Photographing London is always a wonderful privilege. We once lived in the city for a year, and spent many days wandering the famous streets with camera in hand. In this post we have chosen ten aspects of London to photograph:
- London underground
- Leaden Hall Market
- London at Night
- London Eye
- Red telephone boxes
- Alexandra Palace
- Tower Bridge
- Lloyd’s Building
- Canary Wharf
- London People
Read on for more about why each topic was chosen, below.
Photographing London | By Darrin Henry
But first, why just ten items on our list?
Well, London is actually a huge city with hundreds of fascinating facets to photograph. We’ve decided to choose just ten topics that summarises the essence of iconic London, in pictures.
Visitors and locals will no doubt have their own favourites which we’d be interested to hear about. Just leave us a comment at the end.
The best city in the world is London, in my opinion. In terms of diversity of people, culture and architecture, it is truly vibrant. Rich history, modern attitude, energetic and also quite safe, as major cities go. Great tourist attractions, British traditions, superb public transport and endless things to see and do, London has it all.
Ten Iconic Faces Of The City
Photographers in London are incredibly spoiled for choice.
Sharon and I would sometimes take the night bus into the city centre, to photograph the dawn light reaching across the roof tops. Dawn is quite a special time in London, one of the quietest moments you’ll ever find the city streets.
London street photography, especially, is loads of fun. We’ve also done modelling photo shoots on the streets of London, across the Thames bridges and in the parks. Click Here for our London Bridge shoot with Kat C.
This is an incredibly creative city where artists of every genre can find inspiration and like-minded souls to engage with.
So here we go. Ten top ideas for photographing London that captures a sense of the city’s amazing spirit.
I love riding the London Underground, or the Tube as it’s affectionately known. Every type of personality seems to exist somewhere along the underground network at all times of the day and night.
I love how every station is different, each with its own story or special features. ‘Mind the Gap’ must be the most famous safety announcement in the world.
The steep escalators, talented buskers and rush of heated air as a train shoots out of the tunnels. And everyone sneaking peeks at the other characters in the carriage, trying not to get caught. The energetic commuters who walk up the escalators while the rest of us stand obediently on the right as instructed.
On different visits to London we’ve actually enjoyed ‘photography days’ travelling from station to station, exploring and taking pictures. No, it’s not sad at all.
Photographing the London Underground network is one of my favourite things to do in the city.
Quick London Underground facts:
- The London Underground first opened in 1863, with steam engines filling the tunnels with smoke.
- The first electric line started in 1890.
- The famous roundel symbol appeared in 1908 and the term ‘underground’ first appeared on signage.
- Tube stations became air raid shelters during the second world war.
- In 2003 the Oyster card was introduced and busking became legal.
- One billion people were carried in a year for the first time in 2007.
Leaden Hall Market
Leaden Hall Market is a Victorian building that dates back to the 14th century, but its profile got an unexpected boost in more recent times when it became Diagon Alley in a few of the Harry Potter films.
Leaden Hall is a beautifully ornate, covered market, quite lovely to photograph.
London at night
London after dark has an amazing energy. Central London especially, when lit at night is spectacular and a playground of possibilities for photographers.
All along the banks of the River Thames you will find superb nightscapes to photograph, with the multitude of bridges providing useful reference and access points.
The sweet spot for light is, of course, that transition from dusk to dark when the luminance values are all balanced.
Even outside of the central area, look out for the red London buses which are perfect for adding context to your shots.
My top tip for buses at night is to wait near traffic lights for a red bus to stop. If you work out a good spot to shoot from you can capture a great night shot of the bus with other traffic light trails in the same shot.
For most of us, the London Eye is basically a big Ferris wheel, yet it has become the UK’s most popular, paid tourist attraction since it started spinning on 9 March, 2000.
I should point out, technically, the London Eye is not a Ferris wheel, it’s a cantilevered observation wheel.
More than 3.5 million people take the 30 min ride every year in the 32 capsules that cling to the large wheel. Fully loaded, the London Eye can carry 800 people at a time.
Photographing the London Eye is another must-do, no matter how touristy it may seem. Of course, you can always bring some creativity to the shot – long exposures, night pictures, unusual angles etc.
My own preference is at night, when the wheel and nearby buildings are illuminated with different coloured lights.
Red telephone boxes
Britain’s iconic red telephone boxes are slowly being removed from around the country, including the streets of London. Mobile phone technology is rendering this piece of historic architecture, redundant.
If you haven’t photographed the red telephone box already, get a move on. They are fast becoming collectors’ items.
The first of these K2 telephone boxes, (Kiosk 2) appeared in London in 1926. They were designed exclusively for the nation’s capital city by architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. Over the next decade 1,700 more followed.
The smaller, K6 telephone boxes were installed elsewhere around the country.
Alexandra Palace is a little off the beaten touristy path, but it’s never-the-less an important feature on the London and British landscape.
Known as the ‘People’s Palace,’ or Ally Pally, Alexandra Palace in north London sits atop a hilltop with superb views of the city skyline.
The grand looking building was opened in 1873 but has, since that time, been destroyed twice by fires and subsequently rebuilt.
In 1900 Parliament declared the Palace and Park should be made “available for the free use and recreation of the public forever.”
The BBC used part of Alexandra Palace to broadcast the first public television transmissions in 1936. It is still often referred to as the birthplace of television.
Today the leisure facilities are popular for corporate and private events. They include an ice rink, bar and kitchen, large event halls, a boating lake, animal enclosure and conservation area.
We once did a photo shoot at the Ally Pally ice rink with an Olympic figure skater. Click Here to view the shoot.
And we’ve also spent a week living in the area, walking each day in the beautiful grounds of the Palace. So we can vouch for it as a superb London location for a photography visit.
In an iconic city full of iconic imagery, Tower Bridge is one of the most symbolic London landmarks. Unsurprisingly, many people often (mistakenly) refer to it as London Bridge.
Tower Bridge is a beautiful structure that poses gracefully to have its picture taken from all angles and at all times of the day. I love that Tower Bridge, like much of London, remains freely and easily accessible to pedestrians.
If you plan to photograph Tower Bridge at dawn, midday or dusk, chances are you’ll find other photographers nearby, all drawn to capture this famous structure.
Tower Bridge facts:
- Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894.
- The bridge is 800 feet (244 m) long, the two towers are each 213 feet (65 m) high, built on piers.
- The 200 feet (61 m) between the towers are two equal bascules or leaves, which can be raised to allow river traffic to pass.
- Each leaf, or bascule, weighs over 1,000 tons and are counterbalanced allowing them to be easily raised in five minutes.
- Tower Bridge takes its name from the nearby Tower of London.
- Each day approximately 40,000 people cross Tower Bridge.
- The bascules are raised for river traffic approximately 1,000 times a year.
The Lloyd’s Building in London is now held up as an example of modern architectural excellence, but the reaction when it was first unveiled in 1986 was not so kind.
Architect, Richard Rogers’ design placed the staircases, lifts and pipes on the outside of the building, with a very industrial, metallic look, completely at odds with the Victorian style of Leaden Hall Market, right next door.
But over the three plus decades since, as the London skyline has accommodated a Gherkin, a Walkie Talkie and a Shard, the Lloyd’s Building now seems more of a trend-setter to be admired.
In 2011, 25 years after opening, the Lloyd’s Building received Grade 1 listing, the youngest building ever to do so. It has also appeared in a long list of films already, including Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Mamma Mia (2008) and The Avengers (1998).
Photographing the Lloyd’s Building is a bit of a challenge because of the narrow access streets and limited vantage points. You don’t get a clear shot at street level, like many of the other buildings. Photographers are always craning upwards and having to deal with converging lines.
Even so, if you take your time and scout all the angles it is possible to capture some super images, especially when the light catches those metallic surfaces at the right time of day.
Canary Wharf financial district is a relatively new addition to London, although the area itself has a long history.
Located in the east end of the city, this was previously important docklands where vital sea trading business flowed through England. Larger ships and the change to containerisation requiring deeper sea ports, led to a reduction in trade until eventually, by 1980, all of the major east end docks had closed.
The London Docklands Development Corporation, established by the British government, undertook a major regeneration project in the early 80s.
In addition to luxury housing, the Canary Wharf development created a major financial hub with the pointed skyscraper, One Canada Square, as an impressive centre-piece.
Over three decades the area has evolved with an extensive range of leisure and recreation facilities, green spaces, business and residential development. It’s also a rather calm environment, in comparison with central London, due to a lack of major roads and Canary Wharf operating its own public transport system.
Photographing Canary Wharf is a great day out for photographers. The architecture is modern and interesting to point a camera at. Many of the network of walkways criss-cross waterways and allow plenty of creative opportunities for obtaining cool pictures. A great vantage place to shoot the skyscraper cityscape from is Greenwich Park.
Don’t be surprised if a security guard appears to check what you’re up to around the buildings. But I’ve found they’ve always been curious rather than obstructive and after making sure you’re genuinely a photography enthusiast, they’ve always left us alone.
Photographing London People
Finally, this list must include London people who give the city its energy and character. Stand still in London and sooner or later you’ll hear every language of the world from those walking by.
Coming from a small island we always marvel at the sheer volume of people, the weird and wonderful fashions and the ethnic diversity of the faces. It’s all there.
Photographing people – strangers – is quite a challenge for many people, but it’s also an exciting thing to do as a photographer. It may surprise you to know, most people, once they realise you aren’t trying to sell them something, are usually happy to talk. Often in different countries we will just walk up to people with a voice recorder and ask them if they wouldn’t mind telling us about why they are visiting the city. And, could we take their picture. Nine times out of ten, people say yes.
Click here to read one of our London street interviews.
So that’s the final photographing London challenge, capturing the people. Even if you are photographing the street entertainers, try to capture some element of people. Of course, if you do then don’t forget to drop some money into the collection hat.
What do you recommend?
That’s our choice for photographing London and capturing the flavour of the city in 10 images. What’s yours? Have you been to London? Tell us which of your pictures sums up the spirit of London for you.
Interested in improving your street photography?
Click Here to view our useful tips on how to shoot great street photography.