London in August, what could possibly go wrong? The weather, of course. I had planned a two week break to visit family and to shoot stock in my birth city, something I had never really done before. Generally London in late August the weather is fairly benign and reliable, late August 2014 proved to be not quite so co-operative.
Tower Bridge Area
My first planned shoot was an early morning venture to the Tower Bridge area and the signs from the 05:37 AM train to London Bridge looked good. The predawn glow in the sky was a rich golden color all the way until the time the train pulled into London Bridge Station. By the time I had reached the Thames, that dull overcast that often afflicts London had set in. Undaunted, I shot a few handheld low light images, shot at ISO 800 that worked out quite well with some, quite heavy post production.
Some heavy post production was needed to get to this stage. Photo by Jason Row Photography
Arriving at City Hall the weather was no better and not looking like it would improve either. However having just bought a new square filter kit from Formatt-Hitech and carrying my trusty Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod, I decided to see what could be achieved in the poor light. I did a number of architectural shots in and around the City Hall area testing out both the hard edge ND grad filters and a 6 Stop ND.
After exhausting the photographic possibilities on this side of the river I headed over Tower Bridge to do some shots near St. Katherine's Wharf. As I got there, there was a brief let up in the skies that allowed me to get some fairly dramatic shots of Tower Bridge with the iconic Shard behind it. Again I used the ND grads to bring some life in to the sky and the camera was tripod mounted. By the time this brief interlude in the light had passed, the light looked increasingly gloomy and it was time for some photographic retail therapy in Central London.
A fleeting glimpse of sunlight. Photo by Jason Row Photography
Heading to Westminster
I tried a number of other shoots during my stay, virtually all unsuccessful, thwarted by a constant low cloud and gloominess, both meteorologically and personally. On my last Sunday in London however, there was a parting of the clouds in the afternoon, enough to inspire me to jump into my car and head to Westminster. By the time I got there, the clouds had disbursed into fluffy white cotton wool backed by deep blue summer skies. Perfect time for shooting.
Having about 3 hours before sunset, I decided to shoot as much as I could, handheld using my Fuji X-Pro1 and Fuji X100s. Being a Sunday in late summer the area was packed with tourists but despite this, I managed to get some fairly standard stock shots of the Palace of Westminster and the sights around this area before heading back to south side of the river to shoot Westminster Bridge at sunset.
The only good day in two weeks. Photo by Jason Row Photography
I parked myself on a bench on near the London Eye and waited for the sun to drop, tripod at the ready, image already visualized. The light was looking great and as the moment came to start shooting, I prepared my tripod and mounted my camera. Within seconds, I was approached by a local security guard and told that the entire Southbank of the Thames in this area was private property and tripods were not allowed. There was no point in arguing, it was quite obvious that his daily brief was to go out at sunset and round up photographers with tripod.
However, this piece of petty bureaucracy was to work in my favor as I gathered up my gear and headed to the other side of Westminster Bridge opposite the Houses of Parliament. As I arrived, I realized that I was in a perfect position to get the sun setting right beside the clock tower and working fast I shot a series of different shots to capture this.
A happy byproduct of bureaucracy. Photo by Jason Row Photography
As the light faded the location revealed to me some other interesting angles and using the tripod, ND Grads and some slow shutter speeds I was able, at last, to have a successful London stock shoot.
After the sun had set. Photo by Jason Row Photography
The lessons learnt from these two weeks were several. Firstly never plan on the British weather, be prepared to have a plan B. Secondly there is no escaping bureaucracy. Lastly, be prepared to move quickly if you see a break in the weather.
The main reason for shooting London, other than stock was to field test my Fuji mirrorless system and that, I have to say was a huge success. The lightness, instinctive controls and sheer quality of the Fuji cameras made shooting fun again. No longer burdened by heavyweight DSLRs and pro lenses yet still having access to wide aperture objectives I was more than happy to take a tripod with me wherever I went, allowing me to obtain much better images from a technical point of view.
The lessons learnt from using the Fuji cameras would serve me well on the next leg of my stock shoots, a week in Belgium covering the beautiful cities of Ghent and Brugge.