London – Hyde Park photowalk (I’m not a triathlete)

Sunday, I took the train to London Victoria Station and went on a photowalk with my friend Wolfgang through Hyde Park. He was armed with his Leica M8, I had my 5d2 with the Sigma 50mm. Our original plan was to walk around Hyde Park and find all kinds of interesting things, but we were somewhat thwarted by the triathalon that was going on. Quickly realizing that any opportunity to get consistent and good shots of the athletes (the lead group had transisitioned to bikes already) was already precluded by the crowds by people who knew about the event before that afternoon. We bailed on the crowds, snapping a few pics along the way, and headed for the “wild” and “unused” part of the park.

The light and the rain in London is remarkably similiar to Seattle. Which makes sense, as they’re at nearly the same latitude. London, however, is not cradled between two mountain ranges so we don’t get the drawn out golden hours here. It does, however, have more pollutants in the air so clarity and color suffer. But when it rains, the smog clears (or rather, gets knocked to the ground) and the colors start to explode in the moist air. The yellowish limestone throws an odd cast as the evening fades, but the innumerable shops and their signs throw fantastic colors out into the puddles. For once, I was happy not to use a polarizer and just let the reflections land where they may.

I’d never really been interested in “street shooting” before. Living in Seattle for so long, everything around me had a context that informed my eye and drove me to look for unusual lines and textures that work when abstracted from their environment, but any composition that seemed “journalistic” held no interest for me. That’s all changed now that I’ve moved to London; everything here is a “slightly warped version of what we’re accustomed to”, to use my wife’s favorite phrase. What’s typical and boring to the people who’ve lived here for years strikes me as odd and dynamic. There’s such a tension in this city between the weight of history and the march of progress.

Naturally, my compositions tended to play with the relative weight of light and dark elements dancing with each other on opposite ends of the frame, explosions of color, strong leading lines and efforts to create patterns out of randomness. Some shots work better than others, as always, but sometimes it’s not about what a client wants, it’s about hanging out with good people, chatting, and shooting just for the thrill of playing with light.

The 50mm feels odd to me. I generally shoot either wide or tele; the 50 is a great compromise between the two but I always have the impression that whatever I’m doing, I’m trying to shoehorn the lens into service rather than letting it transparently help realize my vision. In my experience, it doesn’t really do any one thing well. I hadn’t done a walkabout with the lens in the many months that I’ve owned it, and it was a great chance to get to know the lens better. Clearly, the lens would benefit from a trip through FoCal so I’ll need to arrange that. At around 3-10 meters and stopped down to about f2.0, though, it’s sharp as a tack and provides fantastic contrast and saturation.

In fact, the contrast and saturation is so good on this lens I may have overcooked my photos in post. I’ll come back to them in a few weeks and see what I think with an eye towards tweaking some presets and redoing the series. What I know for sure is that I really want to spend more time shooting in the rain. I couldn’t find my ShutterHat while I was scrambling around getting ready, but I didn’t have any trouble with the lens or the camera as they got damp from the rain. During the heaviest parts of the rain, I tucked the gear under my goretex and that seemed to be enough.

As we were walking along, chatting about whatever, I kept looking for scenes that were Distinctly British – but there aren’t any. People are people, wherever they are. The first world culture is suprisingly homogenous. Obviously, the city is different but I think the difference between London and any large US city is less than the difference between an east coast and west coast city in the US. I will say, however, that it’s a lot easier to find odd signs for my ongoing collection in the UK than anywhere in the states.

Here’s some selected photos:
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