Russia Photography Tips

When I first visited Russia around the year 2000 I brought 35mm film cameras.  How quaint that sounds now! Looking back at the photos from these cameras I think they had a certain timeless look and quality that can’t be easily replicated by digital cameras.

I’ve lived in Russia for a couple of years, through long hot +40C summers and freezing cold -40C winters.  Surprisingly, my cameras have worked well in all temperatures. In the extreme cold battery life can be shorter, and care must be taken when bringing a camera from a warm place such as a car, bus or house straight into the street( and vice versa), in case condensation gets into the camera.   I’ve never used the plastic bag trick to reduce condensation yet my cameras have worked perfectly.  I think this is because the air is dry and their is little humidity to cause condensation.

Overall, I think I am more at risk from the cold than my cameras.  The biggest risk in winter is falling on the ice which coats the whole country.  Russians are used to walking on ice but foreigners have little experience of this and can have a terrible time trying to stay upright. My advice would be to buy local Russian  winter fur lined boots, designed for walking in snow and ice.  These give much better traction on the snow and ice and are worth every penny.  I’m an Englishman who has rarely experienced temperatures at home less than about -5c, but I find that in Russia temperatures down to around -25c to -30c are bearable if I wear good winter clothes.  -30c to -40c gets slightly more difficult and becomes a little unpleasant if you stand around for any length of time, and after -40c you need serious clothes and preparation before going outdoors for any length of time.

Did you know that Russian school children are expected to go to school in subzero weather, and can only stay at home when the temperature is colder than -35C !

 

Russian camera Equipment kit list

 

What equipment have I used and is certified Russia proof  ?

Film cameras:  Yashica T5 (wonderful high quality lens, a cheap plastic body but produces excellent photos), Olympus Mju-1, Minox 35EL, Canon 500n.

Digital cameras: Canon A70,S50,G5, Ixus 500 (all great cameras), Panasonic FX-01 (noisy but small), Canon 400D and a variety of lenses.

Fuji F30 (wonderful camera, great battery, good lens, 6mp images that are crisp and clear).

The Canon 400D(DSLR) of course offers the best quality out of my cameras, but it’s a drag to carry around all day, and in many situations I really don’t want to attract attention by pulling a big DSLR out of my bag.  I find that the DSLR stays at home most of the time, whereas I can easily pop a digital compact in my pocket virtually every time I hit the street. Many people in rural Russia live in relative poverty and exist on only a few thousand roubles a month, so flaunting camera equipment that costs a few months of their salary isn’t wise.  In many situations and places you may well be safer and get better images by using a compact camera or even your cellphone camera.

 

Camera Security

 

Most Russians in tourist cities such as St Petersburg and Moscow will be used to foreigners wielding large expensive DSLRs and compact cameras, especially in tourist areas such as Red Square and other tourist attractions, and many Russians will be richer than you, so security should be reasonably fine in these places.  Problems can arise though once you wander off the beaten track.  Go to the Moscow suburbs and you would be advised not to flash a DSLR around, especially at night.  Other cities in Russia have relatively few tourists, and the locals might be surprised to see any foreigners.  In these situations my advice would be to go to the local food shop (produkti) and buy a couple of plastic grocery bags (carrier bags in UK English).  Put your DSLR inside one of these and the locals will assume that you are simply returning from shopping.  An alternative is to buy a simple cheap small day size rucksack, so that you look like a student.  Don’t try to look rich.  Don’t carry your equipment in a large branded camera bag that screams “steal me”.  You don’t want to advertise your gear to thieves!

On a few occasions when I’ve been taking photos in Russia, I’ve had people wander over to me to chat, but I find that by being friendly and speaking a little Russian helps a lot.  Once people understand that you are a foreigner (this won’t take long) they will usually be fine.

Incidentally, I do a lot more street photography in Russia that I do in the UK, as photographers aren’t treated with the same suspicion or contempt that we get at home.

 

Buying equipment and film supplies in Russia

On my last trip my digital camera (Fuji XF1) failed spectacularly thanks to a lens control error, leaving me without a camera.

I wanted to just buy a simple film compact camera but couldn’t find anywhere in my city that still sold film cameras.  It is possible to still buy film in Russia, but the price will be high and the choice is limited.

Digital cameras are on sale everywhere, and USB flash drives and SD cards can be bought easily, even at most supermarkets.

I eventually went looking for a new digital camera.  I did notice that out of the dozen stores I went into, they ALL only had the display model for sale.

 

Comments

  1. dimitry ushakov says:

    hi, fine to know about russia, i am of russian origin, russian is my hom idiom,surely i
    wouldnt go on the street with a dslr, i have a small film camera, by the way, if in
    strange environments, my tip is to use a small film camera, chrgeing batts for a
    digicam can be troublesome, but you get some film (in russia, russian film), thus
    no extreme curiosity from people, you get some batts for film camera, and
    a rucksack of populçar make) , speaking russian, you avoid plenty of trouble
    i never traveled to russia, but if i would , i’d be dressed like a local,
    have papers in my pocket, your friend dimitry

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