SHOOTING BLACK AND WHITE IN LONDON

Last month was quite busy with traveling. First I went to the southern part of Mexico for two weeks and at the end of the month I visited a friend in London for a couple of days. Not only was it a lot of fun, but I also learned a ton about shooting people on the street. I don’t speak Spanish, so in Mexico I always felt a bit uncomfortable to stick a camera into peoples faces. I intended to do better in London, but soon noticed that it was much less about the people and much more about the setting; about playing with light and shadow. So while I will cover the topic of shooting people on the streets in another post, I want to focus a bit more on what I did in London.

I’ve been in London many times before and always focused on the tourist photos. It was only last time I went, to celebrate New Years Eve, that I noticed there’s more to photograph. So this time I went out with the idea to shoot more of what I saw in the street rather than the monuments.

The first day was a bit of a search. I didn’t really know what to shoot or what the result should look like. To get a hang of the vibe we went to Tate Modern and the Museum of Natural History. Of course not the ideal venues to make pictures, but while walking around the city I started to notice things.

The Museum of Natural History had this large room with a scale model of the moon. I tried to get something out of that, but it was only when I shot from a low angle and caught people passing by the moon that I got a result that looked okay. Due to lack of any noteworthy colour I knew I would edit these in black and white.

London-9
Not exactly the best photo, but it was a start. 

While walking in the neighborhood of the museum I noticed this statue of Jesus with a young girl standing underneath. It’s again not the perfect shot, but even before I took it I knew I could edit this the same way and maybe a little black and white series might come out of this. So my mindset shifted and I started to look for scenes with hard contrast that would look good in black and white. I almost missed this shot of a Chinese chef having a cigaret.  There wasn’t much contrast in the original file, but I knew I could easily make something out of it in Lightroom.

London-15
I like the lines and reflections in this one.
London-18
The first shot I was really happy with. I nearly missed it if it wasn’t for my wife pointing at the scene.

Of course I made some more photos that didn’t really work in black and white or needed more tints of grey instead of the harsh contrast.

The second day went a lot easier. I took some pictures at three main locations: the British Museum, the Financial District and in the SkyGarden. The Financial District is the perfect location to play with light and shadows due to the skyscrapers that cast shadows and reflect light. Also the architecture lends itself very well for photos. Some of these needed some work in Lightroom to really have the black and white contrast. I think these are the best shots of the three days I spent there.

The British Museum is of course a classic spot. The architecture of the building just begs for black and white photos. I tried first to focus on the people, but soon realized nothing good would come out of that so I went the cliché way and focussed on the building but still tried to have a human element in the frame.

I had no clue what to expect of the SkyGarden, but it turned out to be much better than expected. Since you have a 360° view on the city I wanted to catch some people looking at the cityscape. Obviously I also wanted the plants to be in the frame and preferably a very recognizable landmark. In this case the London Eye. It turned out to be much harder than expected since a lot of people just passed by without looking at the city. After about ten minutes I got lucky when a women stopped for a second. I took some more shots of the plants and city, but needed to edit them a little softer because I lost too much details with the hard contrast edit.

I also have this one color photo that I kinda like because it’s like a very regular street scene, only it’s 32 floors high instead of on an actual street.

Day three had me breaking with what I had done in the previous days. We visited Kew Gardens which isn’t an urban setting and didn’t really work for me in black and white. I still like this shot of a woman falling asleep in her wheelchair in a 35°C green house with her husband trying to figure out what to do. I also tried to snap some pictures of my wife, but there were simply to many people passing by all the time.

On the way from Kew Gardens to St. Pancras I still had the opportunity to shoot a couple of black and white shots.

London-62

These three days turned out to be a little different than expected. I didn’t have any intentions to do this much black and white photography and thought I would be shooting more people. Still overall I’m very happy with these results. Hope to be doing more of this somewhere soon!

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