As I’ve been going around london shooting for the FotoVue London book which comes out next year , I thought I’d put down some of the things I think about when I’m photographing in an urban environment and especially such an iconic place like London.
The first thing I check is the weather , I definitely don’t want clear blue skies, thats the worst conditions for photographing anything in the outdoors I think. Ideally I want a mix of sun , rain and cloud during the day, some of my favourite images have been just after rain when there’s reflections, puddles and brooding clouds to give interest to the sky. My first real influence in art was JMW Turner and I loved his big menacing skies in his paintings and I guess its something that hasn’t really left me.
A wise man once said , if its wet , look for reflections , if its windy , look for movement , if its dull , look for textures and if its sunny , think shadows. the gist of that is there’s always something to photograph if you can be bothered to train your brain to look for it, even rain can be interesting if you can keep your lens dry.
So my essential bits of kit are ; a tripod , easy to use , lightweight carbon fibre ideally but anything that you can get the camera on and off quickly is fine. I don’t like twist lock legs on tripods and always use lever locks as they’re quicker to use and you know its locked in place. A selection of lenses from 17-200 focal length ideally but anything you can get your hands on is fine. For a lot of the images I make , I use a Lee ND10 filter and remote timer release . To get the movements in the clouds during the day , you’ll need a good ten stop filter. I’ve used Lee filters mostly and thats what I would recommend
but Hitech also make a slightly cheaper one thats still pretty good. When you use the Big stopper , you’ll need to either use a remote timer with the camera set to bulb or in manual mode using the cameras 30sec shutter speed as a maximum. Then you’ll need a bag to carry all that kit around in comfortably all day . There are many good back packs for cameras around , I use Fstop bags , as, in my view they are the best featured bags on the market and perfect for what I do when I’m in the mountains and also a very comfortable carry around town.
There are many different ways you can view a city , you can aspire to take the classic but maybe slightly cliched tourist shot, try and do something a little creative using depth of field , shutter speed, long exposure etc, you can look for details in door ways , signs , find the characters and personality of a city in its people. I think , from a landscape perspective, the best time is when the street lights come on and the sky still has a little colour . Ironically , the best night time shots are taken just before it gets really dark , i.e. dusk
One of my favourite things in a city is to look up , often we just look straight ahead but looking straight up gives a different perspective on the familiar . Combine that with reflections and some cloud movement using the ND10 and you can get some interesting results
So much of photography is about seeing things that most people see but don’t really notice Taking a photograph holds something up to the viewer and says , look , you walked right past this and yet its beautiful and worthy of taking time to explore its strange geometry , its space and form . I love reflections and after rain there’s a puddle across from St Pauls that gives a really good reflection of the main dome of the building. On this particular wet autumn day , I stopped to photograph it , no one had noticed it but after I took my images , I saw that quite a few people also started taking pics of the reflection , they just hadn’t noticed it before .
London is a city thats not short on a thing or two happening , there’s art installations, re-enactments, festival etc going on so do a bit of research before you go down town. here’s some images taken at the tower of london of a medieval re enactment and the current poppies art installation
One of my shortcomings that I try and work on is noticing details, the little things that are easy to ignore but can be really interesting shots as part of a bigger portfolio
One thing thats great about London is the big splash of red you get in images with a London bus, just great for getting a bit of a colour splash , add in about 1/2 sec or more motion blur and its a really useful way to add drama to your image.
One of the downsides of photographing somewhere thats literally been photographed millions of times is image fatigue , you’ve seen the same view of the houses of parliament , or Big ben , or a red telephone box so many times that how do you put your own twist to something thats so familiar. I’ve tried using a little bit of all the techniques I mentioned above to get the images below and some chips to tempt the seagulls !
B+W works really well with cityscapes , especially if the light is flat and it can really bring out textures and shapes in a way that colour wouldn’t. I love cloisters and there’s a strange energy about the space and how people move through them that I really like, a bit like moving through dimensions of space or something .
The people of any city are full of character and London’s got a lot of variety in the sort of people you’ll come across from the friendly police to the dancing guy at Leicester Square to the still life street artists at Covent garden.
I usually ask if they mind me taking a picture , most don’t , but if they do mind , move on.
When the lights come on in a city is my favourite time , and if you shoot in winter , the office lights are still on whens its getting dark so you get even more bling for buck. A tripod and remote release are essential and try and work out exactly how long it takes for the traffic trail to go from the entry point to the exit and adjust your iso and aperture accordingly , that way you don’t get traffic trails ending in the middle of your shot. Shooting over water , with reflections of lights is also cool at night
If you haven’t already , check out the Fotovue page http://www.fotovue.com/london/ and keep up to date on Facebook and twitter for when the various books are coming out . London is due for next Summer/Autumn. Thanks for reading and following the posts.