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Have you felt the London Vibe?

A few years ago I was on my way to a member’s club to meet friends when I stopped in a small corner store for a couple things.  I guess I had an odd look on my face as the store clerk asked “Are you ok mate”?  “Yeah,” I replied, “I’m just tired”.  He looked at me with a smile and said “Everyone in London is tired”.  I think the store clerk may be right.

London is a city full of energy.  Everything moves fast and furious.  You wake up, get ready for the day, step outside onto the pavement and before you know it, it is time for bed again.  Seriously, this is how it feels for me most days.  The days race by in what seems to be an instant.  March through September fly by and the next thing you know is the Christmas lights are switched on in Oxford Street.  It’s incredible.

Being in London is living.  I always say – I go to London to live life and I go to Texas to sit down and take a breath.  There is a rush of energy in London that can only be matched by New York City.  You can feel this lightning speed energy simply by walking down any London street.  You can’t look anywhere and not see something moving.  Everything is in motion it seems.

People are always in a hurry, waiters in restaurants move fast, cars zip by, and tall double decker buses zoom past one after another after another.  Lights constantly flash in your eyes. Motion doesn’t stop underground as “The Tube” stops at a platform every few minutes.  Nothing stops.  Commuters rush through underground tunnels like ants bringing home food to their queen.   It’s crazy.

Have you ever had a quiet moment on the streets in Central London?  I haven’t found one and I’ve been walking London’s streets for more years than I can count.  I remember being on Oxford Street on a Saturday once and literally having a panic attack.  I never have panic attacks.  That’s not me.  On that particular day, however, all I wanted to do was get away from the crowd and the noise.  Now I avoid Oxford Street at all costs and I’ve even found an alternative route when I head that direction.  Since that day I learned quiet is inside me and that’s a bit of comfort when I find myself in a tense London situation.

The fast paced energy of London is actually a good thing.  The vitality of the city makes you feel alive.  You might even find there to be an extra step in your skip so to speak.  It’s a good feeling, if not a bit exhausting.  I always think better and my creativity is sparked simply by being aware of my surroundings as I walk.

London is a city where you can be anonymous and even alone amongst a million people.  As long as you like yourself and can keep yourself company, being anonymous and alone is great.  I love it myself.  If you need constant attention and validation, you might find London a wee bit hard, cold and callous.  Can you imagine walking through a city so crowded as London and never speak to someone and no one speaks to you?  It’s interesting.

I like the anonymous bit to be honest.  It’s especially nice when I’m out with my camera.   I can get lost in London without being literally lost.  I zone everything and everyone out.  It’s me, my camera and London.  Sometimes I feel as if I have the entire fabulous city all to myself.   If anyone speaks to me, it’s tourists and not Londoners.  Tourists want to know what I’m doing or how to capture a great photo.  Londoners might glance over to see what I’m doing but mostly they could care less.  It’s great.  It’s brilliant and part of the London vibe.

London is not for the faint of heart.  If it’s rainbows and butterflies you’re looking for, go to the Rainforest Café.  When you want the vim and vigor of a city full of liveliness, step out onto to the streets of London.  

London will challenge you.  Challenge her back.  Walk with your head held high, look people in the eye, offer the odd smile and don’t let anyone tell you London is not for you.  London is for everyone of all walks of life.  She is especially great when you contribute to her energy.

At the end of the day when you go home and prop your tired feet up, or you return to your hotel exhausted on your bed, remember the day you had.  Rewind everything that happened during the day.  Remember all the sights, sounds and motion that engulfed your senses.  And when you’ve done all that, remember what a brilliant city London is.

No matter how, when, why or where you travel around the world you are sure to receive one of the best educations of your life.  The lessons you learn may be small and unnoticeable or they may be huge and life changing.

A foreign culture may make you realise something you didn’t know about yourself and sometimes even move you to tears.  My visit to Bhutan took me to a state of peacefulness I’ve not found anywhere in the Western world.  I can’t begin to describe the effect the tiny kingdom had on me except to say when I viewed photos and video from the journey, tears rolled down my cheeks.  It’s a mystery to me why the tears came even today.  All I know is Bhutan touched me beyond measure.

The taste of new food, aromas, colors and even travel sounds can leave an impression on you well after you leave a destination.  The sensory elements of travel may inspire you to add them to your own creative adventures in cooking or music or handicrafts.

You may be in awe of Big Ben or Mont Saint Michel glowing against the night sky.  Istanbul’s Blue Mosque or the Old Medina in Marrakech send your senses into sensory overload.  A sunset on a beach in the Caribbean or Bali may change the way you look at the world.

But most of all, it is the people you meet along the way who will touch you in ways you never though imaginable.  Maybe you’ll understand that we are all just trying to make it in this world.  We just happen to speak differently or pray a little different.  Inherently, we’re all good people.

And so when I wanted to show the many places I’ve travelled throughout the world, I decided to do it in one go in one epic video presentation which I’ve titled “Travel Around The World With The Gentleman Wayfarer.”  There are approximately 3000 photos in the fast-paced presentation that span all the way around the world.  The places and people I’ve included have impacted my life in one way or another.  This is my tribute to every one and every place that has made a difference in my life.

Travel with an iPhone or any mobile phone is very common today.  If you are keen to improve your travel photography skills, a mobile device is a great way to do it.  Phones are easily accessible, they fit in your pocket and you really don’t have to think too much.

Consider these iPhone Travel Photography Tips during your next journey.

1) Strengthen your travel photos with different focal lengths.

The iPhone is equipped with two lenses, a wide-angle 28mm and a portrait lens, 56mm. Different focal lengths tell different stories. A wider angle generally gives a better sense of place, while a telephoto brings the viewer into the details of the subject.  Consider this while you’re shooting and experiment with both.  And remember – one key element to great photo composition is filling your frame.

2) Keep Using Your iPhone in Low Light

Some of my favorite images have been shot well after the sun has gone down.  I love the challenge of low light photography.  In the past, I would have put my iPhone away thinking the images wouldn’t be usable, but now with a new sensor and faster aperture (f/1.8), the iPhone autofocuses and captures substantially better in low light.

3) Be In The Moment But Also Think Ahead

Travel photography is about capturing the unknowns and unexpected.  Always be looking forward, and consider using the iPhone’s burst mode so you don’t miss a moment as it happens.   To use burst mode, press and hold the shutter button until rapid fire begins.

4) Buy An Unlocked iPhone So You Can Switch to Local SIM Cards.

Communication is super important while traveling.  If you’re roaming internationally, the cost can be astronomical.  Buy a local SIM card as it allows you to make new plans, call someone, google something, and more, while you’re on the go. In photography, this means your GPS data will be recorded with your photo.  The iPhone’s memories feature can organize your images together by location and create simple and fun video vignettes.

Later, you can also look on a map in Photos and see exactly where you captured different photographs.  I use this feature as I don’t always remember the names of the places where I’ve taken photos.

5) Bring a Small Tripod

A small, compact tripod can be helpful and is a great way to capture time-lapses, low-light images, and more. While the iPhones now all have a stabilizer built in, the extra support from a tripod can be especially helpful with the iPhone optical zoom.

Keep in mind that shooting with a longer focal length, like the iPhone optical zoom, amplifies camera shake.  You’ll find it will naturally be more difficult to get a sharp clear shot while shooting with 2x, especially in low-light environments or unstable foundations, like a moving vehicle.  To compensate, use a mini-tripod or experiment with burst mode. Sometimes I’ll shoot a 20-shot burst just to ensure that I have the sharpest shot possible.

6) Upload Your Photos to the Cloud Daily

Thanks to a the iPhone’s water-resistant feature, you won’t be losing our pictures during accidental swims, but it could be left at a hotel, or worse, picked from your pocket, which happened to me in Ecuador. At the end of the day, the iPhone can be replaced, but your pictures can’t. Don’t get two weeks into a trip only to lose them all in a moment.

If you don’t have your laptop because you’re traveling light, consider a SanDisk iXpand.  It’s essentially a USB flash drive with a Lightning connector, so you can quickly and easily off-load your images each day.  I love mind and take it everywhere I travel.

Be sure to keep your backup and your iPhone in separate bags for extra safety.

7) Play it safe.

Don’t put your iPhone—or any valuable—in the tray when going through security. Instead, put it in a pocket of your bag before sending it through the x-ray.  This way it’s protected from being accidentally—or intentionally—carried off before you get through the metal detector.

8) Play To The Strengths of the iPhone

One of the greatest strengths of the iPhone as a camera is its agility.  You can focus on getting to the best shoot spots instead of worrying about lugging gear. Don’t weigh it down with a bunch of unnecessary DSLR lens adapters.

Try leaving your DSLR at home and travel super light.  The iPhone  doesn’t replace your DSLR, but it’s plenty powerful and a really fun way to experience and capture the environment around you.  You’ll love leaving the extra chargers, batteries, lenses, and big tripod at home for a change.

night photo palace of westminster

Capturing images of the House of Parliament, or Palace of Westminster, is one of my favourite places to photograph London.  I prefer to visit the area at night because the buildings illuminate beautifully highlighting the gold tones in the stone used throughout the structure.  Like so  many other brilliant London photo locations, the area around Palace of Westminster is a treasure trove with Big Ben, Westminster Bridge, the Thames River, Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square nearby.

If I had to choose the ultimate place to take the best London photos, Palace of Westminster and the area surrounding the grand building would near the top of the list.  As a proficient night photographer, you’ll find me out and about after the sun goes down.  The reflections of the Victorian architectural masterpiece reflects beautifully in the river especially with the warm lighting tones.  The truth is, however, the entire area is worthy of a visit with your camera day or night.

In 1834, fired ravaged both Houses of Parliament along with most other building on the site.  Westminster Hall, the Jewel Tower and a few others were spared from destruction thanks to firefighters and changing winds.  

The new Palace of Westminster, what we see today, was custom-built by the Victorian architect Charles Barry.  Mr Barry was careful to combine the old with the new, so that the surviving buildings – Westminster Hall, the Cloisters and Chapter House of St. Stephen’s, and the Undercroft Chapel – formed a structure that appeared seamless.

The Palace of Westminster towers over the River Thames and is quite imposing as a symbol of power, tho’ one might question the power bit given today’s political folly.  Back in Victorian times when the Palace was rebuilt, the architecture and massive structure captivated the imaginations of the public.  It also had a significant influence on the subsequent design of various public buildings such as town halls, law courts and schools throughout the United Kingdom, and internationally.

Where is Palace of Westminster?  How Do I Get To Palace of Westminster?
Palace of Westminster GPS Coordinates :: 51.4995° N, 0.1248° W

Map Showing Location of Palace of Westminster ::

Map Showing Location of Palace of Westminster

London Colisseum illuminated at night and Red Phone Boxes

When the London Coliseum originally opened in 1904, it was London’s largest and most luxurious variety theatres.  It was referred to as the people’s palace of entertainment at the time.  Even today, with 2,59 seats, the Coliseum is the largest theatre in London.

The theatre has been used for variety shows, stage plays, musical comedies, and screening films throughout the years.  After the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company moved into the building in 1968, the name changed to the English National Opera.  Today the London Coliseum is used primarily for opera as well as being the London home of the English National Ballet.

I’ve attended numerous English National Opera productions including “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Sweeney Todd.”  What rich entertainment you can enjoy at any number of productions throughout each season, but be sure to have your camera in hand when you walk out the doors into St Martin’s Lane.

St Martin’s Lane has always been one of my favourite roads in Central London.  There is no rhyme nor reason to my fondness of this street except it seems more civilised than others and the numerous theatres dotted along St Martin’s.  Of course you’ll find the London Coliseum which is a challenge to photograph.  My best advice is to jockey yourself around St Martin’s Lane as well as the area in front of the National Portrait Gallery along Charing Cross Road.  I especially love the red phone boxes and the tall leafy trees that add interesting elements into any London photograph.

Is the London Coliseum one of the best places to photograph London?  No, not exactly.  The coliseum building itself is indeed quite stunning especially with the spinning finial like part of the structure.  The interesting part of the area is challenging yourself to capture a great photograph in and around the Coliseum area.  To top it off, Trafalgar Square is mere steps away where a myriad of fabulous London photographs await you.

Where is the ENO London Coliseum?  How Do I Get To the London Coliseum?
ENO London Coliseum GPS Coordinates :: 51.5098° N, 0.1268° W

Map Showing the Location of the English National Opera London Coliseum ::

Map Showing Location of London Colisseum

photo showing entrance to city of london

Strategically placed around the perimeters of the “Square Mile,” are statues of dragons holding the shield of St George signifying your entrance into the City of London.  No, no!  Not sprawling London as a whole, but the 1.12 square miles that make up the historical centre of trading and business.

History can take you back to when London was known as Londinium when the Romans established a settlement around 43AD.  It is safe to say the Romans were the first presence of life in London as archaeologists have found no evidence of pre-Roman  signs of significant life beforehand.  

You can find segments of the London Wall, which was built by the Romans, near Tower Hill Underground Station.  The Romans built the wall sometime around 190AD and 225AD.  The boundaries of the Roman city were quite close to this of the City of London today except the City extends further west than Lononinium’s Ludgate.  Remember also the River Thames was wider back then than it is today so the shoreline of Londoninium was slightly north of the City of London’s present shoreline.

Of course the City of London grew by leaps and bounds over hundreds and hundreds of years.  The beauty of the square mile is it continues to transform London’s skyline with modern architecture at a seemingly rapid pace.

This is a lot to say about statues of a dragon tho’ there is rich history behind them.  Are the statues themselves the best places to photograph London?  No, not really save for the one located in The Strand.  

The City of London itself is worth a day, and even a weekend, to explore with your camera.  Only about 9,400 people live within the City today tho’ about 300,000 commute to the area each day for work.  After work hours and weekends are ideal for keen creative photographers as you will have the City of London virtually to yourself. 

The end of Waterloo Bridge isn’t exactly a London attraction but if you love long exposures and capturing light trails, this is a perfect place for London photography.

When you stand at the end of the bridge with The Strand at your back, you are in a super place as the road descends into a tunnel and there is one road on one side and another road on the other.  Timing is essential to capture moving traffic in all places all at once.  Cars drive down into the tunnel leading to Holborn and London iconic double decker buses pass along on either side.

If you are easily entertained like I am, you will be certain to spend at least an hour in this spot.

image of the end of waterloo bridge

Map showing where you should stand to capture photos at the end of Waterloo Bridge ::

Map Showing the Location of Waterloo Bridge

I always want the end of Regent Street to offer incredible photographs.  The truth is the end of Regent Street (between Oxford Street and the beginning of Portland Street) is not that interesting.  The walk is sort of dull.  What a fantastic way to convince you to make this trek?

The truth is if you’re at Oxford Circus, you might as well continue the walk to All Souls Langham Place, a church, and the BBC Broadcasting House.

The contrast of old London architecture and contemporary architecture is interesting.  You can find the combination in a number of areas throughout London.  I especially love the rounded entrance to the All Souls church as it is situated as the Regent Street curves into Portland Street.  If you enjoy capturing light trails from moving traffic, this is a splendid place for you.

You’ll find the BBC Broadcasting House directly behind the All Souls church.  I find night time to be best to photograph in this area as the BBC illuminates in a fabulous cobalt blue.  I was short on time to capture images tho’ it is high on my list to return.

How do you get to the End of Regent Street?  Begin at Oxford Circus then walk northward along Regent Street.  So easy.

Map Showing the Location of the End of Regent Street ::

Map Showing the End of Regent Street

christ church spitalfields

East London is an interesting area for photography if you are keen to explore.  And, when I say explore also be ready to open your creative mind.  Know a little East London history before you go such as the bombings during World War II, the Victorian Slum Houses, Spitalfield, and yes, even Jack the Ripper.

When you understand much of the East End was leveled during air raids of the second world war, you’ll then know you will find a mixture of Old London and rapidly changing modern London.  

Spitalfield Area London

Years ago, I joined one of the famous Jack the Ripper tours.  I don’t remember much about the tour except for the guide repeatedly saying “imagine, if you will” when referring to 99% of the urban landscape.  For me, the guide’s repeated phrase was sort of a downer.  I wanted to be amongst musty old buildings, tho’ instead I had to visualise missing architecture while standing next to a contemporary building less than five years old.

To be fair, the Jack the Ripper tour was as entertaining as it was informative.  The guides are typically animated, quick witted, a wee bit dramatic and masters of London knowledge.  The vision I had of East London, however, did not match the reality of the uninspiring rebuild of the area after the world war.  And so, I scratched East London off my photography list until about ten years ago.  

I explore between Liverpool Street Station the revitalized Spitalfield Market area even today.  There are interesting areas, narrow streets, alleys, old architecture mixed with the new and mysteries you create in your mind as you trundle along.

Knowing a little East London history myself, I enjoy imagining the sights as they were before, the sounds and the smells.  I imagine  people milling about, kids playing games in the streets, a woman shouting from a window in need of repair or the sounds of the Industrial Revolution which happened mostly in the east end of the city.

Is East London one of the best places to photograph London?  If you are open to explore what is around the corner, yes.  Remember to go with your imagination and creative eye.

ballerina statue and red phone boxes in broad court

Once you’ve exhausted the photo opportunities at Covent Garden, be sure to venture further.  Take any number of streets and wander.  You can’t go wrong in any direction to find some of the best places to photograph London.

The Royal Opera House is adjacent in Bow Street on the northeast side of Covent Garden.  

low angle view royal opera house london

A walk northward along James Street will take you to the Covent Garden Underground Station and Long Acre.  Along this walk you’ll find numerous street performers and numerous opportunities for street photography.  

Once you reach Long Acre veer slightly to the right and you’ll find Neal Street.  Follow Neal Street northward and this is where the fun begins.  Neal’s Yard, narrow streets that are mostly empty at night and Seven Dials.  Each area is unique and will allow you to use your creative photographic eye.

Begin your journey at Covent Garden.
The GPS Coordinates for Covent Garden Are :: 51.5117° N, 0.1240° W

Map Showing the Location of Covent Garden

low angle view of covent garden piazza

Central London is like Disneyland for photographers.  Almost everywhere you turn you will find one of the best places to photograph London.   Covent Garden is no exception.  

If you are interested in street photography, visit this top tourist attraction during the day into early evening.  There will be plenty of visitors and street performers waiting to be unknowingly captured when you click your shutter button.  If you’re keen to capture the city void of people and appreciate London’s old architecture, be sure to visit after dark.

It’s obvious I love London night photography.  I perfected the craft by spending innumerable hours exploring the city at night.  Covent Garden is one of my top London photo areas as I love the cobblestones, the low angle perspective, the simple architecture and columns as well as the open space around the perimeter of the piazza.  You can spend hours at this famous market turned retail space.

You have to love Covent Garden for its history and I can’t help but visualize the fictional Eliza Doolittle singing “Wouldn’t It Be Luverly” on the doorstep of St Paul’s Church in the wee hours of the morning.

st paul's church covent garden

Be sure to move all about the perimeter of the piazza as well as stepping inside as the glass roofs are great fun.  When the building illuminates at night, magic happens that only a photographer would appreciate.  

The Covent Garden Piazza  offers ample photo opportunities.  Take your time.  Go high.  Go low.  Go when or after it rains.    The area is very safe tho’ don’t be surprised if a passerby asks what you’re doing.  A lady once got down on the ground to see what I was doing and then told me I was a spy.  Also, don’t be surprised if a concerned policeman stops to ask if you’re ok especially if you’re lying on the ground. 

Where is Covent Garden?  How Do I Get To Covent Garden?
Covent Garden GPS Coordinates :: 51.5117° N, 0.1240° W

Map Showing the Location of Covent Garden:
Map Showing Location of Covent Garden