29 Jan Night Photography in London
Night Photography in London
London at night is an awesome city. Lights, music, noise and a feeling of culture mixed with bohemian lifestyle. There are millions of images of London at night from the main tourist areas to dimly lit backstreets of East London where Jack the Ripper once stalked. So how can you do unique night photography in London? We would like to show you a few techniques we use to shoot London at night.
We are fortunate to live within an hour’s train ride away from the centre of the city and I, Tim, spend a lot of my life around there running Adobe training courses for business. Of course at the end of the day the last thing one wants to do is to go around creating images especially if it’s winter so Ally and I make special photography trips to London just to shoot. If you are visiting London from other areas there are lots of Airbnb places near the centre but even if you are further out, you can still get late night tubes (24 hours Friday and Saturday) or a night bus home when you’re ready.
A few tips before we start
Dress warmly as the river area can get particularly cold out of summer months.
Travel light – You will walk a lot so remember, the weight of your equipment is inversely proportionate to how far you can explore.
Try to walk as much as possible using maps and not the tube. You will discover more this way.
We rarely carry a large tripod at night, preferring to hold a mini tripod on a wall or other solid surface for long exposures.
London is relatively safe but don’t flaunt your equipment in deserted areas.
Movement with long exposures
Steady your camera against a solid object and use long exposures to get moving lights. The image of Parliament Square with the red bus blur was created by putting the camera on a small wall and using long exposures. Ally tripped the shutter just as the bus entered the scene with a 5 second exposure.
London Bus Blur long 5 second exposure
Long exposures of water at night are really effective especially if there are coloured lights in the scene. Ally actually hand-held the fountain one, just balancing it carefully on the edge of the fountain.
For more about long water exposures read our ND Filter article.
Long exposure of water in Trafalgar Square, London
London at night is just a mass of coloured lights and the river Thames (pronounced Tems) is perfect to reflect these lights. For more on why reflections can make awesome images read this article.
The view across the Thames to London city from Charing Cross bridge
I hand-held the image above from halfway across Charing Cross bridge. I was also aware of composition rules and used symmetry on the horizon as well as placing the largest buildings on the third. For more details about composition rules see our article on How to photograph like Arnold Newman
Look for the unusual
A few years ago I was out photographing by myself (Ally and our daughter India were at the ballet at the Royal opera house). I quite like ballet but I thought I’d go shooting instead. It was just after the terrorist attack in Paris at the magazine Charlie Hebdo. I came across this memorial outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The person paying respects just happened along as I was taking the image.
Paying respects at Charlie Hebdo memorial
Use a narrow depth of field.
Try isolating subjects and get interesting out-of-focus light details. I used f2 on a very old leica 40mm lens on my Sony A7R to get the interesting bokeh donut highlights when I photographed this scene in a night market in Greenwich, London. The complementary colour scheme red/yellow and blue also helped.
Lights in Greenwich using narrow depth of field with aperture wide open
Doing night photography in London during summer is an absolute joy and you may find yourself photographing into the small hours, but the lack of sleep is far outweighed by the incredible images you create. London at night during winter is a totally different city however, and the main obstacle to photographing during winter nights is the cold. Enjoy your winter photography by stopping every so often at the numerous late night cafes around central London. Not only will you warm up but you might see interesting scenes that you would otherwise have missed.