As a travel photographer, Iâ€™m always looking for a vantage point in a city from where I can capture the city skyline. Iâ€™ve worked in most of the major European cities and never had as much of a challenge as Iâ€™ve had trying to find a vantage point in London.
Firstly, there are few natural vantage points. London has a few â€˜hillsâ€™, but they are typically far away from the centre. My post on the Royal Observatory in Greenwich explores one of these hills.
Although there are a lot of tall buildings that would be ideal, most do not allow access to the public. The buildings that allow public access ban the use of tripods, making long exposures impossible.
A third option is the â€˜pay to viewâ€™ sites, like the Shard and the Eye. Both have their limitations though. The Shard requires a pre-booking â€“ not ideal for planning a sunset shoot. It also does not allow tripods. The glass of the Eye distorts the picture and the Eye moves, making long exposures impossible.
Because of these difficulties, when I do come across a viewpoint that works, I encourage photographers to support the organization and hopefully encourage more organizations to become photographer friendly. One such location is the Oxo Tower Restaurant.
A Quirky Bit of History
The owners of the original building wanted a tower with illuminated signs advertising their product. Permission for the advertising was refused, so the architect designed the windows in the form of a circle, a cross and another circle (OXO). I appreciate a bit of rebellious creativeness.
The Oxo Tower restaurant is made up of two parts â€“ the brasserie and the restaurant. The brasserie has live jazz music seven nights a week, a lively atmosphere and a lot of people enjoying the view. The focus of the restaurant is on fine dining in an intimate atmosphere.
Iâ€™m not qualified to critique food â€“ I donâ€™t even understand most of the items on a menu. What I will say about the food Iâ€™ve had at the Oxo Tower is that itâ€™s the best food Iâ€™ve ever had. I remember thinking to myself when I got the bill â€“ â€œwhatever it costs, it was worth itâ€.
There are two distinct views from the terrace of the restaurant/ brasserie.
The most obvious is of St Pauls Cathedral and the surrounding city. St Pauls Cathedral is an iconic London attraction which makes it possible to immediately place a skyline photo. If you photograph the viewpoint during sunset, the Cathedral reflects the setting sun, giving the cathedral a warm, golden appearance. If youâ€™re lucky, the Cathedral will be surrounded by pastel skies.
The second view is of the Southbank. This view doesnâ€™t have any strong anchor point like the cathedral, but anyone who lives in London will appreciate the view. Many people rate the Southbank as their favourite place in London.
The Perfect Summer Evening
There is a small terrace between the restaurant and the brasserie that is free and open to the public. Whilst I was taking photos from the restaurant terrace, I saw a few photographers looking frustrated that they were stuck in the small public space.
Whilst decent photographs are possible from the public terrace â€“ imagine spending a warm summer evening on the large restaurant terrace with cocktails and friends, occasionally recomposing photographs in between long exposures. I would struggle to suggest a better evening.
Whilst photographing London, I am trying to show off the city in the best way possible. If I had to personify London as a world famous model, I donâ€™t want to show her with a mouth full of food after a long day, I want to show her in designer clothes with perfect hair and makeup.
Just like a fashion photographer carefully plans their lighting and composition, I take certain steps in order to show London looking her best:
- I wait for the best possible lighting. If you look at my collection of images, you will notice very few images that were taken in normal daylight. I wait for golden light when the colours are most pronounced or twilight when the city lights add colour to the scene.
- I compose to show the best in a scene. I was reluctant to share the photo below as it looks unbelievable. In the photo below, it is easy to make the assumption that entire sky was a brilliant pink when in reality, the pink was limited to just this area. By zooming in on this area, Iâ€™m showing only the best of the scene.
- I use long exposures to remove distractions. When presenting a scene, every bit of texture will be noticed. A long exposure smoothens out anything that moves. For example, the ripples on the river are completely flattened out.
The techniques that I mentioned above are all in camera techniques that go a long way to presenting a scene in the most flattering way.
More London Viewpoints
Do you know of a great London viewpoint that is friendly to photographers? Unless you deliberately want to keep it a secret, please share it in the comments below. Hopefully, by supporting organizations that enable photography, we can encourage more organizations to follow suite.
- Project Home with Other London Posts
- London Gallery
- Full Gallery of the Oxo Tower
- Oxo Tower Restaurant and Brasserie Home