Inside the abandoned Suedbahnhotel Semmering

If you've been reading my blog for a while you know that I love to photograph inside abandoned buildings.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to photograph inside the abandoned Suedbahnhotel Semmering and it was unlike any other abandoned place I've been before.

Semmering is a climate health resort in Austria, south of Vienna, at the border of Lower Austria and Styria, about one hour from Vienna by car or by train. 

5 Things to know about the Suedbahnhotel Semmering

The Suedbahnhotel was built right near the South Railway Track (in German: Suedbahn) that originally connected Vienna, Austria to Triest, Italy. Though Triest is situated in today's Italy, it once belonged to the Austrian Empire until the end of World War I in 1918. (If you're interested in history, here's an old map of the Austrian Empire)

Semmering was a popular vacation spot for the bold and beautiful of the Austrian Empire back in the late 19th and early 20th century because it was easily reachable by the newly built South Railway Track.

After the track was finished, the corporation started to build a number of hotels along the track. The Suedbahnhotel was one of them and finished in 1882 and quickly the Viennese upper class circles flocked to the place until the beginning of World War II.

After World War II, the hotel was reopened, but it could not continue the success it had before. The hotel was kept open until 1976 when the last guest checked out. Since then, the hotel was abandoned and only used occasionally as a theatre between 2000 and 2010 during summer months.

Though it was abandoned in 1976, the interior is still intact. In fact, the word "abandoned" does not do any justice to this gem. I believe that the term "sleeping" is more accurate. If you have some money in your account, you can even buy this sleeping beauty.

Inside the Suedbahnhotel

I've been to a number of abandoned places, from the abandoned sanatoriums in Beelitz to the remains of Pripyat in Chernobyl. But so far, I've never seen an abandoned place like this. There are still wallpapers, chimneys, beds, chairs, tables and lockers inside the rooms. I even found a piano on one of the floors.

The rooms are quite huge given how old the hotel is. Two rooms shared a bathroom and a toilet and, just in case a huge family or noble person checks in with their staff, several rooms have connecting doors. 

inside-suedbahnhotel-semmering-chimney.jpg

In one of the rooms with connecting doors I got this shot using Slow Shutter Cam and I call the shot  "Schrödingers Door". Is it open? Closed? Or both?

inside-suedbahnhotel-semmering-schroedingers-door.jpg

According to the guest list, the hotel was also visited by a number of familiar faces like Prof. Dr. Siegmund Freud and musician Gustav Mahler. I wonder in which rooms they slept. Was this the room of Prof. Dr. Siegmund Freud?

inside-suedbahnhotel-semmering-room-with-a-bed.jpg

Located on the ground floor is a huge lounge with a beautiful dining- and ballroom. Upstairs is another, smaller, ballroom. Both are totally intact and amazingly beautiful.

inside-suedbahnhotel-semmering-ballroom.jpg

However, take note that this is not a classic lost place. There's no way to enter and quite some heavy security and surveillance there. But if you have a good concept for e.g. a photo shoot, you may want to contact the caretaker at http://suedbahnhotel-semmering.at and see if there's a chance to get inside. I've seen a few fashion shootings that were done there. The ballroom upstairs is also a quite good place for such photos

inside-suedbahnhotel-semmering-waldhof-ballroom.jpg

Photographing inside the hotel

Whenever I visit an abandoned sleeping place, I usually do that well prepared and wearing proper clothing. In case you're interested, you can check out and interview about how I prepare on Mobiography. But as the hotel is in exceptionally good condition, that was simply not necessary. 

I took all the photos inside using my AmazonBasics Travel Tripod with the Joby Griptight Mount Pro. I prefer to use the Griptight Pro iPhone tripod mount whenever I need my iPhone mounted to the tripod for sometime like when I explore such places.

Light was quite interesting inside the hotel. Because of the huge windows inside the rooms, I could use natural light and I didn't have to use the ProCamera LowLight modes that I normally use inside dark abandoned places. Instead, I turned to ProCamera HDR with the natural preset.

For the "Schrödingers Door" shot, I used Slow Shutter Cam App.

Back home, I ran each shot through Adobe Lightroom Mobile (I'm a Creative Cloud Subscriber) [iTunes App Store Link] and uploaded the photos directly from there to Instagram and Flickr.

Blue Hour Calculator for iPhone Photographers

Light is a crucial factor in photography. During the day, light comes in different hues that you may not sense with your naked eye but your camera sensor will and thus will make your photos look different.

In simple words, the light that you get from morning to evening has four different characteristics depending on the time of the day.

It all starts in the morning right before sunset with a blue hour that is followed by a golden hour right after sunrise when the sun is still low on the horizon.

Before noon and in the afternoon you'll have soft and warm light that's ideal for portrait & people photography. Around noon, the light is hard and harsh.

In the evening it all starts with the golden hour again, followed by a blue hour.

To totally confuse you, the golden and blue hours don't actually last for an hour. They can be a lot shorter or longer depending on the time of the year and your geographic location. In December, for example, the blue hour around the polar circle can last for almost 24 hours. Here's a shot of the North Cape statue in Norway that I took around noon back in 2007, when I still used a DSLR. I took it in december. At -5F.

North Cape Statue in Norway photographed with a DSLR back in 2007

North Cape Statue in Norway photographed with a DSLR back in 2007

But you don't need a DSLR for taking photos during the blue hour. Here are some more sample shots that I took with an iPhone during the blue hour in Vienna, Minsk and Tirana.

The Johann Strauss is the oldest vessel that served in the Danube Steam Boat Corporation. It was put into service in 1863 and now decays and waits for its final journey. Photo taken at the beginning of the blue hour

The Johann Strauss is the oldest vessel that served in the Danube Steam Boat Corporation. It was put into service in 1863 and now decays and waits for its final journey. Photo taken at the beginning of the blue hour

Liberty Square in Minsk, photographed minutes before the blue hour ends

Liberty Square in Minsk, photographed minutes before the blue hour ends

A mosque in Tirana, Albania photographed during the blue hour

A mosque in Tirana, Albania photographed during the blue hour

I particularly like the blue hour as it results in a dark and deep blue tone in the sky that looks pretty fantastic with a few clouds in it. I recommend to try and catch the few minutes right before the blue hour ends when the sky has a very dark blue, almost black, tone.

To plan ahead and get to know when the blue hour starts and ends, there are a number of tools available that you can use right on your camera (iPhone ;). Here are two of them that I use.

ProCamera App Widget

If you already own ProCamera, an iPhone camera app that I use quite a lot and recommend, (read my review of ProCamera) you get a free widget with it that will tell you the time of sunset and sunrise as well as the beginning and end of the blue hour as well.

To access the widget:

  1. Pull down from the top of the screen to show the Notification Center
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and tap "edit"
  3. Under "More Widgets" find the "ProCamera" Widget and tap "plus", then tap Done in the upper right corner of the screen
Adding the ProCamera widget to your notification center

Adding the ProCamera widget to your notification center

Now, locate the widget that you've just added. You may need to tap "Show more" inside the widget and it will expand showing you the time of sunrise and sunset as well as the time when the blue hours begins and ends at your current location like in this screenshot.

ProCamera Widget displaying begin and end time of the blue hour

ProCamera Widget displaying begin and end time of the blue hour


Sun Surveyor App

If you want more sophisticated information, including how shadows will fall during the day, I recommend to check out Sun Surveyor iTunes App Store Link. This handy little app will help you with a lot of things like:

  • Finding the Sun and the Moon using augmented reality
  • Exact times of sunrise, moonrise, sunset, moonset
  • Exact times of blue hours and golden hours in the morning and evening
  • Showing photo opportunities of e.g. full moon, crescent moon, visible milky way
  • Showing and predicting how shadows will fall at any time of the day
Sun Surveyor provides lots of details about the blue and golden hour

Sun Surveyor provides lots of details about the blue and golden hour

At the bottom of the screen are two panels. Swipe left or right on the one at the bottom to see a visual representation of sunrise and sunset as well as the blue hours. Swipe the panel right above this one to get the exact time of the blue and golden hours.

It's a pretty sophisticated app that you can use to predict everything I mentioned above at any location in the world at any time of the day.

Review: Shoulderpod S1 iPhone Grip with Wrist Strap

If there’s one thing I miss from the DSLRs or compact cameras I used it’s the wrist strap. We iPhone photographers can buy all kinds of fancy accessoires like lenses, rigs, flash lights and so on, but I haven’t found any decent case that supports wrist strap.

Being able to attach a wrist strap to an iPhone case would make me less prone for a heart attack if I’d accidentally drop the phone.

When I had an iPhone 4, I found HipstaCase to which I could attach a wrist strap. The next case that would allow me to attach a wrist strap was the Moment Case for the iPhone 6 and 6S. But it seems that Moment is not releasing an updated case for the iPhone 7 and iPhone plus models.

So I bought another solution: The ShoulderPod S1 [Amazon Link]

 

ShouldPod S1

It's basically a “stick”, 6 inch long and with a diameter of 1 inch. It comes with two clamps that will hold your iPhone.

The clamps are opened and closed using a thumb screw at the top and it works with smartphones of almost all sizes. Even with the big iPhone 7plus I use. The clamps have a layer of thick rubber on them to avoid damaging the precious phone and they’re big enough so I don’t need to remove the Apple leather case.

ShoulderPod S1 iPhone Grip with Wriststrap

ShoulderPod S1 iPhone Grip with Wriststrap

 

It comes with a broad and long wrist strap that’s attached to the lower quarter. The wrist strap is long enough to allow me to comfortably hold the iPhone for taking pictures.

And, if you unscrew the bottom part, the ShoulderPod S1 doubles as tripod mount that works great as long as your tripod has a standard mounting screw like the AmazonBasics Travel Tripod or the Joby Gorillapod.

Unscrew the bottom part and the ShoulderPod S1 works as a Tripod Mount

Unscrew the bottom part and the ShoulderPod S1 works as a Tripod Mount

If you’re following me on Instagram you may have seen that I went on a snow shoe hike at the Rax, a mountain range near Vienna. I used the SholderPod S1 there together with a pair of smartphone gloves [Amazon Link]. This combination makes photographing in cold conditions with an iPhone bearable.

As I'm a righty, I prefer to attach the ShoulderPod S1 on the right side of the phone.  This way, I can easily reach the shutter release button of any camera app.

The ShoulderPod S1 is a handy little accessory for every iPhone photographer. 

Review: ProCamera App for iPhone - An Overview

I first stumbled upon ProCamera a few years ago looking for a camera app that would allow me to set shutter speed and ISO manually. I was used to shoot in A-mode using my DSLR. A-mode basically means that I set the aperture manually and the DSLR would choose the ISO and shutter speed automatically.

That’s when I found and started to use ProCamera. Not only does it offer a manual mode to adjust shutter speed and ISO manually, but it also has priority modes where you set either shutter speed or ISO manually and the other setting is automatically determined by the app. 

Over time, the developers continued to improve ProCamera. They added an HDR shooting mode and even a dedicated mode for low light iPhone photography and so ProCamera became what it is today: A pro camera app for the iPhone that works equally well as a point and shoot camera app and as a camera app offering a vast range of manual and semi automatic controls and settings.

In this ProCamera review I’ll introduce you to the basic features, concepts, user interface and a recommended way how to learn to use the app.

 

ProCamera Features

The name “ProCamera” is well chosen. I can adjust all aspects of the iPhone camera with this app. But still, I can use it as a point and shoot camera app if I want. So here’s what you can do with ProCamera app:

  • Set exposure and focus separately
  • Lock focus and exposure
  • Set exposure compensation from -7 to +7 (basically fine tuning the exposure)
  • Shutter and ISO priority mode; Set either one manually and let the app chose the rest. Perfect for difficult light
  • Set flash on/off/auto
  • Complete manual mode
  • Rapid fire mode; take lots of photos in a short period of time. Perfect for getting the perfect shot of subjects in motion.
  • Adjust white balance
  • Anti Shake shutter release. This will trigger the shutter release only if you hold your camera still.
  • Tiltmeter to show if you’re phone is level; no more crooked horizons
  • Save photos as JPG, TIFF or RAW.
  • Self timer up to 30 seconds (compared to only 10 seconds of the stock camera app)
  • Primary and secondary shutter release buttons. I love this one!
  • Different HDR shooting modes (3 shots, 5 shots, manual modes, low light HDR mode)
  • Special low light modes for low noise photos in low light
  • Volume button shutter release
  • Full Screen trigger
  • Automatically embed copyright info in each shot
  • Record Video
  • Selfie Mode
  • Support for switching iPhone 7plus wide angle/zoom and to dual mode
  • 4 different composition grids
  • EXIF viewer that’s also available from the photos app
  • Automatically add copyright EXIF to each shot
  • Stores geo location including heading (!)
  • RAW development
  • Editing function for brightness, contrast, exposure, saturation, color temperature, sharpen, curves
  • Filters
  • Cropping

That's quite an impressive feature set, isn't it? 

 

The ProCamera User Interface

At first impression, the ProCamera user interface may seem cluttered. Start at the bottom area of the screen.

Main controls of ProCamera app at the bottom of the screen

Main controls of ProCamera app at the bottom of the screen

It contains a link to the (1) camera roll, (2) mode selector, (3) primary and (4) secondary shutter release and (5) settings.

Tap the mode selector (2) and a new panel will appear that contains all the shooting modes of ProCamera app. Slide left and right and tap to select the shooting mode. Depending on the selected shooting mode, the main shutter release (3) will change. In the screenshot above, it's set to low light mode.

You can adjust the order of the shooting modes by force pressing on supported iPhone models and then drag a shooting mode around and order them to your liking. My order is set to match the modes I use most: Photo; LowLight+, HDR, LowLight, Video and Selfie.

If you own an iPhone 7plus, you'll see a "1x" and "2x" selector to select different zoom modes. But be careful. Those zoom modes work like the ones from the stock camera app; selecting 2x does not necessarily switch to the zoom lens. It just tells the iPhone that you want to take a zoomed shot and if the iPhone software determines that a digitally zoomed 2x shot will look better, then it will use the wide lens and zoom digitally. 

But ProCamera wouldn't be a pro camera app if it would not offer a switch to make sure you use the zoom lens. I'll talk about that in a minute.

ProCamera has two shutter release buttons (3) and (4)). The primary one is the “big” one in the middle that matches the currently selected shooting mode. The second one can be set to either “Anti Shake” or to “Self Timer”. In the above screenshot it's set to "Anit Shake". If you've set it to "Self Timer", taping and holding the self time shutter release will bring up a slider that you can use to adjust the time for each shot.

 

ProCamera Low Light shooting modes

ProCamera has dedicated modes for low light photography. I’ve written an entire post about this mode. Those modes basically take a number of shots and combine them into a bright and low noise photo. More is in the review of ProCamera Low Light Modes.

 

Pro Camera HDR modes

My feelings and experience are a little mixed about HDR and I don’t use it that often. Especially in scenes with e.g. a bright sky and a dark landscape, the automatic modes failed several times. So I’m using more the manual modes. But that rquires some paractice.

 

ProCamera settings

ProCamera app has dozens of settings in two groups; settings for different shooting modes and the app settings itself. I'll start with the shooting mode settings. For now, I'll cover the settings for different shooting modes. 

Tap the menu icon at the right at the bottom of the screen.

Settings for different shooting modes in ProCamera

Settings for different shooting modes in ProCamera

Depending on the selected shooing mode, you'll see less options than in the screenshot above. Each setting here works as a toggle switch. If a setting is white, it's turned off or set to auto. If it's green it's enabled. Tap any item to switch between different settings or to turn it on/off.

Recommendation to get started

ProCamera comes with so many things it’s difficult to get started so here’s my recommendation  to get started

  • Start in "photo" mode and learn how to set focus and exposure manually. Then switch to manual and to priority modes and learn how to use them.
  • Continue with "Low Light Modes". Check my review for an introduction on how to use them.
  • Experiment with HDR modes. Try manual HDR modes.

But first:

Review: Moment Lenses and iPhone 7plus

If you’ve been following my blog you know I’m a fan of the Moment lenses and used them since they hit the market. I have both, the wide and 2x zoom lens. Those high quality glasses are the best lenses for the iPhone for the iPhone I’ve used so far. Check out my reviews of the Moment wide lens and Moment 2x tele lense here in my blog.

But as Apple changed the form factor for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7plus, the existing Moment mounting plates and the Moment case (read my review here) do not fit any more.

But Moment reacted quite fast. As soon as the iPhone was out, they put a an iPhone 7 status page online and kept their customers informed about if and how the Moment lenses will work with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 plus. That’s what I call transparent customer information.

There’s no Moment case for the iPhone 7 or 7plus yet. So I ordered the mounting plate for my iPhone 7plus and I got it today. Here are my first impressions.

Moment mounting plate on iPhone 7plus

Moment mounting plate on iPhone 7plus

 

Moment Mounting Plate for iPhone 7plus

iPhone 6/6S/6plus/6Splus users have two options to mount the Moment lenses to their iphones. Either by attaching a plastic plate with an adhesive to their iPhone or by using a Moment Case.

I admit that I wasn’t very comfortable to stick a plate with an adhesive on my iPhone when I first got the Moment lenses. But during the past year I added and removed Moment mounting plates to a number of iPhones and so far I had no problems with the plate, especially removing them. I was able to remove the plate without any residues. Make sure you read the FAQ over at the Moment site before attempting to remove the plate.

Using the mounting plate comes with a disadvantage. You can’t use any other lens system, e.g. an Olloclip lens without removing the plate first, which, in turn, will destroy the mounting plate. But for me, that wasn’t an issue as I only use the moment lenses. I tried other lenses in the past but the Moment lenses were the ones I kept simply because of the great quality and small form factor.

The mounting plate for the iPhone 7plus fits perfectly on my iPhone. Because it’s s thin, I can still use an Apple Leather Case to protect my iPhone. The plate fits perfectly under it and the camera notch of the leather case is big enough for the mounting plate. So I can use my protective leather case and still use the Moment lenses

Moment mounting plate on a iPhone 7plus with Apple leather case

Moment mounting plate on a iPhone 7plus with Apple leather case

Moment mounting plate on iPhone 7plus with Apple leather case and lens

Moment mounting plate on iPhone 7plus with Apple leather case and lens

 

Using Moment Lenses with the iPhone 7 plus

The iPhone 7plus has two lenses; a wide and a tele lens and the mounting plate has bayonet mount only for the wide lens of the iPhone 7plus. So if you were hoping to use the Moment 2x tele lens in combination with the 2x zoom lens of the iPhone 7plus, effectively creating a 4x optical zoom, you’re out of look. Sort of.

But first things first. Let’s start with the Moment wide lens.

The Moment wide lens works without any problems with your iPhone 7plus. Just attach it and shoot. However, things get a little complicated when it comes to the 2x zoom lens of the iPhone 7plus and the following only applies to the iPhone 7 plus!

When you choose 2x zoom mode on the iPhone 7plus, the stock camera app (!) choses if it shoots using a digital 2x zoom or using the optical 2x zoom. It makes this decision depending on a number of yet undisclosed factors with the goal to deliver the best possible image quality.

If you’re using a third party camera app like ProCamera, you can explicitely choose which lens you want to shoot. ProCamera can shoot using only the wide lens, only the tele lens or using both lenses in “dual lens” mode.

So if you select “tele” in ProCamera app, it will use exclusively the 2x optical lens. If you chose “dual” lens mode, then ProCamera will basically take a photo with both lenses and merge data from both lenses into the resulting image.

And this is where problems will arise. It means that if you’ve mounted the wide lens and then select “tele” mode in ProCamera, your image will be black because the Moment lens covers the zoom lens of the iPhone. If you select “dual” mode in ProCamera, your final image may be exposed wrong because the moment wide lens covers the 2x tele lens of your iPhone.

Sounds complicated? Just keep in mind the following when you have an iPhone 7plus

Sorry to say, but forget about the Moment 2x tele lens for now. Use the 2x optical zoom lens of your iPhone 7plus instead. Use an app like e.g. ProCamera to ensure you use the optical 2x zoom lens of your iPhone

When using the stock camera app on an iPhone 7plus, remove the wide angle lens when switching to 2x zoom mode as you can never be sure which of the two lenses of the iPhone 7plus is used.

When using ProCamera with the Moment wide lens, make sure you shoot in wide mode and not in dual mode.

Of course this somehow limited the use of any (!) external lenses in combination with an iPhone 7plus. If you’re on an iPhone 7 or earlier model, just use any of the Moment lenses and enjoy.