Train stations are not a super secret anymore for great photo opportunities. Nonetheless I want to present a series shot at the Wittenbergplatz in Berlin featuring some awesome winter light. If you believe that only the summer sun can create great contrasts then you should think twice and use every minute the sun is available during the winter. It might show more rarely, but there is something magical about the low standing light in winter.
Street Photography at Subway Stations
A constant stream of people
One thing that i like the most about train stations is the amount of people that pass by every minute. The streets are rarely populated, especially in the winter, but train stations are still a crowded place where a lot of people meet. If you are still uncomfortable shooting on the street then going indoors might be a great advice for you. People are also often in a hurry and won’t care if you take pictures.
Moreover if you are lucky and have an older station nearby you are able to capture great architecture by the way. The combination of historic buildings mixed with people and interesting light creates a unique playing ground for Street Photographers.
Extreme Light Conditions
Due to the old architecture the windows often don’t let much light into the scene. In contrast to modern big and open window fronts, back in the old days the main halls were designed very differently for subway stations. These design decisions combined with the outside sun creates halos around the people when directly photographed against the light. Thus generating silhouettes under extreme conditions, that wouldn’t be possible in outside light surroundings.
Shooting against the Light
To be honest, pictures like that don’t tell a comprehensive story, but if only shown the little details of the scene, it leaves a lot open for the viewer’s imagination. Balancing the act of not showing too much, but exactly enough to not “spoil” the spectator’s creativity can be a hard task. For a lot of people these pictures might be too dark, but in my opinion they show a magical and secret atmosphere where people are reduced to their outline. There isn’t much to be seen, but a lot to be told without showing it directly. Adding in the light as a highlight while shooting against the direct sun light can add to this effect.
It doesn’t take much for a picture to be interesting. Sometimes the negative space that leaves more of the image hidden in the dark can improve the visual effect more than having everything at the right exposure. For this kind of images I try to search for details that I can add to the foreground to fill the frame. The background is usually reserved for the light, so the only thing I need to look for is a person passing by or another interesting object to be close in front of the lense. Thankfully, subway stations are filled with people walking by, so it usually doesn’t take long to frame the picture you have in mind.
A last note in Color
While I am a big fan of Black and White Photos embracing the darker side of Street Photography, the subway station also works for color photography. The images might not be as extraordinary as the B&W images, but they are still unique in its own way. For the post-processing color works a little differently for me. Instead of carving out the high contrast, I like it a little softer in color with raised blacks and more of the scene to be visible.
The pictures were taken with the RicohGR exposed to the highlights. On the spot the pictures were underexposed to not blow out the light and reserving some room for editing in the post-processing. As you can see in the color picture, this technique works great and preserves the details in the shadows as well as the highlights. The very dark contrast style in the black & white pictures is more a result of personal preference than limitations of the camera.
It also shows what even such a small camera can be capable of, so you shouldn’t be afraid to search for such harsh conditions. With the right amount of underexposure you have a lot to play around in the post-production.
Hopefully you have similar stations nearby to try your luck and get images inside the building with some great light.
Also published on Medium.