Travel Photography #2: England

I was on vacation in England with a bunch of photography interested friends, exploring both the countryside and London. It was very interesting and educational for me on both a personal and photography level, as I have some doubts about traveling with a lot of other people and also shooting wide angle - as I chose to do on that trip. Turns out - everything was awesome and I even brought home a few wide angle photos I like!

We've joked about this trip a lot for many years, always choosing new photogenic cities and countries we would like to travel to. London and San Francisco were the most popular, I think. Maybe Lisbon, too.

So suddenly, I was asked whether I would be up to make this joke reality and join them on their vacation to the UK. I haven't travelled with any of them, and I only knew one of them really well - usually that would have made me wary. I've been on vacation with other people, and the experience wasn't always overly positive. Everyone has different expectations to travelling, wishes to see different things, has different understanding of "relaxing".

However, I wasn't wary this time. I knew we were all a bunch of crazy people that will be okay with waiting at a random bush for 30 minutes because one of us would want to take the perfect picture of the water drops with the sun rays. Or the cat hiding in the bush. I knew everyone would stop for cats, which makes people likable for me. (In fact, it happened that everyone had to wait for me because there were horses. I hope they were okay with that.)

Gear

This trip was different than the roadtrip this summer as I was flying to the UK and then we would walk around a lot. I was travelling with cabin luggage only and couldn't bring all my gear. Even though I'm bad deciding and always want to bring all my gear to not miss a chance to get the photo I want, to be forced to reduce my luggage was good for educational purposes. It put myself into a position where I have to make do with the gear I brought and where I have to get creative to take full advantage of it.

Here is what I chose:

  • Canon 6D
  • Canon 50mm f1.8 II
  • Canon 16-35mm f2.8 L

Usually, I prefer longer focal lengths like the 135mm and Jonathan keeps to the shorter focal lengths. However, we went to London which could offer some great possibilities for wide angle shots, which is why I chose the 16-35mm instead. And of course the 50mm because it's small, lightweight and I like its feel for street photography.

I knew I would struggle with being reduced to the local lengths of 16 - 50mm in total. I knew I would curse myself sometimes and wish I had brought the 135mm instead. But I also wanted myself to step out of my comfort zone and start looking for scenes that looked great in wide angle photos. And I learned that I weren't really good at that from the beginning!

What I learned

I associate wide angle photos with lots of epic. Things get big and stretched and the viewer suddenly feels small and in awe. I thought that if I just keep to the shorter range of the wide angle lens (16mm) it wouldn't be so hard to take epic and intriguing pictures.

I found out that it wasn't that easy. Even though everything gets stretched and bigger on a two dimensional plan, the third dimension (depth) gets really flat. If a lot of things are happening on the photo and there is a high dense of objects in the third dimension, the photo gets easily crowded and busy because nothing gets separated from the background, almost everything is in focus and there is no sense of depth.

This is an example of a photo (taken in Bletchley Park) that feels quite boring and flat, not as epic as I had hoped for.

However, when I found a scene that could bring forth the epicness, I was surprised to really like the atmosphere that the perspective distortion created.

I definitely need to practice more with the wide angle lens to learn to see where this kind of perspective makes sense. A prime 28mm or 35mm is already in consideration as the next newcomer in my camerabag!

Also, I like the shorter focal length for full body portraits where the perspective distortion helps putting the subject in focus like bokeh does when using longer focal lengths.

This friendly woman nodded her approval when I gestured to my camera while she was working on the boat in Stratford upon Avon. Shortly after, her (I suppose) husband came over, too, and we had a chat about these types of canal boats (that I haven't seen before). This conversation really gave me a boost and is on of my favorite memories of the vacation. It proves that people can be friendly and open as long as you ask and are friendly as well. (Interesting TED talk on that matter: "The Art of Asking" by Amanda Palmer.)

On a more personal level I can always recommend to talk to the people that you plan to travel with if you don't know them. Especially if you could be the only person interested in photography (other people might not know that "stopping for taking photos" can occur quite often and take some time or even lead you on some detours), but also if the whole group agrees on photography as a main purpose. Different photographers are interested in different motives, styles and techniques and definitely have different levels of patience. Some people aren't interested in photographing tourist sights at all, a few think that cats are overrated, others find long exposures boring, some want to do some urban exploring that might be too exciting or dangerous for others.

Discuss your expectations beforehand and maybe agree on some rules, so everyone will have a great time and hopefully get the photos they want.

To be flexible is very helpful in any case. You'll never know what the weather will be like and when you'll suddenly get some awesome light which you would miss just because you want to stick to the plan made beforehand.

More photos

Bletchley Park

I'm very interested in the background and the story of Bletchley Park, where up to 9.000 people worked during WW II to break the enemies' codes. The muesum was set up at the same place where history took place even with some of the original houses intact and isn't solely focused on Alan Turing and his crew (of course they get their share of attention), but gives an overall insight into the intense atmosphere that must have been. Highly recommendable!

Stratford upon Avon, birthplace of William Shakespeare

We also visited pictoresque Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace. It's a small countryside town, fullfilling a lot of British clichées. It's also pretty crowded with tourists and school classes and everywhere you go you will see something that is related to Shakespeare. We visited the museum that was set up in the house where he was born. It was quite interesting and highlighted the importance Shakespeare has had on our society and language, but there is also a lot of focus on the house and room, where Shakespeare might have been born which I found a little overrated.

London

Highgate Cemetery

In London we participated in a guided tour through Highgate Cemetery, which was mindblowing. It wasn't just photogenic as hell, but also has a really interesting story full of so much trivia that one wouldn't expect from a graveyard. On top of that, a few famous people have been buried there, if one is interested in that.

Regent's Park / Primrose Hill

If you want to get a good view over London without walking all the way up Highgate, you should go to Primrose Hill near Regent's Park and the zoo. It's a pretty park area with a single hill that you need to climb up to enjoy the view.

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