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  • Writer's picturePhilip Preston

London, UK, some favourite architecture photography locations

Some people say London is one of the best, if not the best, cities in the world, and for photographers it certainly has much to offer. Beautiful architecture, cityscapes, street scenes, pomp and ceremony, to name just a few. In this blog post, I show a few of my favourite London photos taken during previous visits, with a few comments about locations and viewpoints for nice compositions.....well, compositions I like, but of course, alternative compositions are available! My examples below are generally the 'classic' London locations, but if you have any favourite locations within the city yourself, login and let us know where and what they are? Here are my suggestions.

1. London UK - Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Palm House and Pond

Camera : Canon 10D, 70-200mm F4 lens at 70mm, 4 secs at f6.7, ISO 200

Availability: Rights Managed licence available for editorial, magazine and book use at, (image ID DC23Y2).

Kew Gardens, or to give its full name, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is one of my favourite botanical gardens in the UK. Kew is located in southwest London, about half an hour away from the city centre, and houses the "largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world". It has more than 30,000 different kinds of plants, while the herbarium, which is one of the largest in the world, has over seven million preserved plant specimens. The library contains more than 750,000 volumes, and the illustrations collection contains more than 175,000 prints and drawings of plants. It is one of London's top tourist attractions and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The photograph above was taken back in December 2004 with my very first DLSR camera, a 6 megapixel Canon 10D. Every christmas, for a few weeks, Kew has a christmas lights event with illuminated buildings and laser lights among other things, so to get a photo like the one above, you need to visit over the christmas and new year holiday period. To get the best quality, a tripod is essential so you can use low ISO settings and low shutter speeds during low light levels in the evening. The image above has been sold a number of times through stock agency Alamy, and is currently featured on the Visit Britain website about best UK winter light shows. If you are unable to visit Kew during its annual christmas lights event, you will still find much to do photographically within its magnificent 300 acres of gardens, after all, it is a World Heritage Site!

2. London UK - London Eye Sunset

Camera : Fujifilm XE1, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, 1/500 sec at f6.4, ISO 1250

This photograph was taken on Westminster Bridge, close to Big Ben and Westminster Palace where the UK national parliament buildings are located. This location is generally very busy due to large numbers of tourists in the area, but its a great location for seeing and photographing some of the best known sites in London.

On this particular occasion, it looked like a glorious sunset was about to happen, so I wanted to get a photograph that included the London Eye and made the most of the nice sky colours. This is a popular subject for photographers just by itself, but I also wanted to get an image that put the Eye into a slightly wider context that included some nearby surroundings, so decided to use one of the street lights on the bridge as foreground interest, and to provide that 'old / new' combination to give a bit more interest. My viewpoint from the bridge meant there were no large buildings at the back of the London Eye to block out part of the beautiful sunset colours.

Light levels were quite low, and with all the people around walking backwards and forwards, a quick 'grab shot' was required when no one was walking past me in front of the camera. I took a few frames and the one above was the best of the bunch. I have never been in this location at sunrise, but would imagine its better due to there probably being less people around, which might enable the use of a tripod if available (note: this location has a high security presence, so not sure if using a tripod on Westminster Bridge might be challenged by Police, eg, obstructing a passageway).

3. London UK - Dome of St Paul's Cathedral (Monochrome, square crop)

Camera : Fujifilm XE1, 18-55mm lens at 55mm, 1/1000 sec at f10, ISO 1000

3a. London UK - Dome of St Paul's Cathedral (Colour, with sky crop)

Camera : Fujifilm XE1, 18-55mm lens at 55mm, 1/1000 sec at f10, ISO 1000

St Paul's Cathedral, London, is an Anglican cathedral, and located on Ludgate Hill, the highest point of the City of London and is a Grade I listed building. The present cathedral, dating from the late 17th century, was designed in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren, and its domed top is probably one of the best known iconic features of the London skyline.

If you are located near, or walking alongside the river Thames in central London, odds are that you will see the dome of St Pauls from many directions, especially on the south side of the river. The colour and monochrome versions above were taken at the same spot, during the same visit, from Gabriel's Wharf on the south side of the river, with a wooden pier giving some nice and contrasting foreground interest.....not always easily available when taking photographs of buildings across the river on the opposite side. Gabriel's Wharf is approximately mid way between Blackfriars Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, and is quite an easy spot to find, especially once you see the wooden pier.

If you are photographing from this viewpoint during daytime with average or good light levels, then a tripod is not really required, and holding your camera by hand using a sufficiently fast shutter speed should be fine. If you are photographing at dawn or dusk when light levels are much lower then using a tripod would be the better option. A tripod would also be better if you want to to try a long exposure to smooth out the water in the river. Incidentally, walls alongside the river are obviously made from thick and sturdy material, so you may be able to use a table top or mini tripod on top of a nearby section of wall if you don't have a large tripod available at the time. The height of water in the river will of course vary with tide times, so if water levels are important for your photography, check tide times for the best time of day (or night) to visit. During daytime photography, there will probably be a few people on the wooden pier admiring the view....and why not! So if you prefer photos without people in the frame you might have to wait a bit for the right moment, but personally, for this type of photo where they take up just a small percentage of the image space, I am happy for them to be included in the image.

4. London UK - The Shard Building and South Embankment

Camera : Fujifilm XE-1, 10-24mm lens at 12mm, 1/35 sec at f5.6, ISO 2500

The Shard, also known as the Shard of Glass, is a 95-storey skyscraper, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, and currently the tallest building in both the UK and the European Union. Located in the London Borough of Southwark, building of The Shard was completed in 2012. There is an observation deck, known as The View From The Shard, which opened to the public in February 2013.

For this photograph, I was located on the north side of the river directly opposite the building, in an elevated position a little to the left of London Bridge (seen on the right of the image). Being in an elevated position when photographing a 95 story skyscraper is very helpful, as it was subsequently unnecessary to point the camera upwards to get all of the skyscraper in the frame, which helped to prevent 'converging verticals', something I try to avoid with architectural photography if possible.

To get to this spot, you need to go up two fights of concrete stairs (seen in the foreground) which brings you to an open terrace. I suspect the terrace is part of private property belonging to the office building at the rear, but there are seats on the terrace, and no one came to ask what I was doing, so guess being there is ok if you are not creating any problems.

As I had no tripod with me at the time, and given the low light levels, I had to hand hold the camera using a slow shutter speed, so switched on the lens' image stabiliser and ramped up the ISO setting to 2500, not ideal as higher ISO settings produce higer levels of 'digital noise' in the image, but this is what you have to do when the required equipment is not available. With some careful post processing in Lightroom, I was able to reduce the noise sufficiently to get an acceptable image. Using a tripod with much lower ISO setting would have been the best option though.

One of the nice things about this viewpoint is the presence of some foreground interest, namely the odd 'triangle-ish' structure at the top of the concrete stairs. Be aware though, you will need a very wide angle lens to include this structure within a single image. My 10-24mm lens was set at 12mm, equivalent to 18mm on a full frame 35mm format camera. If you don't have a lens that wide, you could always do a panoramic shot and stitch 2 or 3 frames together. This would probably work well as it would include more of London Bridge in the image, and more buildings to the left of The Shard, out of view in the image above. A long exposure image using a slow shutter speed might also be nice for smoothing out the river water.

5. London UK - Tower of London and Modern City Architecture

Camera : Fujifilm XE1, 18-55mm lens at 39mm, 1/850 sec at f9, ISO 640

The Tower of London is located within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, on the north side of the river Thames near Tower Bridge. The building dates back to the year 1078, and is owned by the reigning British Monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. Very popular with tourists, the site had almost 3 million visitors in 2018, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you visit during the main summer holiday months, expect to see a lot of people nearby!

One of the interesting features of the London skyline is the juxtaposition of old and new buildings, and traditional and modern architecture. If you only like old buildings, there is plenty to photograph, if you only like modern architecture there is plenty to photograph, if you like both old/new, traditional and modern, architecture, there are absolutely loads of photographic options.

The photograph above was taken from an elevated position on nearby Tower Bridge, giving a nice viewpoint of the Tower of London and the nearby modern architecture. Taking the photo when no leaves were on the trees meant more of the building could be seen.

5a. London UK - Tower of London and Modern City Architecture

Camera : Fujifilm XE1, 18-55mm lens at 24mm, 1/950 sec at f9, ISO 640

This photograph above is taken from almost he same location as No 5 above, but with a wider view to show more London architecture, and using the riverboat as foreground interest. The Tower of London has less prominence with this wider view, and seems almost secondary as the viewers eye is drawn more to the left side of the image and the taller dominant skyscrapers. The position of the riverboat in the image also draws the eye away from the historic Tower.

6. London UK - Canary Wharf and Docklands Light Railway

Camera : Fujifilm XE1, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, 1/900 sec at f8, ISO 320

Canary Wharf is located in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. and is one of the UK's main financial districts. There are lots of modern high rise buildings here, so great for examples of modern architecture. There is a relatively high security presence in the area, so use of a tripod might be challenged by security staff, fine if you are on a public right of way, but much of the land in this area is privately owned so be aware. On the small number of occasions I have visited the area, I have never been asked what or why I was photographing (but have never used a tripod in the area).

The image above was taken in 2015, but a recent check on Google Maps shows the main building has been extended upwards, so this exact image is no longer available for photographers. The main image has been converted to monochrome, which I particularly like for modern architecture photography, but the colour version (shown left) also works well. The addition of the Docklands Light Railway carriages and a few people dotted around the scene for me, helps capture the elements of life in a modern city like London.

7. London UK - City Hall and The Shard At Sunset

Camera : Fujifilm XE1, 18-55mm lens at 27mm, 1/50 sec at f3.6, ISO 800

This image was taken from Tower Bridge (partly shown on the left) at sunset and is looking west along the river Thames. The curved building in the centre is City Hall, home to the administration for the Mayor of London, and the tallest building is The Shard mentioned in image 4 above. If you are fortunate to be there when a nice sunset is happening, its a nice viewpoint.

Twilight is probably the ideal time to be there, when lights are on inside the buildings and light levels outside and inside are similarly balanced. If your camera is mounted on a tripod, you could also try taking the same composition at different times and merging the best parts together, essentially a composite that might, for example, use one image when light was best for the sky, and a separate image when light was best for building interiors. This would of course require some additional post processing work with a suitable image editor.

A 'paint effect' version of this image (shown left) with more vibrant colour compared to the original has been produced, and prints and greeting cards at FAA / Pixels store are available for purchase.

8. London UK - Tower Bridge

Camera : Fujifilm XE1, 27mm lens, 1/600 sec at f8, ISO 320

Tower Bridge is probably the most well known and iconic bridge of all bridges in central London, and makes an interesting subject in its own right. This image is taken near City Hall, looking east towards Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf (skyscrapers just visible in the distance near the right hand tower), and I particularly like the foreground interest which gives a wider context to Tower Bridge and its nearby surroundings, collectively making the image more interesting than just a photo of the bridge alone.

The deckchairs are part of the 'London Riviera' pop up restaurant which was operating at the time the photo was taken (September). The main restaurant seating is out of view to the left, but the combination of Tower Bridge, deckchairs, blue sky and sunshine, and a few people walking about, is just a little more appealing to me than the usual 'here's Tower Bridge' straight on view. Most photos of Tower Bridge I see are in a horizontal / landscape format, but I think the vertical / portrait approach used here works better for this image. This image would probably make a good holiday postcard to send back to family and words needed, people would know where it was from! Sadly, I don't have a property release for Tower Bridge, so my postcard will just have to remain just a thought.

9. London UK - Royal National Theatre Exterior

Camera : Fujifilm XE1, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, 1/420 sec at f9, ISO 320

Availability : Prints and greeting cards at FAA/Pixels store

London's Royal National Theatre, commonly known as the National Theatre (NT), is one of the United Kingdom's most prominent performing arts venues, internationally, it is known as the National Theatre of Great Britain. It opened in 1976, is located near the river Thames, and is part of the South Bank's art venues which also includes the nearby Royal Festival Hall. Despite being a Grade II Listed Building, its brutalist architectural style has sometimes been controversial, most notoriously, Prince Charles described the building in 1988 as "a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting".

Whatever the buildings architectural merits, its is just another architectural style that presents interesting opportunities for photographers in London. The image above has been converted from colour to monochrome, which I like given the bold geometry of the design, and at the time of capture, a couple of people happened to be standing at the top level corner which helps add a contrasting and much needed 'human element' into the image. The sunlight on the day was rather strong, which while giving a good contrast range to the image, personally, I think it would probably look better photographed in more diffused lighting.

10. London UK - Westminster Sunset

Camera : Fujifilm XE1, 18-55mm lens at 55mm, 1/300 sec at f5, ISO 2500

Its a bit of a photographic cliche, Big Ben, Parliament, sunset, and all that, but if you come to London as a tourist I guess you just have to take some photographs of possibly the most iconic view of London's skyline. This image was taken back in 2014, and while the rest of London's skyline seems to be in a constant state of development and new buildings, this view is relatively timeless. Having said that, at the time of writing this blog post, and for some considerable time in the future (I am talking years!), Big Ben and much of Westminster Palace is covered in scaffolding and tarpaulin while extensive renovation work is done to replace the many crumbling sections of the building. So if you are visiting sometime soon, you might be a little disappointed with what you see on the buildings exterior.

The image above has been cropped to a panoramic format, and Topaz Labs Impressions software used to produce a paint effect look.

So that concludes my blog on this topic. London really is a great city for architectural photography, with so many different opportunities presenting themselves, in effect, you are almost spoilt for choice...which is a good thing. If you come to visit London for some photo inspiration, I am sure you will go home with great memories and hopefully, some equally great photographs.


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