PHOTOGRAPHY & VIDEO
Major brands of print film are widely available throughout Russia at Western European prices, although slide film is not widely sold so bring plenty of rolls with you. (Whatever film you purchase, check the expiration date carefully.) Any town or city of any size will have several places to get your film processed.
The same uncommon specialist shops that sell slide film will also have a smattering of camera gear by leading brands such as Nikon and Canon.
Avoid running films through airport X-ray machines. No matter what the attendant says, these machines are not film-safe: effects are cumulative and too much will fog your pictures. Lead ‘film-safe’ pouches help, but the best solution is to have your film and camera inspected by hand. You can minimise officials’ annoyance by having all film in clear plastic bags.
Camera batteries get sluggish in the cold, so carry your camera inside your coat and keep spare batteries warm in your pocket. In the prolonged Siberian winter, you may be better off with a manual camera rather than an automatic battery-operated one – film gets brittle at very low temperatures and a motor drive’s fast advance or rewind can break it and leave static marks. Frame-filling expanses of snow come out a bit grey unless you deliberately overexpose about one-half to one stop. Deep cold can play tricks with exposure, so ‘bracket’ your best pictures with additional shots about one stop underexposed and overexposed each.
In hot territories, avoid magenta-tinted pictures by protecting your film from fierce summer heat. Leave it at the hotel, or line a stuff-sack with a piece cut from an aluminised Mylar ‘survival blanket’-your film will stay cool inside all day.
You need to be particularly careful about photographing stations, official-looking buildings and any type of military/security structure – if in doubt, don’t snap! Travelers have been arrested for such innocent behavior, including an author of this book.
Some museums and galleries forbid flash pictures, some ban all photos and most will charge you extra to snap away. Some caretakers in historical buildings and churches charge mercilessly for the privilege of using a still or video camera.
As anywhere, use good judgement and discretion when taking photos of people. It’s always better to ask first and if the person doesn’t want to be photographed, respect their privacy; a lifetime living with the KGB may make older people uneasy about being photographed, although a genuine offer to send on a copy can loosen your subject up. Remember that many people will be touchy if you photograph ’embarrassments’ such as drunks, rundown housing and other signs of social decay.
In Russian, ‘May I take a photograph of you?’ is Mozhno vas sofotografirovat? (mozh na sfa-ta-gruh-fee-ra-vut?).