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Autumn light on London’s South Bank, shot on an old Kiev 19M

Street photographers need people. They need thoroughfares and avenues full of people, rivers of commuters and residents thronging the streets, a wealth of possible subjects.

It’s no coincidence that many of the leading lights in street photography live – or at least shoot – in New York. The streets are always busy. Living in such a built-up, 24 hours-a-day city means the locals walk without a second glance, allowing photographers to snap candidly. When photographers think of street photography many of them see, almost instinctively, the Manhattan canyons as a backdrop.

But any big city gives you a wealth of opportunities to indulge in street photography. It’s just getting to know the best places to shoot. I’ve lived in London nearly 20 years, and I don’t think there’s a better street photography location than the South Bank.

The great thing about the South Bank is it’s always busy, be it in summer or winter. It’s home to the National Theatre and the Royal Festival Hall; the BFI and the Hayward Gallery; the London Eye and the London Aquarium. When the sun comes out it’s one of London’s busiest places.

Taking street photographs can often seem intimidating – not for the person being photographed, but for the photographer. Because there are so many camera-toting tourists hanging out around here, photographers blend into the background. It’s the perfect place to practice street photography skills.

The best place along this Thames-side stretch is the South bank Centre book market. Protected from the elements by Waterloo Bridge, it’s a treasure trove of books big and small, attracting browsers and bargain hunters.

I try and pop down as often as I can – an added bonus being the food market on the other side of the Festival Hall – especially if I want to test a new film or a camera.

The book markets come into their own in the last months of the year. While the days might be shorter, the quality of light as we drift from autumn into winter can make for some beautiful photographs.

My tips?

  • Find a good position where the light is helpful, and wait for a subject to enter it. The bookstalls are a safe bet as people are so intent on looking through the books that they won’t notice you’re there.
  • If you’re spotted  – smile, and explain what you’re doing if asked. Shooting film might actually help you here – you can’t show them the pic, but you can promise to send them it if they give you an email address.
  • Pick one lens and shoot with that til the film is over. It’ll force you to recompose with your feet rather than with a different lens. It’s much easier to shoot street pics from further away using a telephoto – but it’ll improve your confidence if you “zoom with your legs”.
  • Remember the food stalls – especially the Christmas Market which sets up in the middle of November. If you’re shooting colours, this adds a rich background; and the rising steam from hot food and mulled wine adds to the mood.

My favourite recent batch from the South Bank was taken last November, on a bright but cold November, just after the Christmas market set up, testing an old Ukrainian Kiev 19M (a bargain SLR which uses the Nikon mount and whose standard lens is very good indeed) and some old Kodak Pro 160 film.

Check out the pics below.

You don’t always need to see the eyes…
Fringe or moustache? Blend into the surroundings, and be patient


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Stephen Dowling
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Dave Jackson Photography

very interesting. Planning some ‘street’ with film myself. How do people react though if you can’t give them a preview? Could it make them more suspicious?

9 years ago

Hi Dave: I think film cameras are such a novelty now you’re more likely to get a positive response. The best thing to do, in my experience, is get some Moo cards printedof some of your pics – and have details like a site, Flickr,e mail etc on the back. That way people can drop you a line and you can send them a pic. It’s worked for me so far, though I tend not to be in-your-face with my street photography.