Following on from a previous outing to do night photography (see As the light fades…), we went on another expedition this evening. We started by taking a bus to Waterloo Bridge.
The sky was still above the horizon but the shadows were lengthening. The golden light is good for photography because it is relativity soft.
Waterloo Bridge provides a fine view of the Thames. Quite a lot of shipping moves around in the area, adding interest. The next bridge is Blackfriars. There are also several famous buildings in view: on the left bank, the dome of St Paul’s and the bullet-shaped Gherkin; on the right bank, shaped like a water carafe, the (expletive deleted) Shard.
We walked down to Somerset House and tarried a while in the courtyard. The first building here was a Tudor palace built in 1547 by Edward Seymour, Lord Protector (of the underage Edward VI) and Duke of Somerset. The palace was finished in 1573 but, alas for him, the Duke had already lost his head to the executioner in 1572.
The present building, beautiful as it is, dates only from 1775. The original building had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the best course was to demolish it and start again. Thus was finally swept away a site with a complex history that had seen crowned heads and powerful statesmen as residents, and repeated phases of expensive rebuilding and decoration. An account of that history will be found here.
After enjoying the peaceful surroundings of a courtyard once more restored to its natural state after being cluttered with temporary structures during a recent event, we walked through the arch into the Strand.
In the Strand, we waited for a bus to carry us to the next place that we wanted to photograph. While waiting, I snapped the church of St Mary le Strand, the tip of whose spire was catching the last of the sunlight.
The bus dropped us off in Whitehall and we walked around the corner to this famous arch.
Admiralty Arch is one of those features of London that we feel has been here for ever but it in fact bears the date of its construction upon it, incorporated in the Latin dedication: In the tenth year of King Edward VII, to Queen Victoria, from most grateful citizens, 1910.
The Arch contains a mystery. In the rightmost arch (as seen from Trafalgar Square), about 7 feet from the ground, is a stone nose. Many theories have been proposed but no one seems to know for sure whose nose it is meant to be. Some say that it is that of the Duke of Wellington (known for his large nose) and that mounted guardsmen rub it for good luck as they pass through. Others say it is Napoleon’s, put there to be insulted by passers-by. Still others claim it is a spare nose for Admiral Nelson atop his column but, in that case, why only a nose? Why not other spare body parts as well? The truth is no one knows to whom the nose belongs.
Just through the Arch is a statue to Yuri Gagarin, unveiled by his daughter Elena, on July 14th 2011, a gift of the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos. Gagarin, as you of course know, was the first man to go into space when his space ship, Vostok, orbited the earth in 1961. The fact that he was a Russian was sufficiently disturbing to the US that it provoked the famous Space Race that led to the landing of American “astronauts” (the Russians, perhaps more ambitiously, preferred the word “cosmonauts”) on the moon.
As you can see from the above photo, it was now becoming dark. Tigger was in her element taking night photos with her new camera. I am less keen because I have little experience of night photography and didn’t expect to get results I would like. But I had brought a tripod so it seemed worth a try, just see how it turned out.
We put tripods on a central refuge and took pictures along the Mall. The one above was taken opposite the ICA looking south-west(ish) towards Buckingham Palace, which can just be glimpsed. Because it is a time exposure, the pedestrian near the car on the right looks like a ghost.
We then moved into St James’s Park where I took a number of photos, including the above, which shows the lake and the fountain. Maybe if you attach adjectives like “mysterious”, “romantic”, etc., it’ll pass muster…
This one is a bit odd. I don’t know why the light seems reddish as I don’t remember it as such though perhaps the brain adapts its vision to colour bias better than the camera does. The blue of the sky glimpsed through the foliage suggests the colour balance is about right. The war memorial is glimpsed to the left.
We tarried a while in Parliament Square, where I took this photo of the clock we all know as Big Ben though, strictly speaking, that is the name of the bell that chimes the hours. By compensating for the surrounding darkness, the camera has over-exposed the clock face.
I would call the last 6 photos “interesting” rather than anything else. They demonstrate the difficulty of night photography in the city where the extreme contrast of bright lights in an almost dark environment makes a complete rendering of the scene virtually impossible: you can meter for the lights and black out the rest, or meter for the background and get overspill from the lights. Either way, you need a tripod because no one can hold a camera still enough for the length of exposure required.
This high contrast is perceived as a problem in photography because the eye and the camera look at a scene differently. In the photo, you see the scene as a whole with whatever exposure the camera has adopted for it. When you look with the eye, you view the scene piecemeal. As you look at each little bit, the eye adapts to its level of brightness and the brain makes a composite whole so that you think you see the whole scene, not a collection of correctly "exposed" bits. Until cameras can be designed that see as the eye sees, we will continue to face this problem.
As photographic technology continues to evolve and cameras become virtual miniature computers, perhaps this problem will eventually be solved. One way of coping with the problem at present is called High Dynamic Range (HDR for short). In this technique, you take preferably 3 or more photos of the scene at different exposures (for example, using the exposure bracketing function of your camera if it has this) and then combine them in software. It is possible also the apply HDR techniques to a single frame if you shoot in "RAW" mode but don’t ask me how that works because I haven’t studied it yet (and don’t shoot in RAW, anyway).
Does this work? Yes, it does: just search on "high dynamic range" in your browser and you will find many examples of HDR photos as well as tutorials on the technique. If you have the money (for the software) and also the time and patience to play with your photos, you will get a result in which the correctly exposed parts from the different frames are combined into one picture. However, it is a result that I personally do not find pleasing. To me, HDR pictures look unnatural, rather as if they were scenes of an alien world executed in acrylic paint. There is a dream or nightmare atmosphere about them.
Although I do also edit my photos, I do so relatively lightly and my goal is always to make the photographed scene resemble as closely as possible what I saw with my own eyes, rather than to achieve a technically excellent photo. I may never win any awards in photographic competitions but that’s how I like my photos – warts and all!