Location Guide - Tower Bridge, London
Whether the apocryphal story in which a wealthy American bought the rather unimpressive former London Bridge, believing it to be Tower Bridge is true, imagining his face when he opened the (rather large) box is suitably amusing to ignore any cries of 'urban myth'. Tower Bridge wasn't sold, and stands impressively by the Tower of London, an ornate passage over that 'sullen brown God', the Thames.
The Bridge often opens to let some or other boat through (find out when), but usually provides free access to the other side of the river. This may be taken for granted now, but has not always been so easy. In Roman times the river was almost 1km across at high tide, and while they had boats, the owners of the now 300,000 year old flint tools found to the South of the Bridge in Southwark would not.
Living by Tower Bridge means that, like anywhere, it's gradually taken for granted. However, crossing over on a summer night after a pint of bitter in my local at St Katherine's Docks, or skimming stones underneath on a drizzly day have given a different and enriched perspective, which I'd like to share.
The nearest underground station is Tower Hill, which is to the North. There's also the option of the Docklands' Light Railway (DLR) station, Tower Gateway, and by Riverboat to Tower Pier. At Tower Hill, head down the stairs and through the tunnel towards the Tower of London. Head right around the (now empty) moat to get the best view of the approach.
You'll walk down the road above; pictured here with troopers from the Honorable Artillery Company's annual Gun Salute. There are a great many tourists here usually, and this passage is closed at night by the Ceremony of the Keys. Nonetheless, it is possible to get a photo or two here.
When you get through the tunnel under the Bridge, take a right and you'll be faced with the place where bodies were removed from the Thames. It's often possible to get down onto the jetty nearby via a covered walkway, and this is a great place to take photos at low tide, with the modern MORE London complex as an attractive background. Also in the area is St Katherine's Docks, with many boats worth photographing.
When you head over the Bridge, the right-hand West side gives the best views. Canary Wharf is visible from the left side and looks great after dark, but otherwise the opportunities are limited. The view to the West;
Take a moment in the middle of the bridge to look down to the Thames through the tiny gap where the two sides meet. Also look up, and imagine the challenges that the navvies must have faced when building it more than an hundred years previously. If you have a telephoto lens, you should be able to get some good photographs of the gargoyles on the Bridge.
Having crossed over the Bridge, turn around to be confronted by this view of the Bridge. Note the use of the natural frame and lead-in lines. The Gherkin makes a good background, but be careful to ensure it's not obscured by the struts. It's worth noting that this was taken just after 4am to avoid people and cars.
The same view from the other side of the road doesn't have the City behind it, but you may have more luck than I normally do. As you cross the road, there's quite a nice bar directly beneath you that you'll see in a second.
Now we're going to mosey West along the South Bank of the Thames through the MORE London development. Often there's something interesting happening on the lawn here, especially on weekends. I've particularly enjoyed an artificial snowball fight and a camel ride provided by Aer Lingus and Easyjet respectively. The Thames Festival early in September each year is very good, and has a photography competition too.
You'll see a lot of cameras around here as the World's photographers gather to take similar photos of the Bridge. Go ahead and do the same; there are good angles to be found. The HMS Belfast warship is a short walk away, and offers good views of the Bridge. The large brick building opposite is Southwark Crown Court, haven for assorted paparazzi but otherwise boring. There may be some interesting photography to be had of the offices, although the private security sometimes hassle you a little. It's worth mentioning that there's a few food shops nearby in case you'd like to stock up. You can follow this path along to the Tate Modern and then walk over the Millenium Bridge to St Paul's Cathedral later, but for now, turn back towards the Bridge.
If you're there at twilight you'll probably have got a similar shot to this one. You'll need a tripod (or a jacket to rest your camera on to keep it steady as the exposure will be too long to hand-hold), f8 and that's about it. Or, use a polariser as I did in the first photograph. However, most people will have similar shots, so I'd like to share a couple of hints that will give you something different to the norm.
The first stop will be making use reflections. There's a lot of glass around MORE London, and because the Bridge is instantly recognisable, it makes a great subject for this technique. You may find using a telephoto lens helpful, as it will allow you to use windows that are further away from the Bridge but still be able to fill the whole frame.
Next, focus on your immediate surroundings and think about relegating the Bridge to the background. It's a good place to practice a bit of street photography as there are often a few characters who are happy to appear in candid photos. The Bridge isn't going to change much, so giving it some sort of position in time by showing daily life around it makes for some engaging pictures. Boris Johnson, London's Mayor, works in City Hall, so you may be lucky enough to include him in your photography if he's around.
For my favourite find we'll head East under the Bridge towards Shad Thames, which you'll recognise by the aerial walkways joining the buildings. About 20 metres from the Bridge, there's a small passageway under the 'Shad Thames' sign that's occasionally open. Enter at your own risk! It leads to some very slippy steps, often submerged, and then onto the Thames itself. You might want to consider using a tripod to help you keep your balance. Look out for the entrance; it's the black doorway pictured below;
I enjoy the walking by the water, as all manner of decaying jetties appear out of the mud, giving a sense of history to where you are. London changes rapidly, so the relatively unchanging river that flows through its heart is a pleasant enough place to think. At low tide it's possible to walk under Tower Bridge; which is quite a romantic place to skim stones in the rain despite the filth left by the river.
When you're exploring, either side offers some great angles, especially with a wide-angle lens. If you get a particularly photo, feel free to send it over and I'll give you some feedback on it.
Let me know if you've got any comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, or here on Twitter.
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© Ben Evans 2010 : All Rights Reserved : If you'd like to use the photos, let me know!