London at Night Revisited

I can sometimes be a little lax when it comes to writing up posts. My last post on the Chinese New Year (imaginatively titled Chinese New Year) took a week from shooting to posting. Usually I try to be a bit quicker when any of the images are bordering on topical, but sometimes that’s not possible (the Bournemouth Air Festival, which made national news with first flooding and then the death of a pilot, and would therefore fit into my definition of ‘topical’, took ten days to produce, but in my defence there was over 4,000 images to cut down and fourteen pages of waffling to type).

When the post is less topical, there is less impetus to get it out quickly, and sometimes more important posts will take precedence. This is especially true if said post doesn’t lead on to the contents of another (which does often happen).

This is one such post. Four weeks ago, I took another short stroll around London after work, to add to the  ‘London at Night‘ project I started late last year. My primary purpose? I had read on Wikipedia that the fountains as Trafalgar Square are fitted with LEDs, and would look pretty impressive at night.

Ultimately, however, this trip wasn’t all that successful; only a handful photos made it through the cut, when more typically I would expect thirty or more to make it (that, perhaps, is a reflection on my own inability to be truly ruthless when editing). Which meant that, as it happened around the time I shot a few more interesting things (namely experimenting with macro), I’ve only just gotten round to writing it up.

Trafalgar Square turned out not to be as colourful as I was hoping. All the LEDs were red, which is a colour that never seems to look quite right when processing shots from my camera.

Exposure 1.6sec, f/4, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.67, 22mm focal length

I’ve attempted to create a faux HDR effect with this shot by boosting the shadows a bit. It actually seems to have worked pretty well in this instance, although it has perhaps lightened the sky a little too much.

I ended up using the ‘trick’ on several of the shots taken in Trafalgar Square; for reasons I can’t really remember, I was shooting underexposed whilst there (assuming there was a reason, of course).

Exposure 1.6sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.67, 18mm focal length

I was aiming for slightly higher shutter times in order to capture the movement of the water. It’s possible these longer exposures were part of the colour problem I had; the reddish of the fountains looks ill-defined in all of these shots (this could also be due to the mist of the water).

Exposure 0.8sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.67, 18mm focal length

I also tried cranking up the ISO a bit to shoot handheld and capture some of the water in motion. It’s weird (and probably entirely my fault), sometimes pushing the ISO a little can cause visible noise on an image, and sometimes pushing it quite hard results in a relatively noise-free result. In this shot, the sky is perhaps a little noisier than I would expect from an ISO of 1600.

Exposure 1/13sec, f/3.5, ISO 1600, exposure bias -0.67, 18mm focal length

The red of the fountain still looks really weird to me, but then this can also depend on your monitor; maybe to you it looks perfectly okay.

After taking a couple of other shots, I headed out of Trafalgar Square in the general direction of the station to meet my wife. Funny thing about the word general, it can be quite vague in scope. Turns out for me, the ‘general’ direction of the station was a little more of a detour than I had intended.

Ooops.

The weirdest bit is, I accidentally ventured into a bit of London I didn’t know was there. I had no idea the Cenotaph was right between Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament (nor Downing Street for that matter).

Exposure 1/15sec, f/4, ISO 500, exposure bias -0.67, 24mm focal length

As I got to Westminster Palace, not technically late at this point I’d like to add, I decided to have another go at taking a longer exposure shot of the London Eye, especially as I now had a remote shutter. There was one slight problem, which should soon become apparent.

Exposure 17sec, f/22, ISO 100, 18mm focal length

That’s right, the damn thing wasn’t moving. However, the static wheel combined with the effect the long shutter has had on the water makes for an interesting photo. Looking at it now, however, I’m wondering – should I crop out the tree on the left of the image and concentrate on the wheel and the lights?  I present a cropped image for discussion; I personally think the answer is probably yes.

Just to the right of that image is Westminster Bridge. Not having a long shutter shot of the London Eye to play with, I decided to try a long exposure of the bridge, as well as traffic over the bridge. It seems to have worked quite well.

Exposure 27sec, f/22, ISO 100, 18mm focal length

It was whilst taking this picture with my camera in bulb mode and using my phone’s stopwatch to time the exposure that I realised that the camera does in fact count the exposure for me. So at the very least, I did learn something new on that day.

If you like the shots in this post, check out my previous post of London at night, or check out my friend and colleague’s blog which has a more imaginative collection of images of London from after the sun has set.

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4 Comments

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  1. Hi Rob
    I’m jealous of you…Just able to pop into London for a night shoot…Here in Birmingham the only light at night is the occasional fire in a rubbish bin..
    I like these shots, particularly the topmost one.
    Great stuff.

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  2. I agree about the Trafalgar Sq red LEDs, I had repeated attempts at them myself but they just don’t really work. I’m not even sure they look that good in the Square itself. Blue LEDs would have been another matter. Having said all that the HDR-style effect does look good, the red seems to look the least odd in the third shot where the National Gallery isn’t so prominent (although doesn’t that photograph well at night? Really imposing.) Were you handheld? Because that’s an impressively steady hand if so.

    As for the Eye, I like it with the tree in. It frames everything quite nicely, to me it’s more of a distraction when you’ve cropped but there’s still a bit lurking there on the edge. Although is that lens flare in the tree in the first photo?

    Cheers for the link! I must work on gaining more traffic…

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    • The only shots that were handheld were the last shot of Trafalgar Square and the shot of the Cenotaph. Everything else was on a GorillaPod (that said, I managed to take this second long exposure handheld, albeit resting my back against a wall, so I apparently must have a reasonably steady hand at times – not in winter, however).

      There was a bit of lens flare on the London Eye shot. There was a lamppost just out of frame. One day I’ll invest in the £1.75 it costs to get a third party lens hood. For some reason, photographers always seem to look more professional with a lens hood.

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