England’s capital is one of the most-Instagrammed cities in the world, which means you’ll need to be on your game in order to take photos that stand out. Use this guide to help plan your pictures — then add your own unique twist on each of these popular London locations.
Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament
Arguably the most iconic symbol of London itself, Big Ben looms over the Houses of Parliament in the City of Westminster.
You’ll want to capture this famous landmark from many angles, so be sure to pack several lenses for the occasion. A zoom lens will help hone in on the details of the clock itself, while a wide-angle will show the scale of the clock tower and building against the River Thames. The area right outside the Westminster Underground Station can get clogged by visitors with cameras pointed upward, so allow for extra time to explore the surrounding area — you never know where you’ll find a fresh perspective on the oft-photographed site.
Don’t forget to walk across the Westminster Bridge, where you’ll be able to capture shots from the other side of the river. Once you’ve crossed, take the stairs on the left-hand side down to the river’s edge and use the short tunnel under the bridge to frame the cultural symbol.
London’s famous metro system is the most efficient way to travel around the city, and stands as a photographic subject in and of itself. You’ll likely be using the Underground anyway, so why not take the time to snap some photos as well?
Unfortunately, the lighting in most of the Underground stations can be very harsh — fluorescent bulbs are ever-unforgiving. Set your white balance setting to fluorescent, then experiment with various shutter speeds to avoid the pitfalls of the lighting.
Though you won’t be taking many landscape shots from the Tube, subway systems are perfect for portraiture and street photography. Just remember that it’s always best to ask for permission if you’re taking someone’s else’s photo. For extra inspiration, check out Mr. Whisper’s Underground photography.
Not to be confused with London Bridge, Tower Bridge is easily the most recognizable in the city. Although you can photograph it from either side of the River Thames, Tower Bridge is a great place to experiment with long-exposure photography.
Grab a spot on the paved area in the middle of the street and decrease your shutter speed to capture the trails of light left behind by the cars and bikes zooming by. If you’re prone to shaky hands (let’s face it … we all are), carry a tripod along for crisp shots.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
While photography inside St. Paul’s is somewhat limited due to the church’s guidelines, the exterior is the perfect subject matter.
The Cathedral’s massive dome can be seen from many angles, so give yourself plenty of time to explore the surrounding area. Iconic views of the Cathedral are from the north (in between the reflective buildings of “One New Change”), from Millennium Bridge, and from Ludgate Hill.
Be sure to consider the composition of your St. Paul’s photos, as the building can be difficult to capture because of its scale. Pack a wide-angle lens or look for other objects to add in the foreground of your images. If photographing at night, decrease your shutter speed and remember to bring a tripod.
London receives nearly 20 million visitors each year, in addition to the 8.7 million residents of the city. With those numbers, certain areas are bound to be more chaotic than others. In particular, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, Leicester Square, and Trafalgar Square can be especially crowded.
Instead of shying away from the hustle and bustle of these areas, embrace it. Increase your shutter speed and head out to capture some good-old-fashioned street photography. Be on the lookout for particularly interesting subject matter — whether that be human, architectural, or a combination of the two. And keep your basic rules of composition in mind as well: remember the rule of thirds, look for leading lines, and don’t be afraid to experiment with moving subjects.
Natural History Museum
The main area of this well-known museum is a haven for photographers. The architecture of the building itself makes it a treat to photograph, and the looming dinosaur in Hintze Hall is a favorite of many.
In order to get great photos of the Natural History Museum, arrive as early as possible, if you’re hoping for shots without the daily crowds (the museum opens at 10 a.m. every day). Pack a wide-angle lens in order to capture as much of the scene inside the museum as possible, and increase your ISO to adjust for the low-lighting inside the building. The main area’s many staircases create various possibilities for framing and composition, so explore the levels thoroughly until you find a shot you’re happy with.
View from the Shard
For classic photos of the entirety of London, head to the top of the Shard, the city’s tallest building. Buy your tickets in advance to save money, and choose your admission time wisely.
To capture the whole city, use a wide-angle lens. But bring your zoom lens along as well — it’ll be helpful when you want to hone in on specific locations or landmarks from above. To avoid glare from the indoor gallery’s windows, get as close to the glass as possible and don’t use a flash. If photographing at night, decrease your shutter speed, keep the ISO around 200, and adjust your aperture to around f/8.
Pubs and Storefronts
London is full of unique pubs and storefronts, all of which you’ll want to capture with your camera. When you find a facade that catches your eye, pause to find the best composition. If you’re hoping for a straight-on shot, head across the street for a wider view. Or, zoom in to focus on the details. For times when the sunlight is bright, switch to your camera’s automatic settings or make sure that your ISO stays close to 100. If your subject is backlit, use a flash to alleviate shadows.
Iconic Red Symbols
Many of London’s iconic symbols are red in color — telephone booths, double decker buses, Underground signs, and Union Jack flags all feature the same primary color. Keep an eye out for the red details around the city and use them to add a pop of color to your photos if the day is more dreary than sunny (in these cases, you’ll want to lower your ISO, too).
For more photo-worthy spots around London, explore the city.
Header image by Tareq.