London Shoot 12/12/12

I went to London armed with my camera (Casio Ex-F1), an un-tried variable Neutral Density filter and the ubiquitous tripod. Although I didn’t have a strict storyboard to follow, I did have a shot list in mind. In general I was looking for scenes displaying frequent and dynamic movement (human and mechanistic) with moving light being of particular interest (thinking of the delay by luminosity effect). The format would be strictly time lapse for a number of reasons

  • to exaggerate movement
  • to create light trails
  • to obscure faces (to avoid the need for permissions)
  • to enhance abstract qualities

One major concern was to find a location that I could shoot through the falling of dusk, knowing that I would only get one shot at this – short of scheduling a return visit. I had envisaged applying a slit-scan effect with a long delay between a small number of strips to a dusk-fall sequence thus showing the scene simultaneously at radically different stages of light.

To this end I had spent some time using Google maps, image search and in particular Google Street View to figure out exactly where to shoot the dusk sequence. Contenders were Old St roundabout, the roundabout at the Museum of London (next to the Barbican), Piccadilly/Regent Street or Leicester Square. I looked for protected spaces (to minimise the risk of tripod knock) with an uninterrupted view of the subject – ideally a busy West-facing road with good prospects for luminosity variations created by the falling light.

I nearly dismissed Old St roundabout because as London’s up and coming ‘Silicon Roundabout’ it has recently become the subject of much photo/videography and thus a little too much ’roundabout du jour’ for my liking. However, I did spy a promising vantage point  facing the West side of Old St, so thought I would leave this location as a reserve. The Museum of London roundabout, although a great location, didn’t look like it would yield particularly interesting shots. I did find a couple of traffic islands on Regent St which looked quite promising, thinking it would be visually interesting to shoot the dying light across the curve of Regent St dominated by Christmas illuminations. Leicester Square has been the location of recent renovations and I didn’t expect Street View to match up with reality in this case so thought I would leave it until the day to scout out. Although I know London pretty well, Street View and image search really helped me to identify and assess  specific shooting locations.

On the day itself it was very cold (around zero) with freezing fog and a chance of some precipitation forecast. My first port of call was Colchester station where I had planned to shoot a sequence of one of the station clocks. I didn’t quite manage to get the full bleed effect I had hoped for (digits running into one another), but having got a visitor’s pass, took the time to get a few sequences of digits advancing. You can see some bleed in the below image (98 not being expected as a seconds value).


As I arrived at Liverpool Street Station I wondered if it might be possible to shoot inside the actual station, which although not too busy by mid morning, is still a fantastic place to observe human behaviour at any time. Thirty minutes later after some discussion, form-filling and watching of a training video I had myself a station camera pass. This was a fantastic outcome and I shot 4 separate sequences, stills from which are shown below.





The light is fantastic at the station due to the large portions of glass ceiling. In this situation, the Neutral Density (ND) filter proved invaluable in terms of reducing light and increasing exposure times. However – I hadn’t realised that my camera wouldn’t shoot an exposure longer than half a second at this point and this was the first technical limitation I came up against. I had hoped to create more obscurement/movement trails with the ND filter but half a second exposure wasn’t quite producing the desired effect. Knowing that there was no way round this limitation on this particular day, I worked with it and moved round London looking for scenes I could shoot while all the time checking out potential dusk locations.

Trafalgar Square fountain.


Waterloo Bridge and River Thames from Embankment.


Waterloo Bridge.


Leicester Square was no go because of the Hobbit premiere. I ended up shooting the dusk sequence looking up Regent Street, away from the setting sun.


A very happy accident was ending up at Bethnal Green Overland Station after nightfall and shooting moving trains coming in and out of Liverpool Street Station.


The second technical limitation I came up against was memory card space. I hadn’t shot so many sequences in one field trip previously and doing the maths over a mid-morning coffee realised that I would soon run out of memory without the chance to copy the images and wipe the card. I ended up buying a couple of cards on the day, being in London this wasn’t a problem but could have been in other circumstances. I also reduced image capture quality slightly to give myself more headroom. A lesson to be learned. Battery charge was not a problem (although it was a subject I had worried about) despite using the camera frequently throughout the day – continuously shooting stills half a second apart is obviously a lot less battery draining than continuous HD video capture.

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