Out of about a hundred photographs that I shot today, 27 of them were taken at the South Bank’s famous Undercroft skate park. Despite being famous since the 1970s as “the spiritual home of British skating”, as well as a very popular tourist attraction, the skate park was under threat of being eradicated completely as recently as last year, but thanks crowd-funding and petitions led by the campaign group Long Live Southbank, the skaters have won their fight to stop the area being redeveloped.
As somebody who has very little balance and co-ordination merely walking down the street, I’ve always been fascinated by the skills that so many of these people have – watching a little awe-struck as they do their tricks. I’ve been visiting the Undercroft as a spectator since I was in my early teens, and I’m really happy that I own a camera nowadays that has shutter speeds capable of capturing these skaters’ skills in a way that does them more justice (click any image in the gallery to enlarge).
All of these photographs were shot with my Fujifilm X100F in shutter priority, with an ISO range of 200-1600. I am shooting JPEGS, with ACROS + PRO Neg. Hi film simulation bracketing, and editing my images using a Kodak Ektachrome E100G base simulation in VSCO X to give the photographs my preferred analogue feel.
“You know what’s good on Saturdays? Camden Market,” I said to PJ. And I was technically correct. We just went there a couple of decades too late.
Camden Town in the 1990s was so much fun – an area famed for being a Mecca for subcultures. Cyberpunks and Goths and Indie Kids would mill around the streets, each sporting the styles of their respective scenes. The whole place was a feast for the senses: loud music blaring from every stall, the scents of street food and incense filling the air, stalls filled with bootleg records and outlandish clothing and bizarre handmade goods… there was always a vibe around the place that encouraged individuality, and told the misfits that this was the one place they could comfortably be themselves.
Camden Market wasn’t just one market. It was a collection of several smaller markets all in close proximity to each other, linked by Camden High Street. The roads offered a variety of small pubs that doubled as music venues, where a lot of the Indie bands of the nineties first started out. Fast forward to 2019, and that whole atmosphere has gone. Camden these days is just another tourist trap. I’m in my thirties now, and so I don’t know if “scene kids” even exist any more (I’m the mother of teenagers though, and from what I can tell, it doesn’t), but if they do, they’re not hanging around Camden, that’s for sure. Long story short, we didn’t end up spending much time in Camden in the end.
This London Diary instalment is relatively short, due to poor light, indecisiveness, and a lack of inspiration. Not every shoot is a success.
Walk from London Paddington to Camden Lock
We left ridiculously early and ended up at London Paddington before 8:30AM, so we decided to walk to Camden. We’ve been consciously trying to stay above ground as much as possible over the past few months to get more of a sense of where locations are in relation to each other. We’ve been surprised on several occasions about the proximity of places compared to how they look on the Underground map. The walk from Paddington took us along the Grand Union canal path, so it wasn’t the most exciting journey in the world, aside from the section that passed through London Zoo, so we got to see some warthogs from a distance (always a novelty in London). I took a few snaps with the Huawei P20 Pro en route (above)…
… a couple of selfies with the Samsung Galaxy S7…
…and a couple of photographs with the Fujifilm X100F (which, for reasons that made sense to me at the time, are all in 1:1 format this week).
Then onto Costa for a quick coffee before hitting the markets to take some photos.
This was the result of shooting around Camden: eight mediocre photographs. The ONLY exciting thing that happened the whole time we were there was that I found a vintage camera stall that had a Mamiya RZ67, which the guy let me have a play with. I didn’t buy it, because a) it was £1000, and b) it wasn’t the Pro II version, which has extra fine tuning on the focus dial, but it was great to get an idea of the size and weight of it, and to actually look down through that viewfinder. And now be lusting after owning one even more.
So we headed East, heading for Shoreditch and Brick Lane, defecting en route to Starbucks by Spitalfields Market purely because they sold pancakes (I ordered some bizarre frappe thing instead of their coffee, because I don’t hate myself). The light was still woefully flat, and neither of us appreciated beforehand that Brick Lane Market is really an exclusively Sunday thing.
Still, I was a little more in the mood to photograph people, having held that Mamiya earlier in Camden, and there were far more interesting looks going on around Brick Lane than there had been in Camden.
It was turning into one of those days where we didn’t know where we wanted to be or what we wanted to do. But where do we normally go when all else fails? Chinatown and Soho… so we walked back towards Liverpool Street to get the number 8 bus westbound, capturing a couple more shots along the way, including a pretty epic soft tiger toy that somebody had left by a bin.
Chinatown + Soho
I haven’t been particularly excited about ANY of the shots I took on this day. Writing this blog forces me to review my photographs far more than I have done previously, and everything that I shot this Saturday just reminds me of the kind of images I was producing a year ago. That’s why it has taken so long for me to get this edition of London Diaries published on the site: I’m not proud of these photographs, and I’m reluctant to post them as examples of my work. However, I think that if I’m going to write this blog, it needs to be honest, and so what if I had an off day? Everybody has off days, right?
Some very angry people, + a bit of photojournalism
Just as we were about to leave Central London and begin the journey home, several police riot vans sped past us and turned just off of Piccadilly Circus. Two separate protests had inadvertently merged – one a group of Pro-Brexiteers, angry about the UK not leaving the EU swiftly enough, and the other a group protesting the lenient sentencing of a hit-and-run driver who had killed three teenagers. We followed the sound of the angry mob, and came across this scene. The atmosphere was horrific, a police officer had just been punched in the face when we arrived, and it didn’t feel like a particularly safe place to be taking photographs, but it was interesting to try to capture the moment. First time in ages that I wished I had a telephoto lens, because I definitely didn’t want to get any closer than where I was standing.
So that was that. The moral of the story this time is to have a plan (and a back up plan) when you go out shooting, especially if your time is limited. There isn’t normally a moral to these diaries, but it’s an added extra to compensate for the mediocre photography.
On the plus side, the next instalment is going to look totally fantastic in comparison to this one.
Photography is like an addiction. Generally, I manage to get out once or twice a week to shoot street photos, and that seems to feed my habit enough. But occasionally, circumstances prevent me from managing to get into Central London. Which would be fine if I lived in a remotely photogenic area that I could grab half an hour or so to take photographs around here and there, but I don’t. It’s not pretty enough to be typically “British”, nor gritty enough to be interesting – just mundane suburbia.
Whenever these forced hiatuses from street photography occur, I tend to get withdrawal symptoms after about seven days. And then something dangerous happens: I start “researching” things. This is the nicest way to describe my habit of becoming intensely interested in something new, and this time, that “something new” was medium format cameras and 120 film.
When I was considering buying the Fujifilm X100F for my street photography, I researched hard… to the point that when I actually bought one, I’d watched so many hours of YouTube videos about them, I felt like I’d owned one for years. I seem to be going the same way with the Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, my desired medium format camera. This interest has stemmed from my increasing love of Japanese analogue portrait photography, which generally has a distinctive soft, bright aesthetic achieved by using Kodak Portra 400 film. The stylings and compositions are thoughtfully lit, calm, dreamy and tranquil… and I REALLY want to create portrait photographs which are that beautiful. That’s the dream. But that’s for a different blog.
Today was all about getting back onto the streets with the X100F after my ten day break. I’d recently purchased an extra pack of Instax Square film for the Fujifilm Instax SQ6 camera, so I had 12 shots to play with. The light was terrible and Wednesdays are always pretty quiet in Central London, but at least we’d escaped suburbia. I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time for post-processing this week, so I shot JPEG only, and did my editing on the iPad with VSCO X. Here’s the story of today’s shoot:
I used 11 out of my 12 Instax shots around Soho at the beginning of the day. I love how unpredictable Instax film is. I have the Instax Share SP-2 printer that uses Instax mini film, which can be wirelessly synced with the Fujifilm X100F to produce prints on the go, but it’s not the same as using an Instant camera. Bonus points to the Huawei P20 Pro this week, for having a neat little scan feature in the camera that makes it really easy to make digital copies of my Instax photos for uploading online.
We initially took the Tube to Oxford Circus station, and decided to wander aimlessly through Soho along streets that were less familiar to us. In preparation for the creation of Curious magazine, I’ve been purchasing a few independent magazines recently to get ideas and inspiration regarding potential layouts, so I was really pleased to find a newsagent that stocked a whole host of them, and bought a couple more (“Huck” and “Hungry Eye”, in case anybody’s interested). I also got some really good Korean Fried Chicken from the @bapfoods food stall in Rupert Street, which was super yummy.
There were even more lanterns strung across the streets of Chinatown than usual after the recent Lunar New Year, but down at ground level the streets were pretty empty. I’ve noticed that Wednesdays are often like this during the daytime in London. We walked our standard one-lap “circuit” of the main streets, found a man cleaning windows who seemed very happy to have his photograph taken whilst he worked, and then decided to try our luck elsewhere.
Bonus photograph of PJ, because it’d be rude not to take such an opportunistic photograph next to a sign like that.
“How did they end up in the British Museum?” I hear you cry. Actually, I’m pretty sure you’re not all that bothered, but I’m going to tell you anyway. We’ve been researching potential new street photography locations around London, and had read about Exmouth Market, which is held every Friday and Saturday. Unusually for us, our next street shot falls on a Saturday, so we thought we’d go and scout out the area in advance whilst we were within walking distance today. The route there took us past the British Museum, and it was pretty cold outside, so it seemed sensible to pop inside for a bit. We’ve taken some interesting shots in the past inside the V&A Museum, and were curious what the light was like inside the British Museum. Not great, was the answer. But there were some interesting artefacts, so it was a good opportunity to take some photographs anyway.
Tottenham Court Road to Barbican
So, all in all, it was quite a long walk. And once we arrived at the Exmouth Market location, neither of us were taken enough with it to want to bother coming back on Saturday. However, as well as our detour into the British Museum, we actually passed through a fair amount of photo-worthy locations en route. I particularly liked the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square, with its brutalist concrete facade. I also manage to take my first blossom photographs of 2019, which was surprising given how cold it has been recently.
Given my new-found interest in 120 film, imagine my delight when we stumbled across a camera film wholesaler in Mount Pleasant (I say stumbled “across”… I literally stumbled INTO the shop, thanks to being so fixated on the Portra 400 which I’d noticed on the counter that I didn’t acknowledge the doorstep. Way to make an entrance).
We made a much needed pitstop at a branch of Costa. I don’t even know why I went all MySpace with a mirror selfie whilst we were there, so I’m not even going to try to justify my behaviour. I took a couple of photographs of the same table with different customer sat at it, which I’m filing as a potential idea for a future series. A Day in the Life of a Chair. If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to sit in Costa all day.
We had no idea where to finish our day’s shoot. We were both pretty tired by this point (in fact, we’d never really recovered from our decision to bypass our fellow travellers by power walking up a deceptively long and steep broken escalator at Oxford Circus station). My launderette fetish had reared its head earlier in the day, when I thought I’d found one in Soho, only to discover with great disappointment on closer inspection that it was a manned dry cleaners, so I did a quick google search of launderettes within a mile of Exmouth Market. The “prettiest” one seemed to be located at the Barbican, so we set off to find it.
On arrival, a sign on the wall proclaimed that photography wasn’t permitted. But that’s just one of those rules that’s just made to be broken, so I used my last Instax shot on those beautiful blue dryers, and took a quick snap with the X100F. We wandered around the Barbican Estate, wishing that the light was better for some shadowy brutalist architectural photography, took a few photographs anyway, and as always at the Barbican, got completely lost in the warren of high rises trying to find the Tube station.
Now that we’ve decided to bypass Exmouth Market, our plans for Saturday involve a ridiculously early start and a wander around Camden. Will the light be in our favour? Will we walk such a ridiculous amount of steps as we did today? Will I return home with more random purchases that I don’t need, like the awesomely-named “Lip Shit” lip balm that I bought today? Will I fall down any more steps? Find out in the next instalment of London Diaries.
Neither of us felt in the mood for a mad one. I carried around the Sony FDR-X3000R action cam, thinking that I might possibly make a video this week, but that never happened. Mainly because I discovered that I can make slideshow videos of my photography on the iPad with minimal effort. It’s kinda nice not to give a second thought to those downvoting jerks on YouTube when a video has only taken five minutes to put together rather than five hours. Or days.
The day got off to a bit of a delayed start, as we had originally intended to travel into Central London from Burnham train station, only to rock up there and discover that there was a rail replacement service going on. We’re not fans of rail replacement buses (who is?), so we hopped back into the car and went to Slough train station instead.
Our plan was to spend a leisurely day strolling around Brick Lane. Once we’d finally made it over to the East End, it was pretty much lunchtime, but we made the odd decision to ignore the McDonald’s at Liverpool Street station, and walk over to the one in Whitechapel instead. Heads up: it’s further away than you’d expect. Especially on foot.
Fun fact about me: I don’t enjoy photography when I’m hungry. But here’s a little gallery of images taken pre-lunch, in those moments “in between locations”.
Once we’d refuelled ourselves with Whitechapel’s finest processed crap, we were ready to head over to Brick Lane.
We love Brick Lane market on a Sunday. There’s a tangible atmosphere so strong, it’s almost a sensory overload. On a good day, there are so many musicians busking the streets, it’s quite surreal to hear the different performances merge into each other as you travel down the road. On sunny days, the light fills the intersections between the main stretch and the side roads, illuminating clusters of people, all of whom are wrapped up in the laidback spirit of the area. There are food stalls of every description; each one filling the air with the scent of their cooking. The street art that dominates nearly every available wall space is a fittingly vibrant backdrop to an equally vibrant area.
I spent too much time being indecisive about whether or not I was shooting video or photographs though, and ended up not really doing anything, other than going totally against character and accepting a “Free Hug” from a stranger. Damn my weakness for Japanese guys…
Colombia Road Flower Market
On a whim, it suddenly seemed like a really good idea to walk over to Colombia Road Flower Market. We’ve often been rather bemused, watching people wandering down Brick Lane carrying enormous plants and huge bouquets of flowers on their journey back from the nearby flower market, so we thought we’d go and check it out for ourselves.
We had no idea of the best route to get there, so we just used our best detective skills and retraced the steps of everybody who was carrying foliage. Just call us Sherlock and Watson.
Here’s another word of advice (this blog is just one big old public service announcement today): EVERYBODY is at Colombia Road Flower Market at 3pm on a Sunday, so if crowds aren’t your thing, avoid that time like the plague. I genuinely had no idea that plants were that popular. All the plants in my house are made out of plastic, because I appear to be the victim of some sort of curse that prevents me from keeping real ones alive.
A bit of B Roll…
I think in the end we were only taking photographs for about three hours. We got a little lost on our way back to Liverpool Street station because there was no trail of clues to follow like there had been with the plants, and I’m normally too stubborn to admit defeat and resort to Google maps, because darn it, I should just KNOW instinctively how to get everywhere. We had to hastily hide our cameras when we did eventually get back to near the station though, because an enormous giant of a man had taken HUGE offence to being photographed by another street photographer, and was storming down the road, yelling obscenities and out for blood. It made me pretty thankful that we’ve never experienced anything like that. Yet.
There’s a real-time ten day hiatus between this London Diaries instalment and the next, because our schedules don’t permit us to get out shooting in that time. However, I’m so terribly disorganised/busy (delete as per your kindness level), the next blog will be online within the next 24 hours of me posting this one, in which you can find out the effect that a ten day break has on me creatively.
Be sure to say hello in the comments so that I know that people are reading this blog during my lifetime, and it’s not just going to be used as a posthumous look at the ramblings of “that quirky girl with the camera”.
We didn’t anticipate just how much it was going to rain that day.
In all honesty, I’ve had a lot of difficulty writing up this particular Sunday, because it wasn’t a typical London shoot. My original plan was to spend the day experimenting with the photographic capabilities of my newly-acquired Huawei P20 Pro smartphone. The unanimous advice I received from friends was also to take the Fujifilm X100F “just in case”, so that’s what I did.
To cut a long story short, it was apparent pretty much instantly that to take anywhere near a decent photograph with a smartphone, I’d have to stand pretty still – the polar opposite of my usual street photography technique, which can only be described as “hyperactive”. Well, it COULD be described in other ways, but none of them as kind.
So the X100F made its appearance relatively early on in the day. But so did the rain. PJ (@pj.pix) and I spent a little time strolling around Soho, met up with fellow Instagrammer Gav Hardy (@gavhardythings) for a coffee at Soho Grind (home of the “French Lessons Given Downstairs” neon sign that’s a seemingly permanent inclusion on the London Street Photography Bingo Card), and then wandered around in the rain a little more.
Today’s edition of London Diaries has ended up as more of a mood board than a diary, for several reasons. Firstly, I’m not sure what’s going on with me at the moment, but I’m having some kind of creativity overload, which sounds pretentious AF and probably is. I can’t seem to give any one project my complete attention, and instead I’m dipping in and out of things constantly, completely buzzing with ideas. It would be much better to just do one thing well, but it is what it is.
With that in mind, the second reason for this smorgasbord of “stuff” is that once we left Soho Grind, I spent the afternoon playing with the video capabilities on the X100F, something that I’ve not tried before despite owning the camera since October 2017. Interestingly, I discovered the same problem as shooting with the Huawei – any movement made the footage unusable because there’s no in-built image stabilisation. Ive bought a Sony FDRX3000R video action cam for future videography, so that I can actually film and walk simultaneously. I’m pretty sure that a logical step would be to do vlogging, but it’s completely out of my comfort zone, so I can’t imagine that I’ll be doing that any time soon. I’m going to have to find a more creative way to make my videos more personal without having to actually get in front of the camera, feeling and acting ridiculously awkward and self-conscious. Aspergers is a blessing and a curse.
I found an abandoned umbrella on a side alley off of Carnaby Street, which cheered me up immensely, and allowed me to shoot more than I would’ve otherwise been able to with my non-weather sealed gear. Below are the results of my day flitting between camera and phone, and photography and videography:
Provia JPEGs with Fujifilm X100F
I set the X100F to shoot Provia simulation JPEGs only. Normally, I tend to shoot ACROS simulation JPEGS + RAW – I like the black and white JPEGs straight out of camera, and use Lightroom Classic CC to edit and convert my colour RAW files. Plus, I prefer using the LCD with a monochrome display rather than colour when shooting, because I can gauge the light and shadows better in my images.
But this time, I opted for Provia JPEGs only, because I knew that the following week was going to be super busy, and I wasn’t going to have the time to spend in Lightroom messing around with RAW files. I get asked a lot about my editing process. Generally, I use a combination of Lightroom Classic CC, Snapseed and VSCO X to edit my photographs. Why? Because I don’t know how to achieve my desired results using just one program. It really is down to ignorance, and nothing else. Having only shot JPEGS meant that I could skip the Lightroom step and just make edits on the iPad with Snapseed and VSCO X. I’ve put before and after edits on here today. I’d have liked to do sliders, but I don’t know how to do that either.
The two photographs above just worked better with a black and white edit. Each photograph has its own individual mood that needs bringing out. I have about twenty base preset options that I’ve created in Lightroom as options, although a lot of the time I don’t use them. In VSCO X, I gravitate towards various strengths of the AGA, B, E, SS or SUM ranges of presets as starting points for most of my second-level edits. And that’s enough spoilers for one day. This is only the fifth instalment of London Diaries after all.
Huawei Pro P20
There’s quite a lot of features to the camera on the Huawei P20 Pro, but as you know, this isn’t a technical kinda blog. If you’re after all the details, Google is your friend. There IS the option to shoot RAW files, but I wasn’t about that today. First impressions: the black tones are REALLY black, aperture priority mode is pretty stunning, and the black and white shots don’t look like they’ve been taken with a smartphone (even a 40MP smartphone). Stick it in standard “photo” mode, and it’ll automatically select the optimum settings for the scene. There’s zero image stabilisation going on, so it’s important to take your time and shoot carefully. It’s never going to be my first choice for street photography. But if I’m out without the X100F and I’m relying on the old “the best camera is the one you have on you” thing, I can think of worse options to be stuck with.
Videography with Fujifilm X100F
I had to just bin all my video taken whilst I was walking around Soho, once I realised that videoing whilst in motion resulted in nauseatingly shaky footage on playback. This little video that I’ve cobbled together with what was left certainly isn’t the best video I’ll ever make (by a long shot. I hope), but it was fun to make, and that’s what matters. I try to remind myself all the time that everybody has to start somewhere – that this time last year, I’d never really shot any street photography at all, and yet now I feel comfortable that it’s my “thing”. I look at my first street photographs and remember how I would nervously “spray and pray”, and then spend time editing the hundreds of pointless resulting photographs with frankly horrendous presets. Maybe in 12 months time, I’ll be making videos that are a million times better than this one. Maybe not, but I can only hope.
Next time, we’re shooting around the East end of London. Will it be with the X100F? Will it be with the Huawei? Or will I have gone completely insane and decided on a whole new project? Find out, in the next exciting instalment of London Diaries, coming…. whenever I find time to write it.