Discovering London should be done in layers and in stages. In order to truly experience one of the greatest cities in the world, you have to look at London at every angle. You must experience one layer before you move onto the next. It is impossible to visit once and see everything there is to see in London. There is absolutely no way to experience everything London has to offer in one go and perhaps even ten.
There is a great quote that sums up London. “I’ve been walking about London for the last thirty years, and I find something fresh in it every day.” I could have written the quote as I myself have been exploring London for the last thirty years and yet there is still so much I haven’t seen or experienced. Every time I set out on foot I find something new and interesting about London that I hadn’t known before.
London is layered.
The first time you visit London you will want to see all of the must-see sights. Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus. All of these sights will be on your list. You’ll probably also want to ride on the iconic double decker bus, ride on the London Underground and have your photo taken in a red phone box. This is the surface of London. The superficial, if you will.
Museums aren’t superficial at all. The National Gallery, Tate Modern and British Museum will also be on your list of things to do in London. London’s museums are world class and they are free. You’ll feel as if you’ve been cultured at the highest level having been mere steps away from the masters of art. You’ll feel as if London has fed your curiosity with a silver spoon. You’re right to feel this as the city has so much to feed you.
The next time you visit London you’ll stay at the same level. You’ll feel as if you know London inside and out. You’ll return to familiar sights, you’ll hop on the London Underground feeling like a Londoner, and you’ll pop into the café or restaurant you remember so fondly from your last visit. You might even find your way from Point A to Point B without getting lost. But, you’ll still get lost when a street curves in a direction differently than what you expect.
If you decide to go for a walk instead of taking the Underground, you’ll find a new route and the next layer of London. You’ll find a new place you hadn’t noticed before. You’ll find a charming street or mews that puts a huge smile on your face. You’ll pop into art galleries instead of only exploring the large museums. And, you might even attend more than one theatre production.
As you discover more about London, your curiosity will get the best of you. You’ll want to know more but there isn’t time. You make a mental list of what you want to see and do during your next visit to London.
It’s during your third visit to London that you might want to cross each and every bridge in Central London. Instead of only riding the London Underground, you’ll walk more and you’ll get lost more. The streets still curve in unexpected directions but when you get lost, you won’t panic. You will keep walking further and explore streets just to see where they go. You’ll find new neighbourhoods and sit in parks you never knew were there.
Instead of only visiting Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral, you’ll find incredible churches like St Bartholomew The Great near Smithfields. You’ll stumble upon St. Dunstan-In-The-East and be amazed how London’s noise is silenced when you walk into the public gardens. Curiosity might get the best of you as you try to discover other secret places in London – and there are plenty to discover. Pickering Place off St James’s Street with it’s brilliant sun dial, or Holborn Viaduct are just two secrets waiting for you.
You’ll be charmed even more by London. You’ll be so charmed that by your next visit you’ll relax a bit. You will understand that visiting London is not a race but instead a layered treasure waiting to be discovered. You’ll sit on a park bench to eat your lunch. When the sun comes out, you’ll lay on the grass in Hyde Park, Green Park or St. James’s Park just like Londoner do. You’ll want a cuppa instead of a cup of coffee. And, you’ll think to venture beyond the ground floor at Fortnum & Mason. When you’re finished there, you’ll pop into Hatchard’s book shop next door and know you’re walking into history when you do.
Each layer of London will reveal a different part of the heart and soul of the city. With each layer you peel back, you will want to discover more. Many elements make London tick and move. The vibe and energy of the city are immeasurable and you’ll feel both with every step you take. It’s the addictive vibe and energy that will keep you wanting to return for more.
If you’re a keen photographer, you’ll want to capture the best possible photos of London. I dedicate a section of the blog to the Best Places to Photograph London. Have a look. I make finding the best London photo spots easy to find. Consider the following photo composition tips for your next photographic journey in London.
Simplify the scene.
When you look at a scene with your naked eye, your brain quickly picks out subjects of interest. But the camera doesn’t discriminate – it captures everything in front of it, which can lead to a cluttered, messy picture with no clear focal point.
Remember, don’t let your camera rule you. You rule the camera!
What you need to do is choose your subject, then select a focal length or camera viewpoint that makes it the centre of attention in the frame. You can’t always keep other objects out of the picture, so try to keep them in the background or make them part of the story.
Silhouettes, textures and patterns are all devices that work quite well in simple compositions.
The simpler the shot the bigger the impact
Move in close to cut out other parts of the scene
Silhouettes and shapes make strong subjects
The balloons radial lines draw you into the frame
Fill The Frame
When you’re shooting a large-scale scene it can be hard to know how big your subject should be in the frame, and how much you should zoom in.
In fact, leaving too much empty space in a scene is the most widespread compositional mistake. It makes your subject smaller than it needs to be and can also leave viewers confused about what they’re supposed to be looking at.
To avoid these problems you should zoom in to fill the frame, or get closer to the subject in question. The first approach flattens the perspective of the shot and makes it easier to control or exclude what’s shown in the background, but physically moving closer can give you a more interesting take on things.
Horizontal vs Vertical
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and take every picture with the camera held horizontally. In fact, I was taught to shoot this way and only this way. It took time for me think of turning my camera vertically.
Try turning it to get a vertical shot instead, adjusting your position or the zoom setting as you experiment with the new style.
Avoid The Middle
When you are a newbie, or just starting out, it’s tempting to put whatever you’re shooting right in the centre of the frame. However, this produces rather static, boring pictures. One of the ways to counteract this is to use the Rule of Thirds, where you split the image up into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and try to place your subject on one of these imaginary lines or intersections.
Let me say, however, this is an overrated approach.
Instead, move your subject away from the centre and get a feel for how it can be balanced with everything else in the scene, including any areas of contrasting colour or light.
There are no hard and fast rules about achieving this kind of visual balance, but you’ll quickly learn to rely on your instincts – trust that you’ll know when something just looks right.
A poorly composed photograph will leave your viewers unsure about where to look, and their attention might drift aimlessly around the scene without finding a clear focal point.
However, you can use lines to control the way people’s eyes move around the picture.
Converging lines give a strong sense of perspective and three-dimensional depth, drawing you into an image. Curved lines can lead you on a journey around the frame, leading you towards the main subject.
Lines exist everywhere, in the form of walls, fences, roads, buildings and telephone wires. They can also be implied, perhaps by the direction in which an off-centre subject is looking.
Horizontal lines lend a static, calm feel to a picture, while vertical ones often suggest permanence and stability. To introduce a feeling of drama, movement or uncertainty, try the dutch tilt technique.
You can need nothing more than a shift in position or focal length to get them –wider angles of view tend to introduce diagonal lines because of the increased perspective; with wide-angle lenses, you’re more likely to tilt the camera up or down to get more of a scene in.
You can also introduce diagonal lines artificially, using the ‘Dutch Tilt’ technique. You simply tilt the camera as you take the shot. This can be very effective, though it doesn’t suit every shot and is best used sparingly
The Dutch Tilt can be used for dramatic effect and helps portray unease, disorientation, frantic or desperate action, intoxication, madness, etc….
Space to Move
Even though photographs themselves are static, they can still convey a strong sense of movement. When we look at pictures, we see what’s happening and tend to look ahead – this creates a feeling of imbalance or unease if your subject has nowhere to move except out of the frame.
You don’t just get this effect with moving subjects, either. For example, when you look at a portrait you tend to follow someone’s gaze, and they need an area to look into
For both types of shot, then, there should always be a little more space ahead of the subject than behind it.
Don’t just concentrate on your subject – look at what’s happening in the background, too. This ties in with simplifying the scene and filling the frame. You can’t usually exclude the background completely, of course, but you can control it.
You’ll often find that changing your position is enough to replace a cluttered background with one that complements your subject nicely. Or you can use a wide lens aperture and a longer focal length to throw the background out of focus.
It all depends on whether the background is part of the story you’re trying to tell with the photo. In the shot above, the background is something that needs to be suppressed.
Be Creative With Colours
Bright primary colours really attract the eye, especially when they’re contrasted with a complementary hue. But there are other ways of creating colour contrasts – by including a bright splash of colour against a monochromatic background, for example.
You don’t need strong colour contrasts to create striking pictures, though.
Scenes consisting almost entirely of a single hue can be very effective. And those with a limited palette of harmonious shades, such as softly lit landscapes, often make great pictures.
The key is to be really selective about how you isolate and frame your subjects to exclude unwanted colours.
Breaking The Rules
Photo composition is basically a visual language – you can use it to make your pictures pass on a particular message.
Just as we sometimes use the written word to create a deliberately jarring effect, we can do the same with photos by breaking with standard composition rules.
When you understand the rules of composition and then break them on purpose things start to get interesting.
It’s often best to break one rule at a time, as John Powell does in the image above.
Just remember: for every rule we suggest, somewhere out there is a great picture that proves you can disregard it and still produce a fantastic image.