Friday, November 29, 2013

A new London Nightscape...

 ...from a photographer's notebook

A Photo-Moment podcast about the shoot...

A November afternoon in the classical beauty and serenity of the Italian Gardens in London’s Kensington Gardens had given way to twilight, as I stayed on to photograph the twinkling lights on the bridge over The Long Water. 

At this time of year, twilight can rather quickly give way to full dark, and that’s what was happening as I left the park through the Marlborough Gate, just across Bayswater Road from Lancaster Gate Tube Station.
I love London. Even the streets are courteous, with bold lettering on the pavement telling us which way to look before crossing. I don’t actually know how long that’s been going on. I do remember almost coming out second best in a confrontation with a very large lorry on a busy downtown London street in 1984. Perhaps that street did come with a warning message and I was looking upward rather than at what my feet were about to do.

Or maybe they just got tired of cleaning up body parts of Yanks and others whose inborn inclination is to look the “wrong” way when crossing the street. In any case, in the last few years of visiting London, I’ve been much more aware of these useful messages just ahead of my shoes.

Bayswater Road is a quite busy thoroughfare this time of the evening, and I was sure to heed its “look this way” message before venturing across it, even after the lighted pedestrian crossing sign assured me it was safe to do so.

There is a triangular traffic island along Bayswater Road, where another street merges.  I paused here, as a bicycle tethered to a stand on the island caught my eye. Just a single bike - nothing “special” about it. Except for the smattering of still colorful late autumn leaves alongside it…and the long bicycle-shaped shadow the street light was casting on the concrete.  And, of course, the briskly moving rush hour traffic whizzing by on Bayswater Road - traffic that, I noted, included tall red double-decker buses.

Well, I just had to stop and set up the tripod for some time exposures of the moving night traffic, light-trailing past the stationary, nicely lighted bike on the island.

I know I often wax nostalgic, and passionate, in these pages over shooting film. But this is not going to be one of those times. This was a moment that clearly called for the digital SLR. I didn’t even think for a moment of removing my film camera from the pack. Of course, there was a time when the only way to capture a scene like this would have been with film. And, even then, I would not have known until days or weeks later, when my developed slides started catching up with me, if I’d even come close to nailing the right combination of shutter speed and f/stop for the effect I desired.

Nightscapes are like that – tricky.

In this case, as I had the luxury of a tripod, I simply set a nice “slow” ISO of 125 to ensure the purest rendition,  and started making some text exposures. The camera’s display would tell me when I got it “about” right. I stopped down to f/22 for most of the shots, as I wanted both lots of depth of focus and the sort of  starburst effects that small aperture can bring to the party…

But I was also seeking the right kind of light trails, combined with all three lamps of the traffic signal being lighted, if that could all come together. So, the variables were mainly exposure duration and choosing my traffic moments, hoping always for a nice red double- decker streaking by.

I think it all came together in this one, with the added attraction of the high-mounted bluish-white lights of traffic veering in the opposite direction crossing on the far side of the island.

After perhaps 45 minutes setting up the shot and then taking things down, a cold-handed but warmly contented photographer rewarded himself by relaxing over some excellent gravlax and a sinful dessert at a nearby café, before heading across town for another bit of “Nightscapery” involving overhead trains and a Dickensian looking building in the Borough of Southwark, to be recounted in a future ramble. (Hint: It has to do with the Michael Caine crime-thriller “Blue Ice.”)

And, if you’d like a higher definition look at "Bicycle, Bayswater Road," please follow this link to its page on Foto-Community.  It is available in archival gallery prints (including very large on metallic paper) and as a new entry in my range of custom printed Photo Note Cards. For details, please be in touch at emberphoto (at) hotmail (dot) com.

'Ta for now.

©2013 Steve Ember

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