Desolate London

December 27, 2010

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.


9 Responses to “Desolate London”

  1. Wavatar last year's girl on December 27th, 2010 1:48 pm

    Bloody hell, Murph. Those are incredible.

    Although, I have to confess to being a little disappointed because I thought from the start of your post you were getting up to photograph Santa…

  2. Wavatar Emily on December 27th, 2010 2:15 pm

    These are fantastic. I miss London already! I wish I would of done something like that. Maybe some day. Really beautiful shots here, great work!

  3. Wavatar Colin Ross on December 27th, 2010 2:26 pm

    Amazing photos like in a ’28 days later’ scenario WOW!

  4. Wavatar Tweets that mention Incredible shots of abandoned London by -- Topsy.com on December 27th, 2010 2:46 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by last year’s lism., Mark Everclear and others. Mark Everclear said: Bit like 28 Days Later, this. Amazing stuff RT @lastyearsgirl_: Incredible shots of abandoned London by @murphyz http://j.mp/f7CLQe […]

  5. Wavatar Tweets that mention Desolate London on Christmas day... amazing photos! -- Topsy.com on December 28th, 2010 3:24 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Peter. Peter said: RT @kateausburn: Desolate London on Christmas day… amazing photos! http://bit.ly/efZqdZ […]

  6. Wavatar murphyz on December 28th, 2010 12:22 pm

    @last year’s girl – thanks! I really did try to get a close up of Santa but he’s a little too elusive for me 🙁

    @Emily @Colin – thanks very much :o)

  7. Wavatar Lemastre on December 28th, 2010 9:42 pm

    Your pictures make me long to visit London again. it’s interesting to see what such a bustling place looks like without its bustle. As I often suggest, much the same effect can be had using a pinhole camera, even when the streets are busy. This is because the pinhole requires exposures of minutes, so most moving objects don’t register on the film. Digital gear may not work quite the same way, but if you can replace your lens with a body cap with a pinhole in it, you might get something usable.

  8. Wavatar murphyz on January 5th, 2011 12:00 pm

    I have never tried pinhole photography but often do long exposures, mostly at night time when these are required to get the levels of light that I want in an image, and so know from these that focal points that are moving, such as people, do either disappear completely or become ‘ghosted’ depending on the length of the exposure and the speed in which they are moving. A pinhole, I’m sure, would do this much better than a normal long exposure simply due to the length of time required for exposure in order to let enough light in so I agree the same effects could be recreated in this way.

    For me, on this particular day, it was also about the experience of being in such a busy place at such a quiet time. I am used to navigating through hordes of people and busy roads to get around these locations so it was a refreshing change to be able to set up, take a quick exposure, and get the places deserted. When I look back at images I’ve created it stirs up the feelings and experiences I had when taking them, and for this project the feeling of an uncommon emptiness in these locations is the thing that really captures the image for me; whereas using a pinhole may get the same image results, it would not get the same personal feelings for me in this instance.

    Do you have any example of your pinhole work, assuming that you shoot in this format and may have some of your stuff on display?


  9. Wavatar Lemastre on January 7th, 2011 5:38 am

    I did my pinhole pix 35 years ago and can’t lay hands on any prints I may have made. Any camera with a removable lens can be equipped with a pinhole. I replaced the lens on a Mamiya twin-lens reflex with a very thin sheet of metal having two pinholes in it — one for viewing (nearly impossible) and the other for making the exposure.
    The negatives were thus 6×6 cm. Viewers accustomed to today’s super-sharp lenses might find the pinhole’s slightly soft image distracting.

Got something to say?