During the lull between New York City Ballet and ABT seasons, our family took a trip to London and I posted photos on my photography website notmydayjobphotography. There’s a lot to love about London with all of its history, great architecture, and beautiful scenery. Trying to take in all of the sights in just eight days is an exhausting experience and we treasured our journey. Some highlights:
• The Churchill War Rooms is a fascinating museum in London (near the Palace of Westminster and Saint James’s Park) consisting of the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum. The War Rooms are an underground complex that housed the British government during World War II; the site became operational in August 1939, days before the German invasion of Poland and remained in operation until August 1945. The War Rooms were fortified on several occasions during the German bombing of London. However, a recurring theme of the museum was that it was not all that secure. A sign on the wall of the museum reads:
This was the Global Hub of Information on the War
The Government’s Secret Bomb Shelter
An East Target that was Never Hit
The Churchill museum covers the many chapters of his life: early military service, early years in Parliament, involvement in First World War, political isolation, return from political exile, stirring defiance against the Germans, and post-war activities. Being at the hub of activity for Britain’s planning during the war was an experience and I posted many photos of the rooms from the visit.
• Photographing the exterior of Saint Paul’s Cathedral from Millennium Bridge was a thrill. The church is one of the most visible buildings in London, dominating the skyline at the top of Ludgate Hill. Noted architect Sir Christopher Wren designed the church (consecrated in 1697) in the English Baroque style. Wren designed more than 50 London churches after the Great Fire of 1666. The resilient church withstood German bombing during World War II; a time-delayed bomb hit the cathedral in September 1940 and was diffused and removed by a bomb squad. Herbert Mason’s photograph of the cathedral dome surrounded by smoke from German bombing during the Battle of Britain is an iconic image symbolizing Britain’s defiance of Nazi tyranny.
• The Tower of London is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London. It is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames, founded in 1066. It is a complex of several buildings within two rings of defensive walls and a moat and has served as an armory, treasury, home of the Royal Mint, public records office, home of the Crown Jewels of the U.K., and a notorious prison. During our visit, Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) Bill Callaghan provided a 30-minute tour of the Tower, filled with interesting facts and politically incorrect humor: Quotes from Wikipedia: “History is nearly always written by the people who win. This explains all the empty pages in the French history books.” “Mel Gibson should have been brought through these gates and given a really hefty slap over the colossally inaccurate comedy film Braveheart.” Callaghan is a former Sergeant Major in the British Army with 23 years of military service. He has a Wikipedia page and a website that contains videos of his tours and after-dinner speeches.
• I had never heard of the Museum of London before visiting, but learned a great deal about the city. It is located in the oldest part of London near Saint Paul’s Cathedral overlooking the remains of the Roman city wall. The museum provides the history of London from prehistoric to current times. Themes of the museum cover: 450,000 BC-AD 50: London Before London, Archaeology in Action, AD 50-410: Roman London, AD 410-1558: Medieval London, 1550s-1600s: War, Plague & Fire, 1670s-1850s: Expanding City, 1850-1940s: Peoples City, and 1950s to Today: World City, providing detail on the geography, architecture, major events, and social history of the city. A visit to the free museum definitely provides a broad perspective on the history of the great city.
The Good and the Bad
I found the British people so civil and nice; in eight days of traveling in the crowded Tube, I didn’t see any verbal altercations common in New York subways. Tube employees were universally helpful particularly when I had problems with my Oyster transportation card. I also think the French are nice, but not knowing the language, I don’t know if they are saying “Have a nice day” or “You are a stupid American.”
One downside: there are more photography restrictions in London relative to Paris and New York. London attractions that prohibit photography include: Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Chapel at The Tower of London, Chapel at Hampton Court Palace, Chapel at Windsor Castle, and Windsor Castle. In contrast, French sites Notre Dame, Chartres Cathedral, Palace of Versailles, and Sainte-Chapelle allow photography (although there may be restrictions on the use of tripods). I can’t think of many places in New York that prohibit photography. The Royal Family may have something to do with the photography bans in Britain as one tour guide said that the photography restrictions protect the Royal copyright.
I think that such photography blackouts are counterproductive for the attraction as photos from tourists actually make the site more popular and attractive to visit, not less. Photos of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre are allowed and the countless photos on the web have not diminished the popularity of the museum or the work.
I didn’t go inside Saint Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey given the cost (16-18 pounds, about $27-$30) and photography restrictions inside the cathedral. Why bother paying a lot of money to enter if you can’t take photos?
I posted three of my favorite photos from London in this post. The first is a night photo of Westminster Palace and River Thames. Settings were 200 ISO, f4 at 28mm, with exposures bracketed at 0.8, 3.2, and 13 seconds with a tripod. Post production, I used merged sections of the best portions of each exposure in Photoshop.
The second is a photo of Saint Paul’s Cathedral from Millennium Bridge. Millennium Bridge, a footbridge across the River Thames between Southwark Bridge and Blackfriars Railway Bridge, provides a spectacular view of Saint Paul’s Cathedral nested between two modern buildings and bridge supports. The church website has a photo on its opening page, which sparked my interest in capturing the cathedral at night. The busy foot traffic on a Friday evening made this shot a bit difficult. I basically took hundreds of shots and selected the ones that had no people in the exposures. I shot at 100 ISO, f6.3, with a Canon 17-55mm lens at 17mm. I bracketed the exposures with shutter speeds of 3.2 seconds, 4 seconds, and 30 seconds. I combined the photos in Photomatix for a black and white High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.
The third photo is Saint Martin-in-the-Fields Church on Trafalgar Square. I liked how the church stood out against the early afternoon blue sky. The final image is a composite consisting of the blue sky from an overexposed image and the church building from an underexposed image.