Over the Christmas break I hired a few bits of photography equipment to have a play with whilst I was off work. All of the equipment was an upgrade for some of equipment I’ve already got: one component, which I’ve mentioned a few times here before, was the Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM – a lens I enjoyed using so much I’ve since bought one for myself. The other was a much better neutral density filter to help me with my long exposures: the renowned Lee Big Stopper, a 10-stop filter strong enough that it looks opaque to the naked eye.
Not long after picking up the kit from the hire place near me, I figured that the best way to use all of the equipment was to go to London and walk along the Thames. The areas around the river are littered with landmarks great for backgrounds of long exposed shots of the river. I also figured there’d be opportunities for some wide aperture street photography as well as I wandered about.
I headed into the city with Holly at the time we’d usually travel to work, so I found myself in London before sunup. When I’d planned the day I had a small amount of hope that I might get a decent sunrise (as I did a few years ago when I did a similar walk) but the day was far too grey to tell when the sun had actually breached the horizon. No sunrise for me, but it wasn’t really a part of my plans. My plan was to make my way towards Tower Bridge, and as I walked along the South Bank it was still dark.
On the way a few sights caught my eye that would also give me the opportunity to warm up my shutter finger. Just along the South Bank near the Oxo Tower I saw a few beach combers rushing to beat the tide.
A bit further on was Blackfriars Station, and in the dull morning light I thought its lighting looked great, especially against the brick it was attached to.
The look is a little ruined, however, by the large power switch very poorly concealed above the k.
Shortly thereafter I arrived at the Tate Modern, opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, which seemed like a good time to set up for a long exposure. In addition to the long exposure kit I hired, I also borrowed a graduated filter for darkening the sky, which I used in this shot.
I’m not entirely certain why I only shot this at f/4, when I really would have normally shot at f/11 or smaller. Even so, at ISO 100 I needed three minutes to get this shot at f/4.
I continued along the river, not really shooting anything but enjoying the walk, until I got to Tower Bridge. There I set up the angle I wanted just outside City Hall.
This shot is actually a tiny bit of a cheat. With an exposure of three minutes, the boats in the foreground moved around too much and were just a blurry mess. Fortunately I realised this would be an issue at the time and, still with the tripod locked in the same place, took a quick shot without the filter at 1/13th of a second to give me a sharp shot of them, and then added them together in Photoshop. Although I prefer the monochrome version, my wife loves the colours in the colour version:
Personally I think that long exposures are almost always best suited to black and white. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
I continued walking along the river, past the bridge to see if there were any other interesting angles to be had. I found this one, with a nice post in the water in the foreground and the city behind.
It was pretty chilly to stand around for over four minutes waiting for an exposure. Fortunately I could use my Triggertrap to time the release, stick my phone and my hands in my pocket and then wait.
Or, I could photograph my setup like a helpful person.
I crossed over the bridge and started heading back westwards. From the opposite angle I got a shot whilst standing outside the Tower of London.
After taking this shot, and feeling pretty cold, I put away the long exposure kit and switched to the 50mm f/1.4 to try some street photography. The main thing that was abundant around the Tower was people with selfie sticks. At that point I was still feeling a bit self conscious so didn’t take any of their pictures. I think I should have, because I like taking pictures of people taking pictures. But I didn’t.
I was keen to play about with getting shots at f/1.4. On the Thames Path there were a few random things to shoot at such a big aperture.
As I continued I saw a girl sitting on the wall. I tried to grab a shot as quickly as I could.
The Thames Path at certain points deviates from the banks of the river. On one such deviation I took quite literally a street photograph.
I soon made it back to St Paul’s, where I could shoot the Millennium Bridge from the other direction. This time I elected to stay shooting at f/1.4 and not use the filter.
I kept on looking for things to emphasise the narrow depth of field . I found a ladder descending into the Thames which worked really well.
I made it back to the London Eye, where I stopped for a rest on a bench. I was planning to get the filter out to try a lesser seen daylight long exposure of the wheel, but as I rested I realised it wasn’t actually spinning. So that saved me a lot of effort.
Having walked over five miles at this point (according to a rough estimate based on using Google Maps), I decided I would just take some long exposures of the Houses of Parliament before heading home. I headed towards a spot I’ve shot from before (and one favoured by many a photographer in the city) and set up.
For the sake of completeness I then took a shot with the rest of the Palace of Westminster but less of the bridge.
Whilst writing this post and trying to decide which image I liked the best, and tending towards the former, I realised I could probably join them up using Photoshop’s auto stitching. This is how it turned out:
It’s not a terrible stitch job, but if you look carefully you can see the join between the exposures and the spots where the content-aware fill didn’t quite fill in the gaps properly.
As I was packing down my kit to head home, I few boats came past that were worth capturing.
The latter image I posted to Twitter, mentioning the Twitter account of the police boat service. It got retweeted and subsequently viewed over 5,000 times (an image I didn’t post here of one of the London lifeboats also got retweeted and viewed almost 4,000 times). So that wasn’t bad.
Although I’ve now bought the 50mm f/1.4 lens, the filter has been returned and I’ve not purchased one for myself – it’s a bit rich for my blood right now. However I am looking at cheaper ND1000 10-stop filters because the variable ND I have currently (that I’ve used for previous long exposure shots) just isn’t strong enough for the images I want to be taking.
Return to Swanage