Quick Shots: From the Streets of London

Few things bring me the same pleasure and thrill of opening a fresh roll of 35mm film and exploring a city with the aim of making 36 photographs. While it's almost impossible for me to produce 36 "keepers" with any one roll, that's the goal, and I find that I have more keepers from any one roll of film than a similar 36 digital images. 

All of the images included here were shot on one roll in one day of walking around London with my Leica M7 and a 35mm Summarit lens. Apparently I had a thing for feet that day ;-)

Ghosts

Football

Hang

Tophats

A local

Leaning

Doorway

Ride Along

Selfie

Slacks

Crossing

Lookup

Quick Shot: Following My Lens Through London

Street photography is all about making impulse decisions. You get a split second to try and capture a natural human moment before it disappears, never to happen again. There are no do-overs in street photography.

On Saturday I took my Leica M7 35mm film camera with the 50mm Summilux f/1.4 and a roll of Ilford FP-4+ for a walk in downtown London. My goal was simple - see what came in front of my lens and take 36 photographs. When carrying my digital camera I will be more liberal with my shots as I am only inconveniencing a few electrons if I mess up, but film isn't so forgiving. I get 36 exposures and its up to me to make them as great as I can.

After developing the roll and scanning the images, I am left with 11 "keeper" shots - a great ratio of shots to keepers! These are straight scans with no editing. As you'll see, a lot of interesting things found their way in front of my lens yesterday.

En route

En route

Conversation

Look right and wait

Empty train station

Tube station

Shopkeeper's window

Down

Reflected icon

Drizzles

Scribbles

Riding

First Day with the Leica SL

Thanks to the Leica Store in Mayfair (London), I didn't have to wait long after posting my Leica SL First Impressions to actually get my own. Leica was also kind enough to setup the camera and charge the battery for me so that I could take it shooting in London after purchase.

Like with any new camera, it takes some time to learn the buttons and figure out the 'ins and outs' of the controls, but it was the perfect day to put the camera through its paces. After starting with a walk through Soho, we walked to the Tate Modern and a Christmas market in that area before finishing with a nighttime stroll to Big Ben and Westminster. I had a chance to shoot in a bunch of different environments, including some nighttime and low-light, to really test several aspects of the camera - and I am SUPER impressed! In fact, as I downloaded the files into Photoshop last night, I kept saying "holy cow" and "wow" as I looked at the raw files; these are some of the nicest images I've ever seen come from a camera. Incredible dynamic range, sharpness, and detail. 

Stay tuned for a formal full review, but in the mean time, here's a sneak peak of my first day with the Leica SL.

Quick Shot: Two Eyes

The London Eye is quickly becoming a popular site for tourists who wish to have a tremendous view of the London skyline. The ferris wheel has little glass bubbles that rotate with the wheel over the span of 30 minutes. To get this double exposure showing an eye within an eye, I centered the wheel in the center of my focus screen, then took a few steps back and shot again. This image was created on my Hasselblad 503CX using Ilford Delta film.

Quick Shot: Big Ben(s)

As I often do, I shared these photos with some family and friends before sharing them online. When I sent these to my dad, he replied with the following question, which I thought was worthy of sharing and answering online:

"Why waste all that film when you could use photoshop to more accurately and directly control the images?"

Well (dad) and everyone else - it's not about the most effective way to create an image.... it's about art, creativity, and fun! If I sat down at my computer with a blank Photoshop document, I would never have dreamed up the images I created. And assuming I had thought up these photographs, I would have spent hours manipulating and playing with them to be 'perfect' rather than accepting the creative randomness that I experienced.

I really didn't put much pre-visualization into these double exposures - which is unlike most of my photography. Normally I have clearly planned my perfect image in my head before I arrive on site or take the photograph. Although film photography means I don't know the results of my shoot until after I've developed the film, I still try to pre-plan photographs. The exception came with these double exposures.

I knew the general themes I wanted, but much of the final composition was to be decided in person. It was only when I was looking at Big Ben that I decided to try and compose upside down. It was only after I took that shot that I thought "I bet it would look interesting sideways." Being creative and artistic means that sometimes you operate without a plan and try something crazy. It means that sometimes you try something you couldn't do in Photoshop!

Shot with the Hasselblad 503CX on Ilford Delta 100 film.


Quick Shot: Hidden London

I have been working on cleaning up my laptop's hard drive for the next photo adventure, which will be a BIG one and unearthed several shots from London that were hidden in the depths. They are all interesting photos with some cool stories, so let's explore what lingers in the dark corners of my folders.

An old church in downtown London was converted to an outdoor park after burning down

A classic outside the Portobello Street Market

Back entrance to the Apollo Theatre

A construction project silhouette against the bright white clouds on an overcast London afternoon

Keeping with the construction theme - some scaffolding raising up from Soho into the grey skies


Quick Shot: City Reflection

Reflective surfaces are one of the most fun things to convert to black and white - especially if there is something interesting in the reflection. I took these photographs walking through downtown London with my Leica M-P 240 and converted them to black and white in Nik Silver Effects. All were taken with the Leica 35mm f/2.4 lens, which is one of my favorites for city shooting. 


Quick Shot: Hustle and Bustle

London's King's Cross rail station is certainly one of the busiest I've ever been to and rivals some of the stations in Washington, DC and New York City. The hustle and bustle of people coming and going from regional and international trains makes it a great place to people watch, which is what my Leica and I did! To get this photograph, I went to the upper deck of the station and held the camera on the railing for stability. I set the shutter speed for 1 second and click...... a conversion to black and white and here's the result.

Quick Shot: Train Lady

Over the weekend, I took the train down to London's King's Cross station (where the platform 9 3/4's is run by enterprising  Brits happy to make a buck on folks dying for a photo op). My last trip through London was to purchase the Leica M-P 240, so I hadn't become familiar enough with the camera to shoot at the speed and comfort I wanted. For this trip the goal was simple -  capture some interesting photographs of life in London.

This quick shot embodies the interesting photograph goal; I was sitting on the train as we rode home from a full day of walking and was enjoying being off my feet for the first time in hours. I stared out the window dazing off in reminiscence of the afternoon I'd spent in town. In the reflection of the window I could see the woman sitting two rows in front of me looking out the window, also deep in thought.  I debated what sort of adventures her day had included; she was dressed rather well and that only furthered my speculation. Did she see a play? Was she out on a date? Was she visiting a lover?

I decided to try and photograph the woman's reflection - the seats in front of me totally obscured any view of her, but her reflection with the context of the train chairs is what intrigued me. I rarely use a live view function on any camera, but this was the perfect occasion - I needed to line up the camera's angle relative to the sun and window to maximize the reflection without creating obstruction from the chairs. I selected an aperture with a narrow depth of field so that only her face would be in focus and took one shot. A quick black and white conversion in Nik Silver Effects and I had my train lady!

Comment and let me know what you think the "train lady" was doing in London.

Quick Shot: London Bridge

It's so iconic, there's a song about it..... but in my professional observation, I saw nothing to suggest the London Bridge was falling down. There was plenty of rain falling down when I took this shot, however, which gave it a nice dark and gloomy feel - almost like it was falling down!

I usually only do black and white, but I thought this photo looked better in a sepia tone. The tone adds an aged feel to an otherwise very new photograph.

I'm about to head out for some travel through Europe, so stay tuned for lots of new (and not British) sights!

Quick Shot: Iconic London

It's one of the most iconic scenes in London - the photograph of Big Ben and Westminster..... so how do you make it different? I knew I wanted to photograph the famous landmarks, but needed my own twist. 

To create this image I decided to shoot first thing in the morning when there were long shadows creating harsh blacks and brilliant highlights on the buildings. The day for this was perfect - there was light cloud cover and the sun was just peaking above the horizon to cast a nice soft light across the front of the buildings. I knew it was going to be a photograph done in black and white to help capture the drama and I think the whole thing worked. 

Shot with the Nikon D800 + 24-70mm lens and black and white conversion done with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Quick Shot: London Eye

There are so many iconic things in London, but there is a new icon on the London skyline. Although it lacks the history of other landmarks in London, it has become a popular spot for visitors to take in great views of the city. 

Of course I'm talking about the London Eye, a massive ferris wheel that sits across from Big Ben. The wheel, which has numerous little glass capsules, takes 30 minutes to complete a full rotation. 

We rode the London Eye for the views of the city, but along the trip I had the idea to frame up a shot of London that included one of the glass capsules. I wanted to have a different photo of the London Eye from the traditional images, and I thought this was a neat way to capture several icons at once.

Quick Shot: Tower of London Remembers

2014 marks the centennial of the outbreak of World War I, which is a very important anniversary in Europe. One of the many events being held to commemorate this centennial is at the Tower of London, where hundreds of thousands of red poppy flowers are being "planted" in the moat in honor of those who perished during the first world war.

The Tower of London played an important role for the British soldiers during WWI; it served as a recruiting and training site for the thousands of new soldiers conscripted into service. The red poppy flower is a symbol used to honor service members in the UK, much like the yellow ribbon in the US. To celebrate the centennial, almost 900,000 hand painted ceramic poppies will be placed in the moat surrounding the Tower of London. The project, which started earlier this summer, will run through mid-November when the UK celebrates their version of Veterans Day.

I had seen photographs of this display and it was one of the sites I was most intent to photograph in London. Although I usually find black and white images with one color gimmicky, I knew that I wanted this image to be that way to really draw your attention to the abundance of red poppies flowing from the tower. This image was actually a panorama of several images stitched together to create this wide angle perspective on the Tower of London. I actually took this photograph during a rain storm, which gave the clouds a nice dramatic touch.

Be sure to visit the Tower of London Remembers Website If you are interested in learning more about the exhibit or want to purchase a red poppy to be planted in the moat.

Three Random Things - October 13

Since moving overseas, many of you have emailed telling me how much you enjoy the tales of life in England. I've decided to use that as motivation to start a weekly blog series called "3 Random Things" where I'll share 3 random stories about life abroad. Warning: These random things may not be relevant to photography, but I promise they'll be interesting an often very funny!

1. Holy Squirrel
We visited London this weekend, which was a really different experience from my previous visits to the city. Normally as a tourist you have the pressure of go-go-go to see all the attractions, but when you have the ability to visit as often as you'd like, the sensation of "I must see everything" gets replaced with "lets take our time." Ah, what a pleasant change.

Anyway, we were walking through one of the 800 parks surrounding Her Majesty's Palace and kept seeing Europeans (I believe they were mainland Europeans vs Brits) playing with squirrels.

Little kids were coaxing them onto their laps while their parents took pictures....
Adults let the squirrels climb up their arms to sit on their shoulders.....
Teenagers held out peanuts and pocket lint, hoping to coax the squirrel closer......and
I saw more than a few crowds gathered around one squirrel snapping away happily with their iPhones.....

Man, that's gotta annoy the hell out of the mimes and street drummers. Here they are working to get a pence and the crowds are gathered around a rodent. 

Granted I don't see nearly as many squirrels here as I saw back in DC, but a rodent is still a rodent, no matter what continent it's on. Of course, I didn't care for a picture of the squirrels, but I sure did want a picture of the crowds gawking at them. There's probably some potential for an outgoing individual to market T-shirts saying "I pet a squirrel and all I got was rabies".....

This whole exchange made me stop and consider if I was traveling someplace and saw a _____ in the wild, would I let that animal climb on me? The only thing I could come up with where I'd answer 'yes' was a Koala Bear....

A squirrel performing for his captive audience of mainland Europeans.....

A squirrel performing for his captive audience of mainland Europeans.....

2. The London Tube

Brits are an efficient society, and that was clearly demonstrated by traveling through London via the subway system, aka Tube. All major US cities should bow down at the alter of subway and pray that the London Tube Gods come bless their systems. The Tube was clean, didn't have the funk associated with subway systems, was very fast, and was very efficient. It helped that I had an iPhone app that helped navigate the myriad of lines so that I didn't have to consult the subway map that resembled a depiction of DNA. If you ever travel to London, download the app. 

The only ding I'd give the Tube is the naming for some of the stations. In DC, you could exit at "Smithsonian" and have a pretty good guess what you'd find above ground. But "Mansion House" is the stop closest to the cathedral? Never would guess that. 

PS- I did not attempt it myself, but I did not see any school aged children run at barriers in the stations and successfully pass through to the Hogwarts Express. 

iPhone panorama inside one of the London Tube stations

3. Driving an American Car on the "Wrong" Side
Before we left the US, we decided to ship my US-spec Subaru here and purchase a second UK-spec car on our arrival. After months of waiting, my Subaru finally arrived and now entered the process of being made UK legal. There's nothing wrong with driving a car where the steering wheel is on the left (they drive with right hand steering wheels here); in many ways driving a US spec car is a little easier. The first time I drove a UK spec car was a very white knuckle experience; I kept looking up and to the right for a rear view mirror and trying to work an invisible shifter. After some practice I got comfortable with driving the UK Volvo we purchased, but I still prefer the US car - it's easier to hug the curb on the narrow roads when I sit on the same side as the curb.

Making a US-spec car legal in the UK means having the headlights adjusted and making sure you have a rear fog light. Thankfully, they sell the same Subaru model here in the UK, so making it legal just meant swapping out a few factory US parts for factory UK parts. 

The biggest challenge with driving a car when you're suddenly on the "wrong" side of the road comes when you approach drive through windows or ticket machines. Today I went to pull into a pay-by-the-hour parking lot and realized the ticket issuing machine was on the passenger side. I had to put the car in park, unbuckle the belt and stretch across the car like superwoman to push the button and get my parking ticket. I'm sure the guy behind me had a good laugh as he watched the spectacle unfold.....

Moving Overseas with Camera Equipment.....!?!

Today's the day! After months of planning and preparing, the movers have descended on our house with a million boxes to move our effects to the United Kingdom. There have been many challenges along the way, the least of which has been figuring out how to get all of my camera equipment safely there. So I figured I'd share my saga...

Background:

This move is a 3-5 year position in the United Kingdom, so packing for it is a little different then packing for a long trip. When the military / Department of Defense packs and moves people around the wold, they do it in stages, which makes the whole thing more manageable for them and challenging for us. 

Option 1: Household Goods (HHG)
This is the shipment where the majority of your effects travel - couches, beds, TVs, etc. It's also the slowest to arrive (2-3 months) and travels by truck and ship, so there's alot of loading/unloading. There is no temperature control and everything is packed on your behalf. Not a good place to put expensive camera equipment!

Option 2: Unaccompanied Baggage (aka Express)
This shipment is designed to travel by air and meet you just a few weeks after you arrive and provide the essentials while you wait for your HHG to arrive. They warn you up front not to pack anything fragile in this shipment as it is rough handled - and if they loose your stuff, you only get reimbursement up to $5k, which barely covers much camera equipment! So again, not a good place to put the gear!

Option 3: Ship it to myself
I can go to the post office and mail my equipment to myself, but the cost of insuring that is prohibitively expensive and the government wouldn't reimburse me for it, so that's also off the table!

Option 4: Storage
In theory, I could tell the government to store this equipment for me, but that kinda defeats the point.....?!

Option 5: Carry on your person
And here we are - the only option that makes any reasonable sense for the camera equipment. The government will pay for 2 checked bags per person (me+husband = 4x 50lbs bags) plus the airline gives one carry-on and one personal item each. While that seems like plenty of space, as soon as I account for clothes and a suitcase in pet supplies (food, litter box, leashes, etc), I'm down to hardly any luggage left! The only option is to get everything I want into a backpack that fits on my back - while a ThinkTank roller bag would be ideal given the volume of stuff to carry, I need to dedicate that space to other items (and I don't own a rolling camera bag). 

I own a zillion backpacks that I could use for this task, but the choice was pretty easy - my MindShift Gear Rotation 180 bag. I have been using this backpack exclusively for the past 8 months and love it to death.... I've dragged it in the snow, rain, sand, and mud and it doesn't care. I even dropped it into a lake - no problem. So there's no reason to not use ol' reliable to carry almost $20,000 worth of gear overseas! 

I have stuffed the Rotation 180 to the brim - it's now holding the following: Nikon D800 w/battery pack, Nikon D600, Nikon 80-400, Nikon 24-70, Nikon 14-24, Nikon speed light, and a ton of accessories, including controllers, filters, cables, and more. The bag tips the scales at almost 30 pounds packed, which is incredibly heavy, but its the only way to ensure the most valuable equipment arrives in one piece without any damage in shipping.

Fully loaded, the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 tips the scales at over 25 lbs - which is pretty heavy for a camera bag- especially one being carried as a backpack!

The Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 on display in our hotel. I have stuffed almost all of the useable space with camera equipment, with the last bit of space reserved for "day of" items like passports, iPad, etc. Unfortunately the iPad camera isn't good enough to show all the dirt and dust on this bag from the miles of use I've put on it.

Inside the back compartmented of the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 - I have jammed it full of gear! I would probably never hike with it like this since it's just jammed up, but this was the best way to transport all of the essentials, including lenses, flashes, camera bodies, chargers, filters, and more.

Meanwhile the DJI Phantom Vision 2+ has it's own (custom made) bag that we are using to transport it to the UK....

The DJI Phantom Vision 2+ Quadcopter in my custom made backpack. This will be the second "personal item" we will carry on the plane.

So how does the rest arrive?

A few days ago the first round of movers arrived to spend the day packing - they walked through the house with brown paper and wrapped every single item they could find. At one point our cat became a little concerned that he may be next to be wrapped! Included in this was some other camera equipment - mostly larger bulky items (like other camera bags, less expensive accessories, etc). In total, the movers prepared 208 separate pieces, which includes the final boxes and furniture for our hose.

This used to be part of my photography studio - now it's is a holding place for the wrapped items that will transit to the UK. Somewhere in this pile is all the camera equipment I couldn't manage to carry on my person for the trip.

Shortly thereafter, the next round of movers arrived to load up their trucks. In a giant game of Tetris, they spent 8 hours moving these items into wooden crates and inventorying every item. The wooden crates are cleverly designed to fit inside of commercial shipping containers so they can be loaded onto a ship at the Port of Baltimore before transiting the Atlantic. In total, it took 8 of these large wooden crates to move our entire household effects.

In a crazy game of Tetris, the movers managed to stuff all 208 separate boxes & pieces into these wooden containers. The crates are designed to load straight into a commercial shipping container for maritime shipment to the UK.

Movers staged all of the boxes, weighing over 7,000lbs, outside before loading them into the crates. It took almost 2 trucks to carry all of those boxes away!

After nailing the wooden crates shut, they placed serialized inventory stickers on the outside of the crate to ensure there would be no tampering with our goodies.

The last round of moving came today when a few movers arrived to take away our "Express" shipment. I managed to put a few small pieces of equipment in there - stuff like tripods that are pretty robust - so that I'll have them at my disposal shortly after I arrive. 

The next challenge comes in 10 days when we head to the airport and I convince United Airlines that my 26lbs camera backpack is my "personal item"!

Stay tuned for more moving stories over the next few weeks.....