Photographing London: The Essentials

Although it lacks geographic beauty such as hills or a coastline, London is one of the world’s most exciting cities to photograph. There are, however, a few simple rules which will make your experience easier – and which will result in photos you’ll be proud to show your friends, or even sell.

Watch the Weather Forecast
Ah… the British weather. You’re as likely to get three consecutive sunny days in winter as you are to get three rainy ones in summer. Unfortunately, weather is important if you want the best photos a venue can offer, so it’s crucial to watch the forecast for London before venturing out for a shoot.

But you don’t need cloudless blue skies to get appealing shots in this city. Puffy cumulonimbus clouds can add drama to your photos, as can dark grey thunderclouds. If it’s raining or overcast with white cloud, your best bet – if you can afford the time – is to visit one of London’s famous museums, galleries or pubs, and wait for the weather to clear.

Be Careful Where You Shoot
Although the situation is far better now than it was before the Tory-Liberal Democrat Coalition came to power in May 2010, it still pays to be careful where you aim your camera in London. Under the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, photographers were routinely targeted under terror legislation, resulting in unpleasant exchanges between hobby photographers and the police. Many people spending ‘too much time’ photographing major landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye were approached, questioned and sometimes searched by overzealous officers.

The Coalition government amended the law on coming to power, but photographers still have to contend with security guards on private property. The London Eye and 30 St Mary Axe (known as the ‘Erotic Gherkin’) are particular hotspots. Avoid lengthy confrontations if you’re approached but, similarly, know your rights.

Concentrate on a Small Area
London is made up of so many boroughs that it is literally a city of villages. Despite the ease of covering distances, thanks to the outstanding Tube system, getting from one cluster of sights to another can be time consuming, so it is advisable – if you have the time – to focus on one cluster a day. An example would be the City of Westminster, specifically the area around Parliament Square, incorporating the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye.

Another example, further east, would be the City of London including St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast. The neighbouring parks of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are ideal for a sunny day.

Take as Many Lenses as Possible
If you’ve got more than one lens for your DSLR, make sure you find place for it in your luggage. While a walkabout lens such as the 24-105mm will cover most of the subjects you’ll come across, a wide-angle lens will be ideal for closer shots of some of the city’s skyscrapers such as Tower 42 and 30 St Mary Axe, and could be put to good use if you’re near the London Eye, Big Ben or Piccadilly Circus. Similarly, a lens covering 100-300mm will enable you to isolate buildings in the distance, which is advisable in places such as Greenwich where, from the Observatory at the top of Greenwich Park, you can contrast historic buildings such as the Queen’s House with the modern architecture of Canary Wharf.

Don’t Forget the Parks
London’s many parks are in some respects its greatest glory. You could send hours wandering aimlessly through the expansive spaces of Hyde Park, London’s green lung, which features the long, narrow Serpentine Lake, Speakers’ Corner and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Neighbouring Kensington Gardens is smaller than Hyde Park but far more elegant with its picturesque Round Pond near Kensington Palace, the late Princess Diana’s residence. It also features the gaudy memorial Queen Victoria built to her husband Albert, appropriately known as the Albert Memorial.

Further north is Regent’s Park, lined with houses built by John Nash. The park also features the charming Queen Mary’s Garden and the London Zoo. St. James’ Park, however, is probably the finest royal park, given its proximity to both Buckingham Palace and Whitehall. Its resident pelican population are as photogenic as the surrounding historic buildings.

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