London at Night: First Excursion

And now, time for something completely different.

Well, not completely different. It’s still photography. You’d think that a blog titled Creative Splurges would have on occasion something more creative than just photography, like a macaroni birthday card or finger painting or something. Actually I should do that at some point. But anyway, for now it’s still photography, but I have been experimenting a little.

You might say, it’s about damned time. Or at the very least, something along those lines, perhaps with a little more cursing. Maybe less. None of this is really relevant.

On Wednesday, I had a few hours to kill after work before I met up with my wife to go out to dinner. I decided (although admittedly it was the wife’s idea) that I should take my camera into in with me and spend some time after my shift wandering around London. It being winter (at least in terms of when the suns goes down, if not in temperature), it would be dark when I left work, so I decided to take the opportunity to expand on my attempts at night photography.

I started out on the South Bank, looking out across the Thames at Somerset House.

Exposure 1/10sec, f/3.5, ISO 500, exposure bias -1.0, 18mm focal length

As a quick note, I’ve started adding the focal length to the camera data of my images; the 60D I shoot with has an APS-C (i.e. non full-frame) image sensor so the equivalent focal length for a 35mm camera/sensor is roughly 1.6x the length quoted.

Anyway, I started out trying to shoot at a slightly higher ISO in order to catch a sharp, still image. Learning from a week or so ago I decided to push the ISO a little further in order to get some interesting shots.

However I quickly realised that if I were to break free of the usual sort of images I find myself taking, I would have to start using a different technique.

And so it was that I got out my GorillaPod – the closest thing I have to a tripod – to try some longer exposures.

Exposure 10sec, f/11, ISO 100, 29mm focal length

It wasn’t entirely successful; the building is a little bleached out where the floodlights are at their brightest, and I’m pretty sure I had a tiny bit of wobble whilst the shutter was open. The water, despite catching the reflections nicely, is also a little dark.

I headed up on to Waterloo Bridge to try from a different angle (one I last tried back in February). My attempts were sadly a bit blurry, but I include this one as I like the trail left by a boat whilst the image was being taken.

Exposure 15sec, f/11, ISO 100, 18mm focal length

It took me a while to get used to the GorillaPod. It’s a bit nerve-wracking when it is pretty much the only thing stopping your beloved camera from tumbling into the drink. On the metal barriers of Waterloo Bridge it was also a little challenging getting the ‘Pod to mount solidly, resulting in the following scrambled but I think interesting mess:

Exposure 10sec, f/14, ISO 100, 18mm focal length

After a while I managed to get the GorillaPod to grip securely, and I got a reasonably decent shot of the South Bank, where I started.

Exposure 10sec, f/14, ISO 100, 18mm focal length

I like that I managed to catch a plane in mid flight, over the top of the ITV Studios tower (the tall one in the middle of the image; the Shard is the pointy one to its left). One thing I didn’t manage to catch, however, was a decent image of St Paul’s, which is lit up bright as anything at night, but none of the images worked out on this trip.

Over the other side of Waterloo Bridge is other familiar London landmarks, most of which should be familiar to most of you.

Exposure 38sec, f/16, ISO 100, 22mm focal length

Unfortunately, although the London Eye has come out reasonably sharp (and with nicely blurred motion), the rest of the image has suffered slightly from the long exposure. This image also marks the first time I’ve used the Bulb mode on my camera and come back with a remotely useable photograph.

I also returned to trying to shoot at a lower shutter speed to capture the scene frozen in time, as this often comes out well with water and reflections.

Exposure 1sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, 18mm focal length

This actually looks pretty static, despite the whole second exposure time (in fact, when writing this post I thought it had a far lower shutter speed and a higher ISO. Shows what I know).

After that, I gave up on view-shooting from Waterloo Bridge and continued my walk across the river. Part-way across, I saw a flag lit up atop a building, and tried to grab a shot of it:

Exposure 1/8sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600, exposure bias -3.0, 126mm focal length

Getting this shot was tricky as I found myself fighting with the camera, which was insisting on adding in more detail to the building, probably due to the low overall light in the image. Still, knocking the exposure compensation down to -3.0 seemed to do the trick (I’m thinking that the image would look better cropped into portrait and removing the building all together – thoughts?).

I completed my trip across the bridge and then headed down along the Embankment, which was teeming with police owing to it being a day of protest agains the UK’s idiotic, unelected government. When I reached Charing Cross I hopped out along the Hungerford Bridge to get a better view of the Houses of Parliament (you’d probably do well to have Google Maps open in another window so you know what the hell I’m going on about).

Exposure 1/15sec, f/5, ISO 1600, 47mm focal length

Unfortunately I had to resort to using a high ISO and quicker shutter, partly because the railings on the bridge weren’t all that good for gripping a GorillaPod to, but mostly because the bridge actually wobbled as people walked by making a smooth shot impossible (trust me, I spend a while trying).

I also tried taking a shot along the bridge, which is probably where things start looking a bit dark:

Exposure 1/15sec, f/3.5, ISO 1600, 18mm focal length

Although, I do like the small, light-reflecting puddles in the bottom-right of the image, and the colour coming from the Xmas market on the far bank. There is the perspective I like in my images, but it annoyingly disappears into the dark.

As I returned to the north side of the river, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and the Moon all lined up rather nicely, I took another slow shutter shot, not wanting to faff around with mounting my camera to anything.

Exposure 1/15sec, f/3.5, ISO 1600, exposure bias -2.67, 18mm focal length

I’m glad to managed to capture the Moon in this image, although it was a little cloudy that day and the Moon was not all that sharp to human eyes, let alone a camera. I’ve actually been trying to get out and photograph the crescent moon, but luck, the weather and the bloody big stadium next to my flat haven’t been going in my favour this week. Maybe next month.

As I continued along the Embankment towards Parliament, I moved almost head-on with the London Eye. Moving as it does at roughly two revolutions an hour, I decided (I say decided, this is not exactly a unique idea) to set up somewhere more comfortable, where I could get the camera really steady and keep my finger on the shutter for more than thirty seconds.

Fortunately, there was a reasonably thick wall separating pavement from river, where I was able to set up. I broke out the stopwatch on my iPhone, and pushed the shutter.

Exposure 61sec, f/22, ISO 100, 18mm focal length

I really love the frosted-glass-like quality of the water when shooting long exposures at night. I was contemplating trying an even longer shutter speed, but decided against because I’m not sure how much more I could’ve gotten from a longer exposure without there being more colours on the wheel, and it was too cold to be standing still with my finger on a shutter button for more than a minute. This shot has, however, made me look into getting a cable release which would allow me to obtain some ridiculous exposures relatively comfortably.

A little further along the river, I found a gathering of photographers (a gaggle? A flange? There may be a technical term I’m not aware of) all trying the same shot. Most of them had full-blown tripods, although one guy was resting his camera on a small bean bag. What I didn’t get was why they were there. I stopped and snapped a quick shot of the sort of angle these guys were shooting and I don’t think that it looks as clean an image of the Eye as the one I captured above (although I don’t doubt their techniques are probably better).

Exposure 1/10sec, f/3.5, ISO 1250, exposure bias -1.67, 18mm focal length

I’m not so keen on the tower block being behind the Eye rather than, as in my image, alongside it. However, it does make the reflections on the water look more interesting as they switch from blue to yellow and back to blue again. Since they didn’t seem to be together, I can only assume that one of the other photographers stopped and started taking a shot, and a few of the others followed suit without realising there was another spot further up the river.

I continued down the river towards parliament. There I attempted to photograph the Clock Tower, however the streetlights, traffic and pedestrians made it difficult.

Exposure 1/13sec, f/4.5, ISO 1250, exposure bias -1.67, 36mm focal length

It was very tricky trying to photograph the Clock Tower. There was nowhere for me to easily set up my GorillaPod, although due to how busy it was on the junction with Westminster Bridge it would be tricky to set up a ‘full’ tripod there either. This is annoying as the clock face is overexposed in the above image. I tried shooting at a lower shutter speed to bring out the detail but without a tripod trying to produce a HDR image is next to impossible.

Exposure 1/60sec, f/5, ISO 1250, exposure bias -4.0, 50mm focal length

I did manage to take a shot of the Tower with the moon behind it; it’s probably the best picture of the landmark I managed to get on the day, although the streetlights to ruin it a bit.

Exposure 1/100sec, f/4, ISO 1250, exposure bias -2.67, 29mm focal length (cropped)

This image has a bit more post-processing than I usually do; I’ve adjusted the colour temperature of the image to make the clock face look less dirty, but this has served to make the Moon look a bit blue. I also lowered the intensity of the highlights a bit to bring out the detail on the clock which worked surprisingly well. I also cropped the image to remove some of the traffic that had snuck into the bottom of the image (the original was actually a lot wider, but very cluttered).

Having messed around with long exposures, I was then running late to meet my wife.

I definitely plan to return to this subject again. It was enjoyable experimenting with my camera, as well as using the Manual and Bulb modes successfully for once instead of ending up with an unusable image and turning back to aperture or shutter priority. There is plenty more scope to expand on what I’ve started doing here, given more time, hence the “First Excursion” tagline of this post. Hopefully at some point I’ll end up with an image as good as this one.

Cheers for now.

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4 Comments

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  1. I think it is a “roll” of photographers. If they are unfriendly it is a “negative strip” of photographers. Unless they are shooting digital then I cannot remember if the correct term is a “card” or a “folder.” If it is a mixed group it would be either a “portfolio” or a “flickr.”
    Terms of venery are fascinating and get added to the language strictly by use. That is, the first person to make them up gets to define them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My favourite of that list is portfolio. ‘A portfolio of photographers’. Sounds right to me.

      True what you say though; one of the best examples of that is that an accepted term for a collective of baboons is a ‘flange’, which stems from a Not the Nine O’clock News sketch called ‘Gerald the Gorilla‘.

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  2. The thing you grab from going back 4 years is F16 is a landscape aperture – night shots have by definition less depth so bigger Apertures suffice. I didn’t know that back then. I was using Nikon D50 then now it’s a D800 when I shot my Aurora recently I started at ISO 3200 lol mad how fast we learn and how fast things change. 😀

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