Further to my last blog, I went back to the River Thames last week. This time I was on the Embankment, just next to Cleopatra’s Needle. I was lining up Waterloo Bridge with St Paul’s Cathedral and the City in the background, and the South Bank and National Theatre on the far side of the river.
I chose a day with a sunset during reasonably clear skies – I was looking East, of course, but the setting sun was likely to put a gentle orange glow over the skyline and any clouds. I was then going to wait for that hour after sunset, the blue hour, when there is still some colour in the sky but the lights of the buildings, the traffic and the boats would start to become dominant too.
The first shot here was about 20 minutes before the sunset – there was the lovely orange glow of the setting sun, plus some boats on the water and red London buses on the bridge. The light was at about 11-12 EV (i.e. 3-4 stops below a sunny day) and I had a 5-stop ND filter in place to lengthen the exposure times – so, with f/16 and the shortest exposure time that I wanted of 10s, I had to drop the ISO to 32. My native ISO is 64 and I don’t usually drop below this value, but the results show no recognisable difference. I couldn’t stick to ISO 64 and go to f/22 for the same result, as my 24mm f/1.8 prime only closes down to f/16 – I would not generally use f/22 anyway due to concerns over diffraction.
The second shot was the last one of the day, taken about 50 minutes after the sunset – this was also about the time that the last boats were moving up and down the river. I knew that the city lights would now be looking great. The light had dropped to about 3-4 EV, which was fine for me using f/13, 30s and ISO 64, with no filters in place.
You can see other London landmark images in my Cityscapes Portfolio.
I’ve been capturing quite a few day and night images of famous London landmarks over the last couple of years – if you live in Cornwall, you take pictures of rocks and beaches, whereas if you live in London, you take pictures of the city! Quite a few of these pairs have been posted on Twitter recently – see my Twitter link on the Home page.
Generally, I recce a location during a nice sunny day and then go back at either sunrise or sunset to capture the lights (sunlight or city lights). Sunrise is best for atmospheric images over a wide cityscape (with frost or fog in the foreground, after a cold night), but the city lights are much less obvious, and they disappear very quickly. So for more powerful images of the city landmarks, the time around sunset is often better. The areas will be more busy (with tourists), but the lights from traffic and the buildings are more powerful, and they stay lit all night, of course. I find the best photographs though are at that time around the blue hour, i.e. just after the sunset (with some colour still in the sky) but with the real drama of the city lights.
I like to bring something more to the images than a simple shot that has been seen many times – I can generally achieve this with long exposures, often around water, i.e. the River Thames. Using f/11-16 for good depth of field and ISO 64 for best quality, I find that exposures of 10-30s work best. During the day, this creates blurred motion lines and reflections from clouds, boats, cars or red London buses, but needs a 10-stop ND filter to make it all work. At dusk (or dawn), the same settings still apply, but you don’t need the filter – you then get the evocative light trails (and reflections on the water) from the same boats, cars or buses. The added bonus is that any people in the image are blurred away too! In that transition time before the blue hour (i.e. in the golden hour), you need to gradually drop the ND filters from 10-stops to zero.
Anyway, this daytime recce followed by the sunset or sunrise capture, always produce some interesting day and night comparisons.
I was trying for another set last week, as it was windy and very stormy, but the daytime shots just never quite had that lively punch. The only option was to convert some of them to black and white, as the original images had so little colour anyway. I don’t use black and white normally, as it seems a bit of an easy option, i.e. it’s much harder to make a colour image work well. But, in this case, it was my only option to get something half decent. I’ll go back shortly to get some other dusk shots with the added power of the city lights.
You can see lots of other London skyline and landmark images in my Cityscapes Portfolio, or on my Alamy portfolio (which you can also link from my Home page).