Everyone has their favourite season for photography. I genuinely think that mine's winter. There's a simplicity to a snowy landscape - a good blanket of white covers a multitude of messy details. Although we had our first smattering of snow here in Kaltenberg today, it wasn't enough to write home about, and it certainly didn't settle, though the bone-chilling cold of November has meant that the ground would be cold enough to hold it. In the meantime, the Christmas markets will have to provide a welcome distraction.
Here in Kaltenberg they've been running a Grimm-themed market for a number of years now with fairytale creatures and scenes such as Frau Holle shaking out her bedding to make snow like above. I must admit, the story of Frau Holle wasn't one of the Grimm tales that I was familiar growing up, so I had to look it up. Wikipedia gives a useful synopsis if you're inclined to read it.
We've made an effort to get out of the house every day for a lunchtime walk. Usually we follow one of two circuits, the lower village or up around the castle. Last year at this time we were excited to watch the Christmas market being built up and the stalls were slowly being stocked and the lights set up. It was heartbreaking the day before opening to hear that the market was cancelled. This year they're making up for lost time and the stall holders are all very happy to see customers.
This year we were so excited when the market opened that we went every day for the first weekend. Entrance for most people is €10 per head, but village locals are allowed in for free. In case you're worried about getting there, there's a shuttle bus from Geltendorf station, much as for the jousting tournament. In the meantime we know one or two of the stall-keepers; the Senner (cheese-maker), the Dattelschlepper (dried fruits) and we're per du with the chap that runs the Schloßladen and it was fun to catch up with them between customers.
They've put a lot of effort into decorating the area and providing not just a fun atmosphere for kids, but a number of high-quality product stalls for gleaning the odd Christmas present.
Taking the slightly longer 12-100 mm lens let me get a few sneaky candids, like this girl and her mother following clues on a trail through the woods. If you do go, make sure you plan your visit to last into dusk at least (not difficult at the moment) as they really have put a lot of effort into the lighting decorations:
Of course there's Glühwein a-plenty to be had. Or Feuerzangenbowle. Or hot Aperol. Or hot chocolate with a dash of amaretto. We even saw a stall offering Glühbier. We avoided that one!
So what do you need to bear in mind when shooting Christmas markets?
Dress warmly of course.
Use a relatively fast lens (low aperture number) to maximise the light entering the camera - if you shoot into the darker hours you'll be dealing with low light. Keeping the shutter speed low minimises unwanted movement in the picture - whether camera or people - without pushing the iso too far.
Choose your lenses deliberately, whether it's your fast 'nifty fifty' or a flexible zoom.
Expose for the lights. If you have your camera in automatic mode, you will probably burn out the bright lights, which always looks ugly IMHO. Expose for the lights and learn to master the exposure compensation controls on your camera.
Shooting groups of people is ok, if you're taking photos of people who could be identified from the image you need their permission.
Be courteous to the stall-holders. Last weekend I saw a woman get right up into the merchandise with her smartphone, taking lots of lovely closeups but didn't interact with the lady behind the stand at all. These are also people trying to make a living and your photos of their handwork doesn't pay their bills. Buy a little something, or at least stop and chat with the people, don't just grab your shot and run.