A Walk Through the Park

Today's London photos come courtesy of my walk home through Hyde Park. I love this place and try to walk through it any time I'm town. It's like Central Park in New York, except everybody has cool accents. It's a beautiful place and like most typical London days, it started to rain during my trek. That didn't stop me, or the parrots from showing up.

The first picture is a shot through the trees of a fountain near the Marble Arch. The fountain had tons of people around it, so taking the shot through the trees allowed me to keep the tourists out of the shot and made for a nice frame. Shot at 1/500 sec at f/7.1, ISO 100.

The second shot is one of a number I got of the wild parrots that can be found in the park. Trust me, you'll know when you're close to finding them. They're not quiet. I saw a ton, but this guy seemed to want to have his picture taken, so this was a favorite. Shot at 1/320 sec at f/5.0, ISO 1600. I had to bump up the ISO in this shot cause the clouds were coming in and it was actually pretty dark under the tree canopy.


Finally, this shot of a bridge over the lake in Hyde Park. I'm sure it has a name I should know, but I don't... so don't ask. I processed this phone in Color Efex 4.0. I needed to process it cause there were a lot of blurry spots in this photo. Truth is, I actually got rain drops on my lens and took a bunch of photos without noticing. So a little color, a little blur, some contrast and wham-o bam-o, this is what I ended up liking. Shot at 15 sec on a tripod at f/22, ISO 100.

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.

A Walk Up Primrose Hill

As you may have noticed, I added a few vacation days to a work trip to London earlier this month. Of course with some free days, I spent all most all of them taking photos and over the next few days I'll share some of my favorites here. Today's photos are the result of a early morning trip to Primrose Hill in the Primrose Hill District of London. The hill of 213 feet is located on the northern side of Regent's Park and offers a pretty stunning view of central London. Nowadays it is one of the most exclusive and expensive residential areas in London and is home to many prominent residents. I took the tube at sunrise to take photos as I heard that every photographer has to take picture on this hill. To be honest, it was a little underwhelming, but did offer a great view and it was a fun little trip on the tube and a bus to get there. The first shot is a pano made up of 8 individual photos all taken at 1/15 sec at f/18, ISO 100. It's easiest to shoot a pano on manual so your exposure remains constant for all the photos in the group. You don't want your exposure to change as you take the photos while you move around.

This is the view from standing at the top of the hill, facing central London across the river.  If you look carefully toward the right of center, you can see the London Eye.

This is the view from standing at the top of the hill, facing central London across the river.  If you look carefully toward the right of center, you can see the London Eye.

The second photos was unplanned, but has a pretty good story behind it. Remember, I was at Primrose Hill at about 6:00 in the morning. As I started hiking up the hill, I passed about 8 guys, all drinking, half smoking pot and half with no shirts... at 6:00am. So, to fit in, I decided to take off my shirt and drink with them. Yeah... I'm kidding. I walked up the hill and one of the guys (who was wearing a shirt) started shouting at me, "hey photo man... take our picture... come on photo man." So I figured I was in no position to say no to them, so when they realized that I was willing to photograph them, three of the 8 guys stood together, with their weed and drinks in hand, and posed for the attached picture. You can pretty easily tell the guy who asked for the photo to be taken. He's the guy who's not covering his face and is actually smiling. Anyway, after taking one photo and thinking "okay, it's time for me to get out of here," the guy, in his completely wasted, drunk voice, said, "thank you photo man... now share that picture and tell the world about us." I'm not sure what I'm supposed to tell the world, but here's the picture. Taken at 1/80 sec at f/6.3, ISO 100 and processed in Tonality Pro. Enjoy!

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.

In London with an iPhone

As you can probably guess, I love to take pictures.  I love everything about it.  I like seeing new places. I like seeing old places in a new way.  I love to share the photos I've taken.  I love the gear and the toys.  Another thing I love is London.  Yeah, the one in England.  I've been there a few times and love it more each time I'm there.  I love the history, the culture, the architecture, the people and so much more.  It's just so classy.  When I'm there I want to eat bangers, wear a scarf and a hat, drink a scotch in a bar surrounded by rich, dark wood and ride a lift up to my room to use the loo (if you don't speak English, that means take the elevator up to my room to pee).  A few weeks ago I found out that I was going to London and Stockholm for work and immediately, I was pretty excited.  I was going to get to go to London for the first time since I've been obsessed, uh, I mean "into" photography.  The idea of being able to get up early and stroll the street of London taking photos made me giddy.  

The small size, interchangeable lens and good quality make this a great travel camera when space is an issue.

So we arrived in the early afternoon the day before we had work responsibilities, so I immediately wrangled the troops to start walking the streets, with my goal to take some great pictures.  Now because this was a work trip and I knew I wouldn't have a lot of free time and I didn't want to bother everybody else with my gear, I decided to take my Lumix GX-1 micro four thirds camera instead of my Canon 5D.  Now this camera doesn't take photos of the same quality as my Canon, but I didn't want to lug a lot of equipment around, so this was a great alternative.  It still has interchangeable lenses, so you have a lot of freedom, but all three of the lenses I brought probably weigh less than one of my Canon lenses.  I also brought two 16GB memory cards and two batteries.  I brought two batteries cause that way I'd always have one charged, and when one ran out I could just switch it with the other... always being ready to shoot (remember this statement... it's important to the story).  

So, I'm in the hotel room, freshly cleaned up from the long flight and ready to hit the streets.  I grabbed my camera bag with the gear I mentioned above and met the team outside.  "Where do we want to go," someone asked. "I don't care... let's just start walking" I said.  We crossed the street and I came upon my first red phone box.  For the record, I always thought these things were called phone booths, but I was quickly corrected by a local and told "they're a phone box, dummy!"  I took my camera off my shoulder to start shooting.  It wouldn't turn on.  Turned it off and on and no luck.  The battery was dead.  Okay, I'm a dummy, I didn't charge the battery before my trip.  Now I'm on the streets of London with a dead camera battery.  NEVER FEAR, I have a  backup!  Remember what I said.  It's important to ALWAYS carry a backup.  You never know when you'll have a situation like this.  So with an "I got this" smile on my face, I reached into my bag to pull out that spare.  Put that sucker in and got ready to start shooting.  Nothing.  Crickets.  Actually, not even crickets, cause they would at least make a chirping noise.  I had silence.  Because the backup battery wasn't changed either!!!  I know, I'm a total dummy-head.  No better way to make you look like a complete photography doofus in front of your friends then showing up with two dead batteries!  So that was it.  We only had this afternoon for free time, and i knew this was going to be my only opportunity to take shots of the city.  Charging the battery would take at least an hour and that was an hour I didn't have.  So, I put the camera back in my bag, reached into my pocket and took out my iPhone.  Yep, that's all I had now, so that was what I was going to use.  You've head the expression that the best camera is the one you have with you?  Well, it's true.  At this moment the iPhone was the best camera in the world.  Now let's be honest, the iPhone takes good photos, but you certainly don't get the control or quality you get with a more traditional camera.  You can't really control ISO, aperture or shutter speed.  You can't blow up the photos large either, but for now it was what I had, so it was going to work.  

Below are some of my favorite photos from England... all taken with my iPhone.  So enjoy the photos and when you're done, go CHARGE YOUR CAMERA BATTERIES!!!  Believe me, it's the kind of mistake that I'll only make once.  Maybe twice, but probably once.

There was no way that not having my camera with me was going to prevent me from snapping a photo of THE red phone box.  I call it a phone booth, but I was quickly corrected by locals.  Kinda funny that I took the pic of the classic old phone box with my cell phone.

Flowers... that is all.

Even with your cell phone, don't forget about b&w shots.  Black and white looks just as cool on your cell phone pics as it does on your regular camera.

What is this?  A phone booth?  NO, it's a phone box... I told you... you weren't listening.  Let's try again.  What's this?  A phone box?  Good.

This photo was taking with my phone as it was getting late in the day, so there's a lot of "noise" because the phone turns up the ISO in the dark and there's nothing you can do about it.  That's okay.  A good picture is a good picture and a little noise never hurt anybody.  You can always remove it in Lightroom or Photoshop, but in this image I kinda like it.  Helps give it that old-timey feel.

If you don't have a red phone box to shoot... shoot the red double decker bus!

Sometime to make a regular photo a little more interesting, it helps to not shoot it straight on and level.  In this case, I've seen this shot of Big Ben about a hundred million times, so I tried a different take on it.

You don't always have to shoot the entire subject when you're taking pictures.  Sometimes part of the subject can be just as, if not more interesting.

I love shooting the locals when I travel.  This wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but heck, I only had my iPhone with me and in fact, I kinda like how it turned out.

Even when shooting pictures with a cell phone, being out at the golden hour makes a huge difference. That warm, soft glow only comes from being out at the right time.