A day in London with fellow photographers

For my birthday this year, Richard gave me a gift certificate with London Photo Tours.

On the 19th May, I got to enjoy a day along London’s South Bank with 7 other photographers and our pro teacher and guide Lou.

I wasn’t too sure about the location of the tour as it is an area I know very well but was interested to find out what I could learn and what additionally I could see or capture in an area of London I am fairly familiar with.

My fellow photographers all had different equipment (ranging from Nikon, Canon, my Olympus and Sony), and we all had different abilities. Lou immediately put Phil and me together as the pros of the group as we had some previous experience.

We met at Waterloo Station and walked over to start our day at the London Eye. Lou covered the basics of light, exposure and ISO and set Phil and me the task of capturing some angles of the London Eye we would not necessarily have tried before. We also tried different apertures to see the effect of zone focusing.

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A glorious view of London – f5.6 1/400 ISO 200 42mm

One new aspect for me was the use of a polarising filter. I had used it a couple times before but with the vibrant clear blue skies over London, I was really able to capitalise on the polarisers ability to enhance the blues whilst cutting out some of the London haze.

Lou immediately had us change our white balance from auto to one that met the conditions (sunny on this day).

This at first felt uncomfortable because I learnt to shoot everything with auto white balance as I was shooting in RAW and JPEG. White balance doesn’t usually effect RAW photos as you can amend this in post-production. I didn’t realise that the auto white balance could have been the reason why my filters were not always working. Switching to “Sunny” did get the balance I was after.

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Worlds largest bike wheel – f8 1/125 ISO 200 30mm

I have taken loads of photographs of the London Eye before but never with a polarizer and I could see from the first shot of the day (above) this really did make a difference. The bright white of the structure really popped out of the photograph against the clear bright blue sky.

I thought this was going to be a day focussed on landscape photography and getting better tourist type snaps but we covered a lot on the 4 hours we were in London.

I usually rush through this part of London and take the odd snap but don’t usually have a chance to think about the surroundings and see what different opportunities the area presents.

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Pod Shadows – f11 1/40 ISO 200 25mm

One such area was the jetty for the ferry across the Thames. At this particular time, the shadows across the Thames from the eye were particularly strong and this meant I could capture a view I had not considered before.

Here you can see the wheel and the pods in shadow on the Thames. I increased the aperture to get more of the photograph in focus and set my exposure for the light parts of the image.

I have converted this to black and white in Lightroom as the original was brown due to the silt that’s dredged up by the tide of the Thames.

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TfL – Thames for London? – f5.6 1/160 ISO 200 42mm

I also noticed the TfL tube signs alongside the jetty to protect it from the bumps and scraps of the docking boats. This made for an interesting close-up.

In total it took just over four hours to move along this patch of Thames, it’s normally a 15-minute section so to take the time to really stop and look was great.

It also meant that you could really see all the opportunities that this vibrant part of London enables.

You have landscape, street photography, portraits, action, architectural and structural, all within the same stretch of river.

The 19th of May was the day Prince Harry married Megan Merkel so there was a real festive mood in London.

It was a great opportunity to capture the spirit and fun surrounding the Royal Wedding and this led to one of my favourite photographs from the day.

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Hello! – f5.4 1/400 ISO 200 30mm

This lady was enjoying herself, celebrating the wedding and enjoying her day in the capital as a tourist.

As soon as I saw her I aligned myself behind her on London Bridge, set my lens to 30mm (equivalent 60mm) and my aperture to f5.4 as I wanted her to be the focus with the blurred out background of the Palace of Westminster.

I set my camera in burst mode and got three shots in silent mode which allowed me to captured the image I wanted above. The flag sponsored by Hello Magazine was an added bonus as this photo could simply be called “Hello!”. Hello to the Royals, hello to London and Hello to married life.

Although we were out and about for four hours, we did stop for lunch and to compare photos in the South Bank Centre.

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Tourist – f5.6 1/250 ISO 200 42mm

As you can see we had a very hot and bright day, there was no cloud and some haze from the city. Again the polarizer helped to enhance the brightness of the day whilst cutting through the haze.

There were lots of people crossing London Bridge as we were now past lunchtime and this was an opportunity to use the telephoto lens and tilt screen effectively.

There was a group of Spanish tourists who were animated and enjoying their day. They were snapping away, capturing their own memories of their visit to London.

Luckily for me, one of the young ladies posed right alongside me on the bridge and I managed to capture this alternative view of her pose. I was some distance from her thanks to my small telephoto lens. She was focussed on posing for her friend so I caught this moment without her knowing.

I used the same aperture as the Hello! photograph, in order to ensure the lady, was in focus and the background was slightly blurred.

Whilst on London Bridge Lou had discussed trying different shutter speeds with Phil and I and I decided to give it a go.

I have struggled with this for a while and my maths and concept of what is fast and slow have been a bit of an issue for me.

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The world passes Sergio by – f20 1/10 ISO 200 42mm

Lou instructed us that as a guide, 15th of a second is enough to blur motion in transport and people and 250th of a second is great for freezing motion (or action). All this time I struggled and that was the guidance I needed to get a grasp of this and try it out.

I knew that my fellow photographers would all be quite still on the bridge as they were capturing shots so I decided to focus on them and tried to capture the movement of the people around them.

Space was limited and it was a little hard to get the view I wanted due to the number of people but I managed a couple shots which captured what I planned.

I did some trial and error with the speed and ended up setting the shutter to a 10th of a second which allowed me to capture the image of the gentleman walking past Sergio.

It’s not perfect as you can see movement in Sergio’s camera but I knew I was onto something.

Lou then suggested Phil and I look at the multiple layers of the structures of London Bridge which led me to think about how I could capture the bridge structure and enable a view of the trains passing through.

This lead to my second favourite photo of the day, one which also saw me add some additional post-production to emphasies the motion.

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Yellow flash – f22 1/15 ISO 200 40mm

The aperture of f22 allowed all of the shot to be in focus except for that of the passing train which was blurred by the shutter speed of one 15th of a second.

When I looked at this photograph afterwards I noticed the yellow areas of the train which I thought would look great enhanced against black and white. The yellow really helps to enhance the movement. Using the Hue Saturation and Luminance tools in Lightroom enabled me to get the effect I wanted.

We moved on from London Bridge to a spot where there is a skate park under the National Theatre. I have often thought about shooting here but have not been sure how to capture what I wanted nor had the time (or had my Olympus with me).

Lou gave us plenty of tips and guided us to ensure we got good views of the skate park as well as managing to freeze the action.

There were more cyclists than skateboarders at the park but this made for some interesting and fast-paced photographs.

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Wheelie – f20 1/250 ISO 1600 14mm

These images were very tricky and there was a lot to think about.

There was lots of varying light, I wanted to freeze the action and I wanted everything in the frame in focus.

Moving the shutter to 250th of a second wasn’t enough as there was not enough light for the camera to take the shot.

I increased the ISO to allow me to get more light to the sensor and have everything in focus.

Like changing white balance, increasing the ISO above 800 is something I generally never do so found this particularly challenging.

I didn’t always get the shot I wanted and if I did it was not exposed or composed correctly.

Eventually, I managed to work out a spot and settings that would allow me to get what I wanted in the action and then I had to concentrate on composition and pressing the shutter at the right moment.

I now understand what it means when elements of my cameras display flash and what I can do to correct this.

The boys on their bikes were happy to show off and I was very grateful to get this guy pop a wheelie right in the spot I wanted. I captured the brutalist architecture of the South Bank, the graffiti and a glimpse of the London Eye which helped tell the story of the location of the photo.

It’s also a shot of one subject. There were so many cyclists it was hard to concentrate and get just one guy in frame. This one came off well and my patience was rewarded.

That’s not to say it’s not doubly effective when you get two guys doing the same trick simultaneously.

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Two’s a charm – f20 1/250 ISO 2000 22mm

An increased ISO means more noise in the image which is the tradeoff due to the lighting conditions. If I am honest this is the thing that I struggle with and annoys me the most. I know that you are going to get artefacts when you do this but it does annoy me that it happens. If I tried this with film I would be more forgiving as I know it would be a limitation of the film speed, in digital photography I know this is due to the camera.

To be fair I am proud I have captured these shots, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself nor my camera for being able to take such photographs.

At the latter part of the day, we were much closer to my office and the area around the old ITV Studios and the Oxo Tower.

This is a great spot for people watching and I managed to capture two candid photographs I like of people going about their business, enjoying the lovely hot weather in London.

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Bookworm – f11 1/250 ISO 200 42mm

My first spot is of this lady who was reading her book in amongst all the crowds and the chaos by the ITV Studios.

I am not sure how she managed to focus on her book as there were lots going on around her.

Thankfully she didn’t seem to mind me getting fairly close to take a couple of photographs. I wasn’t in her face but I am sure she would have seen me snapping away in her field of vision.

For some reason, I decided not to take my telephoto lens with me. This is a shame as it could have helped me achieve even more interesting shots. I could have zoomed in really close with that lens but as it turned out the shots I got were actually what I was after.

I converted the image to black and white to take the focus away from all the legs in the background (which I tried to hide by dodging the shadows).

I shot this at f11 to get the lady and all the detail around her in focus. Had I had a longer lens I may have shot it around f5 to blur out the background.

I liked the effect I gave the Yellow Flash and noticed her dress and earrings were matching vibrant greens. Using the same technique it has helped to make her outfit stand out and draw your eye towards this bookworm.

Near the end of the day, we took a trip to the top of the Oxo Tower and on the way stopped on the first floor by the old warehouses that line the Thames.

I have often wanted to photograph them and was going to when the scene in the cafe below me caught my eye.

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Mac Addicts – f5.3 1/500 ISO 200 26mm

I was drawn to the fact this couple were both hunched over their MacBooks working, each had a matching table and the light cast from the buildings around caused a natural vignette.

Changing to black and white in post-production gives the image more drama and draws the eye towards the couple.

This is a very small selection of photographs taken from the day. Amazingly I managed to capture 2,457 images in just over 4 hours! Of course, not all the images are keepers and lots were test shots.

I really put my camera through its paces. I have never taken so many shots and am very pleased that one battery and one 32MB SD card was enough to capture all those shots.

I took my Peak Design bag with me which was really useful and helped keep everything safe without hurting my back (watch out for a review at some point).

I took my 20mm pancake lens and the 14-42mm kit lens

as I have been having back problems so decided to pack light. I used the 14-42mm all day and didn’t use the pancake lens once.

I am very pleased with the selection in the post and I have understood what Lou has taught me, using this whenever I am out with the camera.

I did ask Lou about ND filters and took her advice on a recent day out.

One of the other photographers asked why I did the day as I had my diploma, but in photography, you always have something new to learn.

I am amazed and thrilled by the shots I have achieved on the doorstep of where I have worked for 12 years! I never would have imagined to pause and aim for some of the shots I got during the day.

The photo day enabled me to focus on my photography and to see London through new eyes.

Lou did a great job of teaching us all something new during the day.

I have swapped my details with at least one other photographer from the day but sadly have not heard from them since. There is a group on Facebook but I have deleted my account so have no contact with them which is a shame. It would have been nice to have stayed in touch with some of the photographers and to share our photographs.

As well as spending the day with Lou, it as great to chat and learn from the other photographers.

I am really grateful to Richard for such a generous and interesting birthday gift. I a now on the look for my next photo tour. Who knows what I might learn or capture.

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