City from above: Looking down on Munich
Seeing a city from a different perspective can reveal abstract shapes and patterns that make strikingly unusual images. Photographer Robert Goetzfried explains how he captured his hometown, Munich, from above for his ‘Looking Down on Cities’ series and reveals his techniques for creating unique street photography.
“Wherever I go, my camera goes with me. My life and my pictures have always been entwined. When I travelled to Bangkok in January 2011, I had two things in mind. The first was to ask my girlfriend if she wanted to be my wife, and the second was to shoot a photo series.
I’ve captured images in many places – it's second nature to shoot the scenes I find around me. And especially those that mean a lot to me or mark landmarks in my life.
So when I thought about the visual concept for my “Looking Down on Cities” series, it seemed natural to choose a city which means more to me than most: Munich."
Capturing my hometown from a different angle
"Munich is Germany’s third-largest city and famous for a variety of reasons: football, Oktoberfest and white sausages, among others. It’s also the city I gladly call home, and I always wanted to capture ‘my city’ in my own way.
I asked myself whether the outcome of this series would differ vastly from my Bangkok series. After all, I have changed over the last four years – as a result of that trip I’m married now! But it was immediately clear I had to come up with something different from what street photography typically produces in order to make the series stand out.
That meant no portraits, no faces. It needed to be street photography v2.0: leaving human emotions behind, instead, focusing on their places in the scene at hand."
Lines, colours and patterns
"My work is usually very graphically oriented – straight lines, patterns. I like to photograph scenes and objects with clear order – I guess that’s a side effect of being a graphic designer in addition to a photographer.
I’m always thinking in grids, shapes, lines, patterns, and colours; I make pictures rather than taking them. The bird’s eye view has always held strategic importance to me as a photographer because it provides me the chance to see ‘the big picture’ of a specific setup from above."
"It feels like I actually have the power to adjust the scene just like I want it to be. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy – it means spending a lot of time waiting for people to enter a scene in just the right way for my shot.
Most importantly, I don’t focus on the people in the picture themselves; they are merely shapes in the photograph. It’s up the viewer to invent his or her own story about what’s going on ‘down there.’"
"In many ways the outcome of my Munich story was different to Bangkok, though I feel that it is the smaller details that reflect this, more so than the more obvious ones.
The people in the photographs wear different clothes, eat different food, drive different vehicles.
Where you might have a street food market in Bangkok, in Munich you might end up with a person walking their dog instead. I saw lots of people with pet dogs in Munich, whereas, in Bangkok the only dogs you see are street dogs.
Another thing I noticed was that the two cities have certain kinds of patterns on their streets due to different cobblestones and materials used. It's these little things that differentiate the cities, and the combination of them gives each story a different look and feel."
"For me it was a great experience to adopt this concept in my hometown. In the last 12 years I’ve shot a lot of pictures in "my city" and can honestly say that I was surprised how different and fresh the outcome was to me when I shot the ‘Looking down on Munich’ series.
I mainly stuck to a similar concept that my Bangkok series took, that's why I chose locations such as train stations and common meeting places for people. These are the places where all kinds of people come together and in big cities, where driving a car due to heavy traffic is very stressful, these places are the hubs of daily living. There is no group of people you can't find there – bank managers, travellers, dog walkers, city workers…"
"I try to create a visual world that parallels my own world. It's up to the viewer to create his or her own stories about the scenes and objects in my photos. This is a recurring theme in my work – leaving it up to others to create their own stories. And I know in some way they will."
Getting the most from my kit
"Of course I need great equipment and my gear has to be reliable to make sure I'm never missing out on an opportunity for a great shot. I shot this series with my Canon EOS 6D and my Canon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS USM. This lens is lightweight, provides a very flexible zoom range and creates outstanding image quality.
The EOS 6D allows me to push ISO very high and still delivers great pictures by doing so. I shot everything free hand without a tripod or anything else. Then it was just a case of time and patience."
Share your looking down images
Now you’ve seen Robert's unique street photography of Munich, why not try this month’s photo challenge and capture your own images of cities from above?
Looking straight down from a bridge or a balcony can make an everyday place look very strange and unfamiliar. Or you could concentrate on shapes, colours and textures that make an aerial street scene interesting.
Once you've captured your abstract images, upload them to our Gallery here