Quick and Dirty Street Photography for a Festive Lockdown

Welcome to Christmas – Lockdown edition.

Night street photography is something rather new to me – as you can probably tell! In the past, I picked up the basics of long exposure night shots and took hundreds of them – they’ve been all over my Flickr stream with their luminous colours and eerie empty feel. I love them, but I have recently been trying to crack the secrets of its converse – it’s wilder and rougher sibling that is night street photography. That’s where, instead of spending ages faffing around setting up a shot and then waiting several seconds for it to expose, you are on the prowl, camera in hand, grabbing short-exposure handheld shots, quick and dirty. Walk, see, pounce/click! The trick here seems to be to learn to love the rough edges because, while you can never avoid the grain and blur that I fought so hard in my long-exposure work, they also come with a totally different energy.

One reason for this energy is because for the first time, my loved and hated London is populated! With long exposure, any figures that did happen to be there tend to vanish out of existence or be reduced to vague ghostly blurs – but now the action, night-life, people comes alive. The only problem is that during Lockdown, there were very little of that. In a way, that only made it even eerier – a technique that should have been bustling, wasn’t. This was a London quieter than it ever should be.

Around the festive season, I was out and about quite a lot on my bike, prowling the city. It was a time of drifting through London as though in a dream. Stopping in the middle of usually hellish junctions to snap photos. Taking roads I would never dare take under normal circumstances. I hopped the lanes in Camden. I took Euston Road and the junctions around Kings Cross. I passed through Shoreditch, which should be perilous with drunken revellers stumbling into the streets – by far East London’s most riotous area.

I was out on the night of Christmas Eve, when London seemed distilled into its absolute bleakest by lockdown, with those who can mostly off the streets leaving blend of determined wanderers and the sad wreckage of Tory Austerity centre stage. It was not complete silence – a few cars were still passing, a few people. Some guys singing wildly outside Camden Tube to the empty city – two women dancing tipsily at a bus stop, the odd shadow skulking in a corner, a few people walking home, arm in arm … if anything, that was worse than complete emptiness would have been.

And on New Year’s eve, my exercise took me to the Thames, where a sparse scattering of people were seeing in the new year in spite of all, watching the laser lightshow from the Shard. Some of these photos were almost destroyed by the low light and my inexperience, and I used a few filters on them to try and extract at least something. I might have tossed them but I didn’t because, while they may be disasters, they are disasters with a memory. A moment. I suppose in a way, these weird photos with their festering toxic skies and grainy ruined textures fit the mood of this most horrendous of new years – horrendous in more ways than just the lockdown etc.

Quick’n’dirty night street photography is something I will hopefully learn to handle better over time. You can see more of these and others on my Flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eibonvale

Published in: on January 18, 2021 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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