I have spent many months in the City of London working on my book “The Square Mile – a photographic portrait of the City” and it was a very rewarding experience of building a photographic record of many fantastic old and new buildings of the very heart of London. This oldest part of London stretches from Temple and Fleet Street in the west to Aldgate and the Tower of London in the east, from Smithfield and the Barbican in the north to the river Thames in the south.
Photographing the City was an adrenalin pumping activity as for some strange reasons, an army of overzealous security guards pounced on me when I least expected it! I have been photographing cities for many years and a few times misguided security guards swarmed me demanding to hand over my camera and deleting the images. So to start with, I would like to dispel the myth that they can take away your camera (that would be a theft) and not even a policeman can make you delete your images. Law in most European countries is very clear, if you are on public property, you can take pictures of everything, even of a private building. Obviously, if you are on private property then you have to do what you are asked by the owners or their representative.
The range of architectural photographic possibilities in the Square Mile is almost endless, big cityscapes, intimate details, colour and light, leading lines, unusual angles, night trails, contrasts, textures etc. Unlike many other genre of photography, architectural images can also be produced with good effect in all weather, sun or rain!
I don’t always use a tripod when working in the city, but it does eliminates the camera shake and also helps me to concentrate on the composition; it also is very useful when light levels fall – I prefer to use low ISO and get better quality images then to shoot grainier images on higher ISO.
The biggest problem while photographing buildings are converging vertical, a distortion that occurs when the camera is lifted up creating the vertical lines converging towards the top. I dealt with the problem by standing a bit further away from the building, but when this was not possible, I exaggerated the dramatic effect of converging verticals by getting closer to the building and lifting the camera almost vertically.
Occasionally I incorporate diagonal composition to add more dynamism to the photograph, but I am careful not to overdo it, as too many pictures like that can be confusing. When narrow streets didn’t allow me to step back to correct the converging verticals, I looked for reflections and The City, being the most historic, yet also the most modern part of London, gave me ample opportunities!
An interesting trick that I use when taking pictures in towns is to get close to the object in the foreground and to emphasize the size of it comparing to the the background. That’s exactly what I did while photographing the “Young lovers” sculpture. In real life it is quite small, but standing so close to it, made it look deceptively big.
Wide angle lenses are very useful to show the big city views with the whole environment. My favourite time for shooting such views is approximately 30 minutes after sunset, as the so called nautical twilight (the sun moves from 6 to 12 degree below horizon) turns the sky into dark saturated blue colour while city lights add interesting reflections and variety of colours.
All other general rules of photography apply to architectural shots to – I use lines and shadow to add dynamism and movement, I search for frames as they improve the picture aesthetically, I pay attention to the combination of colours, and most importantly I concentrate on patterns and abstracts, as they play an important role in creating the powerful architectural image.
About the author: Beata Moore is a professional photographer and writer. She has written a number of books including “The Channel Islands”, “Portrait of Wimbledon”, “The Square Mile – photographic portrait of the City”, “Cracow: City of Treasures”, “A Year in the life of the New Forest” and “A Year in the Life of the Cotswolds”.