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The Plus and the Negative: Photography in Focus from Berlin

Posted on April 18th, by Peter Parkorr in Germany, Picture Perfect. 8 comments

A busy week in Berlin. There was a buzz around the city for ITB. Tens of thousands of travel industry types were in town for the super sized trade show. Accommodation had been soaked up, no room left at the inns. The week started out bright. The sun fought the chill and it felt like winter might be abating. Not so much. Staying at a hostel with a Sauna was some consolation, but there was little time for relaxing.

ITB is tiring – hoofing large distances in a throng of generic suits and skirts, all with the same purpose. Trying to rub hides with the right animals, only pausing to graze on sparse puff pastry along the route. Just add dry dirt and it could be a full-scale rendition of annual migrations in the Serengeti.

PlusBerlin Cheap Hostel in Berlin Restaurant

The big sexy hostel that is PlusBerlin was also heaving for ITB week

Halfway through the week, the unseasonally large dump of snow was not welcome, and the air took on a real bite. By the weekend, leaving the hostel (with Sauna and swimming pool) for anything less than free beer, was getting less and less appealing. Even the kind offer of joining a photo tour from pro photographer Katrina James made me wince. It was a great idea when the weather was pleasant. Now, on the wrong side of much feverish pitching, 3 hours outdoors sounded like a shocking way to spend Sunday afternoon. I could just imagine us skidding around on the polished icy pavements of Berlin, trying to operate cameras with numb fingers.

Snowy Berlin Photograph Snowy Bikes

But I needn’t have feared! Katrina was planning a photography workshop, not a city tour. Myself and some fellow bloggers spent a warm couple of hours with Ms James over coffee at Hulu bar, talking photographic techniques and artistic considerations. Photography is a lot more than just learning how to operate your camera, which I sometimes forget. But learning how to operate your camera definitely makes things easier.

Blogger Budget Traveller Kash Photo Berlin

Mr Budget Traveller lines up a photo with his very sexy Leica lens. Drool!

We covered some familiar photography issues; To digitally alter pictures, or not? Is it Ok to crop later, or a cardinal sin? Katrina likes to produce images that look like the human eye sees the world. But some photographers won’t publish any photo without editing it first, Jacob Morrow is one example.

Hulu Cafe Berlin Warschauerstrasse Cocktail Bar

Lime up for a cocktail at hipster Hulu Cafe

If your photography is art, then surely it’s Ok to refine it? Like a writer that edits and re-edits until they’re happy with the end result. If you prefer ‘realism’ then you can still edit without losing that – using focus softening and sharpening to draw attention to specific objects in a photo, or lightening and darkening certain areas for the same purpose.

Kottbusser Tor Platform Graffiti Berlin

Real nice colours from various scribblers

Edited Photograph Editing Photographs With Photoshop Lightroom

Evidence of the edit; More light on the station sign, less glare from the near wall, slightly stronger colours, correcting the white balance by decreasing the yellow levels

Putting the days thoughts to immediate use, our band of bloggers set about well and truly papp’ing the quirky hipster venue to death (including the hipsters).

Hulu Cafe Berlin Warschauerstrasse Cool Hipsters

Denim-Grey, Grey-Denim, Denim-Grey-Grey, Denim-Grey-Denim etc. The many guises of hipsters at cool Hulu Cafe

Hulu Cafe Berlin Warschauerstrasse Cool Hipsters

Bookish chic and library couture at Hulu Cafe

After that we carefully retreated to Plus hostel, to take advantage of interesting photography fodder there too. The Berlin hostel is huge, with loads of art on display and plenty of spaces to relax in – and did I mention it has a Sauna?

Light Boxes Art Installation Berlin Hostel PlusBerlin

Creative spaces at PlusBerlin

PlusBerlin Cool Hostel Berlin near East Side Gallery

The courtyard of PlusBerlin. Four floors of mega-hostel.

Here’s a few more photo’s that I took while we sheltered from snowy Berlin, taken with Katrina’s very wise words in mind. I’m paraphrasing but you get the gist!

What do you want to include in the photograph? I quite like blurry Jeanette in the background of this shot, but I could easily erase her (not a threat Jeanette) if I wanted, because the simple monotone backdrop is out of focus.

Budget Traveller Kash Bhattacharya Jeanette Kramer Photograph

Naturalism versus perfectionism: Erase or Intact?

Just as importantly, what aren’t you including in an image? For this shot of Jeanette I wanted to include her feet, as I asked her nicely to stand in the trough these Bamboo sticks were ‘planted’ in. However, my 50mm lens couldn’t get more in at the distance, but I actually really like the photo as it looks now too.

Jeanette Kramer Photographer Love And Passport

Bamboo, bamboo, Jeanette, bamboo, bamboo…

A timeless classic, the golden rule, the rule of thirds. If you haven’t heard of it, get googling. In this shot, Seb is along the right-hand ‘third’ line, and his features (eyes, mouth) are near the horizontal lines, which is usually pleasing to the eye. But this photo is actually made (or destroyed, depending how you feel) by a big happy Mario, larking about in the background.

Sebastien Canaves Boerner Mario Cacciolotto Birthday Photo

A shot from Seb’s birthday, somewhat conforming to The Rule Of Thirds

Thinking about Depth of Field – do I want more, or less? When there is plenty of light, it’s easy to increase the range of things in focus by upping the F-stop value you are using. And the better the lens, the wider the range of F-values it has (very generally).

Potted Cactus Small Depth of Field Focus

Sharp and Unsharp Cactus

And lastly, a photography tip that is easy to remember but very effective. People are used to seeing things from eye level – why not move the camera to give them a different perspective?

PlusBerlin Table Football Cool Budget Hostel Berlin

Reflecting on whether Table Football is the greatest game ever. It is.

So lots of great advice and things for us to think about from Katrina. She is an experienced photographer who can talk the basics or the finer points of photography, depending on what a group needs. I’d definitely recommend her Berlin photography workshop as a great way to explore Berlin with some friends, and improve your travel photos forever more at the same time. With over 10 years of wedding photography under her belt, her site has loads of great street photography for you to check out too – my favourite kind of snapping. So a big thank you to Katrina for hosting our workshop, and another big thanks to PlusHostels (and Jordi) for providing my accommodation for ITB (with sauna!). The staff were great, even whilst checking in a few coach-loads of Italian students at one point. The restaurant in the hostel serves brilliant grub and as I mentioned, there is plenty to explore inside the hostel too – from the pool and sauna to the rabbits and the resident artists who have a workshop in the middle of the courtyard.

Katrina James Photography Workshops Berlin Jaillan Yehir Jeanette Kramer

Jai and Jeanette teach Katrina something in exchange – how to use a touchscreen phone. Specifically, the back of a touchscreen phone. That’s just mean ladies.

So I gave you a few of my thoughts on photography – I’ve been meaning to do a bigger post making the case in favour of photo editing for a while – but what are yours? Is ‘photoshopping’ Ok in certain cases, is it never allowed? If you are totally against editing in post, why? More on the topic from me soon, but let’s hear your thoughts in the mean time.

Peter Parkorr