Top tips for viewing the elephant parade

May 19, 2010

Like myself, there are some people (such as MykReeve or drplokta) who seemed to rush out and attempt to photograph all of the elephants in the London Elephant Parade in a couple of days. Let me tell you, doing this during the daylight hours that surround work and at weekends takes a lot of effort and involves a lot of walking.

It is a lot of fun though, and you will see many beautiful elephants on your travels. It’s also likely you will get to see several buildings and parks in London that you haven’t seen before, some of which you may not even realise existed previously.

So, if you’ve seen the photos or the enjoyment that others on the hunt have been through and fancy having a go yourself, here are some things you may wish to consider before setting off on your journeys.

Grab the Elephant Parade application
www.livespot.com.au have released an application which runs on the iPhone or Android and incorporates Augmented Reality technology that allows users to simply hold up their phone and view all elephants in the area – the technology makes use of the phone’s camera and onboard GPS to orientate and locate elephants within a set vicinity. Users can choose to have results displayed across augmented reality, map view or list view. Going beyond the business of spotting elephants, they have incorporated interactive functions that allow users to sign the petition and share a link to the application on Twitter and Facebook.

In central London the application is available through the Augmented Reality browser Layar or browsing to http://m.layar.com/open/elephantparade from your iPhone or Android.

(For me, I just downloaded the Layar app onto my iPhone and searched for ‘elephant parade’ within the app)


Grab a list of elephants and where they are likely to be located
The Elephant Parade website has a .pdf route map that you can download.
My previous post has a list of elephants in the elephant parade and their (tentative) locations – sometimes these wannabe ninjas move around a bit, especially Cloudia – she’s the sneakiest of all of them!
I’ve also created a Google Map of the Elephant Parade
Here’s another map that drplokta created as mashup using flickr and google maps.

Plan your route
You can just head out into the streets with a list of elephants and a map and see where the day takes you, but if you want to maximise the number of elephants you see in the parade in a short space of time you’re best off planning a route in advance.
Firstly, check out the Elephant Family Facebook Page and see what other elephant hunters are saying about the elephants. You’ll find out here if some elephants are missing or if an area is particularly tricky to get to for some reason.
Secondly, drplokta is providing excellent updates on the status of elephants on this discussion page. You know, I sometimes think he’s moving these elephants around himself with how up to date he is – do check back on that page on a regular basis.

Check out opening times
Did you read the excellent discussion page I mentioned above?
If you did you will know that some elephants aren’t available at certain times. I fell short of my 100 elephants in one day target when both Devonshire Sq and the Royal Exchange were closed on Sunday. 96 elephants later I should have been happy, but I was annoyed because I had mis-planned my route and fell short of my target.
If the elephant is inside you can sometimes see them through a window, but you’re best off checking with the owners of whichever building the elephant is in to see if they are open. Check out their websites and this should let you know.

Likewise with the parks, some of these will close at night time, others as soon as dusk sets in. Check out their website before you set out on a late night journey.

Wear comfortable shoes
London is surprisingly easy to walk around and get from A to B in a reasonable time. However, getting from A to B to C to D, back to B and then on to E and F followed by a detour to J and back to F and onto G….well, you get the hint – going from one place to another isn’t exactly linear. Neither are our streets and after several hours walking around your feet may start to become sore, especially if you are not wearing decent walking shoes. Believe me, I should know. And if you don’t believe me, ask the blisters on my right foot!

Plan your elephant viewing based on the results you want
I preferred to take my photos of each elephant pretty much without other people getting in the way, where possible. After a trip to Trafalgar Square one lunchtime and seeing not only tourists but many people sitting on the elephant’s bases to eat their lunch I realised that taking tourist free photos may be quite difficult.

As such I made sure to go to the really busy places such as Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden Piazza, Westfield and Hamley’s first thing in the morning before there are many people around. Other locations like Suffolk Street or Heddon Street, which are quieter locations can be left to the busier times as there is less through traffic.

Of course, you may want to take photos that have people in it, in which case you should go there during the busy times and try and catch people interacting with the elephants – though make sure they’re okay with you taking their photo if you are doing so.

Be polite to others
If you find others are in the way of your taking a perfect photo, try not to get frustrated with them. Some people see the elephants as art, some as a photo opportunity, some as a nice place to take a seat. If you have one opinion it doesn’t mean another opinion is the correct one.

If you are patient the people surrounding the elephant will likely leave, and hopefully you will have a window of opportunity to take your photos.

Some people see that you are taking a photo and will get out of your way, so thank them for doing so – though if you have a digital photo it’s not like they’ve ruined your shot by using the last of your film if they do get in the way.

Some people, unfortunately, will go out of their way to be in the photo and pull faces (or worse, as I found with a group of teenagers in Elephant & Castle). Ignore them, and wait for an opportunity to take a decent photo at a later time.

If you’re in a rush and someone is sitting in the way, simply ask them politely if they would be able to move away for a few moments. Most people are just oblivious to the fact they are in the way and will happily do so.

Ask permission if on private property
Some of the elephants are in private property and in certain places there is a lot of uncertainty as to whether you should be there or are allowed to take photos. I disagree with locations that are like this, as the Elephant Parade is supposed to be a public art display. If you are in one of these locations ask before you start taking photos. Even if the elephant is in the doorway and you have to walk past it to get to the reception desk, you should still ask first.

Selfridges staff entrance and the Olswang office were two of the places I went to that the staff member on duty did not allow me to take photographs. I thanked them for their time and left the buildings. I then followed up with emails to the correct people in charge of the properties seeking permission to take photos on their premises, and in both locations permission was granted (although Gerald did disappear before I was able to make the Selfridges appointment).

If you don’t ask the staff will not take kindly to it, and though you may have managed to take your photo of the elephant you may have spoiled that opportunity for future people who also want to take photos.

Unfortunately some places which have elephants on display may not have anticipated how much attention they would attract and may now be regretting getting them. At the end of the day you are on their property and what they say goes, so be polite regardless of the outcome and move onto the next elephant if needed.

Using your camera
There are two things I would recommend when using your camera.

Firstly, make sure the battery is fully charged. I had a nice evening walking around taking photos, and had reached 20 elephants or so with 6 more to go that night when my camera ran out of battery power. My fault for using it for a few days without recharging the battery. It did mean that I couldn’t finish my hunt that night and had to go out of my way to return to that location the next day. A little frustrating to say the least.

Secondly, I do recommend using burst mode if you are taking photos. There is so much going on in the streets of London that you may not always notice what’s happening in the background of your photos and where a person or a vehicle ruins a photo you have taken. Using burst mode will take several pictures quickly which means you have more chance of capturing a perfect shot, and also more chance of getting shots that are in perfect focus instead of finding out at a later date that your elephant is slightly blurred.

Check the weather forecast
Common sense, but if you’re out all day you will need to be properly attired for the various weather conditions. You do not want to leave the house in the morning wearing a light jacket and expecting to spend all day shooting the elephants, only to find that there is torrential rain at midday. Be prepared for what the good old English weather will bring.

Use an A-Z
If you have a map on your phone then you’re probably okay, but if you’re unsure of your way around London and don’t have one you are probably best off with an A-Z in your pocket.

The less time you spend wandering around aimlessly and are able to confidently walk from one location to another, then the quicker you will finish taking photos of all of the elephants.

Finally, have fun.
You’re taking part in a fantastic project and I hope you have fun doing so, and possibly meet new people along the way. If you do go out taking photos I would love to see them, so post a link to your images or send me a link on flickr.

Happy hunting!


649 Responses to “Top tips for viewing the elephant parade”

  1. Wavatar The Elephant Parade : murphyzVille on May 19th, 2010 10:52 pm

    […] « Joby Ballhead for gorillapod SLR-zoomTop tips for viewing the elephant parade […]

  2. Wavatar murphyz on June 14th, 2010 5:52 pm

    Hi Josh

    Thanks for your comments. If anyone is a budding photographer I would certainly encourage single shooting to improve your shots. Heck, go back to a film camera to really make you work on getting those perfect shots.

    My argument for shooting in burst mode with the elephants is that many people are racing around trying to get as many of them as possible and only have the chance to spend a few minutes at each elephant. When there are so many people viewing the elephants, I think the more images of one composition the better. Once I got the angle I wanted i was happy to take several of that angle as there were so many people moving around each elephant, especially int he background, that I could then locate the one with the least interference once I got home. Added to the fact I wasn’t using a tripod meant I could also choose the shot without any blurring.


  3. Wavatar Jason Enright on June 14th, 2010 5:53 pm

    Thanks for that information. I was using the downloadble pdf guide and thought I was going crazy or blind at the missing elephants!

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