Follow my excitement as I went around London at night in December 2018 taking photographs of different Christmas lights, experimenting with long exposure photography. Most of it involved me huddled under an umbrella dodging the rain, and shivering while the tripod-mounted camera did its stuff. In the process I saw London, a city that I have lived in for 5 years, in a new light. Under a Christmas spell.
Although it may seem a bit strange to share photos of Christmas lights in the height of summer, for me seeing, hearing and reminiscing about Christmas brings joy at any time of the year. And yes, that includes listening to Christmas carols.
1. Seven Dials
Getting an aerial night shot of the seven roads converging at Seven Dials was a longstanding dream for me. Having looked at the tall buildings surrounding it, the only one I thought could work for the shot was the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel on Mercer Street. They were kind enough to allow me into the suite on the top floor and comically hold an umbrella over my camera outside the window to get this long exposure shot. The blue light trails added the final piece of magic – an unexpected police car that roared through, with sirens on full blast.
2. The Enchanted Woodland, Syon Park
Most London Christmas lights are focused around prime streets in Central London. In my effort to try and stray away from the centre, I stumbled across the Enchanted Woodland in Syon Park in Brentford (near Hounslow). There was very little advertising for this – word of mouth is what the organisers rely on. It’s only open to the public for 3 weekends in November – so tickets are limited.
The 600-year old gardens of the London residence of the Duke of Northumberland are transformed into a magical, glittering light trail winding around an ornamental lake. Take note of the directions from their website and leave plenty of time to get lost if you’re taking public transport and walking 😉
3. Regent Street
Christmas shopping in full swing, I saw several families and tourists out and about. From some rushing to finish a last minute purchase, to those taking time to mull over a present, to those sipping hot chocolate while window shopping, a whole range of folk were out here. London is normally a city where interacting with strangers (outside of queues or to complain about the weather when in close quarters) is virtually unheard of. So I was surprised at the number of conversations I had with people that were crossing the road as I stood on the island trying to capture Regent Street’s Christmas magic. Some of them very kindly agreed to pose for photographs too!
4. Covent Garden
London’s biggest hand-picked Christmas tree was in Covent Garden, towering at 55 feet tall with over 30,000 lights.
While crouching in the darkness over my tripod on a cold, rainy night I heard some homeless people talking to each other:
“D’you think the Irish chap is comin’ back?”
“Na, doesn’t seem like it. It’s already half-past nine. Why?”
“We could give that blanket to the new lass. It’s pretty damn cold tonight.”
“Yeh, good idea. He normally comes by eight so must’ve made other plans. She’s shiverin’ bless her. This’ll keep her toasty.”
Always amazes me how some of the most considerate and thoughtful people who are ready to do so much, are people that have so little. Hope this spirit continues to spread over London, even outside of Christmas.
5. Carnaby Street, Soho
Who knew Carnaby Street once used to be the fashion mecca of London? Apparently many a famous music star in the 1960’s used to shop here for outfits before gala events. So the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones all frequently walked this street. Only in the 1970s when it became pedestrianised did the stars move to Chelsea.
Fun Fact: Tom Jones walked down this street with Christine Spooner (a Bond girl) and a cheetah on a leash (!) for the opening of the Top Cat store, several decades ago.
6. Greenwich Christmas Market
Greenwich Market takes on a decidedly Christmas theme in November. With an array of crafted items and gifts combined with sizzling street food, mulled wine and cheery music in the background, it makes for a great evening out. I ventured there when the market was closing down for the evening to try and capture a different side of it – the calm after the storm, so to speak.
7. The Strand
Little did I realise how much history there was behind the lights on the Strand when I stood there in December to capture this photo. The Strand was one of the first areas in London to get electric street lights. In 2016, the Strand’s Christmas lights were some of the greenest in the country, powered by a cooking-oil based biofuel.
8. Oxford Street
I ended up standing for over an hour in the middle of Oxford Street in the rain 🌧 to see what I could capture. Despite being wet and cold, and running to seek shelter in one of the shops every time the rain got too intense, the excitement of capturing my first long exposure shot of Christmas lights seemed to make everything else irrelevant.
9. Leicester Square Christmas Market
Leicester Square is typically one of those places in London I try and avoid like the plague. Not only is it the epicentre of all tourist traps, but I’ve been pickpocketed there. Not once, but twice. However, last Christmas I was determined to go back, especially since there was a Christmas market in full swing. Looking at the buildings around for a vantage point, I found the rooftop bar of Hotel Indigo. With just a few people enjoying a quiet drink high above the hustle and bustle of the crowds, it was the perfect location to sit and take photographs.