A one-day guide to photographing London 24

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jon and tina reed year in london project

Jon and Tina

I not exactly sure how I stumbled across Jon and Tina Reed’s photography, but the moment I did I realized that it was a stroke of good fortune.

If I remember correctly, the first place I saw their photography might have been via their Facebook Fan page, A Year of London. Their blog is Nomadic Vison and what drew me to them was their current photography project, where they are highlighting all of the great photography in London.

As I have been spending a fair bit of time there, and have already told you that it is a not only a very comfortable place for me, but also a spot I like to photograph myself, I thought I’d ask them to do a guest post where they could give you a step-by-step guide to photographing this great city.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


London is a world-class destination with something to impress even the most discerning traveller. For a photographer, it is a playground with endless photographic opportunities. I’ve just completed month two of my year’s guide to Photographing London. Despite taking a year, I’m going to try guide you through taking photos of London in just one day.

We’ll start at dawn, before sunrise when London is asleep. This is the perfect time to photograph the iconic sites without the crowds. At this time, it can be difficult to get around, so it will help you to be based in zone 1, along the river Thames. The Tower Bridge is the perfect dawn location – it is lit by floodlights, which will help it stand out against a pastel sky. Whilst photographing the bridge, turn your focus along the river towards the Shard, catching the reflections of the skyscraper in the river.

tower bridge at dawn

early morning light at Tower Bridge

Just before the sun crosses the horizon, get onto the underground and head over to Westminster Station. Rush across the Westminster Bridge to arrive opposite the Palace of Westminster just in time to capture the first rays of sun striking the palace and the world-famous clock, Big Ben.

Palace of Westminster at dawn

sun rises over Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster

Once the light gets too bright and contrasty for photography, head back to Westminster Station and take the district line to Kew Gardens. On your arrival you’ll feel like you’ve stepped out of the city and into the idyllic English village.

kew gardens in spring

Kew Gardens in the Spring

Pop into the Bread Stall to pick up breakfast and your choice of caffeine supplement. The breakfast calories will help power a speedy trip through the Royal Botanical Gardens. By now, the light will be challenging for photography, so use the shady areas to flatten the contrast.  Even a whirlwind trip through Kew Gardens will take you up to lunch.

Head back to the underground and get out at London Bridge. If you’ve picked the right day, street vendors in the Borough Food Market will be serving lunch. Whilst looking for the perfect treat, keep your camera out as the area is great for street photography. For the coffee lovers, don’t leave the area without sampling Monmouth Coffee – the queues are much shorter if you order beans to taken home.

After lunch, the light will be horrible for any photography in the daylight. This is the time to explore London’s hidden interior architecture. The Astor House at 2 Temple Place was built by a wealthy American who loved all things British. It is a beautiful example of lavish Victorian architecture and the perfect escape from the harsh daylight.

I’ve now got two options for you:

Option 1 – The East

The old shipping yards have been rejuvenated and are now referred to as the Docklands. From Temple, head to Bank Station and jump onto the DLR to Canning Town. Canning Town leads onto the Royal Victoria Docks. Here you can experience London’s only beach, complete with a wakeboarding course. The area is great for photography with a mix of converted warehouses, old shipping cranes and interesting residential sites. Take the Emirates Air Line across the Thames and photograph the O2 from the sky.

victoria docks at sunset in london

dramatic lighting at Victoria Docks

From the 02, take a bus to Greenwich town centre. From the town centre, it is a quick walk to the Greenwich Naval Colleges.  Take a few moments to appreciate the Painted Hall which is a dinner hall designed by Christopher Wren and it is full of interesting paintings by James Thornhill.

From the Painted Hall, it is a short walk up the hill to the Greenwich Observatory Point. From this point, there is an amazing view over the Baroque Naval Colleges contrasting with the modern architecture of Canary Wharf. Enjoy the sunset and watch out of the Meridian Laser, a beam of light projected from the Observatory Point.

royal observation point in greenwich

a view of the laser from the Royal Observation Point

Option 2 – The West

Take the underground line from Temple to Victoria and then take the over ground-line to Battersea Park Rail station. Battersea Park is a large park, that is worth exploring, but because you’re taking photos, head straight to the Peace Pagoda – a large Buddhist monument built on the banks of the Thames River. The contrast of the Buddhist architecture and English park makes for an interesting subject.

From the Peace Pagoda, walk along the Thames River and cross the Chelsea Bridge. The bridge is a great location to photograph the Battersea Power Station – an iconic London site – that is possibly best known for being on the cover of a Pink Floyd album.

view from oxo tower in london

sunset from Oxo Tower

After watching the sun set at the power station, get onto the underground at Sloan Square and head to Black Friars Station. From the station, it is a short walk to the Oxo Tower. Few restaurants in London have a better view. Take in London at twilight whilst enjoying a cocktail and then settle down for a meal to top the day off.

the shard in london

the Shard in the distance

The Perfect Day

From this guide you can see how much you can actually do in one day in London, provided you have the stamina and energy to get through it.  Try to pick a day when you know the sun will be out as it helps to make the day more enjoyable and leads to better photography.

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

24 thoughts on “A one-day guide to photographing London

  • Jon Reid

    Hi Michael, this looks great, thanks so much for posting.

    @Matthew, thanks for the compliment. I have the advantage of living in London and being able to take photos when conditions are great for photography.

  • Jeremy Branham

    Great photos! I love their style and the city of London offers some great views. My favorite photo is the London Bridge one.

    Photography is something I am really trying to focus on now and get better. I just did a series of photos in Yosemite and want to work on my style. These photos are very inspirational and give me some ideas for my own photographs.

  • Wozza

    Good stuff!

    I just wanted to point out that there’s only one naval college at Greenwich and it’s called ‘Old Royal Naval College’. Also, the observation point, at the top of the park, is the ‘Royal Observatory Greenwich’.

    • Jon Reid

      Colour is largely dependent on the day. If you photographed London over the last 3 weeks, it would have appeared grey, but the week before was amazing.

  • Veronica

    This is a great post with brilliant photos! I will be going to London soon and can’t wait to explore more with my camera, maybe take some photography classes there. Love your blog!

  • Chris Booth

    Stunning photography and a perfect itinerary!

    One minor niggle, that’s sunset over the Palace of Westminster, not sun rise unfortunately. That said, if you went to the same location at dawn you would get an even better sunlit view than the one you have picked as it rises almost behind this vantage point!

  • Barbara

    Fabulous images, the colors and details are excellent. I really enjoyed reading this post and following the guide on all the things that can be done in a day in London. I can’t wait to visit London and see them all!

    • Jon Reid

      Thanks Barbara – keep in mind that this was my personal recommendation and had to fit in one day. There is so much more to the city – I highly recommend a visit.

  • Michael

    Nice shots! I love the dawn shot of the dock yard. Another gem o a shot: the graffitied skate park on the embankment a few hundred yards from the Tate Modern. It makes for excellent, colorful and vibrant urban photography.

  • Jeff

    All stunning photos, but I think my favorite is the laser from the Royal Observation Point.

    Thanks for sharing these inspiring photos.

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