Hi. Here’s the 411:
London Diaries is a blog documenting the street photography adventures of Kate (@that_fujifilmgirl) and PJ (@pj.pix): two women who, through some sort of bizarre mid-life crisis, inexplicably choose to frequently wander the streets of London with cameras in the name of art.
We have been best friends for 14 years, having initially bonded over a mutual dislike of everybody else at a baby group that neither of us wanted to attend in the first place. In 2016, we invested in a pair of Canon Powershot SX420 IS cameras, so that we could take an ungodly amount of photographs of squirrels and trees and interestingly-shaped fern. Unsurprisingly, within a year or so, the thrill of capturing robins with a 42x optical zoom got a little less thrilling, and we needed a new game plan (and camera upgrades). Despite really loving photography, the problem was we had quite plausibly photographed every tree in the local forest already. We needed to find new locations to shoot, where the subjects would be ever-changing. Enter street photography. And better gear.
Now approximately once a week, PJ and I get on board a
Great Western train out of Slough, accompanied by her Sony A6300 and my Fujifilm X100F, and head into Central London. Inevitably, she will provide the soundtrack to our day – randomly bursting into vague snippets of songs (often with brand new lyrics) that she deems fitting to whatever moment we find ourselves in. Recently, this has mainly been Peaches by The Stranglers, for reasons that are unclear even to her. If you don’t have a friend like this, I highly recommend finding one. We drink a lot of coffee, walk a lot of miles, talk a lot of nonsense, and shoot a lot of photographs. It’s the best mid-life crisis I could’ve hoped for.
Despite the presence of advent calendars and dwindling bank balances, we suddenly had a shock realisation that Christmas is just around the corner, and therefore our opportunities to get out and shoot would be somewhat limited over the next couple of weeks. So we squeezed in an impromptu midweek shoot, with the vague idea that we would head over to Shoreditch in East London to check out the Wednesday vibes, having only shot there at weekends previously. Shoreditch is famous for its street art, hipster eateries and vintage shops, so it’s always a good spot for a wander.
My vague objective: To shoot .jpeg only today (partly as an experiment, and partly because what is life without a little stress?)
Camera settings: Shutter priority, film simulation bracketing (ACROS, ACROS+R, and Classic Chrome).
Camera: Fujifilm X100F, 23mm lens.
Time of shoot: 11:29 – 15:43.
Number of coffees consumed: 3.
Distance covered: 4.5 miles.
You might have noticed from this map that we didn’t actually go anywhere near Shoreditch. There were three contributing factors to this:
- Once we arrived at the train station, every train out of Slough was either cancelled or delayed due to an earlier incident. We didn’t end up pulling out of Slough station until about 10:30am, and we all know how there’s only about five minutes of daylight this time of year to shoot in as it is.
- Because of all the delays, the train carriages were PACKED full of passengers. I spent the next hour stood squashed up against the door, effectively being given an unsolicited lap dance by a burly stranger, whilst the couple next to me had one of those entertaining, under-the-breath style arguments about the inappropriateness of the woman’s patronising tone towards her partner. The journey was hot, and not in a good way. The train also had some kind of electrical malfunction partway to its destination, and the driver was forced to literally try “turning it off and back on again”. Not just a quick fix for computers, it seems.
- By the time we arrived at London Paddington, it was 11:30am, and it was FREEZING. The kind of freezing that forces you to go to Primark to buy additional layers. And once we found ourselves outside Primark at Marble Arch, it seemed daft to get on the tube to go elsewhere to shoot. Today’s route was decided: a standard Marble Arch to London Waterloo wander, via Oxford Street, Soho, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, China Town, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Jubilee Bridge, and the South Bank. Potentially a whole wealth of street photography opportunities.
Ah, Oxford Street. Shopping Mecca for masochists. Especially in December. It has a well-deserved reputation for being… busy. Ordinarily, this would suck, but for street photography purposes, it’s pretty awesome because you’re automatically super close to a whole range of interesting people, all of whom are so focussed on getting to their destination and away from Oxford Street, they barely notice your camera at all. And if they do, they don’t care. They’re busy surviving Oxford Street.
Six months ago, I had a tendency to “spray and pray” in this area – put the camera in burst mode and hope to catch a chance interesting facial expression or outfit. Which was fine. It served its purpose as an exercise in building my confidence and reassuring me that people, even Londoners, don’t generally punch people in the face for taking their photograph. There’s no shame in doing this, and in fact, if you’re new to the world of street photography, I’m going to go right ahead and recommend it. Succeeding in capturing a few chance images that are beyond your expectations is a really good incentive to get out shooting again, and over time, you will refine your technique, develop a more natural eye for composition, and come home with more quality over quantity on your SD card (and disable that burst mode). That old adage about your first 10,000 images being your worst is really true, and whilst you can gain pointers from other people’s experiences, nothing will improve your results better than just making the effort to go out with your camera and shooting as much as possible. Don’t compare your images to those taken by other people. EVERYBODY you are inspired by had to start somewhere, and when they first started, they absolutely were not producing the quality photographs that they share with the world now.
Even if you’ve never been to London, if you’ve been on Instagram, you’ll recognise Soho. The seediness that the area was famed for in the 20th century has largely disappeared, to be replaced by a whole lot of neon signage, artisan coffee shops and photogenic side streets (although a handful of sex shops remain, and they make pretty cool backdrops in photographs. Just saying). The couple in the coffee shop window cottoned on to me trying to photograph them pretty much instantly. I faked some ridiculous panoramic filming thing with my camera in order to look less suspicious, but unsurprisingly, they didn’t buy it. Her facial expression says it all. Sometimes it’s fun to take photographs in which the subjects are aware of the camera. PJ and I call it “lens love” (or “lens loathe”, as the case may be).
REGENT STREET / PICCADILLY CIRCUS
Back into the main hustle and bustle of the Christmas shopping district. Regent Street is a good location to get those bus window shots, as there’s a near constant stream of passing buses. I don’t tend to take a lot of photographs at Piccadilly Circus itself – I’m normally distracted by that big LG screen that plays the BTS endorsement advert for the G7 phone. I can’t focus on snapping pictures when there’s an enormous Park Jimin nearby.
I make no secret at all about my love for Chinatown. I have taken more photographs in the four main roads of Chinatown that I have collectively anywhere else in total. It’s a very easy area to take photographs in, because pretty much everybody else is taking photographs too. The streets are narrow, so it’s easy to “look past” people and fake being focussed on background buildings. The streets are always busy with deliveries being unloaded, street food being consumed, and fashion being paraded, so there’s plenty of opportunities for interesting captures. And those paper lanterns strung above the street should be compulsory everywhere.
LEICESTER SQUARE / TRAFALGAR SQUARE
From a photography point of view, Leicester Square is all about the street entertainers and the crowds they attract, and Trafalgar Square is all about light and shadows. Because I’m predominantly more interested in the human storytelling element of street photography, I don’t tend to take too many shots in Trafalgar Square, although I do like visiting there because there’s a Costa Coffee above the Waterstones book shop with nice windows. And toilets. I have the bladder of a woman who has had four children, and therefore know the locations of all the passably-clean toilets around my regular photography haunts.
There was a time, not too long ago, that PJ and I would go to the South Bank from Trafalgar Square via Westminster Bridge, but these days we opt for Jubilee Bridge instead. It’s just more convenient, and the shadows up there are pretty special.
We loitered for a while in the section between the London Eye and the BFI, where the Christmas Market is currently located. We’ve had a little browse over the past few weeks round the Christmas Markets in Leicester Square, Winter Wonderland, and the South Bank, and can confidently report that if you’re after wooden ornaments, candles in antique tea cups, overpriced knitted hats or German sausages, you’ll be able to purchase any of these from near-identical stalls in all three locations.
On a less cold day, we would have probably continued walking along the South Bank towards London Bridge tube station, via the Tate Modern and Borough Market. As it was, the warmth (but not the aroma) of the Bakerloo line back to Paddington was too much of a lure to not call it a day at this point. Thankfully, after the morning’s travel fiasco, we managed to get seats on a fast train home out of Paddington with no problems.
I’m pretty pleased with my “straight out of camera” .jpegs. All the photographs I’ve posted onto this blog have been unedited (not even straightened, which was difficult for the perfectionist in me to resist, but I managed). I discarded all the ACROS+R shots – the winter sun lighting conditions weren’t favourable to make them any sort of improvement over ACROS. I really like the tones in a lot of the Classic Chrome simulations. I kept my white balance set to AUTO for the day, and I think this was a good call. I don’t care what anybody says. When it comes to fast paced street photography, there is no shame in using whatever automatic features make the process more efficient.
Our final London street shoot of 2018 is scheduled for next Thursday (20th December). I’m pretty certain that I’ll keep the X100F settings the same as today, and try a repeat experiment shooting .jpeg only. There’s a chance that I was just on form today, and it was pure fluke that I’m happy with my results. I’ll let you know next week. If you have any questions or comments, send them my way, and don’t forget there’s still some places left on the Street Photography Workshop that Ash Smith and I will be running on Sunday 20th January 2019.
Love from London x