The London Eye

It was my sister-in-law’s birthday the weekend before last (on a related note, it’s my other sister-in-law’s birthday next weekend. This is technically stuff my wife should have to worry about, not me, but she’s not great with dates so I tend to have to remember these things for her).

For her birthday, she decided to take some friends and family along to the London Eye and the London Aquarium.

I’ve not actually been on the London Eye before. I’ve posted quite a few pictures of it, both here and on the Daily Photo, at night, in the sun, in silhouette, but none of these have ever been taken from the London Eye. So, I obviously made sure I had my camera.

I had hoped to also use the opportunity to get some photographs of people, but ultimately most of the shots I took of people were all of my niece (the ones that came out, at least). One of them was the subject of my last post; the rest will be reserved for another ‘portrait’ collection down the line.

After a bout of epic queuing (the ticket office also doubles as an effective queue simulator for any tourists wishing to experience the British way of life) we found our way into one of the pods.

1/1000sec, f/10, ISO 500, exposure bias -0.33, 18mm

I’m still considering ways to make that image a little more appealing. It possibly might look better in black and white, but I’m getting worried I’m overusing it as a processing option. That is, if it’s possible for me to overuse black and white? Plenty of people shoot exclusively in black and white. I guess they don’t use it to make duller images more exciting.

In my last post I raised the issue of over-processing photos. This next image, if anything, has more done to it than the image of my niece from that post.

1/160sec, f/10, ISO 100, 18mm

There are varying levels of processing going on in this image. Most obviously, it has been desaturated. I’ve not used the standard technique, however – I’ve used something called ‘colour monochrome’. That may sound a bit oxymoronic, but ‘monochrome’ really means ‘one colour’. ‘Colour monochrome’ is is the same device used to turn images sepia – instead of black and white, it’s the colour of your choice and white. This image has used a dark grey, which has allowed for an interesting tonal range. There is also a slight tweak of the contrast, but the brightness and exposure has not been adjusted from the master image.

I’ve also performed a couple of repairs; the slight chromatic aberration has been fixed, a few specks on the lens which showed up on the cloud above the bridge have been removed, and I cropped the image in a little to eliminate some excess sky and position the bridge a bit more centrally.

Oh yes, and I also removed a boat from the foreground, because it made the image look untidy. It hasn’t fundamentally altered the image, but is it, perhaps, a case of over-meddling?

For those not familiar with London, we’re looking at the Hungerford Bridge. It is a railway bridge flanked on each side by pedestrian walkways (which are themselves not bad spots for London cityscapes). The railway leads into Charing Cross, a not particularly likeable station terminal which I spent two years commuting into. On most of those occasions I was late.

I managed to get a closer shot of Charing Cross, because from the outside it’s quite an interesting looking building.

1/160sec, f/10, ISO 100, 52mm

With this image, I’ve partially desaturated it (saturation = 70%) and nudged up the contrast a little to give the photo a slightly aged feel. It seems to have worked, and ironically has actually brought out the colours more from the as-shot master (especially in the red and green buildings in the top right).

This image has also highlighted something I’ve not seen before, which is a bit of distortion in the lens. I’m not sure how visible it is in the image above (and the lower-resolution image as uploaded for this blog) but when looking at the actual pixels of the full image, the buildings at the very top seem to lean outwards from the centre of the frame. Not ideal, but since I’ve not noticed it before for now I’m not going to worry about it.

The London Eye spins clockwise as you look at it from the opposite bank, so you get great views downriver on the way up and upriver on the way down. Downriver from Charing Cross, just on the other side of Waterloo Bridge, is Somerset House, an 18th Century building that has survived since then despite housing the Inland Revenue for more than 150 years.

1/320sec, f/9, ISO 100, 69mm

For this image I’ve ‘selectively monochromed’ – that is, removed all of the colours except one, in this case red. This has brought out the red of the buses on the bridge, but also – and this is one of the things I enjoy about this technique – left red in the cranes and buildings in the surrounding area (and, for some reason, it’s left a bit of green around too).

A nudge of the contrast, much like the image before it, has brought out a lovely amount of detail in the photo, although this one is a bit more cluttered with similarly coloured buildings, not making anything in particular (apart from perhaps the buses) stand out.

As the wheel brought us a bit higher, we began to get better views of the Houses of Parliament (one of the nice things about the London Eye is the pods allow for roughly a 270 degree field of unobstructed view most of the time).

This is where I learnt another lesson: if I want to photograph the Palace of Westminster from the London Eye, this is best done in the morning, not the afternoon, as in the afternoon you find yourself shooting into the light.

1/200sec, f/14, ISO 100, 28mm

I’ve attempted to darken the highlights in this image, but I could only go so far before the reflection in the water started looking peculiar. I like how it’s turned out though; it looks like a wartime shot.

Shooting into the light in a glass capsule caused another problem: reflections. I didn’t have the issue looking out of the other side of the pod, but in this direction, with the sun in front of me, it was causing problems. It has, however, reminded me that all of the shots from the eye have a piece of curved glass betwixt camera and subject – could this be the source of the hitherto unnoticed distortion I’m seeing in some of these images?

As you can see, the day was not an entirely clear one, but it has created a lovely, misty feel to the buildings in the distance.

As any regular readers will know, I often forget things. I forget to change the aperture when moving from one subject to another, I forget to readjust the ISO, and I all too often forget that I actually own some filters. Nothing fancy, a UV and a polarising filter, but useful nonetheless. The UV filter would’ve helped cut through the glass and the haze. Fortunately, increasing the contrast can also help in this regard, as seen in this next shot.

1/200sec, f/14, ISO 100, 26mm

The reflections I was battling with are far more apparent in this shot; a side effect of boosting the contrast is it brings them out against the sky.

I could’ve again darkened the highlights to bring out the horizon a little more, but I found it was making the water look too unnatural.

I was keen to also get a reference shot of where I was. Fortunately the capsule ahead of us was empty.

1/200sec, f/14, ISO 100, 18mm

One of the appealing things about the London Eye to me when photographing it externally is its wireframe structure. It photographs well, especially in silhouette. I wanted to also try to capture that whilst on the Eye.

1/125sec, f/14, ISO 100, 50mm

I also took a wider shot of the Eye’s framework, but for this one, I really can’t decide if it’s better in colour or black and white:

1/250sec, f/11, ISO 100, 18mm
1/250sec, f/11, ISO 100, 18mm

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The colour version has the sky, which is a fantastic blue. I guess the black and white version is my way of trying to make a shot look ‘artistic’ when it doesn’t necessarily need to. I need to stop doing that.

For the best views of the actual Thames, rather than the various bits surrounding it (those pesky landmarks and suchlike), the best direction is to look upriver, where you can see the river for a fair distance before it meanders out of sight (it took many attempts by my geography teachers in school to get us to remember that the bend in a river is called a meander. They even went as far as bolding it and making it two out of the three options in the multiple choice tests. The end result? The only thing I remember from GCSE geography is the name for a bend in a river). Looking downriver, all you can see is one big meander surrounded by landmarks.

1/320sec, f/14, ISO 100, 47mm

Unfortunately I was still having reflection trouble. So, I decided to get out of the direct sunlight and have a look at the views away from the river.

The most obvious thing to be seen was the Shard, still unfinished but coming along nicely.

1/100sec, f/14, ISO 100, 72mm

The Shard is, or will be if it isn’t already, the tallest building in Europe. I’m not sure what they’re going to put in it.

Also at this end of the capsule was the doors, with a lovely warning notice that caught my attention.

1/80sec, f/14, ISO 100, 18mm

You’ll note that I’ve been shooting at a slightly smaller aperture then I usually would. The intention being to get the landscape nicely in focus. For shots like this, however, which I have taken without much thought to the settings, the resulting image is not the one I would have intended to capture originally. However, having attempted a blur tool on this image, I actually prefer it like this, with the background reasonably in focus, rather than what would have resulted had I opened up the aperture.

As we began our descent back downwards, the wheel moved out of the way, allowing me a wider shot of the river.

1/250sec, f/14, ISO 100, 18mm

It was roughly around this point that I remembered that I had a UV filter in my bag that might help with the haze. So I screwed it on to see what difference it would make.

1/100sec, f/11, ISO 100, 55mm

I’ve still had to push the contrast high to get this result, but the end result seems more natural than some of the other shots. Alas, still a big chunk of reflections on the left side of the image.

As ever, I was hoping to photograph something a bit unusual whilst I was there, and the Thames duly delivered.

1/400sec, f/7.1, ISO 100, 126mm

This is another shot with all of the colour removed except orange. I’ve also added a digital vignette.

Before long, we were disembarking from the Eye. As we headed down the ramp to the exit I turned and grabbed a quick shot of one of the pods.

1/1000sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, 18mm

After our trip on the Eye, we headed along the South Bank to get some food before going on to the next part of our day. Due to this post already being a bit long, those photos will be published separately.

I enjoyed the London Eye. Maybe someone without a camera just looking at the views could get bored during the thirty minutes or so it takes for the wheel to complete a full revolution, but I never had a lack of things to point my camera at.

I’d like to return to the Eye, preferably when the visibility is a little better, but also at a different time of day. I’d love to go early in the morning, when the run is rising and lighting up the Houses of Parliament from behind me, rather than bleaching out any image I try to take of it.

The wife and I are considering annual passes for a variety of London attractions, so maybe this will happen sooner rather than later.

8 Comments

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  1. lemondegraphique March 22, 2012 — 9:51 pm

    Reblogged this on le monde gr@phique.

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  2. I love that shot down, through the structure, to the sidewalk/people below – gorgeous, and all the best things about being on the London Eye while still retaining an air of mystery in the shot. I’m a ferris wheel fanatic – since riding the Reisenrad in Vienna years ago, they’ve become my favorite thing, and I even have a list of all of the ferris wheels I’m going to ride before I die. The London Eye has been one of my favorite wheels, because of the length of the journey and great views afforded by the pods. That curvature-induced glare kind of ticked me off while attempting photos (this was before my nice-camera days 🙂 but my best photos from that day were actually of a toddler who seemed to be even more excited about the views than I was. There’s something magical about sharing an experience like that with the other riders, even though you might all be strangers. Anyway, thanks for sharing your beautiful work, as always!

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    • Cheers!

      As I mentioned in the post, I got quite a few photos of my almost-but-not-quite-one-year-I-should-really-look-into-when-that-is-old niece in the pod, but most of those were of her playing with a pair of sunglasses and not really in the context of these photos, and so I felt they deserved a separate post.

      I’m hoping if I visit again that a different time of day will minimise the annoying reflections from the glass, but there’s only one way to find out about that one!

      Thanks for your comment!

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  3. As a guy who shoots mostly in B&W I think about this a bit (http://gointothelight.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/why-bw/, btw their is a great example in that post of how much a master will do to work an image, and you are far from pushing the envelope ;-)). One thing I often think about is that B&W is “shooting the bones” whilst (finally, an audience where I can use that word) color, sorry colour, is shooting the flesh. So, your more architectural shots, even the landscape and the bridge often look very good in B&W as it is the lines that are important, and that is often hidden by the clutter of colour. I think your second example of the wheel against the sky is a very good example. While architectural, the stunning blue is obviously a driving component in the image, and it is actually still monochromatic, it’s just blue and white. So it does work well in both.

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  4. I’ve been on the Eye about 4 times now I think, and yet don’t seem to have ever been with a proper camera. The last time I went was for a friend’s 30th, she hired a pod for everyone and a ‘host’ served champagne and pointed out some landmarks – think he felt a bit redundant as we were all from London. Anyway, night flights look pretty amazing too, if you’re looking for another time of day.

    The reflections must have been seriously annoying, did you try processing any out with the clone tool? Could take hours I imagine. I realy like the Somerset House photo and your work with selective colouring/desaturation. And the photo of context with the pod in shot actually stands out to me as the best one you took in that direction.

    As for the b&w vs. colour version, I’m of no help there as I suffer the same problem constantly! They both look excellent. The structure of the Eye really does lend itself to those kind of shots. Last photo DoF is brilliant too.

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    • A night flight would be interesting, although being on a moving platform would render my traditional nighttime long exposures difficult at best. Worth the challenge, although if I find someone in my capsule trying to use a flash through glass onto a sprawling cityscape I fear I might throw them screaming from the pod.

      The reflections were annoying, I tried to use the burn tool to darken them a little when they were in visually busy areas of the frame, but it never really matched. The clone or retouch tool might have done the trick but for many shots – such as the last one of the clock tower – a clone job would have meant reconstructing a large chunk of the image, which is probably more effort than it’s worth.

      Another idea I had with shooting from the Eye was using my telephoto and being a bit nosey with bird’s eye views of people on the street. I was surprised to see that none of the photos I took on the Eye were at the extreme of the zoom of my daily lens (135mm).

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  5. Thanks for the great pictures 🙂 I’ve myself tried to get some decent shots some years ago but my camera was a little too old… But this definitely motivates me to try once more! Still think I like the last one best, though^^

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