This post is called London at Night V which, thanks to the way I’ve named and numbered my various London at Night posts, is the seventh post in my London at Night series. That’s not me failing at Roman numerals; I snuck in a few ancillary London at Night specials on the way: one at Covent Garden, and another at Somerset House. But I digress.
Some time before Christmas my friend Catherine and I agreed that early in the new year we’d meet up and take a walk around some parts of London whilst the sun was still setting early enough to get some night shots. It has been a couple of years since I took a proper walk in London for its night scenery, which is a bit weird since it is so full of possibilities. Our original plan has a lot of possibilities, involving starting at Tower Bridge and with the possibility of getting a Thames Clipper down to the West End. All these were possibilities, however – the main plan was to head to Tower Bridge and go from there.
We rendezvoused nearby and headed towards the bridge. On the way we passed an office building which looked pretty nice lit from the inside.
We approached Tower Bridge from by City Hall. In that area there are a bunch of fountains which deserved some attention.
I was lazy, of course, and shot that resting my camera on my shoe. Catherine was all proper and used a tripod.
With apologies to her, as I know she hates being photographed, but one of my reoccurring motifs is shooting photographers at work, because it’s a sight less often seen. In my defence, you can’t see Catherine’s face in any of the handful of pics I snuck of her whilst we were on our walk.
The lighting in the area was like something out of War of the Worlds.
The area also lent itself to my swapping to my 50mm f/1.4 and getting some low-light photographs of the people enjoying the area.
In this shot, I missed the focus on the subject and instead got the background. I can’t decide if it works or not.
Just past City Hall, and apparently in keeping with the War of the Worlds theme, there was a large unhatched alien egg, left out in the open like it was some sort of sculpture or something.
We arrived at Tower Bridge, and I set up a bit closer to it than I did when I visited it over Christmas – I knew from experience the boats in the foreground, whilst making for a great shot, would move around too much in any long exposure, and this time there wouldn’t be enough light to get a suitable short shot of them.
Twenty-six seconds… that seems like quite a short exposure after the three-plus minute ones I was getting in daylight a month ago.
In post, I experimented a little with the images. Night shots can look notoriously tungsten in the light of day and these shots were no exception. The image above I turned monochrome as this seemed to work, in the image below I tweaked a few colours more selectively.
Facing upriver from our spot, there was a more modern cityscape to be seen.
We continued walking towards the bridge, and set up where we could get a more more oblique angle on the landmark.
Editing this image, I saw I’d captured the red streak of some vehicle lights on the bridge. I decided to emphasise this, desaturating every colour apart from red to bring it out a bit. As it isn’t that big in the overall image I’m not sure how obvious it is, however.
Much like at our previous stop, I took the opportunity to shoot upstream and came away with this shot, which I love for the star trails coming from the lights.
Taking this shot must’ve looked a bit unusual to any onlookers. Whilst I was taking this exposure, Catherine was just to camera left still exposing the bridge, with her camera perpendicular to mine, each shooting across the other’s field of view. We managed to stay out of each others shots, of course, which is all that matters.
We continued past the bridge, and I set up in near enough the exact same spot I’d been a month before during the daytime. This time, the lighting on the new skyscrapers in the background made them more visible, and served to juxtapose the Victorian bridge.
By this point the cold has rendered our hands virtually useless, so we decided to cease the long exposures that required us to stand around waiting, and decided to keep moving a bit as we looped back towards our origin point. I switched to my 50mm lens to play about with some 50mm street photography.
Walking down Shad Thames, we passed several eateries with big open windows into their kitchens.
There was also a closed coffee shop.
Back by City Hall, we found more alien eggs. These ones were spherical, however, so perhaps they were from a different species?
Ignoring the impending invasion, I took the opportunity to photograph some people on the street, my usual self-consciousness about taking such shots lessened by the cover of darkness.
Our walk back also allowed me to see another perspective on the alien lighting.
On the way from Tower Bridge to some of the nearby roads there is a channel in the path – I’ve photographed it before – which defies my assumptions on the British attitude towards health and safety. It seems to me that the more uptight health and safety types you often get around decisions relating to public safety would have raised some sort of objection to an open channel in the middle of the street that anyone – especially those of partial sight – could so very easily twist an ankle, or worse, on. Still, it’s there, and I didn’t fall down it. It made for a great perspective lines, if you like that sort of thing. (I do.)
The image above, like the earlier shot of the bridge, has had all of the colours sae for red removed. I think it helps draw the eye to the red lights at the top of the frame.
I also took a couple of shots at a more level angle, capturing the people walking alongside the
deathtrap water feature. In these, I’m struggling to pick which works best in terms of the aesthetic arrangement of the pedestrians (‘best’ here being a word to indicate preference, as opposed to suggesting any goodness in the image itself, of course).
As we walked, I snapped another shot of Catherine. I love how the 50mm f/1.4 lens behaves in situations like this. It’s making me really look forward to taking it out on the streets more.
We went our separate ways, both well beaten by the cold. I walked back to the station along the Thames, knowing the route would take me past some nice landmarks – basically the opening of the route I took a month prior, backwards.
I kept my camera by my side, ready to shoot anything that caught my eye. I soon came across the Golden Hinde II, which was lit up lovely.
It was at this point that I realised my shutter finger was so numb it could barely function, and I now lacked the small motor function to half-press the shutter to focus. I packed things up for a while, and gloved and pocketed my hands in the hope of getting some blood back into my fingertips.
When I got to the Tate Modern, I decided to take a walk onto the Millennium Bridge with my 50mm.
I also tried a bracketed exposure, in the hope of bringing out the people on the bridge a little more. In post, I tried not to overdo it too much.
As I continued past the bridge, I took a ‘wider’ shot of the bridge and St Paul’s as a bracketed exposure, and kept using the 50mm lens in part because it seemed like a bad idea.
The remainder of my walk back to the station was largely uneventful. I tried snapping a few surreptitious street shots of unsuspecting members of the public, but a combination of the cold, the darkness and my shooting from the hip meant they didn’t really turn out.
Obviously, Catherine and I never made it to the other half of our proposed walk, but we’ve already planned a date to pick up where we left off in early March. In the unofficial race to edit and share our images, Catherine beat me – you can see her selection on her Flickr.
London at Night