London at Night: Covent Garden

1/5sec, f/18, ISO 1600, exposure bias -0.33, 18mm
1/5sec, f/18, ISO 1600, exposure bias -0.33, 18mm

Whilst waiting for my wife to finish work to go out for a meal last week, I went for a walk around Covent Garden with my camera. That’s how I kill time these days – find somewhere and point a camera at it.

Covent Garden is not far from Trafalgar Square, an area of shops, market stalls and eateries. There is an air of Borough Market about it, but not quite on the same scale. It isn’t just a market, however; there’s numerous street performers, pubs and bars. In other words, one of those quintessential London spots.

There is a central covered area containing independent stalls as well as more mainstream shop units, called the Apple Market. When I went there it was all decorated for Xmas.

1/60sec, f/4, ISO 1250,  18mm
1/60sec, f/4, ISO 1250, 18mm

Looking a little closer, the big red swollen balls hanging from the ceiling are vastly oversized baubles. I got a bit closer to play a little with the reflections in them.

1/5sec, f/13, ISO 5000, 62mm
1/5sec, f/13, ISO 5000, 62mm

I didn’t have any particular plan whilst wandering around; I frequently doubled back on myself, returning to areas I’d already been to try something else. One of the benefits of having a certain amount of time to kill. For the sake of clarity I’ll group the thematic ones together, so let’s stay with the Apple Market for now.

1/125sec, f/5, ISO 4000, exposure bias +1.0, 18mm
1/125sec, f/5, ISO 4000, exposure bias +1.0, 18mm

I do love me some perspective angles, and there were perspectives aplenty in the area. This next one is one of my favourites.

1/160sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500, 18mm
1/160sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500, 18mm

I was a bit varied in my shooting style around Covent Garden. I was more ready to close up the aperture for a deeper depth of field, despite the darkness. It meant shooting at a higher ISO for a lot of the night, especially as I was shooting entirely handheld. There was nowhere suitable to attach my GorillaPod, so it was handheld or bust. Fortunately, unlike the skatepark on the South Bank, there wasn’t much movement to deal with, apart from that of my own hand.

I soon wandered off from the Apple Market. Outside, there was a wonderful Xmas tree.

1/25sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600, 24mm
1/25sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600, 24mm

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I can easily get sidetracked by things, both when out shooting and when writing posts. This was a case of the former, because I’m not about to be satisfied with a single shot of a Christmas tree. In fact, both myself and Catherine from CJ Trigg Photography had spent a bit of time playing about with the tree at Somerset House the week previously, which will be coming up in another post in due course.

I got a bit closer to the tree, and shot looking straight up.

1/30sec, f/3.5, ISO 1000, 18mm
1/30sec, f/3.5, ISO 1000, 18mm

I love the multitude of specks of light in the image, and they way they disappear out of focus as you go up the tree. With so many specks of light, I decided to close up the aperture and try to get star points.

1/5sec, f/22, ISO 5000,  45mm
1/5sec, f/22, ISO 5000, 45mm

The results are a bit mixed; closing up the aperture required a boost in ISO, and I still had a low shutter and cold hands to contend with, giving an image not as sharp as it should be. However, like the effect, so I’ve kept it.

After that, I decided to have another go at a trick I tried at Somerset House, and set the camera up for a relatively slow shutter speed, and changed the zoom as the shutter was open.

1/4sec, f/4.5, ISO 100
1/4sec, f/4.5, ISO 100

Liking the effect, I decided to try from further out and make the result a little more extreme.

0.3sec, f/4.5, ISO 100
0.3sec, f/4.5, ISO 100

Around the other side of the market was larger, and perhaps marginally less traditional Xmas structures. The first, a load of Jack Daniel’s barrels piled in the approximate form of a tree, replete with lights, but presumably no actual whiskey.

1/10sec, f/5.6, ISO 5000, 22mm
1/10sec, f/5.6, ISO 5000, 22mm

The second structure was a large scale model of the least-favourite reindeer in the office, Rudolph, wearing a scarf and a silly hat.

1/20sec, f/5.6, ISO 5000, exposure bias +0.67, 18mm
1/20sec, f/5.6, ISO 5000, exposure bias +0.67, 18mm

At one point I wandered away from the market proper, heading (having looked at Google Maps) roughly northwest, towards and then past the Covent Garden tube station. On my way I saw few other things that made me raise my camera to my eye.

I’m not sure where I ended up in the end, but wherever it was, it had its Xmas decorations up too.

1/100sec, f/4, ISO 2000, 18mm
1/100sec, f/4, ISO 2000, 18mm

As I looped back towards Covent Garden, I passed the tube station, and decided that with all of the hustle and bustle it was worth a shot.

1/80sec, f/4, ISO 2000, 18mm
1/80sec, f/4, ISO 2000, 18mm

There was also a phone box by one of the stores, which I though made for a nice variation of my usual perspective shot.

1/30sec, f/4, ISO 2000, 18mm
1/30sec, f/4, ISO 2000, 18mm

I love the light coming out of the shop, especially with the shadows it is causing from the people walking past.

After that, I headed back into the Apple Market to have another look at the stalls. I had passed around them a bit, but I was feeling pretty self-conscious that day and was unusually paranoid about people complaining about taking photographs. I’m not sure why; much like Borough Market there was plenty of people around with cameras. After a while I saw a stall with a ‘no photography’ sign, which made me feel a bit better, because to me that sets the baseline – the default condition on photography is it’s allowed, unless specified otherwise. Unfortunately, there wasn’t many stalls that jumped out at me, and for a couple that did, either it was too busy for me to get the shots, or too quiet for me to feel comfortable getting the shots.

Eventually I stumbled across a stall that actually looked really photogenic, but was pretty quiet. I squeezed off a couple of quick shots when I thought the owner wasn’t looking, just in case.

1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/100sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/100sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm

After that, I disappeared back into the flow of the crowd, and took some of the other images already posted. But I couldn’t shake the look of the sculptures on the stall, and quickly decided I should man up and go take some more photos.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm

Can you blame me? The detail in the sculptures, combined with the fantastic contrasting colours, makes for some incredible images.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/125sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/125sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm

I was about to put my lens cap back on and sneak off quietly when suddenly I heard a voice behind me. I didn’t quite catch it, ever the isolationist I had headphones on. I pulled them out of my ears and turned to face the speaker, just as he repeated what he’d said.

“More pictures!”

I was a bit taken aback. “More?” I asked, thinking he’d actually said ‘no pictures’. But no, he was very keen on me taking photographs of his work. With the pressure of being caught now replaced with the pressure of taking good pictures, I was able to compose my shots a little more carefully.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm

Whilst taking the photographs, I had a little chat with the stall holder. He carved all of this stuff himself, and he seemed particularly proud of this elephant:

1/100sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/100sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm

It wasn’t all elephants and hands cupping invisible genitalia, however. There were numerous Easter Island heads of various sizes floating around on the stall. Metaphorically, of course.

1/100sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/100sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm

Despite the variety, my absolute favourite part was the hands. They were all holding a variety of colourful items, and arranged really nicely, making for a number of great images. As the owner himself put it, if it wasn’t for the colour, his stall would just be awash with nothing but white. The colours draw the eye.

1/640sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 62mm
1/640sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 62mm

I love the lighting too, I love the shading it creates on the sculptures.

1/500sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 72mm
1/500sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 72mm

You know, despite fact I was in somewhere called the Apple Market, these were the only apples I saw. With the exception of the Covent Garden Apple Store, but that only sells computers.

1/500sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/500sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm

Even when there wasn’t that much colour, things looked pretty good – the hands holding the candle was worth another look.

1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm

The best part, the white meant it contrasted with just about any strong colour placed by it. It even worked pretty well with the lighter colours, like the cream of the candles in these shots.

1/400sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 75mm
1/400sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 75mm
1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm

Feeing I’d exhausted the hands a little, I moved on to some of the other interesting shapes on offer.

1/100sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/100sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm

I don’t know quite what this was, but it combined with a set of hands holding a candle to make one of the freakiest things I’ve seen recently.

1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 135mm
1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 100mm

There was also a mirror, which I used to take a pretty awful self-portrait.

1/100sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 75mm
1/100sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, 75mm

At this point, despite the fact that my wife had turned up ready to go eat, I got serious, and slapped on my macro lens for a few real closeups.

1/160sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500, 100mm (cropped)
1/160sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500, 100mm (cropped)
1/640sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500, 100mm
1/640sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500, 100mm

Finally, there were a couple of buddhas to be photographed.

1/80sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500, 100mm
1/80sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500, 100mm

There was another buddha too, which I guess wasn’t for sale – the owner proudly told me it had spent three years being aged by the elements in his garden. It showed.

1/1250sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500, 100mm
1/1250sec, f/3.5, ISO 2500, 100mm

Unfortunately I also caught the back of the display table in the shot which clashed a bit with the golden buddha and stopped it from standing out as much as everything else.

Realising I’d once again found something and latched onto it to the point of being completely sidetracked, and that I had a hungry wife with aching feet, I thanked the vendor for his cooperation and gave him the URL to this blog so he could look at the pictures. Hopefully he remembered it (and hi if he did!).

This little encounter has taught me several things: for one, speaking to one of the stall holders made me realise that when it comes to photographers in market environments, it isn’t an ‘us and them’ situation – at least not all of the time. There can be mutual benefit to taking the photographs with consent, rather than surreptitiously: I get better photos, and the vendor gets a little more publicity for his wares (not a huge amount, this isn’t exactly a super-high traffic site). And by engaging with each other, the vendor also knows where to go to see – and potentially make use of, if so agreed – the images of his products. I still, however, need to overcome my shyness with talking to people. I still spent too much time retreated into my shell when out shooting, and it’s probably the most important thing I still have to work on with my photography at this point.

Secondly, I need to get some Creative Splurges business cards printed. It’s something I’ve been contemplating since randomly photographing a band on the South Bank back in March, and expands a little on the win-win scenario pointed out above. It helps drive traffic to this site, and advertise my services. It might also help my confidence issues, because it becomes something to help prove that I’m not just some random weirdo on the street taking people’s photographs for my own perversions. Wait, did I say just? I meant at all. I just want to take your picture because I like taking pictures. Can I touch your feet?

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5 Comments

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  1. Wow. This is a great set. The hands sculptures really stand out. I love the crispness of all the photos you took of the stalls generally, but it’s definitely the hands that are the highlight. I particularly like the first 3 or 4 that you took, before you got permission (you have surreptitious photography skillz it seems!)

    I’m not good at asking for permission either, it’s a difficult thing and you have to feel a combination of comfortable asking, knowing that the person you’re asking is reasonably friendly, not too many people being in the way, people generally not looking at you like you just landed from Venus etc. etc.

    Meanwhile, how dare you get such well defined lines in the long exposure of the xmas tree. And at ISO 100! Git…

    Like

  2. petit4chocolatier December 5, 2012 — 1:52 am

    Beautiful pictures! Especially the phone box 🙂

    I hope you don’t mind if I reblog your link on my reblog page?

    Like

  3. Hi Rob
    The photos of my stall are extremely good and i am grateful you managed to make it look so clean and well lit.
    The freaky face above the candle in the hands is my interpretation of the sun which after working many years outside in various locations i feel is a grinning bully,which is also a good description of Jimmy Saville as you saw it.

    Many market traders can be a bit rude with photographers because they are uptight about money and stuff like everyone but try and forgive them.
    Some are rude because they are nasty don’t forgive these ones.

    yours rod

    p.s. your wife was very patient i hope she got a good dinner

    Like

    • Hi Rod

      Thank you for taking the time to look up my blog, and for letting me loose on your wonderful looking stall. I loved the lighting on the ‘grinning bully’ sun which makes it one of my favourites of the images I took.

      Thanks for the advice about traders. Since I really love photographing market stalls it’s something I’ll try to take heed of.

      It goes without saying, if you want higher resolution digital copies of any of these images, let me know.

      Oh yes, and my wife was very pleased with her dinner. Worth the wait, definitely.

      Rob

      Like

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