Rowing perspectives: Frankfurt from the water

People always ask me what it's like to row at sunrise on the river Main in Frankfurt. To answer that question I took a cheap single use film camera out on the water with me, so come join me for a tour of Frankfurt from the water!

There is really nothing like rowing at sunrise, nothing beats it. At least that's my biased view, which I'm happy to defend. Whilst non-rowers are always puzzled (if not horrified) by the prospect of waking up before sunrise on the weekend, any rower will know that's just what we do. And for good reason too, not only do you get the flattest water, but in my case you pretty much get the whole river to yourself (contrary to popular belief, Germans are most certainly not early birds when it comes to rowing).

I have taken a GoPro camera out with me on the water many times, although mostly for filming my rowing. I have never taken out a film camera, and I thought this would be the perfect excuse.

About the camera

This being a film photography blog, I needed to have a film camera with me. However, given that  treasured cameras and water don't mix, I thought I would just buy a cheap single use film camera. There are a surprising amount different single use ("throwaway") cameras still available in Germany, I settled for a standard ISO 400 camera.

Product highlights:
  • ISO 400 Color Film

  • Built-In Flash with 13.1' Range

  • Automatic Flash Recharge

  • Fixed Focus Lens

  • Optical Viewfinder

  • Ideal For Outdoor and Indoor Conditions

  • Convenient One-Time-Use Design


Agfa's finest



About the photos

The idea was pretty simple, go for a row and take some photos. What I had not expected was the really crazy weather we experienced, namely fog, and lots of it! Lucky, I had the camera with me, albeit without the best lens or low light capabilities. Here are the best shots taken in order over a 90 minute row.

Early start. It was actually not that dark, but we can forgive a €6 camera for its lack of low light abilities. Also the flash did not fire, but we can just imagine this was on purpose to create the really cool silhouette.
The poor single use camera had no chance really, low light and fog in one scene, too much to handle! It did however render quite an artistic shot full of grain. With all this low light and grain I am not making much of an impression as to why it is a good idea to row early...good thing the shots improve!
Rowing into town. You can see Frankfurt's skyline in the background. The next set of grainy shots look really dated, I quite like the look actually! As I said, it became very foggy...
I wasn't joking when I said it was foggy. In fact it was a phenomenon I had never experienced in rowing on the river Main. The fog seemed to follow us as we rowed away from it, creating some really spectacular views. Luckily we had a full row in the bright sunshine, with the fog gathering around the centre of the city and for the most part away from the river (except for below obviously).
This is Lukas. Lukas also likes rowing early (unlike many of his fellow compatriots). Lukas rows at sunrise. Lukas is a winner. Be like Lukas.
And that is why we do it.
The Eisener Steg (iron pedestrian bridge built in 1868) overlooking Frankfurt's skyline.
Another shot of Lukas, this time with the ECB in the background. The light was really fantastic ,even though the camera doesn't really do it justice.
You can start to see Frankfurt being enveloped in fog, it really was an amazing sight.
So you can get an idea as to how slim a single sculling boat is.
An even clearer shot of the fog coming over the river and covering the city.
We row backwards, so this is what I could see when I turned around from the previous shot...wonderfully calm and flat water. And Lukas clearly enjoying the straight stretch.
Frankfurt fully covered in fog, you can't even see the top of the Commerzbank tower. You could see reflections of the sun on various windows. I was very lucky to have a camera with me.
Lukas taking a breather to enjoy the incredible sight of Frankfurt under a blanket of fog.
The ECB with the early morning sun creating really interesting reflections.
And the fog kept coming, this time appearing right around the ECB.
Big river barge parked next to the ECB on the row back. The Main is a working river and we have to contend with these barges when we row. The good news is that they are few and far between very early in the morning, and they also have reduced speeds through the city so their wash is not that bad. Some of them are very long though, as the one below!
Back at the club. This is the view from the pontoon, where there is a working wharf right on the other side of the river.
Lukas arriving back at the club with the fog (what was left of it) following us back.
I quite like the composition of this shot!
End of a fun outing, of course I am full of smiles. It suddenly got very foggy again as we finished. We were really luck we didn't get caught out, we were always rowing away from the fog!
Time to put the boats back. Quite a bit of flare in this shot too, I just need to manage my expectations on what a throw-away camera can produce!

Overall observations

Whilst this isn't a review of the camera, I must say I was pleasantly surprised with the images it produced. Largely because as a straightforward point and shoot camera it has automatic focus and light metering capabilies (set to manage ISO 400), which are usually most suited for bright daytime situations with more or less "standard" lighting. Rowing at sunrise is anything but "standard" with regards to lighting, with an extremely large dynamic range situation (meaning very dark and very bright parts of a shot). This is very evident from the "near sunrise" shots, which come out dark and very grainy. Adding fog to the mix was really quite unfair for this cheap & cheerful camera.

I hope you can see why we choose to row so early by some of the photographs, and we were even more lucky to be able to capture such a rare "Frankfurt in fog" phenomenon from the vantage point of the middle of the river! Maybe next time I will risk it with a better film camera, but for now this single use one did the job just fine.

Thanks for stopping by, I hope you now feel like either picking up a camera or jumping in a boat...see you next time!