Looking Down on Germany – Tips for a Shift in Mentality of the Urban Photographers

I truly believe that in human mentality we have to keep making shifts of all kind, due to the technology’s progress. What wasn’t accessible 20 years ago now is there, inviting you, for a pretty low price. We, as photographers, should change our thinking, too, to make our photography to stand out. The difference between the long-term photographer and a tourist or enthusiast does not consist anymore in the gear, but in the unseen and perseverant passion that impacts every photograph we take. I want to share with you a vision-changing experience that I will always remember with enthusiasm.

So, when I visited Germany recently, I made an exciting sightseeing of a beautiful medieval city called Regensburg. Its history goes back to the Romans, who built here a town called Ratisbona. After the Romans left, the city knew its peak of success about the 16th century, when it was a very important commercial and cultural centre. This is the place where Johann Keppler lived and studied the astronomy, mathematics and physics. Nowadays it still has a well known university, and a very flourishing cultural life.

Crowded with tourists, there seemed to be no difference between them and myself. It was looking like a photography conference about urban photography. They chose the same spots like myself, and, by chance, even better ones. Like any experienced craftsman, we know that we are not afraid by the newcomers – except of the geniuses. We know that we can do better than them by choosing different moments of the day, different types of weather conditions, or try to find innovative compositions.

So I spent as much time as I needed to photograph Regensburg’s most famous buildings: the Stone Bridge, the St. Peter Dome, the painting of David and Goliath on the exterior of a 13th century building, the Old Chapel in Kornmarkt built in the 9th century and refurbished in a superb rococo style, cafes, narrow medieval streets, and the blue and peaceful Danube with all its ships. I tried to capture them in a less classic style, to make them be different than a tourist’s pictures. Thanks to my great guide I even climbed to the tower of an Evangelical church, to make some pictures from above. That was a good addition to the difference and impact of pictures, but not enough.

I was offered the chance to be the copilot the next day for a 90 minutes flight on a 2 seated motor glider, from Regensburg, Germany, to Sankt Johann in Tirol, Austria. This flight has helped me to have the revelation regarding how to take my urban photography to the next level. Because of the little room we had in the plane, I was allowed to take only one camera, one lens, and one filter, so I chose the Nikon D300s and the Nikkor 17-55 mm with 2.8, with the UV filter attached to it. I noticed that because of the short length at 55 mm I could compose comfortably. When the lens’ length was approaching its maximum physical dimension, the end of the lens had to stay outside, in the whole of the window, and it was blowed by the air with a very strong force, making almost impossible to photograph. I would not recommend a long telephoto lens if you are for the first time in the aircraft.

Or, if it is possible, I would climb in it and check if there is plenty of place to operate a big sized lens and camera. My personal opinion is that a 4 GB card would be enough for one hour, baring in mind that you will push the shutter with lots of excitement. If you are a raw shooter, you would also need your photographer’s vest, to have more cards at hand. The good news for the desperate coffee drinkers is that there is a place where you can keep your bottle so good coffee and great photography could go together very well.

The idea of flying in a small aircraft like that could be frightening for the beginner. Somebody told me after such a flight that it was nice, but he would not recommend it to anybody. I realized that too much thinking would make my mental condition worse, so I grabbed my camera, and started shooting. I did not have too much flexibility, being tied with the safety belts much tighter than in the ordinary airplanes. But it did not affect the excitement of being up, in the sky, and, of course, having a different perspective! In less than 10 minutes the Alps have appeared, giving an incredible and unforgettable scenic view. We were at a certain time at about 8-9,000 feet high, over the mountain called Dachstein (meaning stone roof), with a ground speed of 100 miles per hour.

Like in a cinema, the view changes all the time, and you would like to get rid of the safety belts and move everywhere like a child, catching the image that you always dreamed of. Obviously, the pastures are always greener at the neighbor – on the pilot’s side there were also beautiful views, and for the unique ones we had to change the direction of the aircraft, to be able to photograph them. During the flight we crossed the Alps, and we passed by the highest peak, called Grosslockner, having about 3,700 m.

The Austrian town where we stopped was impressive. I saw some buildings from the 13th century that had flowers painted on them in a traditional way that I did not remember to see elsewhere. It was a colorful place, and in its background it was sitting the Wilder Kaiser (meaning the savage king) mountain, as if it was placed there for the benefit of the visual artists. Seeing these wonderfully painted buildings I had to reconsider my preconceptions regarding the medieval people and the so called dark ages. On our way back to Regensburg, my guide chose a different route, and we were fortunate to see from above the Chiem See – a superb lake with plenty of boats sailing. There is located the Chiemsee Palace, and the monastery on a neighboring island. The palace was built by King Ludwig the second in the 1880s.

As you probably see, the title is just a play of words. I effectively looked down from the plane, and I was stunned by the sophistication and good taste of the German people. I would highly recommend a trip like this to any serious photographer. I see no reason why you guys wouldn’t fly above Paris, London or New York, and enrich your portfolio with images that would highly impress the people interested in your work. The price to hire a 4 seated plane is about 25 Euros for every 15 minutes, but a motor glider is even cheaper. One hour would be enough for a big city, for a start. I’m sure the next days you would repeat the flight in order to improve the pictures after learning from your few mistakes made in the first trip.

And don’t worry about the shaking of the aircraft! It is so stable (on a calm day) that you don’t even realize that you are moving. The most important thing you have to ask your pilot is if there is a whole in the window in order to make clear photographs. Otherwise the trip would be worthless. The second question would be if the pilot is happy and flexible to fly around certain places or buildings of interest, in order to secure you the right angle for the shot. Having said that, I assure you that you will live the most exciting moments of your life that will fully enrich your experience, and in addition to that you will also make some photos that you will always remember.