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Photography notes for around Shad Thames

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Thursday 2 April 2009 10.57pm
These notes are illustrated in this gallery.

Shad Thames should be a Unesco World Heritage site. The sloping balconies stack up at mad angles to create a sensational effect. Still it's not trivial to make a decent image. The light is often unyielding, either overcast and undifferentiated or such high contrast that the dynamic range from the dark, narrow canyon to the bright,white top of Butlers Wharf exceeds what a camera can handle without High Dynamic Range techniques which look surreal. Go with the glow. Shoot backlit effects with sharp light leaking through the metal balconies. This is especially effective during the intervals when the morning light casts long shadows of the balconies on the side walls of the canyon, first one wall then the other. In between the sun shines straight down the canyon lighting up every balcony and some of the coloured signs along the street. Often there's a cluster of Biffa bins at the Curlew street corner. They look incandescent in the sun. When the trash trucks move up the street, that image slots in nicely beneath the stacked up balconies. a white van will pick up the shadow outline of a balcony. Don't forget the brightly coloured jackets of the Parking Wardens.

Tower Bridge is a visual cliche' and hard to do much with. Dramatic skies help. Stepping down onto the shingle is another view. Moving towards Rotherhithe yields busy images which appeal to me. Buying a flat on an upper floor can give you a chance to shoot from an unusual stance. Interesting boats going through happens often enough and can be tracked on the internet.

Birds are good round here. Cormorants may look black, but they're black and white and irridescent when you get a good view and they have strange heads and strange stances. They often present themselves perched on a highly textured beam or a yellow buoy, drying their wings like laundry on a line since they have no oil on their feathers. You can catch them juxtaposed with the bridge, or City Hall or a police launch or some other artefact they appear to be sneering at or haranguing. Pigeons are more handsome than you might think - bright eyes, handsome feathers when fluffed up for bathing or sex. It helps their interesting personalities that they are the next stage up from humans on the re-incarnation ladder; like us, but less litter.

More London has a reputation for harrassing photographers taking pictures of all the world-famous icons around, but I think it's unfair to call the security staff 'Morons'. Some of them, often African, are perfectly polite and smiley. Others, unfortunately, start citing laws they know nothing about and don't apply and make it harder to kowtow to what amounts to a breach of the peace when they try to obstruct innocent photography. One approach is simply to snap one of these surly actors if they refuse to get out of the frame. It's an amusing alternative to the standard Tower Bridge shot - Tower Bridge + surly security guard breaching the peace. Yes I know it's private property. They think that's a trump card in law, but it isn't.

People. 'Hell is other people' certainly applies now that Shad Thames is so crowded. You can shoot high or crop out specks of lumpen humanity from the bottom of the frame. Another approach is to include the odd person for scale or clothing or some other factor. My shot of The Navigator in Hays Galleria was enhanced by the intrusion of a tourist who looked like the model for the nasally endowed sculpture. A winter shot of the anchor by the Cantina was enhanced by a bloke giving scale alongside. A few seconds later a man in a top hat came striding through the snow and gave me a lovely image looking back to the bridge.

Reflections are a treat around More. It can be a puzzle finding just the right spot to optimize a multiple image of City Hall. That's when I look most like a terrorist casing the joint. Don't forget that rain begets good reflections. La Strada has fascinating reflections of City Hall and the bridge combined with their signs and the big red lampshades inside.

Again here's a link to a gallery of mine which shows several of these points. I'd be interested to read others' tips.

I should mention that I've posted smallish files for fastish download from a US server, so the images have a slightly stressed quality rather than the more 'liquid' surface I prefer.
Friday 3 April 2009 9.02am
These are the current World Heritage Sites in the UK:

Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd
Durham Castle and Cathedral
Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast
Ironbridge Gorge
St Kilda
Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey
Blenheim Palace
City of Bath
Frontiers of the Roman Empire * 26
Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church
Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey, and St Martin's Church
Henderson Island
Tower of London
Gough and Inaccessible Islands 27
Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
Maritime Greenwich
Heart of Neolithic Orkney
Blaenavon Industrial Landscape
Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda
Derwent Valley Mills
Dorset and East Devon Coast
New Lanark
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Liverpool - Maritime Mercantile City
Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape

While Shad Thames is pretty impressive, it's of a very different nature from the above, and there are numerous locations of historic importance and cultural significance that should be added to the list before Shad Thames is.

The photos are undeniably great.
Friday 3 April 2009 10.27am
You're right. Silly hyperbole.
Friday 21 May 2010 11.24pm
Lovely photos - I really enjoyed looking at them.
Saturday 22 May 2010 7.55am
Nice pics matey
Saturday 22 May 2010 8.53am
Thanks. I have a thing for cormorants, but especially with the background of Tower Bridge and St Paul's:
Sunday 23 May 2010 11.48pm
To get decent reflections in the Thames you need to be:

-within say 3 hours of tide turn as the flood ripples the water
-up early as the river traffic ripples the water
-no wind

Right now low tide and dawn are converging tho there was 2-3 hours difference in the shots below, which were taken this Sunday morning. During the week the river traffic seems to start about 6am when a police boat zooms by.

Notice the cormorant on the buoy worshipping the sun in the first shot. Notice the angle of view in the second shot - I had to jump the fence and lean out over the river to get the reflection of the left tower and hold the camera one-handed. The tidal ripples are starting to become apparent:

I don't use a tripod around the river as there's usually something to brace the camera on (unless you're dangling over the river).

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