London Travelogue

This past week I flew over to London for work and while I was there I had a few nights to go out and explore a bit. I fly out of O'Hare airport and knowing this I have a good idea as to what the flight path will be. With this knowledge I try to get a window seat on the side of the plane that will present the best opportunities to me on both takeoff or landing. Monday this forethought paid off.

O'Hare is located just north west of Chicago proper so a lot of eastbound flights pass either right over the city or just to the north. The flight took off and just seconds after getting airborne I was treated with a wonderful view of the city being bathed in a warm afternoon light. Shooting out of airplane windows is usually a toss up, so getting anything is a miracle. I fired off a bunch of shots as we passed overhead, but I like this one the most.

Chicago skyline1/320th, f/8, ISO500
Chicago skyline seen from above

While coming into London I was absentmindedly shooting some Hyperlapse videos as we were getting close to landing. The plane banked hard making the sun popped out over the wing, blinding me for a few seconds. When we leveled back out and I could see again I recognized that we were going to pass right over the heart of the city on approach. I scrambled and grabbed my camera out of my bag and started firing off more shots hoping to get something similar to when we took off. Unfortunately the window was polarizing pretty bad, so all the shots I took had a very significant color shift over the entire frame. Despite this I had fun with one I took looking straight down at the London Eye over the Thames river. The only way to make this even close to presentable was to convert it to black and white which I really didn't want to do, so I figured why not have some fun and make it a tilt-shift as well.

London tilt-shift1/200th, f/4, ISO125
Tilt shift image of the River Thames and the London Eye

After work I ran back to my hotel because it was raining very heavily and crashed after having some dinner. Unfortunately due to jetlag I woke up around 10:30, fully awake, so I decided to go for a brief walk since the storms had passed. Since it was around 11pm on a Tuesday night the city was virtually empty. Typically after magic-hour at sunset I pack it in and don't shoot when the sky is completely black, but I wanted to use the limited time I had so I went ahead and tried to get what I could. I took a few exposures but wasn't thrilled until a young couple came over the bridge headed towards me, suddenly pausing at the apex to share a long kiss. I made a 25 second exposure which was just enough to get them during their embrace with a little motion between the two.

St. Pauls and Millennium Bridgef/8, 90s, ISO50
St Pauls Cathedral seen from the Millennium Bridge

A few exposures later I felt I wanted to try another angle, so I walked down to the south end of the bridge where the walkway switches back on itself presenting some interesting lines. From this angle we get multiple layers in the composition - the dark night sky and great dome, the top level of the bridge and railings, a brief glimpse at the river with the brilliant colors reflecting on the water, and finally the lower walkway. This is a definite example of stepping outside of my comfort zone as I usually prefer very simple compositions and a limited color palette.

St. Pauls from Millennium Bridgef/8, 30s, ISO50
St Pauls Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge

Continuing down to the river walk this next frame is from just east of the bridge. Previously I had tried this angle that was zoomed in tight to the dome with a small piece of the bridge in the foreground but I wasn't thrilled with it. This night I wanted to capture a wider view since the colors reflecting off the river were very vibrant against the deep purple sky.

St. Pauls and Millennium Bridgef/8, 90s, ISO50
St Pauls Cathedral reflecting over the River Thames

I followed the river walk down to More London Riverside, located right by Tower Bridge and city hall. My goal was to re-shoot a photo I had taken during the day last time that I knew I could improve upon. There is a small walkway leading towards city hall with a number of interesting buildings that a lot of people would pay no attention to. On my last trip I looked up and took a photo of one of them at 19mm, not thinking much of it until I saw it in post when I got home.

This time I could use my 16-35 f/4 wide open and get even more of the surrounding buildings, and shooting at night I wouldn't have a completely blown out sky. I collapsed my tripod all the way down and laid on the ground looking almost completely up - the security guard had a good chuckle but didn't bother me since I was the only one there. I love how this one turned out, especially after running it through Silver Efex Pro. Note - if you haven't heard, Google just released the entire NIK Collection for free, so go download them now.

More London Riversidef/8, 32s ISO50
Looking up at the More Riverside London building

On my last trip while shooting this area I focused primarily on Tower Bridge, getting some amazing panoramas. Knowing I already had those in my portfolio I tried to take some more interesting and unique photos of City Hall and 'the scoop', an interesting public space that hosts art installations and various presentations.

City Hallf/9, 30s ISO50
London City Hall and Tower Bridge

After work the next day I headed down towards Jubilee Gardens at the foot of the London Eye. While waiting for the sun to set I took some different angles of the ferris wheel pods, did some people watching, and mainly just relaxed a little bit.

The London Eye1/200th, f/6.3, ISO250
London Eye ferris wheel

I sat down on and set up my tripod to shoot wide open at 16mm an interesting angle that I hadn't seen before of the Eye and Elizabeth Tower in the background with these unique trees in the foreground. With a slow enough shutter speed I was hoping to get blurs of people walking around, so I attached a variable ND filter, slowing my exposures down to around 2-4 seconds each. Suddenly the sky over Elizabeth Tower lit up with vibrant pinks and purples, so I captured this photo before scrambling to get my 70-200mm out for some close ups.

London Eye at sunset4s, f/9, ISO50
The London Eye ferris wheel

I hoped that the whole sky would light up, but it was limited to the cloud cover down river from me. So I swapped in my 70-200mm 2.8, took my camera off the tripod, and went in close on Elizabeth Tower. I knew I only had a minute or two of perfect lighting so I had to find the right composition and fast. I wanted to be in tight on the tower with the beautiful sunset behind, but I also wanted some interesting people in the foreground as well as a little bit of the London Eye on the left side of the frame.

Elizabeth Tower at sunset1/160th, f/2.8, ISO1000
Elizabeth Tower at sunset

Just as I had expected the color show had faded within minutes, so I packed up and headed over to the Golden Jubilee footbridge for another viewpoint from over the river. It was difficult to get a sharp exposure from the bridge as trains were rumbling past every few minutes, but I was able to figure out the timing and continue working. As I was putting together a four shot panorama a party boat passed directly underneath me creating a wonderful light trail leading right back into the center of the frame. This shot is the four frames stitched together, each around 90 seconds long.

Downtown London from Golden Jubilee Bridge90s, f/8, ISO50
Downtown London and the River Thames from the Jubilee Bridge

I only had two nights to go out, but I tried to get what I could. Next time I go back I want to shoot more street photography and non-touristy locations. Looking forward to my next trip whenever that may be.