I live in Lancaster, hundreds of miles from London, so I don’t get down there too often. Then, back in November, I was invited to a meeting in Hammersmith, a day trip, but I managed to get the travel sorted out so I’d squeeze some photo time into my day. In November it gets dark here around 4 pm, and I was going to be around at that time with my camera. This is potentially a great time for photography, a decent sunset, reflections in office block windows, long shadows, and of course coming up to Xmas the streets would be busy too. So many possibilities.
The day arrived, fog. Not just fog, but a reasonable chance of rain. OK, I can do something with those wet roads, car headlamps, street light reflections. Still optimistic.
On emerging from Piccadilly Station, it was immediately clear that this photo session was likely to be a challenging one. It was dull, totally grey, just enough fog to make everything murky. Not enough fog to make the building tops disappear, or to give an atmospheric glow to street lamps, no, not enough for anything interesting. The fog layer was also quite thin, judging by how light the sky was, this made exposure difficult, and the Xmas illuminations did not stand out at all. Not ideal, far from it.
A challenge then, could I get anything from this? I’d decided to use my 50mm f1.8 prime lens, partly because it’s light and easy to carry, but also because it’s sharp and makes a surprisingly flexible urban lens. It’s also quite fast, so ideal for the lighting conditions. At least I had the right equipment.
The obvious subject in Piccadilly Circus is the statue of Eros. After hunting round for the best angle, and remember, as I was using a prime it’s a case of moving around, not tweaking the zoom lens. The best spot I usually find is stood in the middle of a busy road. On this occasion, another photographer had found the same spot. I’m sorry, I just can’t stand next to someone waiting for them to finish, so I can take the same shot as them. It’s hardly art is it? I took a few shots anyway, just to get my eye in, but I didn’t expect anything from them. Wandering back towards the statue, I noticed the random collection of people sat on the steps. This gave me my first shot.
OK, I’m feeling a bit happier now, that’s one for keeping. So I head off towards Regent Street and take a look back and notice the throng of people moving in all directions with the backdrop of the Lilywhites building. I like shots that show the whole scene in a city, they remind me of old newsreels of ordinary streets, which may not have seemed special at the time, but become interesting with age. I gave this shot a slight sepia tint to emphasise that feeling.
I was disappointed walking down Regent Street, nothing seemed to grab my attention. I got a few shots on a detour through Carnaby Street, but nothing special. Carnaby Street is another spot where I found myself literally queueing up with other photographers, and I’m sure we all got home and deleted the resulting images! I headed across Oxford Circus and further North towards Regent’s Park. Then, down a side street, I spotted the Post Office Tower, it’s very top just shrouded in mist, the lights breaking through the fog. By this time it was quite dark, and the car headlamps were becoming clearer. I took a few versions of this view, down various streets, again altering my angle of view by moving around – much more fun with a prime lens, although I did get a few funny looks, not many people cross roads in London by walking backwards.
When I got to Euston Road, it was getting quite dark and the lights of the office buildings were beginning to look interesting. On the way past Great Portland Street Station, I noticed the newspaper seller, and that shot has given me some inspiration for a poem:
The office blocks were an obvious subject, closely cropped to emphasise the patterns, or standing back to get a sense of perspective. I like the fact that as the interior lights become more distinct its possible to see right into the buildings and see the structure and internal layout laid bare.
Crossing the underpass near Euston Station I decided to try some long exposure shots of the traffic moving below me. One lane was basically stationary, so this made for a more original view than the normal long light trails.
Looking back down Euston Road I noticed how one office block appeared to be lit by almost blue light, and this was contrasting with the orange sodium glow on the trees. At that moment, a bus passed, adding red to a brightly coloured image, so I waited for the next bus and took the shot. This image, together with the way I’d seen some of the bus drivers carving a way through the traffic, gave me the inspiration for another poem.
The photo session had to end, my train was due, just time for a few last shots of commuters heading towards Euston Station.
So, in a period of about one hour, on a particularly unpromising afternoon in London, I’d come away with half a dozen interesting images, and inspiration for a couple of poems. All in all, a successful session.
This could have easily been a total failure, if I’d focussed on the objectives I had set myself. Seeing conditions were not ideal, I’d discarded my expectations immediately, and decided to go with the flow, take what was there to be taken, and allowed the images to come to me. They did, I just had to be open to them – it wasn’t a case of a planned trip, it was a case of creating a planned opportunity, and taking that opportunity whatever it may be.