Desolate London

December 27, 2010 9 Comments

It’s Christmas morning, my alarm goes off at 6.30am and I give the little groan that one does when it’s still dark outside when you wake up, and a slight chill in the air makes you want to keep all limbs securely wrapped in the duvet. I rarely wake up at this time, unless I have somewhere I need to go. Even on work days I would be laying in bed for a good while longer before I even think about getting up.

Today’s different though. Across the nation other people are waking up at this time also, if not earlier. It’s Christmas, children wake their parents with excitement and a wish to rip open their gifts as quickly as possible. Loved ones get up and bring back coffee to lie in bed with, handing their partners a cup, a kiss and a present as they share this magical time together.

Ignoring the urge to simply turn over and drift back to sleep I decide I do wish to get up at stupid o’clock today afterall. I sit up in bed and look around the dimly lit room. To view my flat you wouldn’t know it’s Christmas day, let alone a festive season. No tree in the corner with shiny decorations, no cards propped up from friends and loved ones, no gifts piled high. A sock does lie at the end of my bed but that’s due to the laziness I showed when going to sleep last night rather than the generosity of a fictional fat guy.

There is a bag on the floor in front of the bookcase; a bulky, heavy looking thing that contains many wonderful items. That’s the reason I’m getting up at this time. I had packed it the night before with everything I may need for today; camera, four lenses, shutter release cable, camera cleaning kit, spare batteries and memory cards, 2 pairs of gloves (one for warmth, one for grip should I get to do any climbing), a torch, binoculars, first aid kit and a face mask should I be anywhere a little too dusty for regular breathing. A tripod is strapped to the outside of the bag as if everything inside wasn’t heavy enough….I know why Santa chooses to use a sleigh.

I pull myself out of bed, stick the kettle on and jump into the shower.

45 minutes later I’m ready to leave the house; email and websites are checked and dealt with, and I have a long day ahead of me. I set off for Oxford Street where the first part of my day is about to begin – photographing London when most people are at home with their loved ones.

Over the past few years I’ve seen the results of other people doing this at Christmas, and I’ve quite liked what I’ve seen. I knew that ianvisits, a great resource for anyone living in or visiting London, was going to go around doing this for a second year and his shots were some of the better ones out there as he seemed to care about getting a shot completely empty, whereas others didn’t mind having one or two people in them. I don’t think I had seen any done in HDR, however, and wanted to go ahead and do that this year.

The walk to Oxford Street was busier than expected. Plenty of cars on the road, a few people cleaning streets, a few people in shops preparing for the day ahead, and several homeless people around – a couple knocking on the closed doors of Pret shouting for soup. Sunrise was at 8.05, and I arrived at Oxford Circus at around 7.45, set up and ready to shoot.

I would normally use three brackets when shooting HDR, but as I stood on the pedestrian crossing I realised that this just might not be possible today if I wished to cover the route I had planned out as it was simply much busier than I had anticipated. I therefore stuck to just one exposure at this time, and would change the exposures of the RAW files at home at the time of processing.

As 8am arrived I waited for a break in the traffic and started shooting.

Oxford Circus

It took all of 15 minutes for me to bump into another photographer; as I rounded a corner onto Carnaby street I walked straight into the path of a woman taking a photo. Apologising and wishing her a Merry Christmas I set up beside her so we could both continue in our quest to shoot the streets uninterrupted.

Carnaby Street


Regent Street

45 minutes after starting I was at Piccadilly Circus. A photographer friend who I was meeting later this morning and who was meant to be doing the same thing as I was called me to say he had just left home (I guess he chose to turn over and go back to sleep when his alarm went off that morning) and he would call me once he had done Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square.

I was also approached here by two posh boys in military gear asking for me to take a photo of them on their iPhones, so of course did so.

Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus

Leicester Square was unfortunately surround in hoarding so a decent shot there was not possible. I headed down to Trafalgar Square where I imagined a lot of photographers would be; it turned out to be okay:

Trafalgar Square

Angel Nelson

The National Gallery

From Trafalgar Square I walked down Whitehall and over to Westminster Bridge for the iconic shot of Clock Tower. By this time it was 9.30am and there were quite a few tourists around plus short bursts of traffic coming over the bridge. I nipped in and out of the road avoiding the traffic, and decided to set these ones up as multiple exposures as this really was one of the shots I wanted to get today. After a few attempts I managed to get one that turned out okay and with no interruptions from people or vehicles:

Desolate London

Onwards down the Southbank:

London Eye



Hungerford Bridge

At this stage I was getting hungry so I had a quick call with my friend to meet in Covent Garden by 10.30 and headed up there:

Covent Garden


Long Acre

This last one was taken just besides my office so we headed in there for coffee and croissants.

View the full set of my ‘Desolate London‘ images.

The day didn’t end there of course – I would be out walking the streets of London for another 12 hours after this, using my 50mm prime lens for some handheld shots, and attempting to get into a few UrbEx locations – one of which was completely locked up, the other which was just a little too heavily secured. I’ll report on these another time, and possibly in another blog.

Enchanted Woodland – Syon Park

December 5, 2010 5 Comments

Tonight I headed out to Syon Park which, according to the website, is the ‘London home of the Duke of Northumberland’. Or at least Syon House is, rather than the park itself.

Unless of course the Duchess and Duke decide to pitch a tent in the park when they are here to stay, I’m unsure. Though I don’t think they would have done so today because it was pretty darn cold out there tonight – it’s about time I used gloves that weren’t fingerless when out taking photos, or at least purchase a shutter release cable so I can keep my hands in my pockets for the duration of a long exposure instead of having to hold the button still without shivering for a minute or two – if there had been more light I’m sure I would have seen my fingers turn blue.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yes, tonight I headed out to Syon Park for a light display they called ‘Enchanted Woodland‘. Unfortunately by ‘display’ I don’t mean that it was fireworks. This was simply a few different coloured lights pointed at trees really. It cost £5 to get in, and I hope this blog post doesn’t inspire you to go to it because in my usual fashion I left it until the last day it was on before I went and visited it. Besides, it was a bit rubbish to be honest.

I arrived around 5:45 – it was advertised as being open from 5pm to 8pm; gates closing at 9 which gives you an hour to walk around – this is plenty of time as I guess it takes around 30 minutes at a leisurely pace. Or in my case 2 and a half hours due to the fact I had my camera with me.

The largest disappointment was that it really was just a few lights (okay, they say over 1000) put up and pointing at trees. It didn’t seem to do anything much other than that. At one point there was a smoke machine, a rumbling noise and a ‘beware the dragon’ sign, closely followed by an abandoned table and a few toy fairies hung up as a ‘Fairy tea party’ kind of thing – both a bit odd and the only thing aimed towards ‘enchanted’ in the display. Perhaps I was just too cold to enjoy it fully.

The first half was quite busy with other people and children going past me. Annoying mostly due to the fact everyone was snapping away using inbuilt flashes on their cameras. I don’t know why people buy expensive digital cameras and don’t bother either learning how to use them or don’t bother buying an external flash. One woman tutted away as she tried to take image after image with her flash only to find the results pretty flat. I gave her a quick lesson in raising the ISO and reducing the Shutter speed and encouraged her to make full use of fence posts and what not (with a hint she could buy a tripod) so she could get a few results from taking the night time shots – she seemed happy enough with the results.

The second half was pretty much empty; I guess with most people hitting the place early rather than late so there were less interruption of people walking past. It was getting pretty cold though and my camera was fogging up towards the end.

Syon Park - Enchanted Woodland

Syon Park - Enchanted Woodland

The problem which was consistent throughout was that there is so much ambient light coming from the city that the sky was never fully dark; plus the park is in the direct flight path of planes heading into Heathrow so every minute there is a passing plane ruining a shot and the noise of it killing any atmosphere that was in place.

This is an annual display but I can honestly say that I’m glad I’ve been once, but won’t be returning in the near future.

If you ever get the chance, visit Enchanted Forest in Scotland instead – this is a much, much better experience.

More images are available in my Enchanted Woodland flickr set

Syon Park - Enchanted Woodland