7th and 14th December 2015
For many years I have been interested in extending my experiences of Night Photography and perhaps pushing the capabilities of my equipment. The trouble it's nearly always a case of I would love to do something but.........its getting of ones backside and doing it. So when Foto-Buzz announced the first two workshops I was in like a shot. Having signed up for the first night I then questioned if I should do the second as well. Each session would be in different parts of London with very attractive iconic buildings at each of the general areas for the meet ups. Andrew James advised that it wouldn't be a disappointment to do both with different subject matter on each. So I quickly took the plunge again and booked the second night. Now for the wait until the first meet up.
Finally the 7th of December arrived. The night before I had checked all of my gear and rechecked it again. I felt prepared and with that knowledge I set off for Salisbury railway station. I bought my ticket having carefully planned timings to get to Westminster for 3pm. I was then advised that there was severe disruption due to an earlier fatality near Wimbledon. I had the sense that the day would not go well. Having been turfed off my train at Basingstoke, the train boards showed numerous cancellations and 3pm was looking doubtful. What should I do, I thought. I texted Nigel who responded quickly stating he was behind as well. This made me feel somewhat more relaxed I waited with many others crammed onto the Basingstoke platform. Eventually a train arrived and we all squeezed on for a very uncomfortable journey to London. I made the meet up with a couple of minutes to spare. Relief. The buzzers introduced themselves to each other and Nigel marched us off to our first location where we received instruction on what to do and try............
Our first location was on the south bank of the Thames looking across to the Houses of Parliament. It was a lovely evening with the sun gradually setting to the left of Parliament. It was fun trying different things especially as there was some cloud colouring up. I had a play with some ND filters (grad and full). The results were interesting in balancing the brighter sky to the darker lower part of the image. Once the sun departed the colours started to saturate nicely and the exposures lengthened. As you can see the clouds were blurring in the sky as was the water movement leading to enhancing elements to the picture.
A little later we tried to locate ourselves on the opposite side of Westminster Bridge but were moved on by over zealous security guards. So we settled for the bridge itself and began our first foray into light trails. Most of our images from this point onwards were around the 30 second duration to maximise the trails. Nigel had also advised us to discard filters and to utilise mirror lockup, all aimed at reducing unwanted vibration and filter causing distractions. The results were very pleasing straight out of the can so to speak. Patience was required as the main elements a good light trail is a London double decker bus, several if you are lucky. The image on the right is a fairly standard location shot but it wasn't long before I was looking for alternative variations of the theme. I turned my attention to shooting square on with the river in the background. This worked well.
After getting very chilled by the wind on Westminster Bridge we moved to the Embankment. The vista from this side of the Thames is lovely with the main focal point being the London Eye. Again the reflections play a big part here along with the blurred wheel that is usually moving during the lengthy exposure. I like this image because not only do we see the Shard through the wheel, but aircraft taking off can be seen via light trails in the sky. Up to this point I had used my 24-70 f2.8 lens but from here onwards I switched to my 16-35 f2.8. This started to give more scope and a later shot included the wheel and much of the Thames looking to the east.
At the location of Nelsons column, Nigel taught us a new trick - light painting. The image on the right is quite well lit but in reality the right hand fountain was not lit at all. Nigel had a great torch that he used to paint both fountains making for a much more interesting image. It was also at this location that I realised the shortcomings of my tripod for vertical images. There are many opportunities for images in the portrait orientation so this is an issue I plan to address quickly.
The curvature of lower Regent Street is fantastic and leant itself to some great wide angle shots with good lead ins. There were plenty of London buses to help us out with the light trails as well making this for me one of the best locations of the evening. At this stage Nigel also got us thinking about smaller aspects of the bigger picture. Shop windows or parts of shop windows started to take centre stage once we arrived in Oxford Street. The colours were wonderful.
This location pretty much ended our evening but left me wanting more despite the lengthy walks through the streets of London. Despite my tiredness I reflected on what we had leaned and achieved. I already had ideas for my next session! Bring on my second evening.......................................
Having met up with more buzzers, it was time to get down to business once again. I always imagined that the Tower Bridge meet-up would be my preference so I was looking forward to this evening.
Our initial location was the north side of the Thames by the Tower of London. It was still light and Nigel suggested we try shooting with the histogram as far to the right as possible without blowing the highlights. This made for some excellent shots before the light left us. We experienced some drizzle that made the cobbles shine and Nigel had the intention to make us utilise these in some shots. Sadly time ran away from us but having seen the impact to the eye I will be trying this elsewhere in due course.
Our view of the south side of the Thames included The Shard. It's a very imposing element of the skyline and tonight the top was regularly changing colour. Much to Nigel's annoyance he didn't manage a completely red top of the Shard! The image to the right helps to show the juxtaposition of old and new in London town, something else that Nigel opened our minds to. Interestingly it also shows one of the light trails from the many planes taking off over London. It's all about keeping your eyes open and looking out for opportunities.
The opportunities around the Tower of London were numerous and looking north we could add moving cranes into the image as well as light trails on the main road.
We then moved to the centre of the road looking onto the Bridge. Sounds dangerous!! But actually Nigel took a few of us at a time to the central reservation where we set our tripods up and awaited the London Buses.
The bridge is imposing and to have the trails included really adds impact to the image. Needless to say we spent a great deal of time here and on the bridge itself. Moving boats created trails of lights because of the long exposures. Again the main theme was to look for something different. Nigel taught us again that there are several parts of the bridge that can be used as a frame for parts of the city scape, light painting also came in handy here as well.
We headed to the Millennium Bridge and St Pauls. For me this is an iconic location and one I looked forward to. Nigel took us down to the water front as the tide was out giving us an opportunity to utilise the stones on the foreshore. Light painting was used here as well to light the bridge and the stones to give more impact. The low cloud was helpful too. Nigel explained that low cloud can help bounce light around helping to light scenes. Later we moved onto the bridge itself to take images with St Pauls at the end of the walkway. I found this a little tricky as the bridge experiences minute movement as people walk on it. Not necessarily great for pin sharp images. Patience required!!
All too soon our time was up and a hurried dash for Waterloo was required.
Nigel Blake is a top bloke and he very professionally guided us in new skills. We immediately felt at ease with him making learning a pleasure. My reflections on the two sessions have lead me to think quite deeply about this and other areas of photography.
For example, make yourself go out and do something and try something new. Look at the bigger scape but also look at the smaller elements of the viewpoint. Sometimes we miss what is staring us in the eye. Use the raw element that we are given.
I would like to thank Foto-Buzz for helping me THINK about photography and to get me out, it is a very considerable resource and motivator. I would also like to thank Nigel and I look forward to the prospect of more workshops with him. If you would like to see more of my images from the two evenings then click here.