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5 Easy Steps to Photographing a Historic Site – Spandau and Citadel

Here I am in Berlin and this weekend I took my group to the Citadel.  The Citadel is a fortress built in medieval times to protect Berlin in the borough of Spandau, which used to be its own little town. It’s positioned where the rivers Havel and Spree meet. It makes a nice half day outing from Berlin, and of course we found our way to a kaffee und kuchen place in Spandau afterwards.

At some stage on travelling adventures, we tend to look for historic sites to visit to add interest to our trip and gain a deeper understanding of the region. When I visit such sites, I always have my camera (well, duh!). I’m never focused on volume, but I am focused on creating pictures of personal value. Here’s my 5 step methodology to getting the pictures I want:

1. Gear – Minimal gear so this means one camera body and one lens. Today I’ve brought my 50mm F1.2. I want my mind focused on the place, not on my heavy pack and sore back.
2. Read – When I arrive the first thing I do is I read the information panel on the place. Sounds obvious, but I often see people cruise straight past that. It sets the scene and gives me a top level understanding of why the place exists at all.
3. Discover – I start to wander through, but I don’t madly start taking pictures.  I want to make pictures that capture the essence of the place, its spirit and reason for being. I can’t do that until I’ve understood its existence. Quite often I do the twice-over – the first time to absorb it, then the second time to take the pictures that will allow me to re-live it later.
4. Link – As I’m walking through, I recount the information I’ve read and start to link it with what I’m seeing in front of me. When the ideas/stories/evidence/narrative present themselves, then I click. The camera settings and image construction are used in tandem to express the ideas I want to talk about.
5. Ideas – One at a time. Each image has one thing to say. It can be a wide shot that takes in the lay of the land, a close up on a detail, the way the light falls, nature, the people, and so on.

Now go through the pictures here, and you’ll see how I was thinking about the Citadel as I wandered through it.

The Citadel building is well preserved, but there’s a lot of garden work to be done!
So I shot through the tall weeds to articulate that this place needs some help.

These statues once lined a prominent boulevarde in the city.
They were buried during WW2 for their own protection.
They did still suffer damage.
Now they are installed (and forgotten) here, which is a real shame
as their original purpose was to celebrate known figures in German history and culture.

Therefore, this pictures shows the statues behind the fence,
neatly lined up, but outside and cast off.

There’s only so much money to pay for upkeep.
So there is quite a lot of disrepair as you looking closely.

Closeups on the details and disrepair.

You can just imagine the horse drawn carts coming through here…and probably the smell too!

I love the light play in these areas.

I used to make daisy chains out of these flowers with my friends in the school yard.
The scent wafting up was gorgeous, and a cute little bee!

I’m back in my childhood, so I shoot closeup and fill the frame with the daisies.
The handy bee makes a great point of focus – he makes the hero of my image.

Wandering through, there are lots of elements to capture.
Here I loved the old, overhanging tree that forms a canopy for the bench.
And the doorway that leads inside. A bit of mystery.

I love isolating details, like the beautiful flowers, the pot they sit in, light fittings and doorways.
One idea at a time.

I wandered into a pottery studio.
I focused on a few key elements that make the space what it is.

And of course the light-play through the big, gorgeous German window.
(They know how to do windows in Germany.)

We came across this massive chestnut tree.
I shot straight up and filled the frame with its form and colour to express its vastness.

And then straight into a tiny detail to show how we humans use such a tree as a resource.

More weeds.

People can take photos as they like, but it’s not a photo-nerdy group at all.

These photos show the enjoyment and community feeling of my photo group.

Und den…and then…
Kaffee und kuchen (my favourite part).

God I love Germany.

This is a traditional Berlin drink called Berliner Weisse dating back to the 16th century.
At one time 700 breweries were making it, now just two in Berlin are left that still make it.
It’s a cloudy, sour wheat beer with either green or red syrup added.
If you really want to be a Berliner, then this is the drink for you.

It started to rain when we had planned to walk around the town, so I didn’t get photos of Spandau itself. But it’s a very well preserved place in classic German style. Such a lovely outing!

So there you have it – 5 easy steps to photographing at an historic site.  Next time you visit a place like this, slow down, think about where you are and the relevant history, then start to make pictures that reflect the meaning and value you are taking away from the experience.


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