Bustling Bloomsbury Street Photography Tour
Tottenham Court Road Station
You should be standing on Oxford St, with Tottenham Court Road tube station behind you. If you look diagonally over to the right across the road, you'll see the Dominion Theatre. If it's busy here, just find an out-the-way spot to stand while I explain who I am and how this works.
Hello and welcome to this Legless Lizard Photography Tour.
My name is Corinna and today I’m going to take you on a photography walk in London. London is superb, vibrant city full of things to see and do, with an unlimited supply of photography opportunities. Whether your interest is in photographing people, street photography, architecture, action, documenting the changes in the city, macro, landscape, photo journalism, a diary of your life or something else, I'll show you something you'll find fascinating and worth shooting. We all become more observant when we have a camera in hand. So, the aim on the tour is to help you notice more of the environment and activity going on around you, and to provide you with advice and options on how to take good photos.
We're about to set off. But first, let me explain how this works. VoiceMap uses your phone's GPS location to play commentary automatically. You'll hear from along the way at places that I feel make good subjects. At each location, I'll stop you and give you tips and advice on what to shoot.
I'll also tell you where to meet me when you're done at that location. Very important. So keep listening out for how to get to the next location, which is usually something you can see like a church or a pedestrian crossing. If you get lost or stuck, don't worry. There's a route map on your phone's screen so you know where to go. But the idea is that you spend your time looking at your surroundings, and not at your phone, so just take it out if you need it. Silence between tracks is normal. If you don't hear from me, just keep going.
So let's go. Put your phone in your pocket now so you can use your hands for your gear. Here's a tip: tuck your headphone cable up on the inside of your shirt or blouse so that it's not dangling around. We're going to walk past the right side of the Dominion Theatre in front of you so head down New Oxford Street to your right. If it's still under construction and it's difficult to walk, just make sure you get the theatre on your left and you'll hear from me just up ahead.
Carry on straight
Great, you've triggered your first location. Easy hey?
You should be on the right side of the pavement. Now keep walking straight along New Oxford Street. Pay attention and be careful when crossing little side streets. If you are an international visitor, please take extra care to check which way the cars are coming from before stepping off the footpath!
Walking is the best way to get great photos, but it doesn't help to be laden with equipment. I always carry a spare battery, empty memory card, drying cloth and ziplock bag. A wide angle lens is an advantage, but an 18-105mm or thereabouts is fine. A tripod is good for long exposures, but a monopod is more compact.
I'll meet you at the corner.
Right onto Earnshaw
Turn right here into Earnshaw Street, just before the seven-storey brown building.
We're heading to some colourful buildings. You can photograph any building in the UK as long as you are not on their property. Look for an obvious line or studs in the footpath as a property border. Also, in the UK, no one can make you delete any photo taken in a public space or take the memory card from your camera without it involving police and a court order.
Keep heading for the bike racks. Let's start the walk with some colour.
All right, stop over here on the corner, just past the bike racks. I'm going to give about 2 minutes of instruction and point out where to go next, then you can start shooting.
Face the tall red building. This is our first photo location, and it's a row of four tall, colourful buildings which run to the left down Bucknall Street. The colour looks like something you might find in a kitchen in the 1970s.
So, when shooting tall, modern buildings, think in diagonals. You don't have to line them up exactly straight. You could put them at a strange angle. Or perhaps line it up so the structure goes from corner to corner in your photo. You don't have to fit the whole building in the picture.
If you are working on any of the manual or semi-manual modes on your camera, the first priority in your settings to consider is your aperture. Higher aperture values create deeper depth-of-field, which will keep the top of the building in focus. If you want the building, clear and sharp across the image, then use a mid-range to smaller aperture, like F8 - F16.
Also remember, you might be on the property belonging to the building. There's a possibility that the owners will say you can't take the photo. If you're ever in doubt, have a look at the foot path. You might see a line or little metal studs that will designate the end of the property.
But before you start shooting, let me tell you where to go after you're done here. Take a quick look down Earnshaw Rd. Do you see the arched stone windows of the church at the bottom? When you're done here, go that way and you'll automatically hear from me at the bottom of the street.
Right! So go ahead and kick off your photo tour with a few shots of the Lego buildings now. You can walk up and down the surrounding streets to get a few different angles. I'll see you on the way to the church.
To St Giles Church
All right, we've got to get into the grounds of the church.
Across the street, to your left, there's a red phone box. See it? Just nearby is a small entrance with black cast iron gates. Head directly in there and make your way around the other side of the church and we'll get to our second photo location.
Right, welcome to our second photo spot. Face the church while I point out a few options before you start shooting. Then I'll tell you where to go and leave you to it.
The church building itself, with its wonderful steeple clock, is, of course, the main attraction here. You'll be able to get some low-angle shots of it jutting out against the sky. There are sometimes people sitting on the benches, which you can use to add some life to the shot. Or you could get your back against the fence and use them as blurry foreground objects.
Shooting it in black and white will add to the overall historical feel of your shot.
Look to the boundary wall of the church on your left. You can see a long row of headstones lining the wall. When you're done here, make your way there, towards the back of the church. That's our next spot.
Can you see a long row of headstones lining the wall? Go up to them now
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These lovely old headstones belong to the graveyard that used to be here. You might want to get up close there and get some detail on the headstones. If you are taking the photo from an angle, use a wider aperture, like F2.8 - 5.6. A close focus point will blur the background.
Regarding the texture. There's just no way to reproduce this kind of weathered look, so try to capture the authenticity of the age of these things. Focus really close up on grainy textures like moss and eroded engravings. Black and white is also a good option here.
You're welcome to go exploring around the back of the church, or even inside it. Inside, there is a beautifully tiled floor, a patterned ceiling and lovely older windows with wrought iron structures. Consider leaving a donation for the maintenance of these beautiful old buildings if you do.
The next trigger area is the main gate of the church. Not the one we came through. When you're done here, make your way to the main gateway, near the front door of the church. That's the opposite corner of the building from where we are now.
Left to black lock
Right, we're going to exit the church now through the main gate.
[5 SECOND PAUSE IN AUDIO]
Now turn hard left and double back into the little alleyway alongside the church. Walk back along with the black fence on your left into the narrow dead end street. Can you see the red building with the green door at the end of the dead end? Head there.
Make your way over to the old black gate with the stone columns and stop. This will be our next location for the day. I'll give you two options, then we'll retrace our steps.
Option one, a shot of the gate itself.
Go up to the gate. It's quite solid. It makes a great close-up shot as there is writing on it. If you are taking a photo of something that is predominantly dark, your camera will try to make it lighter. So here, you may need to under-expose the photo slightly to make the black actually look black. If you are using Exposure Compensation, which is the button marked AV or EV, shift the setting slightly to the negative. Just remember to change it back after taking your photo or it will affect every subsequent shot.
Step back a little. Use the fence as a foreground to the top of the church steeple. The church is quite dark and will take up a large portion of your shot, so expect your sky to become lighter in the photo. If you are would like more of a silhouette against the sky, you could choose to under-expose the photo. If the sky is really dramatic with heavy clouds, this could be really effective.
When you're done here, turn back up the street. Retrace your steps to the junction. ,When you get there, turn left towards the music shops.
Back onto Denmark
All right, so you're heading away from the church down Denmark Street.
Keep your eyes peeled for interesting characters here, but you have to move quickly to get the photo.
People move around at about 1/160 to 1/250th of a second. The further away they are, the slower the shutter speed can be. There's less time to prepare people shots, so know your default settings. For me, it's shutter speed priority, with burst mode and continuous focus enabled. Then I'm ready for any opportunity.
Keep walking to the end of the block. You'll hear from me there.
Left onto Charing Cross
Take a left here onto Charing Cross Road, towards our third location. Stay on the left pavement.
Just some more general advice here on people shots. If you are using the photo for any commercial purpose or sale, you must have the written permission of the subject via a Model Release. If it’s for your own use, then you don’t need permission. Be enthusiastic and honest with them. Show them the photo. Be positive, but be aware that not everyone is happy to have their children photographed. Consider asking for permission first.
I'll meet you up ahead at the Phoenix Theatre.
Towards Phoenix Theatre entrance
Here we are at the side entrance to the Phoenix Theatre. We actually want to be at the main entrance, which is in the alleyway just a few steps on, in the next side street.
So keep going past it to the next corner.
Turn left around the corner here to walk into the cobbled Phoenix Street.
[5 SECOND PAUSE IN AUDIO]
Stop in front of the main entrance to the theatre. Fantastic doors on this theatre. There's beautiful glass work above the door.
Look just above the entrance at the stone decorations of phoenixes resting on the rim of the building's first storey. You might need to zoom in a little here. If it's closer to evening time, these lights might be on.
If the theatre is open, go on in and have a look. The Italianate interior is lavish and the bar area is just chock full of detail, old movie posters, photography and artwork. Remember to ask for permission. Don't forget to look up. The ceiling is also quite something. Lots of options, so I'll leave you to it.
When you're done here, retrace your steps and get back onto Charing Cross Road. When you get there turn left to continue the way we were going.
Tam O'Shanter Pub and Moorish Building
Stop here and look across the street. If you're interested in unusual architecture, it's worth taking a few snaps of the three buildings I'm going to show you. The rule of thumb for good building shots? Look up!
Face the two-storey building across the street. It has a curved centre piece on top of the façade. Look carefully. You'll see the title embossed at the top. It's called 'Tam o' Shanter', which is a title taken from a 1790 poem by Scottish poet Robbie Burns.
It tells the story of Tam who drank a few times too often at his local pub. One night, riding his horse on the way home to his angry wife, he sees a group witches and warlocks dancing at a local haunted church. He manages to give himself away and they chase after him. They can’t cross a running stream, so they try to grab him as he’s crossing. They just grab the tail of his horse and pull it off.
There's loads of detail on the buildings like this all around you, so don't forget to look up. There's a story to all of them and luckily, in the UK, there is also loads of history online.
Take a few more steps down the street and stop opposite the green and grey building which is on the right hand side.
[5 SECOND PAUSE IN AUDIO]
As you can see, this is a highly ornate piece of work. Almost Moorish-looking, or even something out of a Tim Burton film. Very decorative and rather unusual. It's a fantastic subject because of the high contrast between beige and green. Definitely factor that into your shot.
Directly across from it, on our side of the street, there's a red and white building rising six stories into the air. Turn to look at it now. It has a frieze at the first storey level. For those new to the term, a frieze is what you'd call that beautiful decorative band around the top of the windows. Now, for shooting these things, zoom into an element of the detail that appeals. There will be shadow, and maybe dirt in the cracks and folds of the sculpting. You can use this to emphasise the contrast in the design. When you're post processing your image, even a small amount of contrast tweaking can make detailed shadows like this look stunning.
So, stop and take a few snaps if you like, otherwise keep going down on this side of the street to the corner. That's where I am next.
Turn left here at the junction.
Do you see the bright red and white building across the street? It's a little baby compared to the others, only three-storeys. Cross the street to get on the same side as that building.
Great, now walk between the bollards and onto Earlham Street. You should have the red and white three-storey on your right now.
I'll meet you a bit further down.
LOCATION: Vintage Showroom
OK stop here for a moment at the green painted building on your right called The Vintage Showroom at number 14. It's a very old building.
Notice the blue and white sign saying "Established 1835 F.W. Collins Elastic Glue Manufacturers." A nice little snippet left over from the past. Who knows what happened what happened to F.W. Glue Manufacturers?
This building has had a little bit of movement happening over time. See the angle of the door? It slopes slightly away from you! The whole building is falling over backwards! The odd colour of the brickwork rising above it is another giveaway as to its age.
Definitely worth getting a photo of this, but you'll want to be on the other side of the street in order to capture the rather extreme angle on the door.
This area of London is very old fashioned but is full of funky little boutiques and individual shops rather than chain stores. Though Covent Garden is nearby, this area attracts clientele who aren't really tourists and who have a little more money and time. Give yourself some time to have a good look.
When you're done, continue the way you were going.
Side alley Tower Court
Nip into the side alley, Tower Court, on your right.
Straight through the alley
Continue straight here. Don't turn to the left. I'll meet you on the other side of the alley.
Left onto Tower Street
Take a left here onto Tower Street and walk past a couple of bollards. I'll meet you at the end of the road.
Left onto Monmouth
Now take a left around the corner here on to Monmouth Street with all the wonderful, colourful bricks at your feet. Just up ahead is a horse shop from yesteryear.
Stop here for a minute outside the number 65/67 building across the street with all the painted black writing on the façade. This is our next location, and I've got an couple of ideas for you with regards to composition and framing.
First notice the writing on the building. It says "B. Flegg. Saddler and Harness Maker". So this was a horse accessories shop established in 1847, at a time when you might have actually seen a few horses in this part of town. This is a great example of a blast from the past that would be easy to miss if you weren't paying attention. You've got to see these things by actually looking from the opposite side of the street. In tight little areas like this, I always recommend walking up the one side and down the other so as not to miss out on anything. If you're looking for shots.
For this photo, you'll notice the surrounding buildings lack the writing all over this one. So how about including a few of the ones to the left and right to bring out the text on this one. Also consider cutting out the street-level shops. By cutting out modern elements such as cars, security gates, lamp posts and signage, you really take the viewer back in time. Use a lot of sky, and like with the colourful buildings, you don't have to take a straight vertically aligned shot. Create some diagonals.
So, I'll leave you to it. When you're done here, continue the way we were going. I'll meet you at the end of the road.
The Cobbled Streets of Seven Dials
Stop here at the top of the street, facing the roundabout known as Seven Dials, the meeting of seven roads.
So just a bit of quick history on this charming little spot. This area of London was developed in the 1690's by Thomas Neale. There was once a sundial where the current monument stands. The area was meant to attract the affluent members of society, but instead it became a gin slum, with pubs on every corner facing the dial. The pubs were connected at the cellars and basements to each other so the criminal residents could make a quick getaway if necessary.
This is a great place for people-watching. You can probably see a few people sitting at the base of the monument watching the the world go by. Great place for people shots, so have your camera ready on its default setting.
If there is evening light or street light, I would recommend that you make your shots more about the impact of people that are just silhouettes rather than trying to get the detail of their faces.
Some of the outbound streets are cobbled. They're evocative, so use them, but don't make the cobbles the biggest part of your picture unless you've got something interesting in the foreground. Like an eye-catching person, or sets of feet or a bicycle. Evening light will also give a great shine effect on the cobbling. If it's raining, that's even better. When the light is bright, go for the long shadows of passers-by.
Before you start shooting, let me tell you where to meet me next. See the Cambridge Theatre on the corner? We're going to walk down the road to the left of it. It's a continuation of Earlham Street. I'll meet you half way down. Now go and explore this timeless little area.
Earlham St Bollards
Stop and take a look at the bollards on the side of the road here.
These are put here on the foot path to stop vehicles from driving up onto the foot path and potentially knocking down pedestrians. Some parts of the city might have their own logo or design on them. It might be relevant either to the owners of the buildings nearby or the council in charge of that area. In the case of this area, the design says Seven Dials, and shows a deer or hind with an arrow going through it. So I'm assuming that at some stage this was a hunting area. Or maybe it was the family arms for Thomas Neale, who developed the area.
Get down low to photograph the design on the bollard. Fill the frame and cut out anything you don't need in the photo.
When you're done, keep going down the street.
Crown and Anchor Pub
Just across this little square is a pub called the Crown and Anchor. Go over to it.
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Stop here outside the pub.
You can see a few interesting features on the outside. There are some unusual pieces of glass set in above the doorway, obviously just something that's survived somehow. There are two great little designs built into the tiling on either side of the door saying Reid's Stout and Pimlico Ales. Lots of details on these old buildings that have managed to survive bomb damage to London from the World Wars plus general reconstruction. Inside the pub there's an decorated ceiling and light works. Nice atmosphere, quite cosy.
If the lights are on inside the pub, they will shine through any patterned glass. It's quite common in London for clients to drink outside the pub. This makes for some interesting shots in a general street scene, especially when clients are backlit by the pub windows.
If you are taking photos inside, don't take photos of the clients without their permission. Also increase your ISO to compensate for the low indoor light.
When you're done, turn down the narrow Neal Street. That's to your right if you're facing the pub, past the trees on the corner.
Down Neal Street
Make your way down Neal Street at your own pace here.
Neal Street is named after Thomas Neale, one of the developers of the original Seven Dials area back in 1694. Thomas was an entrepreneur in many fields, a speculator, and a Member of Parliament for 30 years. He was also Master of the Mint and held the position of Groom Porter under Charles II, James II and William III. In 1691, he was given a 21-year grant to establish the Central Post Organisation in the American colonies. He had fingers in many pies, worked his way through 2 fortunes and died broke. There are so many industries he was involved in, and he obviously never led a boring life.
I'll meet you at the bottom of the road, just across the road from Covent Garden Tube Station.
Covent Garden Station
Stop here on the corner at the end of Neal Street. Across the street is Covent Garden tube station. The ox-blood red tile look is quite a common look for London tube stations, making them instantly recognizable. Over 50 of these tube stations were designed by Leslie Green at the beginning of the 20th century. They all had the red tiles, arched first floor windows and patterned tile interiors, though each would have slight differences in the patterns. Sadly, Leslie died at the age of 33 from tuberculosis, possibly brought on by working too hard. Quite a few of his stations still exist, though many have undergone refurbishment to some degree.
We'll stop here for a bit to get some people shots. This is an area that gets very, very busy. Come on, don't be shy. But do keep aware of your surroundings here. Keep your bag in front of you. When you're taking photos it's easy to get sidetracked and not be aware that someone may be watching you.
Find a place to set up for a few minutes. Now, here's a pro tip. When taking people shots, don't put your camera down between taking your photos. Taking a photo of someone and then looking down at the photo and up at them is an immediate giveaway that you're photographing them. Rather, make sure your settings are right and just hold the camera in one position. Take your shots but don't look at them in between. If you hold the camera in place against your face, it gives the impression that you're just waiting for the person to get out of the way. If you stay in one spot long enough, people either make room for you and get out of your photos, or they just don't even notice that you're there. Aim for people who look like they're standing around waiting. I would go for 1/250th second, and set the ISO for the light conditions you are aiming into. Enable burst mode and continuous focus.
Before you start, just face the tube station with Neal street behind you. Look to your left, down the long road, actually called Long Acre. can you see the tall stone building with the pillars? Go that way when you're done.
All right, go get some human wildlife shots!
Along Long Acre
So, that tall grey stone structure, directly in line with the street? That's the Freemasons' Hall, and it's where we're going. There are fantastic lights at the front of the building. At night, the effects of the lighting are quite striking.
Continue to Freemasons' Hall
Go past the black pub called The Real Greek on your right here, to continue straight over this little section with the pedestrian crossings. Keep making your way to the big monumental Freemasons' Hall right in front of you.
You'll want to be on the left hand side of the road as you go.
It's a short walk through to the hall, but there's nothing much to see so I'll let you enjoy the peace and quiet till we get there.
To Stone Benches
Cross over Drury Lane here. Make your way towards the Hall across the square ahead.
Stop here. You must be tired from all this activity, huh?! Take a seat at one of the stone benches, facing the Freemasons' Hall.
[5 SECOND PAUSE IN AUDIO]
Take a closer look at the building itself. The dates inscribed across the entrance are 1717 to 1967. There's a clock between the dates. On either side of the doorway you've got three rather ornate lights. A little more difficult to see from here are the two plaques below the lights, with a bit of history on the building. The stained glass window might be lit up, depending on when you're here. There's a rather dramatic dome inside the top monument section.
If you have a wide angle lens, consider getting down low to include all the front of the building. Or get in close and make a feature of the lamps, slightly angled to the side. Always check that you aren't including any subject that doesn't actually enhance the photo. Sometimes it can be more effective to take a photo of a detail than the whole building. Make sure that your building is exactly at the angle you want, whether that's straight or obviously crooked. When you use a very wide angle lens, you can have a slight distortion so that the upper levels of the building tilt inwards. You can straighten it out later, but you must leave space around the subject as you will also have to crop the photo after straightening.
Parts of the building are open to the public daily, so if you have the time and they're open, you'll be able to take a look around inside, although taking photos might not be welcome.
From here, we're going to continue up Long Acre, the way we were going. When you're ready, put the Hall on your right and carry on walking away along Great Queen St away from Covent Garden tube station.
Stop here outside the entrance to the Grand Connaught Rooms.
Can you see two plaques set in the wall? One is commemorating the Football Association being formed there in 1863 in what had been the Freemasons Tavern.
The Freemasons acquired land in this area in 1774 and over time expanded their premises to several buildings including the Grand Connaught Rooms. This is named after the Duke of Connaught. The main hall, which is absolutely sumptuous was built around 1910 and seats 800 people. It is now used for weddings and corporate events. There is a champagne bar which is open to the public. If you drop in for a drink, you may get a sneak preview into the main hall.
When you're done, just keep heading the way we were going.
Left onto Kingsway
Turn left here onto Kingsway. We're almost at the end of the route. Holborn Station is just up ahead.
The balconies of the building to your left are heavily decorated with sea creatures and Mermen. It would be very easy to start a photography project on unusual decorative motifs.
Stop here right outside number 113. It's the entrance on your right, with a triangular portico sticking out onto the street.
It's not a very remarkable building if you walk past at a pace. But if you look a little closer, there are some fantastic details in the carving around. Take a moment here to try and capture some of the lovely little artworks of faces and the like. Just a few steps up ahead is an identical entrance at number 121, which may have slightly different lighting. Treat them as one location.
Turn to face the building called Africa House, on the opposite side of Kingsway Street. It was built in 1921 and it’s a Grade II listed building. It also houses the Shakespeares’ Head pub on the ground floor.
When it was built, the main branch of Martin’s Bank was located here. Martin's could trace its roots back to 1563 and Sir Thomas Gresham. The banks and insurance companies always spent a lot of money on their buildings, especially in the 19th & 20th century. The buildings were designed to inspire confidence, strength and wealth. Have a look at the magnificent art deco style door, plus the lions above the entry and the other African animal sculptures towards the top of the building. I’m always inclined to be curious about any grand buildings. You just know they will be magnificent inside, and you're welcome to walk back there after we finish the tour just up ahead.
Let's get going again. I'll meet you a little further up the road at our last location.
Stop here outside the entrance to the building on your left with the giant, curved portico and columns. This is Aviation House, our final location. It was obviously once a church. In fact there have been 2 churches here. The first was established in 1831 and demolished in 1910, then the Holy Trinity Church which was damaged by fire in 1985. The building was closed, renovated and turned into offices. Rather interesting shaping when you're looking straight up.
If you're facing it straight-on, the building to the right is much more modern and rather unspectacular. So when shooting Aviation House, I would consider standing more to the right hand side of the entrance, closer to the wheelchair ramp. That way you can eliminate most of the modern building from your shot. Make the shot just about the curving of the portico and the cross.
If you have a wide-angle lens, this is a good time to bring it out.
When you're done here, turn with your back to Aviation House. Across the street is Holborn Station, where our tour ends. You are, of course, welcome to continue looking for interesting shots in the area. I hope you've enjoyed the tour and that you get some great photos of sites that you might not have necessarily seen by yourself. I sincerely hope that your photos have turned out well. Bye bye.