This page has been written for my American Internet friends in 2005, when digital was new for us and we were learning how to make panoramas for our flight simulators. But as it's a historic article, anyway, it may be of some interest even more than ten years later.
It's about my approach to photography and my habit of shooting casually while being on trips and journeys. Some of the best pictures resulting from this habit are shown below. These pictures and some more, along with many recent digital photos, are on the (ad-free) photo-sharing website PBase, where I chose the fitting name travelcam. Click on the button below:
I started photographing in 1969 when I was 18 years old. On occasion of some journeys, my father loaned me his equipment and provided me with films and some good advice. So I kept carrying a bag full of cameras and lenses and nearly always had a handheld exposure meter tied to my wrist, permanently measuring light to be prepared for shooting a picture. Obviously, it was an obsession preventing me from full enjoyment of the journey. Yet I made many nice pictures.
I not only aimed at having memories but also tried to make good pictures. If it was only about documenting a subject then lose no time and just shoot (remember I was prepared all time). But sometimes I thought there's a chance to make a really good picture, either when documenting a subject or only to catch the moment and atmosphere. In these cases, I spared no time and effort for the picture, even risking to be left behind by my fellows. Very rarely I went only for pictures. I maintained this habit until today and shot several nice pictures (or snapshots, if you like) during all my journeys. At least I like these pictures.
1969 was a special year. We had two school journeys, one to the USSR (at the very time when first men were on the moon) and one to Greece. The former journey was on account of a Russian language course we volunteered for, the latter due to the fact that our school was a classical high school. Between these two big journeys I was at vacation with my parents and brothers in Starnberg on a beautiful lake south of Munich. Only a few years later, in 1972 and 1973, I was in Prague with a couple of 'old' schoolmates. About 600 slides have been shot during these journeys, half of them good and the rest not that good. Very few I esteem as really good pictures by my means.
My father went to great expense buying all the films and frames and boxes. Thankfully I'm looking at the photos today, appreciating both the big effort and the big achievement. Those days' technology was quite advanced and made good pictures possible. Today's technology isn't that much better except it makes photographers life much easier and photography cheaper. That's progress!
At my disposal were two Super Paxette II BL 35 mm viewfinder camera bodies made by Braun in Nuremberg. They were small and lightweight, and they had vibration-free Prontor-SVS leaf shutters! (I managed 1/15 handheld without blur.) There were even built-in exposure meters, but I used a better handheld meter anyway. The viewfinder was a rangefinder as well, and I used that, but the parallax frames weren't really useful, so an additional rangefinder was put into the accessories shoe. It was a revolver type, having 4 lenses corresponding to the camera's lenses and a parallax adjustment. The uncoated lenses were made by Schneider, Staeble, Steinheil, or Enna, and had 35, 50, 85, or 135 mm focal length, respectively. Lens speeds were f/2.8 or f/3.5. Each lens was fit out with a hood and a skylight filter. Of course, there were no bayonet mounts but only M39 thread mounts.
One camera body was loaded with the standard slide film. At first, I felt as a German I had to use Agfa and I liked the colors (slightly to the red side). So all pictures in the USSR were shot on Agfacolor CT18 (50 ASA) and that was all about it. After that, I felt I had to use at least Kodak Ektachrome film since it had been used on the moon. (I couldn't afford a Hasselblad and Zeiss lenses.) My color taste had changed as well (kind of neutral or grey). The standard film was now Kodak Ektachrome EK19 (64 ASA).
It was supplemented by the then exceptionally fast (and expensive) EK27 (400 ASA) for indoor and night in the second body. (Back then Kodak used the German DIN scale for the film name, 400 ASA is equal to 27 DIN as well as 64 ASA is equal to 19 DIN.) Of course, the film was a bit grainy but there was just the alternative to have somewhat grainy night and indoor pictures or none at all. Nevertheless, I always carried a pocket tripod (which I still have today) and a cable release.
The slides were put between paper frames and square (50x50 mm) glass panes, which were glued together with four paper strips by means of a small gadget. Each slide was properly labeled and registered. (Today I can't imagine how I ever managed to do this tedious work.) 50 slides in a Leitz (Leica) tray were projected by a Leitz Pradovit Color projector with a Leica 90mm f/2.5 Colorplan lens (I still have it today) on a reflective screen. That was very impressive since the technical quality was already as good as today.
I had read a textbook about color photography, which was expensive and unusual in the 1960s. Of course, I kept the book as well. It was a shining example for me and it recommended slide film. That's why I used color slide film and always strived to shoot technically correct. After all the picture is done when you have pushed the shutter release. And that in turn is why I had an exposure meter in my hand and why I tried hard to find the right focal length and view.
Nearly ten years later, in January 1983, I felt the need for an own camera that suited me better. After some aimless experiments with my father's first SLR (M42 thread mount Pentax Spotmatic F), I decided to go high quality. So it had to be a Nikon because that was the professional's brand at this time. (My father later switched to Minolta, which was not bad either.) I was sober and lucky enough to decide for some of the best items Nikon made back then. Now I myself went to great expense and bought a Nikon FM body with 85mm and 35mm f/2.0 AI-s lenses. The FE had already been on the market but I didn't trust the new automatic exposure and didn't want it either because I was so experienced with manual exposure. And I was sure that I didn't want a 50mm lens because I had rarely used this focal length. The salesman was quite astonished at my refusal of both automatic exposure and 'normal' focal length, but I never regretted.
Each lens was complemented by a matching hood to avoid flare, and a 52mm filter to protect the front element of the lens. They were all original Nikon to avoid vignetting and to have a matching coating. One filter is a slightly pink skylight (L1Bc) filter because I always liked it for color film. I even have a mild amber (A2) filter but rarely used it. For both, the hood belonging to the lens is needed. Most frequently used was the excellent Nikon linear polarizer, which helped a lot to reduce reflections and haze and get better contrast and color with both lenses. It has a special hood that is adaptable just to the focal lenghts of my two lenses. For occasional use I bought a used FR-3 right-angle viewing attachment and a cable release.
This acquisition was a complete success. For me, the new equipment was sort of a revelation. The optical quality was excellent even at full aperture. SLR meant "what you see is what you get", for me when finding the right view and focus, and for the exposure meter (now even center-weighted) when finding the right exposure. All settings could be done much simpler and faster than with the old cameras, even changing lens was easier with the bayonet mount. I had a smaller camera bag than before and enthusiastically carried it for several years.
But more and more I got lazy and felt hampered by the camera. I left it at home and did not shoot anymore, until in 1997 I bought a Nikon ZOOM 600 AF pocket camera - quite small and lightweight, fully automatic including focus, and with a 38-110mm zoom lens and a flash. Though the lens speed is not really good, this camera works really well in normal snapshot conditions. Handling is very easy, size and weight are acceptable, and the automatic functions work quite reliably.
In 1999 I finally bought a quite expensive Nikon COOLSCAN III (LS-30) film scanner. My main concern was about saving my father's and my own old slides before they faded away. I had to learn at least two things: Scanner technology was not nearly able to match film quality, and the slides weren't fading at all. Indeed, negative color film only a few years old was fading away, but not suitably stored slides. Of course, the LS-30 is a very good scanner and very high quality is not needed for electronic images. But it's impossible to preserve the whole content of a slide by scanning it. Besides, scanning is a non-trivial art of it's own and became a hobby in addition to shooting. So I was a bit prepared to shoot with digital cameras.
This is one of my favorites, if not the favorite. It's like a painting and an example of my way of taking pictures (not snapshots): more or less by chance ('accidentally' would be the wrong word).
It was a warm and bright morning early in October 1973 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. If I remember correctly, we were heading for the western part of the city and crossed the famous Charles bridge. Nearly at the end of the bridge was this mill. It wasn't the first time we passed it.
But this time I noticed the subject and stopped. Leisurely I measured exposure, chose point of view and viewing angle in the viewfinder, changed lens (those with a thread, not bayonet mount), set aperture and timing, pointed and shot.
It was the right moment (by chance, but I noticed it), and there was all the time needed. There had been nice late-summer weather for a week, with foggy mornings and hazy days. The colors of autumn and the light were beautiful. The scene is perfectly lighted and structured to show this atmosphere.
The colors of the Kodak Ektachrome EK19 (64 ASA) slide film are adequate to this scene. The picture looks really nice when projected, but on a computer monitor it was not as nice.
I scanned the picture several times, in the first place with 'hardware' resolution of the scanner and letting the SilverFast Software do its automatic optimizations. I was never satisfied with the results. Recently I noticed that SilverFast clipped a considerable part of the brightness histogram.
Still I prefer to scan at maximum generic resolution (2700 dpi), but now without changing brightness and colors. Only later, picture size is reduced using Panorama Tools with the nearly lossless Sinc256 interpolation method. At one go, the picture is corrected to cancel some pitch and roll in camera alignment so vertical lines are vertical again. The undistorted picture is then cropped to maximum rectangular size and finally again shrinked to a smaller size, if wanted.
In the scanning process, the new ACR (Adaptive Color Restauration) tool in SilverFast was applied. The lower left part of the picture now has more and brighter colors. There's some blue in the shadows and more red in the sunny parts, what would be expected. Now the picture looks just very pleasant.
Fireworks in Starnberg, summer 1969.
The camera was clamped to a pole using the pocket tripod. The shutter was opened with a cable release as long as a firework was in the air and then closed. Aperture was estimated but is unknown today.
These images did not need to be enhanced in brightness or colors, but they were scanned 16 times to reduce noise (with the designated function of the SilverFast scanning software).
This must have been red fireworks. The scene is eclipsed by the bright red light giving an effect similar to solarization. The dark corners could be just dark sky and water and not vignetting; at least I think so.
This was not so bright, instead colorful fireworks, the different colors reflected by the water.
Fort Bourtzi offshore of Nafplio in the Peloponnese, 1969. Bourtzi blocked the harbor of Nafplio with a chain. For a long time, Nafplio was an important town. [Google Earth placemark]
The Temple of Poseidon at the peninsula called Cape Sounion southeast of Athens, 1969.
This detail picture has been undistorted and enhanced after scanning.
Characteristic picture of a traffic policeman in Athens, 1969.
Hvide Sande (White Sands in English) is actually a big sand spit on Denmark's west coast. In late 1987, we were at Christmas vacation in a well-known little town south of this special place. The churning North Sea made the beach look like boiling. The air was damp and hazy, the sun shining through it from the south.
This color photo is similar to the first fireworks picture in that it looks somewhat artificial. It has been merely scanned but not "corrected" in any way (exposure, color, noise) because it renders the unusual atmosphere just as it is. [Google Earth placemark]
Beam engine in Cornwall, summer 1997.
These engines were steam engines built in the 18th and 19th century for the tin mines below them. The engines had vertical beams moving up and down in the shaft. The miners had to climb up or down alternately stepping from a platform to a step in the beam and back to another platform. Read here about the "man engine" and how it worked.
The image was undistorted using Panorama Tools.
Mdina is the ancient capital of Malta at one of the highest places on the island. There's an amazing view over the whole northern part of the island down to the main harbour in La Valetta.
In February 1997 we were at vacation on Malta and visited Mdina several times. There was a nice café right on top of the city wall (to be seen below the rightmost steeple). While sitting there, we observed several buses with tourists stopping at a certain place below. I thought this must be the perfect photo shooting spot, if so many people come here, and obviously it was. The image was slightly untilted with Panorama Tools. [Google Earth placemark]
Antona is a village at the slope of a deep valley in the Apuanian Alps. These mountains go up to nearly 2000m and belong to Versilia, part of Tuscany, Italy. Antona is located 420m above mean sea level and here seen from Altagnana, located 100m lower at the opposite slope.
It wasn't a strong storm, but it was an exciting atmosphere. Late August 2001 at the mole of Forte dei Marmi, Italy. The town's name means Marble Fort, erstwhile guarding the marble shipping on the mole. Versilia is the landscape along the shore and it's part of Tuscany. The white tower to be seen through the spray (on the horizon about one quarter from the left margin) is near the port of Carrara, the town the famous marble is named after. [Google Earth placemark]
Portovenere, Italy, seen from a boat. Through the strait and then to the right is the steep coast with the famous Cinque Terre (Five Territories), actually five small villages of fishermen and maybe also pirates. The fort safeguards the strait to a wide bay. [Google Earth placemark]
Viareggio, Italy. The town is a beautiful old spa and known for it's carnival. This isn't a stitched panorama but a 35mm wide-angle image cropped at top and bottom. [Google Earth placemark]
December the 29th 2007 was a nice cold day with interesting light. This tree is called the Mozart Oak because Mozart liked to stop off in the nearby Seeon monastery on his journeys. Picture shot with the D40, my first DSLR. [Google Earth placemark]
January the first 2008 was a cold day with a special atmosphere at the shore of lake Chiemsee. The D40 was able to reproduce most of the light and contrast. [Google Earth placemark]
March the ninth 2008 was not cold but a bit hazy, making for a "graphical" picture, its depth shown by different shades of grey. The stakes in the foreground belong to the harbor of Gstadt, the island in middle distance is the Fraueninsel (nuns island), and in the background are some Alpine mountains. Again Chiemsee, just another place. [Google Earth placemark]
May the 15th 2008 was a very nice spring day, the burgeoning nature around the little church in Ettendorf seeming like praise of God.
The software Panorama Tools has been mentioned several times above. I used it to correct lens and perspective distortion. It's still great but has actually no user interface. That's why I'm using PTLens for a long time now. It's so much easier to use and still based on Panorama Tools, hence the name. It's offered by its author for a very reasonable fee. Click on the button below: