I tried to write a blog about our last trip into London of 2018, but I just couldn’t find the time, what with Christmas and New Year and being struck down by the Plague (it might have just been the flu, but it felt like a near-death experience).
In the end, after several failed starts, I decided that it didn’t matter if the world never knew fully about what we did that day. In summary, it was a Wednesday trip into the capital, starting in Shoreditch and ending in the West End. We met up with two other Instagrammers briefly at lunchtime (@ashsmithone and @martynlphotography), saw a man wearing a giraffe onesie in the middle of the City, and had a generally nice time.
I also took three photographs that day which ended up featuring in my Official Instagram Top Nine of 2018, which either means I was totally on fire, or more people were bored on Instagram in the run up to Christmas, just blindly liking any old crap on their feed. I’m telling myself it’s the former. And you will agree with me, because you’re nice like that.
Back to today.
I’ve been a little… depressed (?) since January started, and I’m not really sure why, except maybe having the Plague had something to do with it. I also impulsively announced on my Instagram that I wouldn’t be posting any of my archives from 2018 this year, and obviously because announcements on Instagram are sacred, I couldn’t possibly go back on that. Even though I was frustrated beyond belief that I worked so hard during December to build my Instagram engagement up, and now I was having to let it stagnate and lose momentum. Eurgh, I don’t know why I care. But I do.
So the first London street shoot of 2019 could not come quick enough.
PJ and I decided that we would bring along a teenaged daughter each today. Like apprentices, but with facial expressions of Claude and Karen. The day didn’t get off to the best start when what I thought was my alarm clock tone turned out to be Paula calling me to say she was outside my house, and I’d totally overslept.
Eventually we got to the train station, and I was finally going to take some photographs! One flat white and twenty minutes later, we arrived at London Paddington, and headed straight down to the Underground to head over to the East End.
The tone was set for the day almost instantly, when another Tube train pulled up alongside ours, and I joked that I wasn’t even going to be subtle about photographing this guy on the other train, because what could he do? It turned out he was pretty pleased about having his photograph taken, and suddenly I felt all hyper-inspired. Today, I was going to photograph EVERYBODY.
I took 455 RAW photographs over about a four hour period, and kept and edited 368 of them on Lightroom Classic CC when I got home. I was shooting RAW + ACROS JPEGs, but I decided not to keep any of the JPEGs. I wanted colour photographs, and I wanted them to look exactly how I chose.
Obviously I’ll not be uploading all the photographs here, because load times. Plus that would be insane. I’ve split this blog into two parts – the East End and the West End – because we did cover a lot of ground today.
Petticoat Lane Market
Petticoat Lane Market used to be awesome. I remember my dad taking me there several times when I was younger, but nowadays, it’s very “rough and ready”. I’m sure if you have time to rummage through the racks, there’s bargains to be had, but there’s nothing special at surface level. I don’t normally take many photographs there, but this time I came home with about 40 images. The normal vibe of “WTF are you doing with that camera out?” that I normally feel emanating from the stallholders and customers was completely absent today. Was it my mindset, or a new 2019 thing? I’m guessing my mindset, because when I reviewed my images, there were a lot of scowls going on.
Trying to find Brick Lane
A bit of wandering around Whitechapel because I’m too stubborn to resort to Google Maps. Seems completely sensible, right?
We reached Brick Lane eventually. It was far less crowded than it’d been on previous Sundays – without the familiar buskers, and with probably only half the food stalls that are normally there. The vintage camera stall was there though, so I was happy. The bakery had sold out of their famous Rainbow Beigels, despite the fact that it was still early. The girls really enjoyed photographing all the street art, and there were plenty of interesting people around for PJ and I to photograph.
But the best surprise of the day was when we rounded a corner and stumbled upon…
London Fashion Week Men’s 2019
I’ve never seen so many fashionistas in one place before. I was like a kid in a candy store – totally spoiled for choice as far as subjects went. I’ve never thought to look up when fashion events are going on in the capital, but I’d really like to have the opportunity to shoot another one. So many beautiful people! Pretty much every other photographer that was hanging around was carrying a Canon EOS 5D. I had no idea they were so popular.
And with that, we headed back to Liverpool Street Underground Station to travel over to the West End. We were halfway through our allotted time, and there was a very important shortcut that we’d recently realised existed, and we needed to check it out. And obviously, China Town awaited.
I’ll endeavour to get Part 2 completed and uploaded ASAP. There are some sweet shots in there 😉
This time last year, I regularly took nature photographs. PJ and I had never been into central London together, despite being friends since about 2005.
Twice a week, we wandered around Black Park or Burnham Beeches, photographing… well, I’m not exactly WHAT we managed to photograph so much of. Macro shots of insects, interesting leaves, the light through the trees… we were like 1970s hippie women: “at one” with nature.
Fast forward to now.
I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about going to Black Park today. For one thing, it’s suddenly cold outside, and I’m still getting over the flu. But mainly, I think I photographed enough trees back in 2016/17 to do me for a lifetime. Ultimately though, the desire to photograph something over nothing won.
It’s beautiful at Black Park. Because of its proximity to Pinewood Studios, it’s often used as a location in many movies and TV shows (notably in several of the Harry Potter, James Bond, and Carry On films). I’ve just learned of a movie called Eden Lake (2008), which was filmed entirely at Black Park and Burnham Beeches, so I might give that a go later. It’s a slasher movie, so it might make my next visit a little more adrenaline-fuelled if I’ve seen the area from a scarier perspective.
As you can see from my photographs, it was one of those typical January days, with flat light and a white-out sky. I wish I could say that the walk rekindled my love of nature photography, but I spent most of the time complaining that I was too cold.
There were far more people out and about than I was anticipating. Mainly dog walkers. We saw a lot of incredibly happy, frolicking dogs during our walk, which pleased PJ. I’m a cat person, so I wasn’t that fussed (hence the absence of any dog photographs here).
By 12:30pm, I was back home again, thankful for my central heating. It really was a very brief visit. I’m really excited about our first street shoot of 2019 coming up on Sunday, so this little outing was always going to be a little bit “meh” in comparison. Still, I’ve got some pretty tree photographs out of it, I suppose. My flu-addled brain meant that I was shooting RAW only, despite originally intending to shoot JPEG only, so all these shots have been post-processed with Lightroom Classic CC and VSCO X. I’ll almost certainly be shooting RAW only on Sunday, but I’ll write about that in the next London Diaries blog.
Hope you’re all having a good 2019 so far… and staying warmer than I was today.
I’m not gonna lie. 2018 was not my favourite year.
No year is ever going to beat 2015 for sheer suckiness – it was the year that I lost my dad, who was both my best friend and my muse. But 2018 had a damn good stab at the competition. That said, at the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, something happened. I “discovered” street photography (on a personal level, obviously. I’ve not yet reached a level of arrogance that would have me claiming to have literally invented the genre. Although according to the precedent set by a handful of other Instagrammers, I’m potentially only a year or so off of that. I’m joking. Probably).
I inherited my love of photography and enormous hair from my father
In reality, it’s impossible for me to ever develop any kind of arrogance, and that is because I am the mother of teenagers, who keep my feet firmly on the ground. Case in point: on Christmas Eve, I walked to Sainsbury’s with my fifteen year old. Mid-journey, and completely unprovoked, she glanced at me and announced, “It’s funny: I’m still at an age where I prioritise style over practicality”.
I’ll admit, I was sans make up (because we were going to Sainsbury’s, and I’m not out to impress anybody there. Jamie Oliver’s not my type), but that aside, I genuinely thought I was also still at an age where I prioritised style over practicality. She smiled when I told her so. “It’s like your jacket,” she said. “I’d never wear that. Those jackets don’t look good on anybody”.
The moral of this tangent is that obviously I have no idea what’s good. But I’m deluded enough to think I do, so I’ve written a blog post about precisely that.
My “official” Instagram Top 9 of 2018 keeps changing. It’s like the Grand National with no potential monetary reward (but an equal amount of dead horses).
I’ll post the final figures on my Instagram on NYE, because apparently that’s the done thing. In the meantime, this is my personal “Instagram Top 10 of 2018”. That’s right. 10. Because what is the point of owning a website if I don’t make my own rules? I noticed once I’d selected them that they were all taken during the latter half of 2018, which I’m quite pleased about, because that shows progress, right? And not just that my photography was terrible for the first six months.
Let’s do this…
This one was fun. He knew what I was doing, and he did an awesome job of pretending that he didn’t. I loved all the red accents – the band on the girl’s sleeve, the drink, the broom handle, and the stool – and it took a while to frame everything up the way I wanted it. In the meantime, he occasionally looked up suspiciously from his phone, and I in return loudly commented about how much I liked the magnets he was selling. Good times.
Date Posted: 10 September 2018. Likes received: 343
“Oooh, roller-skates…” I muttered excitedly under my breath as she walked towards me. London is packed full of cool, interesting people, but occasionally someone will cross my path who’s just a whole other level. I’ve mentioned in my Instagram captions before that I like to play a game when I’m doing street photography where I fantasise that I’m shooting models for Vogue. A girl can dream. So this candid street portrait has become my favourite “editorial” shot of 2018.
Date Posted: 17 November 2018. Likes received: 369
I don’t know what’s going on with the funky border, either. I do like to play with edit styles when I’m bored, and apparently back in August, I was feeling funky borders. I captioned the Instagram post with “You never see Mickey Mouse shoving his head into a bag at Disneyland #londonthings”, which I think was the first caption that opened the floodgates to me writing whatever the hell I wanted on my Instagram posts. This was also probably one of the first times that I’d consciously waited for complimentary colours in my composition, rather than just snapping optimistically.
Date Posted: 3 August 2018. Likes received: 373
I LOVE low contrast photographs. I’d half-jokingly asked Instagram for recommendations of colours to look out for on my next shoot, to give me a little project to focus on. “Orange and blue” was hard, but it was really satisfying when I spotted this girl in the crowd at Brick Lane market. I’m definitely going to take a more planned approach to my street photography in 2019, with more deliberate series and themes. When I’m consciously looking for specific elements, it really focuses my observational skills and makes for better compositions.
Date Posted: 22 October 2018. Likes received: 398
I love this photograph, not only because it shows Chinatown’s most popular fire escape/al fresco dining location, but because this is legitimately the only time all year that I spotted any fly posters in the area. They had been removed by the time I returned the following week, which was a shame, because they were super cute.
Date Posted: 29 July 2018. Likes received: 275
I’ve tried to like night photography. I really have. But this is the one and only time all year that I’ve succeeded in taking an after dark photograph that I’m actually happy with. I need to spend more time in 2019 watching helpful YouTube videos to work out where I’m going wrong.
Date Posted: 17 September 2018. Likes received: 328
Work that London attitude. This was one of those photographs that I really hoped looked as good as it did in-camera. According to the dates, this is apparently the first street photograph that I was truly happy with having taken, and I suppose that’s probably true. I did have more of a “spray and pray” style in the first half of 2018, which I think is necessary to build up confidence, but doesn’t really produce the greatest images.
Date Posted: 20 July 2018. Likes received: 291
As the year has progressed, I’ve favoured taking wider images, but I like the shallow depth of field on this candid street portrait, and the unusual angle of the shot. I was feeling really brazen that day, and took quite a few close-ups of various people around Brick Lane market. I went for more muted tones in post-production than I had done before on previous photographs (I think this was based on an Essence preset in VSCO X), and I was really pleased with the result.
Date Posted: 23 October 2018. Likes received: 1333
I tried for a similar shot every time I’ve been out. I can’t even explain the immense feeling of satisfaction when I finally succeeded on my very last street shoot of the year. It’s by far my most liked Instagram photograph of 2018, so it was worth the constant frustration to finally get it. Personal satisfaction, and hollow social media-based validation. The ultimate combo.
I over-optimistically claimed that I would write a London Diaries blog post for last week, despite the fact that it has been Christmas, and obviously I was never going to find the time. But as promised, here’s the three shutter clicks that it took to get this photograph.
Date Posted: 21 December 2018. Likes received: 5623
This is the only photograph I’ve reposted on Instagram all year, because it absolutely had to make it into my Top 9, goddammit. Thank you for listening to my pleading and liking it all the way up to number 3. For me, it’s totally number 1, though. I hope to take everything I’ve learned from my first year of street photography, and produce many more photographs that I’m equally as proud of in 2019.
Date Posted: 13 September 2018. Likes received: 702
Reposted 22 December 2018. Likes received: 2181
I started 2018 with the hope of reaching 3K followers by the end of the year as @that_fujifilmgirl , and miraculously it happened. I’m so grateful for everybody’s support for the past twelve months, and I really appreciate all the encouraging comments so many of you leave me. I hope that 2019 WILL be my favourite year, and that all of us remain happy, creative and inspired. This is descending into a cringefest, and I’m too British for such an Oscars-esque speech, so I’ll leave it there. Happy New Year to you all.
I’m not a morning person. Or a people person. I’m probably barely even human. Especially not before my morning coffee. Apparently though, not being human isn’t as much of a life setback as you may think – Dior is using a CGI Instagram influencer as a model in its latest beauty campaign. You read that right. We’re at a point in history where computer-generated supermodels exist. There is literally no hope left as far as beauty standards go. I might as well go the opposite extreme, and participate in Januhairy. I seem to have inadvertently been pretty successful during Movember.
I’ve been trying to educate myself on copyright laws this week, which has been as thrilling as it sounds. I know it’s hard to believe, because I’m obviously so super-professional, but I’ve never owned a website before. And after a decade of being an active netizen, it turns out that I didn’t know very much at all about what you legally can and can’t use without explicit permission. I have a feeling that this website may end up filled with a load of quick sketches to accompany my musings, to save myself some cash/avoid being sued. Backpack Kid and Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air are both suing the makers of Fortnite for plagiarising their “signature dance moves”. Turk from Scrubs thinks it’s pretty awesome that they’ve plagiarised his. Everyone should be more like Turk. Until they are, enjoy my hasty sketches.
To break up the adrenaline rush of researching copyright laws, it was important to procrastinate a little, and read up on the important news of the week, just to ground me and avoid me becoming delirious… like Brighton and Hove City Council clearly are, as they have decided to teach primary school children that “all genders have periods”, and are recommending that “bins used for period products are provided in all toilets”. There are now apparently 24 gender options available, with the option to “choose as many as you want”. One of the options is “in the middle of boy and girl”, which sounds less like a gender option, and more like a search on Pornhub. Click here for the full article from metro.co.uk (link opens in new window).
Meanwhile, over on the BBC News website, it’s been reported that Disney movies are now being used as a punishment, as a Missouri deer hunter has been sentenced to watch Bambi at least once per month during his year-long jail sentence for poaching. I am going to sentence myself to Disney movies as a punishment for everything from now on. Right after I go copyright some dance moves so I can get in on this suing Fortnite thing.
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.