Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Milan, Italy

We arrived in Milan from Stresa and the contrast was fascinating...

The small almost sleepy village of Stresa lies on the shore of  Lago Maggiore, a beautiful lake with snow capped mountains in the distance and surrounded mostly by steep mountains. Milan on the other hand was a cacophony of sound & noise...especially on the Sunday when we arrived. There was some festival on with bands playing and stalls selling all sorts of things for charity. The streets near the Duomo were packed!

Our journey from Stresa was quite eventful. Instead of a short trip by train it ended in a long boring journey first on a bus and then by train. When we arrived at Stresa station our friendly taxi driver told us that the train would not be running because of some problem but that a bus will come and pick us up and drop us off at a station closer to Milan from where we will catch another train. Eventually the bus arrived with a very impatient driver that didn't speak a word of English. For some reason when we arrived at Sesto Calende we thought we had to disembark.  When we got to the station there was not a soul to be seen. I eventually found a station master and managed to find out that the next train will only arrive two hours later! Of course there was no cafeteria either....but all's well that ends well and we arrived in Milan only a few hours later than planned. BTW it has not been the first time that the train service in Italy has let us down...

When we arrived in Milan our taxi driver told us that we had picked a very nice part of town and that it was quite safe! We were quite surprised to hear that parts of Milan was considered unsafe.

Whenever I book a hotel in a strange new city I spend a lot of time looking at Google Earth maps to see where the Metro and bus routs as well as the mains sights are. Looking at Google Earth and Google street also gives me a good idea about the surroundings of my hotel, types of buildings, the facades, nearby parks etc which all helps in making the whole photography and tourist process easier. I try not to use taxis and prefer to walk so my hotel must be close to interesting and photogenic areas.

It would seem that we had picked well because our hotel was in a pedestrian area and about a 20 to 30 min walk from the Duomo which is in the center of the city.

After a quick 'power nap' I shouldered my camera bag and at about 5pm on the Sunday we braved the busy streets of Milan.

Our goal was to take a leisurely stroll and see if we could find the Duomo. 

I  like juxtaposing people and structures in my photography. Milan was fascinating in that, although it is the business capital of Italy, the structures are like those found in the rest of Italy. Many of the women were tall and thin and beautiful, often to be seen  in impossibly high heels walking over the rough cobblestone roads or gliding past on bicycles. So the people were interesting and the 'backdrop' had potential which meant that I could also do some 'street photography'

' Street Photography ' '

Wikipedia has the following to say about Street photography:

" Street photography is a genre that features subjects in candid situations within public places and does not necessitate the presence of a street or even urban environment. 'Street' simply refers to a place where human activity can be see, a place to observe and capture social interaction. the subject can even be absent of any people and can be that of an object or environment where an object projects a human character or an environment is decidedly human.

Framing and timing are key aspects of the craft, with the aim of creating images at a decisive or poignant moment. Alternatively, street photography may seek a more prosaic depiction of the scene, as a form of social documentary. "

and....." street photography is defined by its candidness :"

I love doing 'street' photography but I need a certain period of time to work up enough nerve to stick my camera into someones face. Our city streets back home in South Africa are much too dangerous for street photography and thus I don't really have much practice doing this. In Europe things seem a lot safer but I still prefer the relative anonymity and  'safety' of busy city streets to do that. By the time we got to Milan at the tail end of our holiday I had gotten some practice doing street photography. In Milan I had plenty of opportunity just because it was so busy and it seemed everyone had a camera anyway so someone like me pointing a camera at all and sundry wasn't  such an unusual sight. My usual technique is to sit and wait for the action to happen and let the people just 'walk' into my frame.

So we walked for a while until we came to the Via Torino area where we hit the crowds. From there to the Duomo it was very busy as all the cities in Europe seem to be. There were just lots and lots of people everywhere. So the scene was set for some street photography and the results of my first afternoon in Milan can be seen below.

We got back to our hotel at about 10h30 that last photo of the day was made at 10h15pm and the first photo of the day was made at 5h50pm earlier that afternoon. It was a busy afternoon...

All the photographs on this page was made with my Canon Eos 5d2 and the 24-105 L zoom lens. The combination is quite heavy but it is relatively compact as a travel camera because the 24 to 105 focal length covers almost 90% of my needs. From a size and noise point of view the 5D2 it is not ideal for unobtrusive street photography but with the noise of the city on this busy Sunday afternoon the noise was not that loud and there was not much I could do regarding the size of the camera and lens combo. But people did notice me and on quite a few of the photographs people are staring straight at the camera and I... But nobody complained or approached me and asked what I was doing...I was just a another tourist. 

The camera and lens focuses fast enough to capture the action. A proper zone focus camera like the Leica X1 would have been better because it allows one to 'shoot' from the hip without even framing which one would need for accurate focusing. The 5D2 has the joystick at the back of the camera that can move the AF spot through nine different areas but if one wants to pick up the camera and shoot there is often not enough time to still move the AF point around. Still, because my lens is known not to be that sharp wide open especially in the corners I mostly set the aperture to f8-f11 anyway and that helped with the focus and also with the somewhat soft corners of this lens. So my shutter speed was determined by the aperture, I almost always shoot in aperture priority, but in any case to freeze the action I usually set my ISO to 400 and higher. 

Is the 5d2 with the 24-105 L lens a good street camera? Well it depends. As a high quality travel camera it is superb and its no slouch at the street photography thing either although now that I have had the Leica X1 I would choose it over the Canon combo even though the image quality is not even close. For a small lightweight and unobtrusive and very very quiet camera the Leica is hard to beat...until one starts comparing prices,  and well then the Canon just makes so much more sense...

I processed all these images in Lightroom 4 and then ran them through Nik Colour Efex Pro 4, Lightroom plugin. I then applied various combinations of the 'Bleach bypass' filter. I do this because I like my photographs to be a bit more gritty with desaturated colours and this filter from Nik comes close and is quite easy to use. One has to watch the 'local contrast' slider' because it can sometimes have a strange edge effect. There are some plugins from Topaz etc that don't have this edge effect but overall it wasn't much of a problem with the images posted here today. On some of the photographs I would add some saturation back onto specific colours but I have no rules and just do it as I see fit. Sometimes colour works better than B&W and it is always a spot of bother to decide  but at the end of this series I will also show a collection of some images processed in B&W only.


Ivan Muller

My portfolio website can be seen here at

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