Photography therapy in Greenwich, London

Cutty Sark from the visitor centre entrance

Cutty Sark from the visitor centre entrance

Any caring doctor concerned for the welfare of his photography geek patient should prescribe a day return to Greenwich.

With the Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, the Planetarium and Greenwich Market, it’s like giving a high dose of photo opportunity overexposure therapy. Which is right up my street. And so it was that together with four of my photography course classmates and tutor we made our way to the big smoke for some photography geekery. I mean therapy.

National Maritime Museum for the Ansel Adams exhibition

Within minutes I was caught out. ‘No photography please madam’.

Ansel Adams at the National Maritime Museum

Ansel Adams at the National Maritime Museum

Expecting photography geeks (I hate the term ‘enthusiasts’ – it’s such a geeky word) at a photography exhibition not to take photos is just daft.

Especially when the exhibition is Ansel Adams, one of the most commercialised collections of landscape images in the world. Not only was he a pioneer in photography, but inadvertently led the way in terms of tourism guides and travel inspiration. If you want to sell a location, think Adams. The exhibition is the photographic equivalent of a blow-your-mind Wish You Were Here from the mountains, waterfalls and coastline of his native California.

What harm’s my grainy little lopsided snapshot on my phone going to do? I know, I know, it’s a slippery slope – and I should probably buy a print in the foyer – except I can’t email that to my husband to show him where our next holiday needs to be. Maybe I’ve just discovered another commercial opportunity – images to buy for your phone – ‘as if’ you’ve taken them yourself. Either way, I didn’t manage to sneak a shot, so we’ll just have to book a flight instead.

The exhibition itself was superb. Over 100 original prints on display, a mini-documentary and film interview with Ansel (people sat on the floor and squeezed into corners in the packed cinema room and actually stayed, engrossed, for the duration) and an interactive collection of public photos inspired by the work of Adams. Curated through Flickr and Twitter, Flickr users were invited to submit ‘photographs of ‘water in all its forms’, with exhibition visitors invited to live-vote for their favourite images using touch screens. From an experience point of view (and with my marketing hat on), this was an especially nice touch.

Needless to say, Adams’ images are stunning and timeless. Composition, lighting, exposure, focus, drama, scale, subject. Add to the fact that many were taken in the early twentieth century – and all were taken with film camera. All the things you appreciate when working with a digital camera with instant results and the capacity to throw images away and start again. I came away inspired, if somewhat daunted by how much I’ve got to learn.

The Cutty Sark

Heaven for playing with my new wide angle toy (a Canon 10-22mm), the Cutty Sark visitor centre is crammed full of photo opportunities.

Cutty Sark from the visitor centre entrance

Cutty Sark from the visitor centre entrance

The ship sits moored inside a glass roofed visitor centre. Look up and you can see the ship’s mast. Look down and you can see her copper hull. The glass lets through lots of natural light, whilst the metal framework of the centre creates lots of lovely lines.

Symmetry in the Cutty Sark Visitor Centre

Symmetry in the Cutty Sark Visitor Centre

I got the impression there’s lots to learn too. To be honest I didn’t really take much in – I was like a kid in a sweet shop with my new toy and I wasn’t about to get bogged down learning about the history of tea. As fascinating as I’m sure it is.

It was a wet and dull day and so not brilliant for outdoor shots. Nor did we get the chance to visit the observatory or a mooch around Greenwich Market – which looks perfect for colourful street photography. All of which gives me the perfect excuse (if ever one were needed) to go back on a clear sunny day for a further dose of photo therapy. Care to join me?

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New York

I’d happily wager that New York is the most photographed city in the world and it’s easy to see why.

Almost everywhere you look there’s a scene or building made famous by film makers or photographers over the years. Central Park, The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, the Manhatten skyline, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Terminal, Times Square. The list goes on. Famous landmarks which are even more impressive in real life. Yes, it’s been photographed a billion times over, yet it doesn’t take away any of the fun of trying to get your very own New York photo memory.

We went in November, just before the famous Marcy’s Thanksgiving Parade.  A good time of year to go, not least as it wasn’t too hot to lug camera gear around!  If it’s your first time in The City That Never Sleeps, I’d recommend spending the first day or two on a city tour bus – great for getting to know where everything is – as well as the history lesson and local knowledge you’ll get from your guide.

As the list of photo opportunities really is endless, I’ve selected just a few of my shots here. For more of my New York images, see my Flickr pages.

Grand Central Terminal.  A beautiful building crammed full of character and plenty of photo opportunities.  Perhaps the most tried and tested of all is in the main concourse. Go with a friend for a fun slow release shot. Get them to stand dead still just in front of the main desk and clock in the centre, whilst you take the shot from the facing stairway.

Grand Central Station slow shutter

Calm in the Chaos at Grand Central Station

This image was taken on a 4 second shutter release, iso 800. If you have a wide angle lens, make sure you take it along. This was shot at 18mm which was as wide as I could go. A wider angle would capture the beautiful turquoise and golden ceiling. A good reason to return I think! 

Pershing Square. Just outside of Grand Central Terminal is this busy and colourful cafe / restaurant made famous by films such as Friends With Benefits. Take a tripod, focus on the cafe, set up a slow (ish) shutter speed and wait for the inevitable yellow cab to swarm past for a perfect New York memory.  See www.pershingsquare.com.

Pershing Square Yellow Cabs

Pershing Square Yellow Cabs

The Empire State Building.  Whether you’re after views from, or views of this iconic 1930’s art deco building, it’s a must-do for any tourist in New York – photographer or not. If you’re after a view from the outside you’ll do well to have a wide angle lens at hand.  In tightly packed streets, it’s hard to take a step back, and with only an 18mm at hand I wasn’t really able to cram the full scale of the tower into shot.

For views from the top, I’d recommend heading up an hour or so before sunset, to guarantee some daylight, twilight, sunset and night time shots. You can buy sunrise and sunset passes, which allow you up twice in one day, but with so much else to see in this vast city, we really wanted to cram as much in as possible in one hit and so the late afternoon option worked best for us.  See www.esbnyc.com.

New York from the top of the Empire State Building

Matchbox City – New York from the top of the Empire State Building

Remember to take a sturdy tripod if you have one. Yes, it can be a pain to lug around, but it’ll be worth it at the top, especially when the light starts to fade and you need as much support as you can get to keep your images clear and crisp. If you don’t have a tripod you should be able to find a small ledge to rest your camera on – provided you’re happy to wait your turn and wriggle your way in amongst the crowds.

Of course, the one thing you can’t see from the Empire State Building – is the Empire State Building. As you can’t go to New York and not get photos of this most famous of all landmarks, you’ll need to head to (and up!) the Rockefeller Centre.

Rockefeller Centre. We went up at night, which was great for seeing the city defined by twinkling lights from the buildings and matchbox cars.  In one direction there’s a rectangular black hole, which in daylight would be the leafy green expanse of Central Park, whilst in the other direction there’s the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

The Empire State Building from the Rockefeller Centre

The Empire State Building from the Rockefeller Centre

Yes, it’s perhaps the most photgraphed cityscape in the world, but there’s nothing more satisfying than having your own memory of this incredible city.