Category Archives: Night Photography

Kiev, 2011

In the beginning of 2011, I found myself on a short trip to the Ukraine to meet up with a fellow photographer. It was my first longer distance international trip in almost 8 years, so it took me a while to prepare everything.
But with a freshly printed passport in my hands, I embarked on a long and exciting journey that started around 4 am in Cologne and ended over 18 hours later in a large hotel in Kiev. Unable to sleep, I took my tripod and camera backpack and headed outside for a little walk around the neighborhood.

Mother Motherland

Back then, I didn’t have a smartphone with offline GPS navigation yet, so I had no idea where I was or where I was going. But I figured as long as I remembered enough parts of the way, I would find back eventually. I ended up walking along the Dnieper River and just kept looking for a nice view to take a photo. After passing an old, ornate bridge that was unfortunately being covered with a scaffolding, I found a spot along the river where I could see the massive Mother Motherland statue in the distance. Shooting with my (then new) tele lens, I got it into the picture large enough. After getting the shot, I decided that I was cold, tired and far enough away from the hotel to head back and get some sleep.

Down the Tube

The next morning, I consulted a little tourist map I had received from the friendly guys at the travel agency and took the Metro to the city center of Kiev. Riding the Metro is a lot like taking the subway in Cologne. Except it only costs 20 cents per ride, the trains arrive every 2 minutes and are never late. They are also completely packed with people at all times of the day. Something that struck me as really odd was that nobody ever smiled. Not on the subway, not on the streets and not in the shopping malls. I only recently learned why Russians are not smiling and I guess it is true for Ukrainians as well.

Birkutgrad

Navigating the subway was a bit confusing for me because the stations are all very large and have lots of hallways going in different directions. The fact that all the signs and station names are in Cyrillic didn’t make things easier. I tried to learn a bit of the Cyrillic alphabet in advance and kept a little transliteration table in my pocket but I still felt like back in Kindergarten when I was just learning how to read simple words. I exited the Metro in some place I didn’t originally want to go but decided to walk around a bit and take some photos anyway. I think it feels more authentic to have some shots from a completely random place in a foreign city.
Go to the gallery to find some more photos of Kiev!

After Dark in Hamburg’s Speicherstadt

Since I only stayed in Hamburg for 2 nights and met with friends every evening, I didn’t have much time to take night photos. But one place I definitely wanted to see this time was the old Speicherstadt. I had seen many photos of it online and wanted to explore it myself.

Nikolaifleet

On the first day, I was already walking to the subway to catch one of the last trains home when I passed by the Nikolaifleet. I had seen it during the day and it didn’t look very interesting. But at night, everything changes. The darkness and the artificial lights make it look like a different city. The cloudy sky reflects the light from the city below and glows in purple. The water moves slightly but gets a silky-smooth shine thanks to the long exposures. And all the colors stand out so much more.
I hastily set up my tripod because I figured I’d have maybe 5 minutes to get a picture – and that’s not much when each exposure takes 30 seconds. After I was done, I had to run the rest of the way in order to catch the subway, camera in one hand and the half folded tripod in the other. But I made it.

Speicherstadt

There is special illumination in the entire Speicherstadt at night. The only problem is that it is switched off around 23:30. And during the summer, that doesn’t give you a lot of time to take night photos because the sun is up pretty long. Also I didn’t know about that during my first night. So when I showed up to take a photo I was a bit surprised how dark everything was. To compensate, I used longer exposures. For some reason I have never been able to understand, the maximum exposure time you can enter into a camera is 30 seconds. But there are external timers you can connect to a camera that allow you to use longer exposures. Here I took photos at 30 seconds, 1 minute and 2 minutes and combined them into an HDR picture. If you look closely, you can see the length of the star trails and how it is interrupted after a short, a medium and a longer time.

Ducati 750

It is well known that great artists steal. While I am far from a great artist, I still steal a lot. I found a photo on 500px.com that I thought looked interesting and decided to visit the same place and see how I would see the scene.
When I arrived, I immediately noticed a beautiful red Ducati 750 motorcycle parked right in front of the bridge I wanted to capture. It was clear that I had to include it in the frame. It took a few attempts to get the framing right so I was a little worried the whole time the owner might show up and ask me what the hell I was doing. But it didn’t happen.

Looking back, I think I could spend an entire week taking photos in the Speicherstadt at night. One of the reasons I believe Hamburg is the most beautiful city in the world.

The Devil’s Cloud Factory

Enough with the photos from Mijas already. In total, there are now more than 50 pictures in the Gallery, 17 posts on the blog and I’ve received almost 40 comments, all of which were spam. This all since the site went live a little over two weeks ago. Also, over 3000 page views and more than 500 unique visitors. These numbers are OK, given that I don’t really do anything to draw people here, except maybe the odd Tweet.

Anyway, here are the first couple of photos from my latest medium distance travel adventure. I went to Iceland at the end of February for almost 2 weeks of photography. I took these photos on the third day of my stay, after I had arrived late at night two days before. Unfortunately, my bag didn’t arrive at the same time as I did, so I was extremely happy to be re-united with my tripod and immediately took it out on a late night trip.

Boilers and Pipes

After spending the evening floating around in the thermal baths at the Blue Lagoon, watching the sun slowly go down behind the rough volcanic rock landscape that is typical for most of Iceland, I grabbed my camera gear from the car and wandered of into the cold, dark, windy night. It was quite a difference to the 40°C hot water in the pools, but I had a good winter jacket. The footpath away from the Blue Lagoon was very small and dimly lit by a few LED spots here and there. And it was longer than I had anticipated.

Steam in Motion

As soon as I saw the illuminated steam getting close enough, I climbed onto a lava rock formation so I could get a better view. The steam came from the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant, the main reason I was in this area after dark. I had seen some photos of this place on the internet and, as with lots of the pictures I take, decided to have my own attempt at getting some photos. One problem was that this power station produces clouds around the clock, every day of the year, which means it is not visible on satellite imagery or Google Maps. This makes it harder to plan from where to take pictures, especially if you don’t want to put in a lot of effort finding the right angles by walking around on the ground – which is of course what you have to do to get the really good pictures.

Cloud Factory

However, once I saw the power station up close and personal and could see how the wind prevented the steam from drifting upwards, and instead wrapped most of the plant into clouds, I decided it wasn’t really worth the effort. I took some pictures with a long lens from where I was standing so I could capture a bit of the light and how it gave the steam and the different pipes and boilers a dramatic look, like some equipment in a laboratory in hell.

Once I was confident that at least some of the pictures I had were good enough, I decided it was time to embark upon the hour long drive back to my hotel in Reykjavík. There was some sleep I had to catch up on, because I was very stressed out about my bag maybe not arriving at all the night before. While I could have easily replaced most of the contents of that bag, Pentax batteries and chargers were not available in Iceland, a downside of shooting with a less popular camera brand. Lesson learned: next time, I’ll put at least one spare battery and the charger in my carry-on luggage.

Liège-Guillemins at Night

While on the way to Charleroi, I got to switch trains in Liège. I knew that the city had a spectacular railway station and managed to book the train ride with a stopover there. The full name of the station is Liège-Guillemins and I had no idea how to pronounce that. Luckily, I bought the ticket at an office of Deutsche Bahn, and they don’t know how to pronounce foreign languages either. So they understood where I wanted to go. Upon arrival, I paid close attention to the announcement on the train, it is pronounced like “Lee esh – gi eh mo”. As you may have guessed, it is also in the french speaking part of Belgium.

Spectacular Roof Construction

The station was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, and shows his typical style of white concrete in organic, skeletal shapes. The curved roof raises up very high and does not have any support columns to hold it up. Standing in the middle of the station looking up makes one feel really small. At night it looks especially fascinating because the white concrete is illuminated while the windows in between just show the blackness of the night above.

Pair of Escalators

You need a special permission to take photos with a tripod in this station, so I had to shoot handheld which wasn’t easy in the darkness. That, and the camera I used back then doesn’t perform well in low light situations. So I only got two usable photos from the place but I really like those two.