London at Night (Part IV)

Most of the time, my London at Night posts take place in the winter months when night comes along a bit sooner and doesn’t require quite as much waiting for the sun to set. Indeed, my last one was back at the beginning of March, with only a twilight trip in April since then.

However, back in August, my wife and I decided to stay up all night to see the entirety of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy at the BFI London IMAX. As far as I’m concerned, Christopher Nolan shooting in IMAX is the future of filmmaking, but I’ve already waffled about that elsewhere.

Attending an all-night screening that started after midnight gave ample hanging around with a camera time in central London.

8sec, f/20, ISO 100, exposure bias -1.0 (+0.56), 18mm

As soon as we arrived in London, shortly before nine, we made a beeline for the Houses of Parliament. I had caught sight of them as we arrived on the train and seen that they were looking amazing in the evening light (as the shot above shows).

We first arrived from the South Bank direction, viewing the Palace of Westminster from the other side of Westminster Bridge.

1/8sec, f/8, ISO 400, exposure bias -1.33 (+0.76), 28mm

As you can see, I was playing about with different length exposures. When shooting at night, especially when water is involved, I often flit between shooting at a higher ISO and shorter shutter speed to capture the water and its reflections frozen in time, as the image above, and longer exposures that give a fantastic glassy feel to the water, as below:

2.5sec, f/18, ISO 100, exposure bias -2.0 (+1.22), 24mm

The other bonus of the longer exposures is they often call for smaller apertures, which causes point light sources to become flared, like in the shot below.

6sec, f/20, ISO 100, exposure bias -2.0 (+0.37), 18mm

Often, when there’s a sight to see, I love to swing my camera around and take a shot of the other direction. Away from the views above is the London Eye, on the other side of the throngs of people filling up the South Bank. I was still shooting at a low ISO, so I rested my camera on a wall to get a sharp shot. The result I’m quite pleased with.

4sec, f/22, ISO 100, exposure bias -2.0 (+0.14), 18mm

It’s always nice when strangers cooperate without knowing, isn’t it?

After that, we passed under Westminster Bridge, passing another photographer on the way…

1/125sec, f/4, ISO 2000, exposure bias -1.0 (+0.97), 29mm

… where we came to the spot where I took the opening shot of this set.

One of the side effects of the longer exposures is sometimes, something moving will come along and smudge the shot a bit. My first attempt at the opening shot was visited by a police boat, which crossed the frame whilst the shutter was open leaving blue trails.

8sec, f/20, ISO 100, exposure bias -1.0 (+0.20), 18mm

I quite like the effect, but ultimately I preferred the cleaner shot.

I was far from the only photographer on the spot, there was at least a few others with DSLRs and tripods, all going for the same sort of shot. I guess they must have seen the image on the Houses of Parliament Wikipedia page, like I had.

I took one last shot of the Clock Tower…

4sec, f/20, ISO 100, exposure bias -2.0 (+1.30), 33mm

… and then we headed back towards Jubilee Gardens by the London Eye, where I found a familiar ride.

1/25sec, f/5, ISO 1000, exposure bias -2.0, 52mm

We sat in the gardens for a little while, letting me play about getting a couple of shots of the ride, which looked a lot better at night, lit up, compared to in daylight.

1/15sec, f/5, ISO 500, exposure bias -2.67, 53mm

I also tried to capture -er, shoot – wait, photograph some of the people in the gardens, but I’m still very self-conscious about photographing strangers, even under cover of darkness. Although I suppose that might also be because it seems altogether more sinister attempting to surreptitiously photograph people under the cover of darkness. Whilst hiding in a bush. Without any trousers. Okay, those last two bits were made up.

1/8sec, f/5.6, ISO 2000, exposure bias -1.0, 87mm

Shortly thereafter we wandered further along the South Bank to the Hungerford Bridge, lit up resplendently at night. This was in the slight lull period between the Olympics and the Paralympics, so London was putting in a bit of an effort.

1/10sec, f/3.5, ISO 1600, exposure bias -1.0 (+0.47), 18mm

I love the way you can see the beams of light disappearing into the sky. We also passed what looked to be a smoking platform for a bar, which looked pretty good lit up by a strip of fluorescent lighting. I also like the way it illuminated some of the people on the platform.

1/60sec, f/4, ISO 1600, exposure bias -1.0 (+1.54), 30mm (cropped)

As we continued to wander around, we came across Waterloo Bridge, which was brightened up with a bit of a laser show for the Olympics.

1/8sec, f/3.5, ISO 2000, exposure bias +0.67 (+0.41), 18mm
1/40sec, f/3.5, ISO 2000, exposure bias -2.0 (+0.97), 18mm

I had to shoot at a high (ish) ISO for a couple of reasons; partly to capture to graphics on the bridge which were moving, and also I had nowhere to easily rest my camera for a longer exposure. For the most part, I prefer to shoot longer exposures at night, noise can often creep into images at higher ISOs and it can also leave the images looking dark. But sometimes, I don’t have the patience (or, on occasion, whoever I’m with doesn’t have the patience) to set up a tripod (which, for me, is still a GorillaPod) for a long exposure and make do with a shorter one, as I did above.

Much like earlier, when I swung around and took a photo in the other direction, I checked where the lasers were being beamed from.

1/4sec, f/5.6, ISO 2000, exposure bias -2.0 (+0.28), 67mm

I loved the way the dirt in the air was highlighted by the frikkin’ laser beams, and I suspected it might be one of those things that would photograph that well, so I was glad I was able to capture it so successfully (you may need to click and view the image at full resolution to fully see the effect).

Our wandering then took us over slightly familiar ground, the same patch of the Thames we walked for London at Night Part III. The main focus of my attention was the benches, which were pretty busy.

1/15sec, f/4, ISO 1600, exposure bias -2.33 (+0.54), 29mm

I really enjoyed the way the light from under the benches lit up the people sitting on them. So I took another from a different angle.

1/5sec, f/4.5, ISO 500, exposure bias -2.0 (+0.31), 39mm

My final image, taken as we headed towards a restaurant for a late meal, was of a busker’s haunt. The busker had been seeming quite grumpy whilst we were sitting nearby, not liking how people were reacting to him, so I had no intention of photographing him in case there was trouble. But as we got up to leave, I saw he’d wandered off somewhere, leaving all of his gear behind unguarded, and I liked the resulting scene.

1/6sec, f/5, ISO 2000, exposure bias -2.0 (-0.13), 57mm

There was one problem with the image: the guitar was pink. Or at least, it looked pink in the light. I didn’t like it, it make the image look a bit funny. So I adjusted the white balance a bit, and then replaced the pink with orange. I prefer the end result, and I think it’s come across as a pretty natural adjustment. For reference, here is the original, as-shot photo:

I’m always interested to know what you think, so let me know if you prefer the original.

And that’s mostly it for my latest batch of images of nighttime London. As the days grow shorter and night starts earlier, I hope to get out and shoot some more over the winter months. I might even drag my old cohorts Catherine and Simon along with me too, if they’re willing.

8 thoughts on “London at Night (Part IV)

  1. Great shots! I love the movement of the people near the Eye. 🙂


    1. I’m really please with how that one turned out – I just expected it to be a massive blur when I took it!


  2. Always willing, not always able! Which sounds a bit strange now actually.

    Of the last two shots, I definitely prefer your corrected version, although with both my eye is drawn to the slope of the railings (sorry). It’s a great image/scene though.

    Houses of Parliament shot (first one) is brilliant, again really crisp. Were you using your remote? I also really like the one of people moving along the South Bank, I forget how the winter months allow for more exposure experiments…

    …which sounds odd as well now.

    P.S. Look at me, commenting! And within 24 hours of posting!


    1. I didn’t actually notice the slope until you mentioned it. Thanks for that, now I can’t unsee it.

      I did indeed use my remote for the Houses of Parliament shot. That little remote has proved to be £13 very well spent (and it seems even cheaper when you consider I bought it less than a week before my macro lens!).

      I definitely think we’re way overdue for another photography trip. Borough Market was almost eight months ago!

      I’m happy to see you commenting so quickly. I evidently haven’t caused you enough work today. Is this some kind of incentive? I behave and you comment on my posts?!


  3. Well Done. I just spent 3 long evenings trying to get some night shots of Prague I need to post. BTW it looks like you are missing at least two images you discuss, one above the bridge shots, and one of the busker. There are other places where you have EXIF data midstream, no photo. Don’t keep your public waiting!


    1. Oh, suddenly all the missing images appeared! Nevermind.


      1. The images must’ve just failed to load. It does that sometimes. Hopefully the previously missing shots were worth the wait?

        Thanks for your comments Jon, I always feel I’ve achieved something when a post is good enough to tempt you out of the woodwork!


  4. petit4chocolatier November 13, 2012 — 1:33 am

    So stunning! I absolutely love the vivid colours; especially the blues, pinks and purples.


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