This is the second trip to the capital I have embarked on purely for photography. The last time I took the National Express Coach through the night to give me from 6am to 10pm in London. This time I went a little more adventurous and took the train from Newcastle on Friday evening which meant arriving at Kings Cross a little after 1am. Then catching the return train back at 9pm on the Saturday. This would only give an extra 4 hours compared with my last trip, but crucially would allow a period of night time shots when first getting there, a sunrise, and a sunset before leaving. By organising the trip a lot earlier in the year there was the scope to do this by having a shorter day.
On this trip I was accompanied by my good friend Andrew. Arriving at Kings Cross at that time in the morning is a little surreal at first. We started on a walk towards St Paul’s cathedral. With the plan of walking across Tower Bridge and then making our way along the Thames so that we made it around The Houses of Parliament for sunrise. This would give us around 4-5 hours to get as many different night time setups and cover the ground required.
Here is one of the first shots that I did whilst setup on the Millennium Bridge looking back at St Paul’s Cathedral. It was nice after the time travelling both on the train and the two mile walk from the station to this location to finally take a photograph. Standing on the bridge at 2am it was nice just to take in the view looking at the financial district sparkling away.
The next few shots I took were underneath this bridge where I got to try out my new Sigma 12-24 lens which I had just picked up the week before. This is an extremely wide angle lens which I thought was essential for this trip.
Next we walked along heading towards Tower Bridge. It was surprising how many people were still around this area at the time of night. Quite a few coming out of offices, deliveries being made, and other creative people out with cameras. We stopped at some sort of music video being recorded using the bridge as a back drop. This is an image with my back to Tower Bridge taking in the Lord Mayor’s office to the left and HMS Belfast on the right. The weather at this point was still dry but I was starting to feel the cold a little bit as the breeze from the Thames increased. As a good friend of mine once told me there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices. I did think I had the correct clothing on for the conditions though.
We then walked up on to a Tower Bridge to try and get some light trails going across. This was more difficult than planned because of two factors, the first being the lack of cars going in both directions. And secondly the traffic was moving very slowly due to some traffic enforcement measures. This is good for safety but not good for creating a lot of different light trails.
Once on the bridge the wind was definitely picking up and this caused some issues of trying to keep the tripod still for the time necessary. I was trying to do 30 second exposures to capture the lights of the cars and to help smooth the Thames out a bit. At this point it also started to rain a little bit and I was having to keep droplets off the front element of the lens. I still got a couple of shots I was happy with.
We then walked around the back of The Tower of London and headed back towards the Houses of Parliament. On checking the time we realised that we would need to get a bit of a move on to make the sunrise. Although we had captured some good images time was starting to become a bit tight. The next time we stopped was close to London Bridge to capture the skyline that included the Shard.
During this period of time I was becoming very tired and didn’t realise how hungry and drained that I was becoming. I was starting to struggle to walk in a straight line and unable to concentrate enough to take photographs. This is where not attempting this feat by myself became so vital as Andrew was able to navigate us to a 24 hour McDonalds. In hindsight we should have had more supplies with us, we had always planned to travel light and stop regularly at the many 24 hour cafes and shops. But I think we were both caught up in the moment to keep taking photographs that we let our guard down on the tiredness and hunger creeping in. Fortunately after a substantial amount of food and coffee with extra sugars in I felt rejuvenated and then realised how unwell I had become just prior to arriving.
At this time we were right next to the Houses of Parliament and the sun was coming up with a nice bit of colour behind some nicely formed clouds. Not only was the light very nice after the 6 hours of darkness we had just walked around in; it was nice to feel a little bit of warmth form the sun as well.
After spending some time here we headed off again. This time the tripod was stored in my bag so it felt nice just to have my camera in my hand and being able to be a lot more fluid in taking photographs instead of having to setup tripod each time.
Our next location was going to be almost 25 miles away – Windsor Castle. The reason for this was to photograph the Changing of the Guard. Prior to the trip I had contacted a Sergeant that I know who is based in London to ask if he would be on shift during the day that we were there. Fortunately he was able to let us capture some fantastic images from some angles that are not normally possible. And for this we were both very grateful. This gave us a nice 40 minutes on the train where we were off our feet, warm, and even managed to close our eyes for a little bit. Luckily the station at Windsor is the end of the line so there was no fear of missing our stop.
Here are a few photos from the Changing of The Guard at Windsor Castle. Definitely a fantastic experience and truth be told probably made the whole visit to London worth it.
After this we stayed for lunch in Windsor which was another good refuelling stop. We were soon back on the train and heading towards Central London. We got off at Waterloo and headed towards Buckingham Palace. The time now late afternoon the crowds were still quite busy. It is always difficult to get a nice photograph of the Queen's residence due to the amount of people that are always there and the large fence that surrounds the grounds. With my new wide angle lens I was keen to push the lens in a gap of the railings and see if I could get an unobstructed view of the palace. I think this shot works well.
After another refreshment stop we took a walk back down the Mall and cut through St James Park heading towards House Guards. We then headed back towards the Houses of Parliament. This time on the opposite side of the Thames to capture sunset. This is possibly my favourite image of the whole trip excluding the Changing of the Guard that I took. I just love the colours and the composition.
Night started to come quickly and with it came some hard rain. The first time in the trip that I questioned the sanity of staying up all of these hours and covering all of the miles that we had. We had stopped at a couple of locations to do some light trails but with the weather changing and when we looked at the location some other photographers had beat us to the best position we decided to get a black cab to Kings Cross and call it a day. The relief of sitting in the warm taxi and knowing the walking was almost at and end was a great feeling. Although there was also a feeling of accomplishment of achieving what we set out to achieve. Thanks to Andrew for joining me on this experience. Now to start planning the next adventure.
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