I’ve made quite a few trips to London with my camera over the years, at various times of day: I’ve shown the sights and sounds of London Town from sunrise through the day, a trip to London in twilight, and several instalments of my London at Night series. My last trip into the city straddled all three times, running from just before sunset to after it got dark, which at this time of year can be simply classified as the ‘evening’.
I had arranged to meet a friend near St Paul’s Cathedral shortly before sunset. He had told me of a spot atop a shopping centre that was great for shooting the well-known landmark with the sun setting behind it, and we planned to meet there and then wander around the middle of town for a bit seeing what photographs presented themselves to us.
Before I even got to our meeting point, there were opportunities along my way to help warm up my shutter finger.
It also gave me an early opportunity to do some street photography.
We soon met, and found a spot to set up our tripods. Well, he had a tripod. I found a safety rail I could clasp my GorillaPod to, which is ultimately the same thing. We arrived just in time, the sky already a golden colour. Clamp camera down, set it to auto bracket, and start firing away.
Annoyingly in the foreground there was the sloping roof of the building we were atop, just high enough to creep into the shot when you framed the cathedral just so.
Most of the time when I process HDR shots, I go for realism. That’s my preference in the HDR realism vs surrealism spectrum. From time to time, however, I like to try a more unrealistic image to see how it looks. Usually it reminds me that I prefer realism.
That said, maybe it’s me, because the colours seem to have gone a bit wrong in this image. For this next one I tried to make them deeper.
I struggled a bit with the framing from this angle, because I was very keen to get the background nicely silhouetted – mainly the cranes and the London Eye – and that led to me needing to frame in a bit more of that sloping roof. I decided against cropping it out, however, because I quite liked the reflection.
My friend and I disagreed about the cranes. I personally see them as part of the London skyline these days, and I really like their look silhouetted against the colourful sky of a sunrise or sunset. My esteemed effendi (yes I did steal that from Aladdin) prefers a cleaner skyline. I suspect most people would agree with him. What’s your preference?
On the subject of silhouettes, I also had a go at capturing the statues on the cathedral. Inevitably there was a crane in the shot, but as I’ve just documented, I like that.
As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve realised of course that ideally I should’ve been shooting with a smaller aperture. Out of habit I shoot with as big an aperture as I can because I like to shoot handheld with natural light which is a struggle indoors and with any sort of low light. But for shots like this, where the camera is mounted somewhere sturdy so shake isn’t an issue, I should really close up to at least f/8 or thereabouts, which should help the results from the lens be sharper. I remembered this fact for my early shots of St Paul’s from the other side of the river, which I shot at f/13, but completely forgot this when shooting a rapidly changing sunset. Oh well, it hasn’t ruined the shots, but it’s something to try to remember for the next time.
With the sunset wearing itself out, and plenty of shots in the can, we packed away our camera stabilisers (he his tripod, me my GorillaPod) and began to head back to the street. On the way I grabbed a random shot of the barrier I had attached my camera to…
… and a handheld HDR of the cathedral, angled to try to minimise the reflecting roof.
We hit ground level, and began seeing what shots there were to be had around the area. The first thing that caught my eye was some reflective metal sculptures with great scope for HDR-enabled imagery.
It also gave a nice opportunity for a self-portrait too. Am I supposed to call it a selfie?
As we traced our way back towards Waterloo, we crossed back over the Millennium Bridge, where the sunset was still working its magic.
On the South Bank outside the Tate Modern, we found some people making some giant bubbles. There was still about enough light to capture the scene. A bit reminiscent of the last time I photographed bubbles, there were a few kids around.
The look on this kid’s face is pretty great, but not as good as his pose after he had popped the bubble. Because it was so big and made with a really soapy solution it seemed to pop in slow motion.
It wasn’t just kids, the adults were pleased to see the balloons too. Except for this guy.
We continued heading west. As we passed through a foot tunnel I tried shooting from the hip to get some simple street shots. It didn’t come out all that straight, but I like it.
By this point we’d hit twilight, the sky darkening enough for the building lights to look good whilst still with enough light to shoot handheld.
Following my friend’s lead, I switched to my nifty fifty and started shooting at f/1.8 to make the most of the light and play about with a narrow depth of field and the challenge of a fixed focal length. The first subject I came across was a busker.
Despite it being an evening in early October, it was relatively warm, so there was an ice cream truck on the South Bank. With the Houses of Parliament in the distance I was able to capitalise on the narrow depth of field to get this shot.
I also grabbed a shot with the point of focus on the van.
We looped up over Westminster Bridge and worked our way back along the Embankment on the north of the river. Both of us, it turns out, like to take photographs of people taking photographs. So, here is my companion for the day.
We completed a full loop and found ourselves back on the South Bank, looking at a carousel. I switched back to my wider angle, image stabilised 18-135mm.
When the carousel started spinning, I decided to return to a shot I took several years ago, capturing its rotation, handheld, using a slow shutter speed. It worked pretty well.
Annoyingly, whilst I was there I decided the tree to the right of the frame added to the composition. Looking at the shots afterwards I realised it was clearly more of a distraction. Still, for a full second handheld exposure I reckon these have come out pretty sharp.
These were shot by me resting the camera against my stomach to steady it. It didn’t always work; I tried a two second exposure and it slipped a bit, but the end result is interesting enough to share.
Before we headed our separate ways we found the busker still singing on the South Bank, giving me a chance to get some more images of activity, starting with a slightly different take on the ‘photograph of a photographer’ shot.
I’ve been on ‘photography dates’ with a few people. I’ll go out with anyone in that regard; I’m easy, and I love seeing the different shots two (or more) people can get in the same location, just because they have a different eye (or, in most cases, a different eye level). I think I’m long overdue for another trip with Catherine and Simon, in fact – our last proper trip together was to Borough Market over 18 months ago.
—————————————————————————————————————-London in Twilight
London at Night (Part IV)
London at Night: Somerset House