On Location taking Long Exposures at The Shard

A few weeks ago, during a cold winter's evening, I headed out to one of my favourite photography locations in London to capture a few shots of The Shard and City Hall with my newly acquired Fuji XT2 camera. I've never really been much of a kit guy. I like to have the right tools to use but I was a little excited to see how this new camera would perform.

I parked myself across the river from The Shard, in front of the Tower of London. I love this area, especially as it is a private path but they still allow tripods which isn't that common in the Big Smoke these days. As you can see in the map below, this spot is perfect as you get great compositions of the cityscape across the river and of Tower Bridge too.

Google map of the location I was taking photos
 

So, although this is a popular place to shoot the London cityscape, it is one of the hardest to get right in my opinion. The best light would normally hit the buildings in the summer months as in the winter the sun drops down behind the buildings which is nice but with all of that glass on show, it really comes alive when the sun is setting off to the right of the scene casting the light across the image from right to left. On top of this, the light's dynamic range is through the roof making it really difficult to avoid creating a silhouette of the buildings. I didn't bracket these shots hoping that the camera will capture this dynamic range allowing me to pull the details from the shadows and rescue the sky. It did not disappoint.

A photo of a sun burst behind the Shard in London taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/75th sec
f22
ISO200
18mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

Although the light was good on this particular evening, the weather was not playing ball. Here in this image, you can see my Fuji XT2 camera poised to capture this iconic view and there are hardly any clouds in the sky.

Before heading out, I had checked the weather and all was looking good for the right amount of cloud cover and the direction of the wind was supposed to mean the clouds would be traveling away from me but alas, the cloud cover was lighter than expected and the wind direction wasn't quite right. If the clouds were moving towards or away from me, they would create great lead in lines and make fantastic compositional elements in the image.

Behind the camera photo of the Fujifilm XT2 at the Shard by Trevor Sherwin
 

Nevertheless, the golden rule with landscape photography is that you never know what might change and it's not over until it's over. As the sun dipped below the horizon, a few more clouds turned up and the sunlit those up nicely so on went the 10 stop ND filter and off I went capturing the shot below.

What I think works about the image below is that the long exposure has captured and elongated the clouds making them a little more prominent in the shot with the warm light emphasising them even further.

A long exposure photo of the Shard at sunset taken by Trevor Sherwin

43 secs
f10
ISO200
18mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

To try to demonstrate how much better the clouds look when moving towards or away from you when taking long exposure images, I took changed direction and took the image below of Tower Bridge. Again, the cloud cover was not perfect, but you can still see how the direction the clouds are moving is important and how it can change the entire look of the image.

A long exposure photo of Tower Bridge at sunset taken by Trevor Sherwin

60 secs
f10
ISO200
18mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

My last shot in this particular spot was back looking across at the Shard as the last of the sun's warm light was in the sky. Again, cloud cover was lacking but with the light levels dropping I was able to take an even longer exposure of 120 seconds with some darker reds in the sky resulting in a totally different looking shot than before. This is another important lesson about photography and that is the light is everything and compositions that have been shot a thousand times before will take on their own unique look and feel as the light changes. No two images are ever the same.

If like me, you like a cleaner, more minimal shot of London, long exposures can really help simplify the scene. The boat traffic on this stretch of the Thames is particularly busy and this technique helps remove these distracting elements.

I covered this topic a bit more in my post titled Slowing Time: Why the Long Exposure?

A photo of the Shard at sunset in London taken by Trevor Sherwin

120 secs
f10
ISO200
18mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF10-24mm

Heading back for the day (as the cold had got the better of me) I snapped this pleasing composition of Tower Bridge. I had seen an image like this before so by no means an original composition (if such a thing exists for London cityscape photography) but with the lights providing my lead-in line to the Tower Bridge itself, it came out pretty good.

A photo of Tower Bridge at the blue hour in London taken by Trevor Sherwin

6.5 secs
f11
ISO200
55mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

I think my first outing into London with the Fuji X-T2 was a successful one. It performed well and was, like others before great to use with all the tactile dials and knobs quickly accessible rather than having to hunt around the menu system to make changes during the shoot. I still think the composition of the Shard and City Hall has more to offer and I will no doubt be back again at some point to try to capture it again. But for now, I am really pleased with the images I came home with on this particular day in London.