Hamburg cityscapes at night

An overnight stay in Hamburg enroute to Germany’s East Frisian islands was the perfect opportunity to search for some moody cityscape shots after dark. Armed with a few rolls of Kodak Tri-X film I went on the lookout for some striking scenes.

Over the Christmas break I flew into Hamburg from Madrid prior to taking the train to the East Frisian islands for a couple of weeks stay on the island of Langeoog (more shots of the island in a previous post here). I had never visited Hamburg before so I was looking forward to checking it out on foot. The city hails from medieval times and is famous for its harbour area (also known as the Port of Hamburg), with the city itself lying at the head of the estuary of the River Elbe. It is actually Germany’s second largest city after Berlin (with a population of 1.8 million), although you wouldn’t know from its aiport, which is considerably smaller than Frankfurt or Munich.

Geographical facts aside, given the time of year I was going to be looking at taking some nighttime shots, so I opted for a couple of rolls of Kodak Tri-X deciding to push them to ISO 1600 so I could shoot handheld (if you have no idea what ‘pushing film’ means, you can read an informative guide here). My plan was to check out the newly regenerated Hafen city area (apparently the largest urban regeneration project in Europe) as well the various Christmas Markets scattered around the centre of the city, which are some of the nicest I have seen in Germany.

All shots taken with my Leica M2 camera and for the most part paired with my Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 lens, with some taken with my Leica Summicron 50mm f2 lens.

A view of Hamburg Port from the St. Pauli district of Hamburg. The port is actually 110km from the North Sea, and is Europe’s 3rd busiest port. It was founded in 1189, so nearly as old as Hamburg itself. I really like how this shot came out.

The main Christmas market right next to the townhall in the centre of town.

Pushing film (in this case to ISO 1600) is very useful when you want to shoot handheld, but I do find it doesnt handle bright lights that well and they can become a bit over powering.

One of the many entrances to the Christmas market, which I thought was one of the best I have been to.

Yep, definitely too overpowering.

Funny how the light from the inside of the huts takes over the entire hut in one big white flash - I like the effect though.

White stalls and bright white lights.

I didn’t quite nail the focus on this one - a vertical shot of the Townhall.

One of the many food stalls, this time serving salmon cooked over flames as opposed to German sausages.

I like how busy this shot is and there is a bit of movement too. This would be impossible to shoot handheld if it were not for pushing the film.

It had rained and I like how there are reflections on the ground with the bright lights.

A view down the main shopping street.

Busy shopping for last minute Christmas gifts. This shot was taken with my very sharp Leica Summicron f2 lens.

The main Christmas market is a bit like a maze and it occupies the large square in front of the Townhall.

Completely blown out highlights, but I like how the shot came out.

Too bright, but you can get an idea as to how busy the market gets!

This is one of my favourite shots, I will definitely get it printed. I really like the glimmering lights and people with the backdrop of the townhall.

Moving away from the Christmas market for a walk around the Hafen City, plenty of opportunities for dark scenes with bright areas.

In the background you can see the Elbe Philharmonic concert hall, with one of the most advanced acoustics in the world. Despite the negative press surrounding its massive cost overrun, it is a wonderful piece of architecture. I did not get the chance to visit the inside, but woudl love to attend a concert there in future.

Walking down into the Hafen City I saw this really nice composition. I like how this shot came out.

The lights came out really too bright (as I was quite close to them shooting with a 35mm lens), but I like the overall composition.

The ‘Der Spiegel’ offices - you can just about read the name at the top. I am a big fan of street lighting reflecting off water in black & white photography.

I took multiple shots of this scene and the best one was this one, shot through the clear glass of an elevator shaft. I like the shapes and think it would have been too busy in colour.

Very eerie. I rested my camera on a ledge but didn’t quite avoid hand shake at a +2 second exposure.

I liked the fact that Santa Claus was sitting on top. It would have been better to take a few steps back to avoid such bright lighting, but I would have been in the middle of a busy road so that shot was not possible.

A view down one of the many waterways that makes up the Hafen City.

The individual lights in the buildings caught my eye in this scene.

Actually the same shot as previously wth the Elbe Philharmonic in the background, but taken from a slightly different vantage point.

I stumbled across this view just as I stepped out of the hotel, so in fact it was my first shot of the roll. I really like the pattern in the building.

Overall observations

I really enjoyed taking these shots, I went though 2 full rolls in not more than a few hours just wondering the streets around the centre of town. I knew the scene I was looking for, with the dark shadows and bright street lighting, and for the most part I got the result I was aiming for. Shooting at ISO 1600 enabled hand held shooting, but you still need a fairly stable hand as some of the darker scenes required under 1/15 of a second shutter speed and that is risky for hand shake.

I enjoyed the short walk through the very dimly lit Hafen City and can imagine this area with the right lighting at sunrise must be spectacular. The Christmas Markets were fun as always for a wonder around. I prefer taking bigger scenes of people and backgrounds as opposed to in your face street photography, and my aim was to get some shots that gave a good feel for the overall atmosphere of the market. I am glad with how the shots came out for the most part, although clearly very bright street lighting and signs do not work very well if you are pushing film.

I hope you enjoyed the night time walk around some of Hamburg’s main sights, and I really recommend this city for a weekend visit, I know I will be going back again sometime soon (probably when it is a bit warmer though, it was very cold after being in Madrid!).

See you next time,