Flights from Tbilisi to Prague tend to arrive at odd hours of the day – either very early or very late. Perhaps things are better now, but when I visited back in 2011 my flight landed at around five in the morning. I arrived at my hotel before six where, needless to say, my room wasn’t ready. I dropped off my carry on, pulled out my camera and went for a walk. It was 29th January. At the airport it was -14° C, in the city it was a balmy -11° C. Brass monkey weather. I had just arrived from Tbilisi where it was a tropical 6° C. Still, on this, my fifth trip to the city, I finally got some pictures that didn’t consist mostly of tourists.
First stop was of course Charles Bridge. Normally, the bridge is crowded with tourists, jazz musicians and sellers of souvenirs. On this morning it was empty other than one or two people who crossed in the twenty minutes or so I was there. The sun was just starting to warm the sky behind the old town and the colours were muted, almost washed out, in the soft light. Despite not being able to feel my fingers it was beautiful. Below is my favourite shot from that morning, an image that has served as my background picture on every computer I have owned since. I’ve also processed this a dozen different ways over the years depending on my mood. This is the current iteration.
Here are a few more taken on the bridge around the same time.
I stepped off the bridge to unfreeze my fingers and went down to the riverbank and into the Mala Strana district. There are good views of the structure of the Charles Bridge from here and its hard to beat cobbled streets and colourful buildings, particularly in soft morning light. The St Nicholas Church is a baroque monstrosity that squats in the middle of Malastrana Square, totally out of keeping is style and scale with the rest of the neighborhood.
The next day was a little warmer but grey and overcast, so naturally this was the day I chose to climb the south tower at St Vitus’ Cathedral and take in the view. I also took a few photographs and discovered the limits of the Sony NEX-5 I was using at the time. From time to time the sensor – or perhaps the processor – in the NEX-5 struggled to deliver good colour, or more specifically a good white balance. These kind of overcast days seemed to be a particular challenge and both the images below that show the view over the city have been worked over and reworked with all kinds of global and local adjustments to produce something usable. I’ve never yet managed to come up with something I actually like. I was surprised by this weakness in the camera since at that time I was also using a Sony A200 which produced some of the best looking pictures I’ve ever taken.
The next day the sun came out again and I went down by the riverside to take another shot of the Charles Bridge. I also took a couple of shots of the bridge and some of the old town buildings from the Legion Bridge, a little further down the river. I particularly liked the wider shot because of the bright reflections on the water.
Mostly I walked everywhere despite the cold, but I did take the metro at one point and grabbed a few quick snaps at the Mala Strana station.
Later that day I took a night time walk and made use of a feature of the NEX-5 that I can no longer remember much about. As I recall the camera took six shots in quick succession at a hand holdable shutter speed and then stacked them to create a properly exposed shot, though it only worked with jpegs and not raw files. I was sceptical but the shots turned out reasonably well, a little on the soft side but good enough. The softness was down to the camera defaulting to 6400 ISO when using this mode, which was a bit of a stretch in the distant days of 2011.
For comparison here are a couple of conventional shots I took as raw files and processed normally. These were shot at 3200 ISO and hand held at 1/15th. The NEX cameras did not have sensor based stabilization but the 18-55 kit lens I was using had optical stabilization that worked well. The first shot below is near identical to the second shot above and as well as the image stacking technology works I think the processed single shot raw file is much better. The second shot was taken in the Old Town Square with the striking Tyn Church in the background.
On my last day in town the snow came down and I walked from the Old Town across the Charles Bridge and along Nerudova to St Vitus’ Cathedral. Of these images I particularly liked the one of the cathedral with the snow falling and swirling in what I recall was a very cold wind. The result is more like a painting than a photograph, almost impressionistic.
With a very late night or possibly early morning flight there was time for one last evening stroll where I took yet another picture of Charles Bridge from the riverside, this time using my camera’s image stacking feature. It’s anybody’s guess when we will be able to visit places again, but it’s good to have photographic memories of times when the traveller’s life was simpler.