got ideas for long exposure shots and the likes. I cannot recommend this resource highly enough.
  6. Chase Jarvis Blog: Chase Jarvis is a Seattle based photographer with a lot to say and very willing to share his knowledge about photography. This blog is not updated as frequently as most other blogs, but the content is typically of high quality, especially about the photography and creative business in general. It also hosts one of my most favorite blog posts of all time “Photo Editing 101 – Surviving the Tidal Wave of Data“.
  7. Flickr Blog: I still love flickr. Yes, it’s pace of innovation slowed down years ago, but it still has a vibrant community. The flickr blog got better throughout the last year or so by finding a lot of gems from the vast amount of content that is presented on flickr. Always fun to watch and often very stunning images.
  8. Jasmine Star: Blog of a wedding photographer. She writes with a lot of heart and she seems to have it at the right place.
  9. A German blog on photography, not updated very regularly, but always good for finding pearls about photography from the internet.
  10. Moment Junkie: This is one of those blogs that you can just snack away during lunch break. The best of the best in wedding photography.
  11. Phototuts+: Very broad collection of photography tips. From lighting to finding topics for photo shoots, you can have a blast of inspiration from reading here. Good stuff.
  12. PixelatedImage Blog: David DeChemins blog, where he posts updates on his travel photography. I like it most for its updates on recent ebooks. He has a company, Crafts and Vision, that publishes on a regular basis little ebooks on specific photography topics, typically for $4 or $5. For the price of a latte, you’ll get a ton of information. My favorite ebooks are Ten Ways To Improve Your Craft. None of Them Involves Buying Gear and Making Light, An Introduction to Off-Camera Flash.
  13. Like the Digital Photography School a great resource for all things photo. I like that they have different sections for technique, gear, news and focus topics. Very well-organized and well written. I really like the weekly roundup of photography related links from the internet.

To keep up to date, I heavily rely on Google Reader, a tool that aggregates new articles that are published on the blogs and presents them in one “stream of news”. It’s quite helpful to be informed on all the latest blog posts.

Old School Photo Challenge

Every once in a while, it’s good to introduce artificial constraints to jump-start the creative process. One of those exercises is the old school photo challenge, which I heard of first from Scott Kelby. The deal is, that you are pretending that you are shooting old school like in the days of film, i.e. the following five rules apply:

  1. You turn off your display, so no chimping after each photo … or anytime during the photo shoot.
  2. You are only allowed to shoot 24 or 36 pictures, as if you had a role of film.
  3. You cannot look at the pictures on a computer before you have seen them in print.
  4. You take them to your photo printer of your choice and let them develop. This is quite difficult, since typically you have to look at the pictures to select the ones that you’d like to develop. But with a little squinting and maybe the help of a shop assistant, you’ll get there.
  5. Since film was costly in the old days, you are spending the money, that you would have paid for film, for a good cause, i.e. make a donation to the red cross or any other charity of your choice.

On a sunny saturday in April the fabulous Anna, who visited us in Munich, and I took the challenge and went out to shoot. The most difficult part is always counting how many pictures you’ve already taken, but that’s part of the fun.

I really like about the challenge, that you take photos far more conscious. Every picture counts, so you think more ahead, spend a lot more time looking through the viewfinder to get the composition right and think a lot more about the correct exposure settings. Compared to a normal photowalk, the whole process changes from taking snapshots and keeping the best one to trying to get the best ones directly in camera and have as little as possible to delete later. I highly recommend to take on that challenge and see what it does to your picture-taking process. As always, best results are achieved when being joined by a friend. Oh, and please don’t forget about the fifth rule of ‘old school photo challenge’. We made out donation to the Springs of Hope Foundation in Kenya.

Since we ran out of time, we had to abort our mission after 20 pictures. Nevertheless, we brought the pictures to the camera shop, got them developed and had a look at them over dinner. Below are my 20 takes, straight out of camera. Not all are winners, but the keepers-ratio is above my usual average. Maybe we can get Anna to show us hers as well.

Brisbane – the last leg

We got up at 3:20am to take a Navy Shower, pack our stuff and get to the airport, to leave New Zealand and go to Brisbane for our last few days in the southern hemisphere. I realized that I can get really (REALLY) grumpy when I don’t have enough sleep. The world is just too much to bear in those situations.

We arrived in Brisbane in the pouring rain, which was kind of a recurring theme and didn’t really boost my mood. It got better once I got some sleep. We drove into the city to meet Claire, which definitely was a highlight. It’s nice to have some friends that despite not seeing them very often, there is no awkward feeling at the beginning, but you just take off where you left two years ago.

The thing I liked about Brisbane was that it looked very modern. But that might be due to the fact that a lot of things had to be rebuilt after the big flood of 2011. Nevertheless, a very livable place.

During those three and a half days in Australia, we saw quite a bit and experienced some nice Aussie culture, like going swimming every morning, purchasing some Funky Trunks (excellent customer service at the Aqua Shop in Brisbane), seeing Surfer’s Paradise, experiencing a little bit of the country side, and getting the opportunity to hang out with friends and do nothing (thank you, Claire). For me it’s always one of the biggest treats during travel to have the opportunity for an afternoon or even a day of hanging around and not doing anything.

We left Brisbane in nice sunny weather with temperatures between 30 and 35 degrees, and came back to a snowy, sub-zero Munich. Home, sweet home.

Top moments:

  • Swimming every day in an empty pool
  • Walking home after the bus together with Harriet, while the sun set
  • Swimming in the waves of Burleigh Heads
  • Walking on the beach at the Spit
  • Seeing Claire again and realizing that Sharon’s flat is awesome

Auckland – Last days in New Zealand

We came back from Kawau and were a little … quite exhausted by all the impressions we took with us. It was an amazing experience and now it was time to get to know Auckland a little bit better. We spent Sunday afternoon and the evening with Liz and her husband Ben. Liz was flatting with Harriet a couple of years ago in Auckland. We had a nice long walk along the beach, rewarded ourselves with ice cream and went to Liz’ and Ben’s place for barbecue and some Sunday night movie (Sione’s Wedding). I really liked the area they live in, since it’s urban, but not too crowded — a good mix.

We started Monday early, drove into the city and had breakfast together with Anna, who then took us over and spent the day with us. It’s always fun to spend a day with her, since she likes taking photos at least as much as I do. So we took the ferry to Devonport and just walked around, climbed up Mount Victoria and took lots of jumping photos. It was a really nice and relaxing day with no goals, just going with the flow and taking pictures. We concluded the day by a brief visit of One Tree Hill. Unfortunately we had to part with Anna, who had to prepare her departure to Cambodia, where she writes her blog … and works as a professional volunteer for the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR).

We ended our day early by writing postcards (yes, on the last day in New Zealand) and preparing to wake up at 3:20am to our last episode on our journey through New Zealand and Australia: Brisbane.

Top moments:

  • Spending the evening on the deck with BBQ, beer and good conversation
  • Walking across Liz’s and Ben’s neighborhood
  • Taking jump shots on mushroom bollards
  • Having coffee at the Imperial Cafe in the city
  • Being outside in the sun all day long

Quick tip: AutoISO

I’m quite astonished about the things I learn and why I have not learnt them earlier, since they are so apparent. One of those things was the discovery that using higher ISO improves my pictures in low light, since grain is typically not as disturbing as camera shake.

My problem was, that a lot of times, I set the camera to high ISO at night and forgot to reset it in the morning. The results: Heavily overexposed pictures. The solution: Let the camera decide about ISO and use the AutoISO functionality. It’s quite easy to set up:

  • Decide on the lowest shutter speed that you are willing to accept, e.g. 1/15 of a second
  • Decide on how high you are willing to go with ISO, e.g. ISO 1600

The camera will now use the lowest ISO, where it can maintain a shutter speed of 1/15 or shorter. On my Nikon D90 I can set it in the “SHOOTING MENU” (the one with the green camera on the left side) under “ISO sensitivity settings” at “ISO sensitivity auto control”.


Image from DigitalReview.

Next time in the morning when you wake up and take your camera out for a walk, you will be able to have nicely exposed pictures from the get go, instead of wondering why you get heavily overexposed images at a shutter speed of 1/4000.


Life is like a camera. Focus on what is important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives, and if things don’t work out the 1st time, just take another shot!

Found here.

Race to Kawau

It feels quite distant, writing a blog post about my impressions from three months ago. Fortunately, I kept a daily diary of my best and worst moments, that now helps me refresh my memories. And good memories they are.

After leaving New Plymouth we flew to Auckland to conquer one of the steepest hills … EVER … to get to our hotel, The Quadrant. While I’m quite used to staying at hotels, I’ve realized, I rarely spend time there for fun. So this was a nice change to try out all the perks that come with hotels.

But the true highlight of our time in Auckland was not the hotel, but what came the next day. After having had lunch with Kerry, we went to meet Harriet’s godmother Cath, her husband Andrew and their son Cam to continue our journey further to Sandspit, where we departed via a water taxi to Kawau.

Kawau Island is an island in the Hauraki Gulf, close to the north-eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand. At its closest point it lies 1.4 km off the coast of the North Auckland Peninsula, just south of Tawharanui Peninsula, and about 8 km by sea journey from Sandspit Wharf, and shelters Kawau Bay to the north-east of Warkworth.

Thank you wikipedia.

It is one of the most amazing places on earth. A very small Island (about eight by five km), with no roads or streets, where a few people built some private holiday houses. If you ever need to get your head clear, go to Kawau.

Since the island has no real infrastructure, everything is very hands on. The bach is a beautiful small place with two houses, both built and maintained by Cath and Andrew. We took on our way up the quad, which was already fun. At the bach, we just settled and spent the evening with dinner, Bananagram (speed scrabble) and conversation. I really enjoyed the conversation part as it reminded me of my time in England, where you can spend a whole night in a pub around a big table comparing stories about your life. Our topic of choice was “what near-death experience did you have”. (Note to self: start a list of good conversation topics). We closed the day off with a walk in the dark in search of wallabies.

Top moments:

  • Arriving at the batch and realizing that it is a very nice piece of earth
  • Playing Bananagram with Harriet in one team, i.e. winning at Bananagram
  • Sitting on the decks with a glass of wine and looking at the garden

New Plymouth — A city like no other

We packed our bags in Waitomo and left reluctantly the world of miniature pets, glow worms and sunlit hills to go to our next big destination: New Plymouth, or Newps as the cool kids call it. On the way, I had three further highlights: my first black sand beach experience, and real fruit ice cream at a blueberry farm in … wait for it .. Piopio. What a grandiose name for a city. My third highlight was a coincidental conversation at one of the roadside cafes with three Maori ladies, who all three had Mokos. They answered were patiently our questions and we learned that it’s an honor to be allowed to have one and it take at least a year of intense mental preparation in advance. The tattoo process itself takes just a few hours, depending on the pain.

New Plymouth greeted us with its apparently new slogan on a big sign at the city border “New Plymouth – a city like no other”. The weather was superb, i.e. late afternoon sunshine. We used the occasion and went body surfing, which feels a lot like being in a mosh pit. But I learned, that if you know how to body surf properly, it’s a lot smoother.

We spent the time in New Plymouth in a very relaxed manner and even developed some routines, like going swimming every other day and going for coffee afterwards. Some big events were upcoming, like meeting Greta and Nick & Amy’s wedding. So stay tuned.

Top moments:

  • Sitting in the sun and having real fruit ice cream at the Piopio blue- and strawberry farm
  • Talking to the Maori women about their moku
  • Taking pictures at the black sanded beach and going body surfing afterwards

Waitomo – caves and miniature pet zoo

Our next destination after Rotorua was Waitomo. We had perfect weather and took the scenic route, which was the shortest, but also the most complicated route to take. Small and windy roads led us the way, and presented us with a wide array of photographic opportunities.

We made a stop in Otorohanga to visit the famous Kiwihouse. Unfortunately, this was the only time in New Zealand when I saw live Kiwis. What surprised me most, was how big Kiwis are. I’ve always thought they were less than half their actual size, which is depending on the specific type somewhere between 25 and 45cm. Fun fact: Kiwis lay the largest egg in relation to their body size and incubation is mainly done by male Kiwis.

After this short break we headed for our final destination of the day, the Big Bird Bed & Breakfast in Waitomo. This place was in retrospect one if not the highlight of the New Zealand experience. The B&B is operated by Ann, who is a lovely lady. She gave us a warm welcome and showed us the main attraction: the miniature pet zoo. They have mini alpacas, mini lamas, kune kune pigs, ostriches, emus, donkeys and highland cows. Look at the photos, it was awesome. Afterwards we went along the hills in the early evening sun, which is a treat for every photographer.

Waitomo is best known for its caves. So we took the opportunity and got on a tour through one of the caves. The main attraction was the glowworms, more specifically the fungus gnat Arachnocampa luminosa. They look like little LEDs mounted on the ceiling of the cave. The larva glows to attract prey into its threads, perhaps luring them into believing they are outdoors, for the roof of a cave covered with larva can look remarkably like a starry sky at night.

After the cave tour we drove home, opened a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and closed a highly eventful day.

Top moments:

  • Stopping in the middle of the road whenever it was nice to take pictures
  • Finally seeing tow real Kiwis and realizing that they are indeed quite cute
  • Standing in the evening sun on top of a hill with the perfect round view across the area