Big Ben

It's night time in London!

Two more of my favorite photos from my trip to London. Today's favorites were both taken at about the same time in almost the same place... The first is a long exposure taken on the Westminster Bridge of Big Ben. I took a similar picture on the Tower Bridge the last time I was here, but I've always wanted to take one with the famous clock in the background.  I love this city and this location, so this shot was a goal of mine on this trip.  I took a ton of photos at this location trying to get the lights on the cars just right. I wanted the light streaks at different levels, so I waited for busses, cars, bikes... anything with a light! It seemed like every time there were the right cars, there were no busses, and every time there were buses, there were no cars.  I really need the busses and the cars in order to get the right amount of lights at the right nights.  It took about 25 minutes to get the shot I was looking for.  You'd be surprised how hard it is to get the cars and busses to cooperate.  There was actually a shot where everything was coming together, but since I was taking 30 second exposures, there was a lot of time for something to go wrong.  I almost had it when a tourist with him iPad camera stopped right in front of me to take the same shot I was taking!!  He literally stood there for at least 20 seconds before he realized that he was standing RIGHT IN MY SHOT!  He offered an apology and moved on, but I still punched him in his face. ;)  I guess I couldn't fault him as I thought this was a pretty perfect spot.  The image below was taken at 25 sec at f/18, ISO 100.

How are these hats for souvenirs?  Best money I've ever spent... except for the sticky toffee pudding we had for dessert!

How are these hats for souvenirs?  Best money I've ever spent... except for the sticky toffee pudding we had for dessert!

The second was taken just about 100 feet away from the bridge, down the street, facing across the river at the London Eye. I literally walked off the bridge and about 100 feet down the bank of the river.  This spot looks magical at night and this photo really captured the area for me. Getting the boat lights to streak by just added to the magic look. The photo below was taken at 30 sec at f/14, ISO 100.  Since I was standing on the edge of the river, at least no tourists could stand in front of me, but again I had to wait for the boats to come by.  You think it was hard to wait for cars and busses... boats are way harder.  Hardly any come at night, so there was a lot of waiting.  Although, I guess if you have to wait for a shot, the banks of the Thames is a pretty good place to wait... My friends and I even managed to find a souvenir while we were waiting. 

My final shot of the London Eye with the streaks of lights from the passing boats.  Once everything came together, I really liked the shot.

Series: Behind the Photo

As many of you know, I spent the last week of January in London, and what many of you probably don't know is that I LOVE London.  The people, the food (yeah, I said it. The food in London has really become fantastic and we had some great meals) and most of all the architecture.  I love the buildings.  Each and every one of them look like they could be the focus of a beautiful photo.  I love how you could go into a Starbucks (not that I did) and it could be housed inside of a thousand-year-old building.  I mean the Starbucks I often go to near my office is in a building that's nine years old. So when I found out I'd be going to London, I made sure to pack in a way that would allow me to bring my photo equipment.  I even got a new bag for the trip that would allow me to bring everything I needed for photography but in a smaller bag.  I went with the Lower Pro Runner 200 AW Backpack and I'm really glad I did.  It's the perfect size for my camera and the three lenses I wanted to bring, which included the honking 70-200 2.8, which as you might now, is a pretty big lens.  After the lenses there's still room for some extra batteries, the charger, memory cards and a case with some filters.  It's a great bag for traveling and I highly recommend it.  Not too big, not too small... just right.

Anyway, let's get to the photo.  I chose this photo today because I have received a lot of questions about it and, frankly, it was a bit of a challenging photo to take.

To be honest, I thought pictures of the Parliament building and Big Ben all pretty much look the same.  From this distance, there isn't a whole lot of options for shooting the building.  You can just get Big Ben, or get the bridge and the clock, or part of the building and end with the clock, but I've always wanted to have a few good photos of this building.  Ever since I first visited London, I wanted to come and get this shot and this was my opportunity.  So, even though I didn't love the creativity needed for this shot, I really wanted the photo.

To make it a little different, I decided to make a panorama.  For more info on how to make a panoramic image like this, type "pano" in the search box above and my previous blog posts on the subject should come up.  Anyway, I decided to shoot a pano.  Now, in order to get the soft, silky water I knew I was going to have to use some pretty long exposures which means having a really good tripod is a requirement.  I took 7 photos, all overlapping by about a third and took them vertically to allow for the most leeway when using Photoshop to put them all together.  If you shoot horizontally, you have less photo at the top and bottom to work with. When you use a good tripod, this is less of an issue since you're pretty much staying on the same horizontal plane, but it's still a good idea.  I shot in manual mode so my camera wouldn't change the exposure if one image was a big brighter or darker than the others.  If I shot on Aperture Priority, I'd run the risk of having different exposures for one or more of the photos, and when you try to stitch them all together you'll run into problems.  Problems that can be fixed, but it's harder than it needs to be. So I shot each photo at 25 sec at f/18 and ISO 100. To get the 25 seconds I had to use a ND filter because it was already too bright when I took this shot.  For this image I used a 10-stop ND filter from Hoya and it worked like a charm.  I chose this exposure to have the shutter open long enough to make the water look soft and creamy but also so I didn't have the aperture closed down all the way to f/22 to maintain maximum sharpness.

Some people asked how I got that soft even blue sky.  Well, this photos was taking at around 6:00 in the morning, so the sun hadn't come up yet.  This is what we call the blue hour, which in the morning is before the golden hour and makes for really interesting and beautiful photos. I think photos look really sharp and clean at this time. 30 minutes later, the light totally changed and looked like this photo below.

So now the question is, if I was taking 25 sec exposure, how did I get that boat to be so sharp?  At 25 sec, it should just be a blur whizzing by, right? So did I take a fast exposure of just the boat and use Photoshop to put it in?  Nope!  Wanna know the secret?  Okay, but don't tell anybody... the boat wasn't moving.  It was anchored right there in front of the building.  Worked out great, huh?

After using Photoshop to stitch all the photos together and then to add some contrast and sharpness, erase a few dust spots on my sensor and clean-up some of the ugly scafolding that you can see still on the left of the photo... Voila! You can see the final image above and I really dig it.  I've waited a long time to get it and it was totally worth it.  Of course half the fun is getting up early, taking photos, then walking to the Borough Street Market for breakfast and coffee.  It's amazing how much a hot cup of coffee can improve your photo taking abilities on a freezing cold, London morning.