A Long Exposure Trip to London

May 02, 2013  •  9 Comments

In April I travelled to London with the specific brief of photographing the city's architecture in predominately a Fine Art style.  By using high ND filters such as the LEE Big Stopper along with the LEE 105mm circular polariser one is able to generate exceptionally long exposure times which allow the clouds to streak and moving objects such as cars and people to disappear.

To do this, you obviously need a tripod and a shutter release as you need to lock your shutter button down for well over a minute. With the Big Stopper, a shot of typically 1/30th of a second becomes 60 seconds. Of course, I took some usual landscapes too while I was there!


I have decided to write this blog post to showcase the photos which I took. I'll post them up as I process them so do keep coming back to see tham all.


When I planned my trip I had 3 photographs in mind: Battersea Power Station, The Gherkin and The Shard.  Well my first day at the power station was a non starter as there was zero cloud, so the first photo I'm going to share is of The Gherkin.


A Gherkin in a Sandwich

The Gherkin


The building is actually called 30 St. Mary Axe, but due to its design it has been coined The Gherkin (I'm not sure if Americans call it The Pickle or not).  I liked this angle of The Gherkin, as if it is hiding behind the Willis Building (on the right). The building to the left is The Lloyds Building which houses all its servise pipes on the exterior of the building which you can just faintly catch. I used spot metering to calculate the exposure value of this, as I wanted to retain detail in the sky and place the closer buildings in shadow. The polariser darkened the sky and cut out a large proporton of the reflected light from the windows.


Next up was The Shard. I took this from London Bridge, using a pretty inventive tripod set up to avoid the crowds travelling across the bridge. The Shard is massive. It's the tallest building in the EU and its a very domineering and angular structure.


The Shard


The 'shards' of glass at the top of it make it look a bit like the Tower of Orthanc from The Lord Of The Rings. Its angular nature makes it a very interesting reflector of light, I got a photograph of the sun bouncing off the building straight at me just before I took the image above. I imagine that at a certain time of the day many people's offices north of the Thames will be illuminated by reflected light from The Shard on the south bank.

Other than that strip of cloud the sky was brilliantly blue, and my polariser was cooking on gas! Down below The Shard, with the sun on my back I took this image:


The White Tower


A circular polariser is such a key piece of equipment in a city environment awash with glass and reflected light and it is great for darkening skies.

Towards sunset I got this photograph of The Shard and surrounding buildings on the riverside close to City Hall.


London Sunset


I was drawn to the constrast of sweeping curves and sharp angles, but the nice soft light certainly helps with this photograph.


Steel meets Brick, Brick meets Glass


This is the hand rail of London Bridge, it seemed to offer a nice lead in to the scene of the buildings, with The Shard towering above them. It also offered a rather nice reflection to the scene. This is a 50 second exposure, with a further 50 seconds of noise reduction at f13 and ISO100. I was using the Sigma 10-20mm at 10mm. I was using the LEE Big Stopper, a LEE 0.6 Soft Grad and the LEE 105mm Polariser during this shot. Although there isn't a great deal of movement in the sky, the Big Stopper is great for ridding the bridge of people and flattening the river out.


A Shard of Light


Here is an image of The Shard that I mentioned earlier, with the late afternoon sun reflecting from it. I wonder how far away people in North London can see this beacon of light.


The Gherkin


Here is a 70 second exposure of The Gherkin. I didn't use any grads here, just the Big Stopper and my Polariser. However, I did process the RAW 3 times, once for the sky, once for the buildings in shadow and one for The Gherkin. While I was taking this photograph I got chatting to another photographer. He was asking what I was doing with all the filers and with my camera on a tripod. He said it was a nice change to all that long exposure stuff of the sea that he often sees, well I must confess I have contributed to that, but not completely!

It's always nice to chat to other photographers when I'm out, photography is such a shared passion but too many people get wrapped up in the gear wars, or feel threatened by the sight of another photographer. I gave this guy a card so hopefully he's found this blog! If you have drop me an email if you're on flickr or something like that, it would be great to see your work too!

I returned to The Gherkin a day or two later as the clouds were much better and they were still cleaning the windows, I guess it's a bit like the whole "painting the Forth Rail Bridge" senario.


Washing the Gherkin


Helter Skelter


A Minute At 30 Saint Mary Axe


I saw these clouds in the distance to the south so sat around and waited for twenty minutes for them to drift over and then they were gone after one long exposure. Such is the nature of a landscape photographer.


Pipe Dreams


This is a 30 second exposure of the view seen looking directly up when stood between The Lloyds Building and The Willis Building as the clouds flew over head and the suits flew by on the pavement.


London Architecture


This long exposure is cornered by some very different architecture. In the bottom right we have The Gherkin, with its sweeping curves and uniform structure. The top right we have an old building indicative of the usual older London architecture. Top left we have The Lloyds Building which has all its services on the exterior of the building and then bottom left we have The Cheese Grater which is currently being built. The Cheese Grater is very angular, such a contrast to The Gherkin. Some builder showered me and my camera lens with windolene which took an age to clean off! Cheers!


THAT London Photograph


I rarely do spot colour, in fact I tell people that I hate it, but what I actually hate is spot colour done badly, which amounts to 90% of the time! Spot colour works well when you select a primary colour (ie a Red bus or a Yellow taxi).


A Rolling Eye


I've often thought a long exposure of The London Eye would look quite good so I had a wander down The Embankment and got this photograph. Although most people seem to just comment on how fast it looks like it's turning!!


Somerset Steps

A fellow photographer recommended a Landscape Photography exhibition that was on at Somerset House so we went to check it out and while there we happened upon this quite fascinating staircase. So we spent a bit of time taking photos of all its sweeping curves.


Westminster Abbey


I then had a walk to Westminster Abbey where I sat down and got this photograph. For those who don't know about Westminster Abbey, its where the Royal Wedding of 2012 was held and it also houses Sir Isaac Newton's tomb. A funny thing about this photograph is that Vince Cable MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills walked through this photograph twice. So there's photons of light that have reflected off a Member of Parliament and into my camera to make this photograph!


Westminster at Night


I've been to London quite a few times now, and I've been meaning to get this photograph for a while, but never had my tripod with me. It was a definite this time and I'm pleased I got it!




Getting Inventive with a Tripod

We were going to head to Greenwich on my last day in London but as the clouds were the best they'd been all week I decided to head for Battersea Power Station again as I still wasn't happy with anything I'd got, and it was one of my main aims. When I travelled to New York I took a panorama of Manhattan from Brooklyn where I was staying.




Upon seeing this photograph, a friend commented that the power station was as domineering as Battersea Power Station is on South West London's skyline, so ever since I've been determined to get a photo of Battersea.

I found a good location on a railway bridge but the high wall meant that taking even a conventional photograph would prove difficult, never mind a long exposure! I managed to put my Manfrotto tripod to good use whilst utilising my camera's variable angle screen. Here's a photo of me taking a photo!



And here is the resulting photograph:


Battersea Power Station


I like how the white chimneys dominate the scene, I hung around for probably an hour waiting for breaks in the cloud to illuminate the chimneys. I tried a darker exposure of the same scene which emphasises the chimneys but I'm not sure if it works as I really like the railway lines which get a bit lost.



Some other long exposures of Battersea taken from the wall with my adapted tripod.




Again the brilliant weather was making my polariser really justify the daft price that a 105mm circular polariser commands and it was really making the clouds pop, which can be seen in the following 'normal exposures'.


The Clouds Over Battersea Power Station



I thought a long exposure of just the power station with just the colour of the brick work might work well and once I'd processed it, I quite like the atmosphere the monotone sky creates.



We headed over to Chelsea to get a photo from the bridge where we had been on my first day down in London. The sky was a little better this time round, but the previous photos from that wall are my favourites.


Power on The Thames



As I walked to Battersea I passed a advert by the roadside which I knew would make a good photograph if the right sort of life was injected into it. So when I returned with my camera I hung around for a bit waiting for 'something' to happen, although I didn't know what. When it appeared, I knew thats what I was after. A bloke came along and the image immediately seemed right as he swept the pavement, and swept away your past...


The Future Gets Written Today

A fresh start.


Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and look at my photographs. And thanks for you comments too, I'll respond to your questions in your comments via email.


Best wishes,



Be happy you took the Battersea ones, great shots! You wouldn't be able to do that now, all full of construction sites, building new apartments and offices ALL around the old fabric.. a shame!
Amazing!!!! I wish I could say something artistic and creative about the exposure, chosen lens, angle blah blah blah
But I am not knowledgable in such subjects. I do however love the blog, totally accessible (even for ejits like me). Great photos, time well spent. I love Somerset house and the staircase shot. Kind of thinking you are wasted as a geek though. Look forward to the next adventure dude x
Phil Whittaker(non-registered)
Excellent set of shots here Dru, the Battersea normal exposures almost look like IR shots and it just shows that this type of shot sometimes is just as dramatic as a long exposure. The comps are all great and i love the processing. I love mono but the colour crop version of the power station is great. RE the long exposures i think sometimes running into minutes helps with the clouds having clearer streaks and for that many people stack a 6 and 10 stop together. Actually Hitech have a 16 stop filter in the testing stage which would be great!
Rich Watson(non-registered)
Soem amazing images Dru, I expecially like the B&W shots. I am always drawn to heavy B&W images with really dense heavy blacks.
An excellent selection of images and a very interesting read too. I am glad you decided to stay in London to get teh power station rather than head to Greenwich, but also wonder why you missed out the O2 Dome?
Sound pics fella
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