How a photo walk helped me capture a favorite location with new eyes

man standing next to large ball
(Image credit: George Cairns)

One of my favorite haunts for photography is London’s South Bank. For years I’ve walked along the Thames between Tower Bridge and the Millennium Bridge to capture photos for my magazine and web photography features and tutorials. 

Over a hundred years separate the building of those two bridges and there’s a wide range of photo opportunities between them. The iron walkways crossing the historic street of Shad Thames provide subjects for dramatic and atmospheric architectural shots. The Victorian-built Borough Market’s colorful food stalls attract huge crowds, presenting a photographer with plenty of street photography stills. I’ve snapped this South Bank route for a couple of decades, so I was happy to take a photography group from my hometown of St Albans for a photo walk along my favorite route as I had so much to show them. As it turned out they had more to show me!

Instead of aiming up, I was inspired to shoot down to capture a different view of an often photographed subject. I flipped the shot vertically to place Joseph’s head at the top of the frame. (Image credit: George Cairns)

I met Joseph and Stewart at London Bridge Station and walked to Shad Thames where we met up with Tim, Phil, and Scott. I was shooting on my iPhone 14 Pro Max while the others packed a range of smartphones and DSLRs. My plan was to lead the lads through my favorite locations and show them the usual subjects that I’d been regularly photographing for years, but I soon found that guiding photographers is like trying to herd sheep. 

At Shad Thames, I tended to shoot upwards from a low, wide angle to capture the crisscrossing girders that linked the old warehouses. However, my colleagues soon split up and found their own vantage points along the street, with some - like Stewart - spilling out into side streets to explore old alleys with weathered brickwork. This individualistic behavior jolted me out of my habitual groove and I was inspired to experiment with shooting down instead of up, capturing the girders in puddle reflections from the morning’s rain. 

Shooting with photographer friends gives you the opportunity to make often-photographed landmarks become the backdrops for portraits. The location inspired a Film Noir style approach to processing the image. (Image credit: George Cairns)

Shooting with a group also gives you a supply of free models! I got Joseph to pose by the puddle so I could add a human figure to my creative reflection photo. I couldn’t have snapped this shot if I’d been shooting solo. I also recruited Stewart to pose while I tested out the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s Portrait mode, using the girders as a blurred film noir-style backdrop instead of them being the main subject.

I often use these black statues to complement models. Scott Phillipson created the inserted abstract view of the old City Hall dome by shooting its reflection in the sculpture’s dimpled surface. (Image credit: George Cairns, Scott Phillipson)

After Shad Thames, we reached City Hall, where large black spheres were scattered like a giant’s marbles. I’ve used these pieces of street art as backdrops when shooting models. However, it never occurred to me to shoot a close-up of a reflection of City Hall in a sphere’s reflective surface as Scott did. The shiny ball’s dimpled reflective surface turned the glass dome of the domed building into an impressionist image. 

Tim’s low and wide angle composition adds drama, plus I like the way he’s framed City Hall’s curves to diagonally fill half the frame.  (Image credit: Timothy Rundle-Spiers)

When we encountered a scale metal model of our South Bank location Scott suggested that I use the Hobolite Mini that I’d brought along as a sun setting behind the model’s version of Tower Bridge. This creative approach to another piece of street art would never have occurred to me, so this was another example of how there's inspiration to be had by collaborating with fellow photographers who each have years of experience (and a different eye) to share. 

Instead of using my Hobolite Mini to light a subject off-camera, I was inspired by Scott Phillipson to feature it in the frame as a surrogate setting sun behind this metal model. (Image credit: George Cairns)

Our photo walk featured tall buildings such as the pointy Shard. I’ve found tall buildings can be a challenge to shoot due to boring empty space on either side, but Scott used the surrounding foreground structures as a ‘picture frame’ around this steel and glass landmark. All in all, I can highly recommend shooting favorite haunts with a group of photographers so you can learn from them and collaborate with them. If there’s a trip to the pub after the shoot then that’s a bonus (and you can enjoy sharing and comparing your best shots of the day!)

Find the next camera for your photo walks with our top picks for the best travel camera and the best cameras for street photography.

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George Cairns

George has been freelancing as a photo fixing and creative tutorial writer since 2002, working for award winning titles such as Digital Camera, PhotoPlus, N-Photo and Practical Photoshop. He's expert in communicating the ins and outs of Photoshop and Lightroom, as well as producing video production tutorials on Final Cut Pro and iMovie for magazines such as iCreate and Mac Format. He also produces regular and exclusive Photoshop CC tutorials for his YouTube channel.