Using a Ricoh GRD III and a Nikon DSLR to photograph streets, people, architecture and anything else that catches my eye.

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Brick Lane - Part 3

Back again to the Lane...   a few more shots of Londoners and visitors going about their business.  brick Lane is such a good photographic opportunity, full of interesting shops and people.  See my previous posts Brick Lane - 1  and  Brick Lane - 2  for my introduction to Brick Lane.  The best way to understand the vibe of this street market is to go there and just take a wander around.

Before I proceed, I would just like to plug a fellow blogger who has also captured som great shots from Brick Lane ; Gerry's Photo Blog.  I have followed Gerry's Blog for a while now. Gerry has the knack of capturing images of 'real people' all around London.  He is also brave enough to capture eye contact sometimes; the all important connection between photographer and subject.   I, on the otherhand, still shoot mostly candidly.

With street photography, I often 'shoot from the hip'. The term is supposed to originate from the wild west, and the gun slinging cowboys who 'quick drew' their colts and fired straight from the holster.  Bang Bang Bang.  Unlike the wild west heros of yesteryear, I carry a Ricoh GRD3, and not a Colt 45. Instead of shooting people dead in Tombstone, Arizona, I take photographs of the general public in London, England.  Shooting from the hip is not really the apt term; most of the time I have the camera in my hand with my finger over the trigger.  Snap Snap Snap.  It can be from my stomach, from the side, from the chest...   what ever works.

I have set up my Ricoh GRD3 with a pre-focus distance of 2.5 meters,and adjust the shutter speed and apertutre to suit the situation.  Generally with my street shots, I like a large depth of field, as I think the background of the image plays an important part for me.

Anyway...   A guy in Brick Lane, standing still, contemplating life with a cigarette. Shot from low angle (but not my hip). I wanted to get the perspective of the street to merge behind him.  This is Brick Lane during a quiet week day; on a market weekend it is hard to move.

This is one of those passing shots; moving-subject and moving-photographer. Camera hanging around my neck, resting on my stomach, hand on shutter button. It's not always easy to frame the subject when shooting using this method; a little guesswork and some luck is required, although the percentages are getting bigger all the time.  I do regret that I have missed her feet, and have far too much sky. But the happy expression on her face, and the wonderful victorian buildings in the background both saved this shot from the delete-monster.

Here is another shot as I walk passed this girl, as she is peeking through a fence. Once again, she is caught way to low in the frame, but I liked her wistful expression and her aloofness to the rest of the world.  But this is a 'could do better' shot, something to learn from.

This is an accidental shot.  I was actually taking a shot of the mural, which is beautiful in colour, as two ladies marched across my viewfinder.  Later on, when looking through the shots on my laptop, I decided to save this one too.  There is something very calming about the eye in the mural, overlooking all the tension of the market madness.  People rushing around, grabbing bargains, shouting, eating, smoking and drinking...   while all the time, the girl on the wall is frozen in time, with a face you cannot forget.

This last image was a passing shot which turned out to be my favourite.  Shot from the hip, at around 1.5 meters, this shot didnt even need much of a crop.  The victorian brick buildings of the background are unmistakingly British.  I liked the strong features of this obviously stylish and cool lady, who just happens to be enjoying her lunch on the go.  The overhead railway bridge protected me from too much of that bright overexposed sky.  The final touch for me was the second figure walking in the other direction, adding scale and depth. This all goes to prove that 'luck' is a big part of this kind of photography.

I need to get back to Brick Lane and its surrounding trendy streets.  I recommend it to anyone.

Friday, 23 December 2011


My place of work is not far from an old canal; originally used by industrial barges throughout the industrial revolution, now used by dog walkers, nature hobbyists, house boat owners, anglers, joggers and walkers.  So sometimes in my lunch hour, I will take a walk along the toe path and get some fresh air.

I don't really do nature photography, so I don't really get many results from my camera along the canal. There are animals and birds amongst the woodland and fields which lay either side of the canal...  but I have no idea what any of them are, and do not carry expensive high speed zoom lenses anyway.  I leave nature photography to those who are good at it.

I have had a little go at nature...  Take a look at my previous post 'The Green Stuff', and you'll see my limits of nature photography.

Anyway....   I like canals because of the industrial heritage and the bridges and locks which control the water.  What an amazing invention the canal lock is!  This was in an age before railways and road haulage. 18th century barges carried many tonnes of coal, iron, goods, stonework across the country; up and down hills on hundreds of miles canals, pulled originally by horses. In the 19th century, the horses were replaced by powered barges; but the canals were still king. 

There is a typical canal lock near my work place, which I photographed last summer with my Ricoh GRD3.  I tried the excellent macro close up capabilities of this little marvel camera.  It can focus at 10mm from subject, with a very narrow DoF.  Then I took some more images, moving away from the subject, to complete the picture.

Picture number 1   (do you know what it is yet?)

Picture number 2   (still not sure?)

Picture number 3   (200 years old and still working every day)

Here are some more images of the same canal.  These are of another lock mechanism, which is also a good example of long life quality forged engineering. Nothing built today will last two centuries; a sign of our throw away society.  These are all with the Nikon D80.

Now I've mentioned the heritage and history of the canals; but they are finding a new purpose as places of leisure for boating enthusiasts and other people drawn to the peaceful outdoors.  Canals have had to evolve and keep up with the times.  The locks still have to be maintained and the bridges and paths kept safe for public use.  Sometimes, new footbridges are needed to allow access for people to cross the water.

I was surprised to see this new bridge appear across this traditional industrial canal.  This bridge must have cost quite a lot of money; and the result is a very contemporary design with steps and ramps for walkers and cyclists.  Maybe it is a little over the top for such a small crossing?...  I am not sure.  So here are some shots taken with my Ricoh GRD3.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Brick Lane - Part 2

Here are some more shots from the Brick Lane area.  There is quite alot of stuff to photograph there, including people, market stalls and art.  These were all taken with Ricoh GRD3, and are all slightly different in subject matter, processing and crop style.

This is an interesting market stall...  It seems to sell the perrenially useful combination of gas-masks and casual footwear. If you need a gas mask for any occasion, then why not pick up a nice pair of shoes at the same time.    Ohhh..  and if you look carefully, you'll notice the telly tubby hiding under a black rubber mask.  Nice touch.  

I recently watched a slightly cheesey but heart warming movie called 'Knights of the South Bronx' (2005), starring Ted Danson, about a tough New York school teacher who raises the hopes and chances of his class of under-privileged kids...  by teaching them chess!  Anyway, in the movie I saw lots of open air chess tournaments and chess cafes in New York. I wasn't sure if this kind of thing really happened in todays modern world, until I saw a chess cafe in Brick Lane, London.  (then there is hope for humanity afterall).  Just look at the guys concentration.

Its a tough job working in a busy curry house. This kitchen worker stepped outside from the back of the restaurant for a crafty cigarette. He seemed totally hacked off with life.

Brick lane is also a center of 'street art'.  Yes, there is graffiti everywhere. Some of it is very good indeed; some is just awful.  But apart from graffiti, there are lots of incredibly well crafted wall murals. This artwork does not last forever; often posted over by advertising, more grafitti or more artwork. It seems to be a constantly changing scene.  Here is a wall portrait of Jimi, high up on a wall, looking down on us.

This artwork seems to comprise very clever stipple brushwork. Spotted on and left to drip and run. Simple and effective.  You can see that graffiti has already encroached onto it.  Since I took this shot, it has degraded quite a bit. After doing a little research, I discovered that this was painted by James Cochran


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Monthly Favourite - Wasabi

Time for another personal favourite image...   a little gem dug out from my creaking archive of average shots.

The City of London is the financial area of London, which is incredibly busy during the weekdays; but a completely different scene at the weekends. On a Sunday it is a strangely quiet place. During the week there are hundreds of sandwich bars, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, fast food outlets to serve the wealthy banking and office staff at lunch times.  On a Sunday, most of these are shut.

So a few months ago, whilst on a leisurely stroll through the city on a Sunday, I wandered past this Sushi bar, Wasabi Bento. Something about the interior decor interested me, so I took a few shots through the window, with my lens up against the glass.

What do I like about this shot?  I just love the gorgeous lush transparent green of the bar stools. I was really pleased with my depth of field choice. The chrome of the tables and chair legs create a soft and slightly complicated background.  Finally, the softness of the restaurant name on the wall adds to the scene.

I also liked this shot because it worked out well, considering I was outside looking in through the glass. A little lucky maybe.

I really like bars and restaurants as a subject for photography.  Most of the time, I think they look best when full of customers, drinking and eating; or staff cooking and serving.  But on this particular occasion, the closed shop scenario works well as it focuses on the interior design aspect of the restaurant.

Finally, I would just like to reccommend this particular chain of sushi bars. I have been to quite a few over the years.  If you are not sure about sushi, then just give it a try some time.  They do wonderful little 'bento boxes', which are basically beautifully presented and packaged takeaway boxes of sushi and other small Japanese dishes.  I am biased though of course, being married to a Japanese girl!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Architecture - reflections

Architecture offers a good excuse to try and be clever with a camera. A building is either the main subject, or a back drop to something else.  Sometimes buildings can just lend substance, colour and texture, to form details of an abstract.  It is also interesting to display architecture using the surrounding elements or the landscape.

I have always noticed how buildings reflected in water can provide a totally different way of viewing them. Every city and town around the world has rivers and lakes, often offset against buildings, ancient or modern.  I always try to take advantage of water to highlight impressive buildings.

This first image was taken in Osaka, Japan.  This is taken across the castle moat with a slight windy ripple on the water. Japanese castles all have this wonderful sloping rampart style wall, which has a slight curve to the steep incline.  The small white building is just a guard house...  the actual castle is huge.  It is the water which adds depth and interest to this image, which would otherwise be quite simple.

This next shot is of an old mill building on the river Colne in Colchester. It is only 200 meters from my own house, so I pass this place daily.  The building never fails to amaze me and I have taken many photos. The water is often as still as a mill pond (not surprisingly), and can sometimes provide almost perfect mirror glass reflections.  This shot looked so much better in black and white, with a little help from Silver Efex.

This shot is obviously not a river, but one of those raised water features designed into this contemporary building space. Using the half inch deep reflective water surface, the architecture is given more vertical impact, exaggerating the height of the structures.  Also the diagonal perspective lines are given a vanishing point in the center.  I was disappointed that I over exposed the sky...  but the good thing about photographing architecture is that it is always there to try again.

You have to take a careful look at this next image. This is the old ruins of Newark Castle in Nottinghamshire. The building wall you see here is just that - a wall with nothing behind it...  no roof, no floors, no interior walls.  All that remains is this beautiful stone facade.  This photo is actually upside down from the actual image taken from my camera, as I aimed downwards into the glassy still water of the River Trent. This is an inverted reflection...   see the ripples on the tops of the walls and the fragmented moon?

This next shot was taken with my original Ricoh GRD; then messed with through Lightroom. It was a high ISO night shot taken with the camera rested against a lamp post, and not exactly super sharp. There is quite a bit of noise in the black sky.  The blue parts are actually royal blue flood lights, and I will never quite remember how I got this to look like it does.  It was one of those tweak to death processes.  But strangely, I quite like the result, considering I was going to delete it.

My final image is one of my favourites.  Sometimes, I cycle the Grand Union Canal through London. Starting very early in the morning from Hertfordshire, I cycle about 25 miles in one direction along the footpath, then turn round and cycle all the way back again.  It is an incredibly interesting way to see London and it's amazing history. Of course, I stop every so often to grab a few shots of buildings old and new. These are three buildings sitting on the water side near Islington, which just begged to be photographed.  Most people would ignore these  as they are mostly 60's and 70's flats, but I think this is a good example of how the use of reflection can add power to the ordinary.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Brick Lane - Part 1

I have been recently working on a building project near Shoreditch in East London and every so often I need to visit the site. It just so happens that the location of the site is next door to Brick Lane, which is one of those places which has become incredibly trendy over the last decade.

Originally, in the 16th century, Huguenot silk weavers fleeing religious persecution in France made it their home. Later on it became a center for the Jewish rag trade. Then, throughout the last few decades it has been a major center for the Bangladeshi Muslim community. There are countless curry houses, for which the area is now famed for. I noticed that nearly every restaurant seemed to have 'voted best restaurant 2010' or other such posters in their windows...  I guess there is a lot of competition.

In the last ten years or so, the area has evolved again into a trendy clubbing zone, arts and crafts, weekend market area for the usual trendy crowds. Many DJ record stores, vintage clothes shops, bric-a-brac stalls, world food outlets, and general coolness is found there every weekend. There is also a continuously changing street art, ranging from grafitti to sculptures. It really is worth a visit, especially with a camera. I noticed many photographers wandering around with the same idea. While they were mostly using DSLRs and iphone cameras, I worked with my Ricoh GRD3.

I will post some more from Brick Lane in the future...  and a revisit is a must.  Brick lane looks good, smells good and sounds good.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The return of The Lone Figure

Here are another few images of a lone figure, looking small and alone against a much larger background. In my previous posts The Lone Figure  and  More of the Lone Figure  , I tried to explain what this idea is all about.

It's not a big idea really...  I just seem to like these kinds of images. It always amazed me that in Tokyo, the highest populated metropolis in the world, I could still find places in the center of the city that were almost completely isolated, devoid of humanity.  Isolated except for the odd single person (and myself of course).

These were all taken with my Nikon D80, then cropped and processed in photoshop.  The first three shots were in a new business center called Shiodome; which is a bit like London's Canary Wharf at the weekend - Quiet. It is an interesting part of Tokyo architecturally, being quite modern and almost European in style.

These were also all shot with my Sigma 10-20mm lens. The perfect lens for architecture. You can see how lines converge and perspective is warped here, especially as I like to use the extreme limit of this gorgeous fat lens. Sometimes I zoom out too much, I know...  but I don't care.  It's my favourite lens next to my 50mm prime.

I couldn't help but be impressed by the engineering in Tokyo. The elevated train tracks seem to hover above the ground, spanning long distances, and the trains themselves are almost silent and surgically clean inside. But where are all the people?

Finally, this last shot is another typical Kyoto back street, sometime late at night. I was following the guy along trying to get a shot of him without using flash.  He was staggering around after a few too many glasses of sake maybe. The original result was a bit of a mess...  wrong white balance, blurred subject, bad exposure...  but I pushed it through the process mincer and ended up with an image I quite like.  I have obviously stylized the colours in photoshop, together with a little sharpening.  I quite like the blur on the subject in the end as it seems to suit the situation.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Second Hand Cameras

Look at all these old cameras! All kinds of stuff for sale. Something for everyone. All cheap and cheerful.

All sitting on a market stall in Brick Lane.  Click Click Snap Snap.  (Ricoh GRD3)

Sunday, 4 December 2011

London Architecture

I have always been interested in architecture, although on the most part, I prefer modern or new architecture.  It's something about the use of new materials and construction methods which excites me. Modern architecture often breaks the rules of the establishment, resulting in shapes and forms which would not have been possible just two decades ago.

London is a very old city, containing architecture from many centuries. All these buildings were once modern. It is a fact that many people were opposed to the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, exclaiming that it was a monstrosity. All architecture is influenced by previous styles; this is why many buildings constructed in the last two centuries have roman styles columns and other classic touches.  London is a good example of how modern architecture sits side by side with classic architecture. Everything is mixed up from one street to the next.  The finacial area known as the City of London is where most of the modern structures are rising up in a neighbourhood of classical architecture. Of course, just on the other side of the River Thames, we have the almost complete Shard. On completion, it will be Europe's tallest tower; although not for very long.

I took this image of The Shard 'under construction' about two months ago with my Nikon D80. Just to show that I have been taking snaps of architecture using digital cameras for quite a long time, here is an image I took in 2002 of The Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe), using an early digital camera:

If steel and concrete are the hidden 'skeleton' of most modern buildings; then on the most part, glass seems to be the 'skin'. The Gherkin and The Shard would not look quite so pretty if they were grey concrete monsters.  Stainless steel and concrete are used in conjunction with glass and often hold the design together visually.

The other favourite material used in modern construction is 'cladding'. This can either be stone cladding or metal cladding. It is the combination of coloured metal cladding, textured stone cladding and structural glass, which produces the contemporary and futuristic look of the modern city.

In some of the following images, which were all taken a while ago with my Nikon D80, I have used the glass as a giant mirror, with other details reflected, creating some abstract images. In these situations, the building itself is no longer the main subject; it is just a medium for producing reflected forms of colour and light. The final image is an example of how brightly coloured cladding can be used to produce and exciting entrance to a building.


I will post some more architecture images later. (I have many). I really need to spend a long day in London soon to update my tired old picture archive.  I have learned a lot about photography since I took these images, by reading other peoples' blogs; and I really need to try some ideas out on some of London's new buildings. In the last three years there have been so many changes to the London skyline. Architecture is changing the look of London's streets too, with new modern spaces between the rising glass towers.  It is now at street level where I try to combine architecture and street photography. You may notice that none of the above images contain people at all.

Here is a final image which I took last month with my beloved Ricoh GRD3, where I have started to include the public in the foreground of city images.