Recently I started to photograph metal-bands in and around Hamburg – „Whoa, slowly“, you might think. „I didn’t know you liked metal!“, you might add. Well I do and have always done. I’ve always found metal-music to be emotionally honest – very much unlike chart-pop, which I’ve always found to be the opposite. So it has usually been easy for me to appreciate Pantera, Metallica, Testament and the like and much harder – though not completely unsuccessful at times – to appreciate the likes of the Backstreet Boys (back when that was a thing).
Personality-wise, this is somehow not easy for me, nowadays. In my free time, I do not enjoy clubs and crowded spaces much anymore, but my curiosity won over my reclusiveness. The band here is called Warsons and they’re underground metal heroes for those who like it fast, hard and in-your-face. You can find out more about them here or listen to them on Spotify here.
I did a lot of research on the technical hurdles of shooting in low-light situations with my Olympus OMD EM1 II and wrote rather extensively about them here, I would like to encourage you to read that if you’re into ISO and aperture-musings or if you simply want to see a different selection of images.
Artistically, I found that concert photography is a pure joy. It’s challenging, for sure, as musicians seem to move about quite a bit and the great shot might be on the opposite side of the stage, but it’s over as soon as you get there. So the only way to shoot is with patience, trust and some continuous shooting mode. You have to have a good idea beforehand on the kinds of pictures you want though, e.g.
every band-member singled-out with a clear view of the face
every band-member headbanging
interaction between the guitars
establishing shots of the whole band
and so on…
If you do not preconceive at least these kinds of shots then I guess the evening will turn out more about jogging from left to right and about the question of how much frustration you can stomach. Not a good idea.
Then there are „special“ shots, like audience interaction, guitar-licking, mean-middle-fingers, explosions (if available) and the like. Here it probably gets tricky as these things might only happen once and you do not know where you are at that moment in time. Knowing the band and how it performs helps a great deal in that regard, so the old adage „practice makes perfect“ holds up. Repetition is key here and it’s a good idea to shoot continuously for the whole set if you’re allowed to and not think that you ever got all the shots even if it means thinning out 2000 images to 25 for hours.
I chose to edit these shots in black-and-white and for reference, they’re shot mainly with 35mm/50mm f1.8 prime lenses at their wide-open ends at roughly ISO1600.
The open-air museum Kiekeberg (as if that wasn’t clear from the title) is located in the south of Hamburg (so actually still very much in the north of Germany) and shows the life of people in the north in the 19th century.
I went there with a friend just for fun after we had gone looking for tiles for his new place. Go figure! I know people who pick tiles! That’s how responsible I’ve become.
The museum has lots of small houses rebuilt to look like the aforementioned 19th century dwellings, complete with a smithy, a small farm, sheep and a home. The home is really interesting. Back in the day people used to live together with their servants and animals under one roof in about four to five rooms. One in which everyone(!) slept, one kitchen, a threshing-floow (yeah, better look that up) and the stable.
Inside the museum there is also an agrarian museum, but we had to leave. I was only dressed for well-heated tiling-shop-interiors and not for a cold day outside. The images here are all in black and white, but no sepia. Why not, I ask myself right now. It would actually portray the throwback well. But, nah! says my inner self. That’s corny.
So here they are, some insights into a cold sunday a fortnight ago.
Some time ago, I went to Hamburg’s Docklands on a grey Sunday afternoon just to get some images. Dreary and drab I did not expect anything much and soon realized that the selection could only be finished in black and white – there were almost no colors there anyway.
But the harbour always puts some old-timey technology into the frame and sometimes it can even be used as a frame itself.
The Dockland building itself is an office-building, which alludes to cruise-ships and can be called a landmark of Hamburg. Its rooftop terrace is open to the public and can be accessed via a good number of steps.
From the top you can get nice shots over the harbour or simply of cruiseships. It’s a popular building for nighttime and sunset photography. I guess its popularity stems from its symmetry-asymmetry properties: symmetrical from the front, asymmetrical from its side.
Leaving the docklands, I couldn’t stop myself from taking another crane-shot.
I wanted to go shoot some images of the sunrise near the harbour. Shooting sunrise is difficult for me, quite simply because even though I don’t get up very late, I’m not a natural early bird.
On this particular day, I met with a friend, which made things easier. We started out at „Landungsbrücken“ to shoot the Elbphilharmonie, a modern classic. The sunrise itself was nothing special really and our viewing point brought many distractions into the frame, so I wasn’t impressed. I managed to get one long-exposure, which I thought was quite urban and moody, though.
You can already see that the fog is closing in on us here, minutes later, all you could see was white, so we decided on having a coffee…. but inspiration struck us and I mentioned that I had never been up in our main church, St. Michaelis, the „Michel“. So had a coffee and a quick bite and went over to the Michel, which is a short walk from our vantage point. The lady at the reception told us that because of the white-out it wouldn’t make much sense going up, but we did that anyway.
On top we were greeted with sun and blue skies and nice temperatures around 20 Celsius. But the most amazing thing was that the fog went up almost to where we were, giving a fantastic separation between fog and sky and all the hallmarks of Hamburg stuck their heads out of the white. All in all, we spent some two hours there, taking images and enjoying the amazing views and weather. The images hopefully speak for themselves.
I like the quality of the colors and the almost abstract visuals. Some of the images give almost no hint at to what you actually see.
I think, this image has a metaphorical quality to it, as Matisse said
Derive happiness in oneself from a good day’s work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.
Even if some things are visible that everyone from Hamburg will be able to identify, these images are almost undecodeable for people from other places.
If the view includes another church, the image opens a door to understanding the power of sacred places.
I leave you with a last image with a nice composition, including our concert-hall and our glorious sun. I hope you enjoyed this one!
Funchal is the municipal seat of the autonomous region of Madeira and its largest city with roughly 112 thousand people. Built into the mountainside it comes across as a rather large city, because there is a lot of footwork involved when you want to explore it. One of its most interesting features is the cable car that takes you from the coastal region high up to the mountaintop of Funchal.
the cable-car ride
There you find two botanical gardens, the „regular“ botanical garden, which requires yet another cable-car ride and the tropical garden, which is right next to the station. There you can spend many hours walking, enjoying the plants, artists‘ exhibitions and sculptures.
a sculpture in the tropical garden
The sculptures differ widely in their range, as the garden is subdivided into a number of zones, e.g. the chinese garden and so on.
Walking down the garden you come to a central spot with an old colonial looking house and a waterfall, which is the main image of this post.
tropical garden, full view
It’s a sight to behold. The waterfall with the central pond is quite amazing, actually and harks back to the many levadas in Madeira.
This is a long-exposure with the camera sitting on a bench, probably at f22 to get the exposure time to around a second. #nofilter
Back to the bottom of the city, you find the cathedral located in the centre of the city.
inside the cathedral of Funchal
In the old-town part of the city there are yet more sculptures and picturesque alleys with painted doors.
But of course, as everywhere in Madeira, the beaches are really rocky, which is why there are bathing facilities made of concrete, which I find interesting, because they seem so fallen out of the 1960s.
Leaving Funchal, one might drive to the north-west of the island to find other great places. I rather liked Porto Muniz, where you find amazing vulcanic rocks forming bathing spaces that look much more natural (they are artificially separated from the ocean, though).
And a restaurant located right in the rocks where you can eat while a gentle breeze comes from the ocean.
Madeira has a lot more to offer than whale-watching, as was to be expected. Most people go off on hiking-tours and we did so as well, when we visited the Risco-Waterfall. Apart from that we toured to the extreme west of the island, to the Ponta do Pargo for a spectacular sunset and Sao Vicente for the vulcanic caves. In a later post I will write about Funchal and Porto Moniz.
For most of these outings I brought my Olympus OMD Em10 Mark II and the 25mm f1.8 (50mm, f3.6 equivalent), a simple, light and effective kit, which is surprisingly flexible.
a view over Sao Vicente. In the foreground the entrance the grotto’s multimedia-experience
Sao Vicente is a small village with about 3000 inhabitants in its district and is probably most famous for the Grutas, the volcanic caves that can be explored as part of a guided tour.
a look inside a side-tunnel
The tour is quite short, though, as it covers only about 700m, but it ends on a multimedia-experience in which the genesis of Madeira is explained, which is quite nice. Through the caves runs a river of pure water that was filtered by the vulcanic rocks, which is drinkable. The small stream forms lakes underground which are very nice to look at.
a small -artificial – lake inside the caves
Outside of caves, you can find some nice restaurants and of course the extreme cliffs that are part of every coastal town in Madeira.
a vista from Sao Vicente
From Sao Vicente you can go along the coastal roads, which for a large part are not tunneled, which is an amazing experience in and of itself. You drive high up the cliffs along meandering roads and you’re sometimes able to catch a view over a valley and the landscape or the open sea.
a view to the south from Ponta do Pargo
At other times, the road leads you straight through a forest. It’s scenic, it’s wonderful and uplifting. I need to go back in order to get some images to prove the beauty of the northern coastal roads.
sunset at Ponta do Pargo
After a lenghty lunch at Porto Moniz, we went to Ponta do Pargo at the western-most point of Madeira and thus the perfect spot for a spectacular sunset. There is a lighthouse, which is still in use and only some other tourists were around for the view.
sunset at the lighthouse
The temperatures in Madeira are mild day and night, so we spent some hours there before and after the sunset, exploring the small space near the lighthouse photographically. Apart from the other people there were only some curious goats that alternatingly viewed us as interesting and fear-inducing.
the goats cannot decide what to do about me
I surely hope you enjoyed this small blog, today. Ahhhh, I think I can throw in just one more picture as an extra. Enjoy!
As I wrote recently, I was tipped-off about the beauty of Madeira, especially in terms of whale-watching there. So I stayed in Calheta, located in the south-west of Madeira, where the Lobosonda team organises whale-watching tours. As Madeira itself is a huge volcanic rock protruding high from the Atlantic ocean, there are no slopes falling gently towards the beach.
in the region of Calheta
Au contraire: the cliffs rise almost directly from the waterline to hundreds of meters and then some. From there you can go even higher towards the centre of the island where you find forests in the clouds with numerous waterfalls you can go visit. I did. There, my camera and flimsy tripod fought with gravity on a bridge across a gorge. They lost. It’s another story.
Back to Calheta.
We stayed at the very affordable yet highly comfortable and spacious Bela Vista Apartment overseeing the mountains to the west, giving us almost perfect sunsets. (In all honesty, they gave us no sunset at all, because of the pastoral mountains… does that amount to „almost perfect“? I do not know, there was a cow in the valley below, so that was nice.)
Booking two tours at Lobosonda gave us double the chances of not only seeing dolphins, but also larger whales like sperm whales or fin whales. The whales did not accept to the invitation to be spotted, though, but we saw lots and lots of bottle-nosed dolphins and Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella). The former do not seem to care for whale-watchers so much and just follow their route through the sea, but the Stenellas circle the boat out of curiousity or some other reason. The two trips were on two different boats, too. First the „Stenella“, named after… the Stenellas, a speedboat, and then an old fishing boat.
the Stenella speedboad
Both give two very different experiences. The Stenella is a fast and low boat with which you can easily follow every spotted school of dolphins.
a school of dolphins
The Ribeira Brava on the other hand is a more comfortable ride, gives you a longer line of sight, because you sit higher above the sea level, but you are not as flexible when taking pictures, because if things happen on the other side of the boat than the one you sit on, you actually have to walk over, find a stable seat and then make your images. That doesn’t work, dolphins are fast. Still, it is much more communicative and I would recommend it if you want your trip to be more social and less pragmatically focussed on „getting the shot“.
There are a couple of possible sightings, as I found out. More often than not, you simply see the fins of the animals as they swim towards their destination. That is quite impressive and is obviously also an opportunity for the animals to breathe.
an Atlantic spotted dolphin coming up to breathe.
This kind of behaviour is probably the most common to see, as most other behaviours like diving or jumping are either inappropriate for seeing the animals or simply very quick actions.
dolphins in front of a vista of Calheta
You can get these kinds of shots with almost any kind of camera gear. A 24-70mm (or equivalent) kit lens will go long enough and the f-stop almost does not matter as there will probably be enough light or the ISO does not interfere with the image quality, because you will not get fine details anyway (we should all be concerned with other things than ISO-grain, anyway). A shutter speed of 1/640 should also be sufficient. The picture above, though was shot at 1/1000th of a second at f8, ISO500 and 300mm equivalent. I shot with a fixed shutter speed of 1/1000th, and had ISO and f-stop on automatic, with a +.3 exposure compensation. If I had to do it again, then +.7 or +1 would have been better as I almost always had to up the exposure in Lightroom.
Another kind of image is the underwater shot, which you can get when the dolphins decide to swim by the boat. They have a different kind of quality to them, more abstract, but quite pleasing to the eye, I think.
a dolphin swimming by the boat
This one was at 86mm (equiv.), ISO400, f5.6 (equiv), 1/1250th with +.3 exposure comp in camera.
Then of course you want to get the dolphin in all its glory, jumping, showing its face and smiling, with a sunset in the background yet fully front-lit as if by magic, no less. Good luck with that. I guess I have to come back to Madeira soon to be more lucky. Still I got some nice shots that are similar, but do not expect those to come easy or be fantastic out of the camera with any kind of consistency. Once you realise a dolphin jumps, it’s almost over and I guess you need a lot of experience to figure out how long a dolphin will swim submerged (and how long of a distance it covers) once it has jumped. It’s a numbers-game, really. Every 50 shots there’s a keeper and every 200 shots there’s one I consider really good. Over my total of 1200 shots there was none that I considered „great“, but that’s wildlife, no one said it was gonna be easy.
almost fabulous, but very far away
The shot above sort of has its merits because there is background to include.
Atlantic spotted dolphin gets its face wet
Here there is good sharpness and a great dynamic to the shot, but who wouldn’t want to see its face?
Bottle-nosed dolphins mocking me
This one I like, but it shows an additional calamity: where to point your camera? Will the one below jump soon or should I stay on the one in the top of the frame?
Here I had a sequence, but at the end of the buffering speed of my automatic drive, i.e. the shot before this one showed almost nothing, and here, the face of the Stenella is already submerged.
now we’re talking!
I do leave you with this almost great shot of a bottle-nosed dolphin, jumping right away from us!
Now I recently went to Madeira, being tipped off that it is a rather splendid whale-watching spot. So I went and it is!
But this post is not about aquatic placental marine mammals or cetaceans for short. It is about trying a different ‚vibe‘ for my images. Whereas I usually try to edit my images for colour-accuracy and technical perfection, I went for a strong look and chose images I wouldn’t have normally picked, images that lend themselves more to this kind of colour-grading.
While in Madeira, I visited the hilly and rocky countryside, which still is exploding with flora. The small towns are just amazingly cozy with good down-to-earth food and great coffee (which is a huge plus for me). Coming back after an amazing week, I gave some images a more vacationy, happy feel, so here they are, showing Madeira in sunny orange’n’teal.