Because of it's location, the South Bank has had a varied and perhaps somewhat chequered history, still evident today. During the Middle Ages, it developed as a popular area for entertainment for Londoners. Being outside the formal jurisdiction of Westminster and the City of London this entertainment included theatres (most notably Shakespeare's Globe Theatre), prostitution and bear baiting. Later, its use changed to being more industrial, as docks were built along the bank. From the 19th Century, the area has returned to being a popular location for entertainment and is a must-do experience for any visitor to London.
With all that, the area is a perfect subject, night or day, for any photographer, either professinal or amateur. It would be impossible for me to cover all the sites and attractions in this blog, so I want to concentrate on the main attractions and offer ideas for areas to explore. My virtual walk starts from Westminster Bridge and finishes at Tower Bridge in Southwark. You can of course do as much or as little of this stretch as you like.
The first point to note is that this walk is at night, as this is when the South Bank is at it's most vibrant and when there are more opportunities to capture all the light and colour that the South Bank offers. I've also given a few links to external links to find further information about different sites and attractions.
Here's a short list of the kit I've taken along with me, as a reference:
- Canon EOS 450D
- Canon EF 70-300mm 1:4-5.6
- Canon EFS 18-55mm
- Canon ET-65B hood
- Hähnel Remote Shutter Release
- Joby GorillaPod
- Velbon CX 540 tripod
|Palace of Westminster (in monochrome)|
My walk begins around Westminster Bridge, with the backdrop of the Houses of Parliament, or the Palace of Westminster. Along the bridge, you can play with light streaks from the traffic passing by, particularly the red London buses:
But as a prelude to this, you can choose to start on the Westminster side of the river it is well worth walking along Victoria Embankment a few hundred metres or so, so you are directly opposite the London Eye. From here, you get a perfect view of the giant wheel (see image below). By setting a long exposure shot, with low ISO, you can get some really amazing shots. Or, if you have a remote control shutter, set the camera on BULB and you can extend the exposure even further, to achieve more extreme blurring and the light reflections in the river become much softer.
|The Eye of London (in Blue)|
The London Eye
The London Eye is one of the biggest attractions on the South Bank. Needless to say, the views from the wheel itself are astounding and I highly recommend it, either day or night. But an after dusk is probably the best time to go on. Taking pictures of the wheel can in itself be impressive. There are good views from behind the wheel, i.e. approaching from Waterloo Station and the walk through Jubilee Gardens.
|London Eye from Jubilee Gardens|
|London Eye ("Arc")|
South Bank Centre and the National Theatre
Further along is the South Bank Centre and the National Theatre. The architecture of these buildings has divided opinion since work on the Centre began in the 60's. But these sharp angles can make for good subject matter. When taken up close, they can become quite abstract. The are also numerous neon signs and rolling bill boards which can also be used to some effect, as seen in the silhouetted statue of Lord Olivier as Hamlet.
|The National Theatre|
The distintive Sixties design of the arts centres can provide many different possibilities, particularly if architecture is your thing. Beyond the National Theatre there is a small underpass which has become the home for BMXers, skaters and boarders to try their skills. There's almost always something happening, and it's a good opportunity to experiment with movement:
|South Bank "Street"|
|South Bank book market|
The Millenium Bridge
The Millenium Bridge, is the newest bridge to span the Thames in London and so is a relatively new feature of the riverside landscape. Some interesting shots can be made on the south bank, or even on the bridge itself. There are several places around the bridge where you can position yourself to get some great views of the City of London. Do not be too put off by the number of pedestrians on the bridge as this can add some drame to the scene. Or if you prefer, with a long exposure of 30 seconds or more, this virtually erases most passers by from the shot. At this point, you could optionally cross the bridge and take some shots of the river and go on over towards St Paul's Cathedral. I have taken several night shots from St. Paul's Churchyard - a regular bus route and perfect for light streaks of the passing traffic.
|Millenium Bridge and St Paul's|
The gardens and trees in front of Tate Modern offer other opportunities to play with light and architecture. At night, the actual Tate Modern building is perhaps a bit monolithic and vast to capture from this side, except perhaps with a wide angle or fish-eye lens. In the image below, I have chosen a view which centres around St Paul's Cathedral as a kind of 'anchor point' in the shot, framed by the trees and the Millenium Bridge.
|St Paul's from Tate Modern|
Tower BridgeThe last area I will talk about is Tower Bridge. There are good photo opportunities from along the south bank, as well as on the bridge itself, where you can experiment with traffic streaks and other interesting effects.
Here is a slightly wider shot, taking in the Tower of London.
|Tower Bridge and the Tower of London|
|Tower Bridge traffic|
If you are visiting London for the day, and depending on the time of year you visit, you may not get chance to go out at night so, in Part II, I will cover day time shoots in this area. Well, that's it! Thanks for reading!!