I lived in London for almost two decades. It’s a city I love, even though it lacks the beautiful weather of where I grew up in California. And when you grow up in the sun, it’s hard to live with out it. So really it’s testament to what an incredible city London is that I managed to last so long there.
I no longer live there (we swapped it for the southern-California like climes of Andalucia) but I go there often to see family and work.
I have have done so much shooting in the city, and made three books about it. I know the city better than my London-born wife!
I have also taken hundreds of people on my workshops there at dawn, so I feel confident that I can show you the best parts to shoot.
Without a doubt East London is my favourite place to shoot in the city. For these reasons:
The mix of architecture is fascinating. You have ancient, hundreds-year old buildings sandwiched in between glistening glass towers. It’s so trippy
The history is so vivid and interesting. The little squares, old alms houses, the livery buildings, markets that have been running for hundreds of years.
The abundance of different cultures is exciting. East London has traditionally been the place where immigrants arrive first, and set up their lives. You’ll find layer upon layer of different cultures who’ve left their influence on the city. It makes it feel so vibrant and interesting.
The street art! Some of the finest street artists in the world make mesmerising images all over the east. Every time I go I see something new.
The people – all over East London there are interesting businesses running, projects evolving out of the diversity of influence, good music to listen to, festivals and fun to be had.
If you love photography, and have London in your sights, I encourage you to check out the east. Explore and see what you can find.
Hope you enjoy!
East London at Dawn: photo book
For over a decade photographer Anthony Epes has shot many of the world’s iconic cities at their most peaceful time, dawn. This month marks the publication of a collection of his photographs from one of his most explored haunts, East London.
I hope you are all doing well on this fine day. I am feeling very energised after spending a long day at the beach on Thursday. We had some family staying for a few days, and even though I don’t hold normal 9-5 hours, it felt funny to spend a weekday lying in the sunshine and snorkeling with the kids.
But you know what – I should do it more often because I’ve woken up feeling insanely energised. It’s amazing what a lazy, fine day can do for your energy.
Let’s start with a look at the technical, shall we?
I love this shot – for the surprise and the success of execution.
Surprise because I had never been to East India station in London before and I wasn’t aware of this view. And I was thrilled with the images I was getting.
The execution because my setup and exposure were well timed and exposed. Slow shutter for effect. Sweet aperture (for that lens) and an ISO that gave me all the contrast and colour my camera is capable of.
I was concerned that the train movement was going to mess with my sharpness, but the platform was really solid and had no vibrations.
This is something to consider when shooting long exposures – you can be stable with your tripod, but what about the place you are shooting?
The f/11 gave me good depth of field from 3 feet to infinity. I focused about a third up from the bottom of the frame to make sure the close distance would be sharp.
I had a window of about 12 minutes where there was a perfect balance of both ambient and artificial light. I made about 10 shots and adjusted the shutter speed from 15 seconds to 8 seconds as the light increased. It was still too dark for a daylight white balance (5400K) so I settled for around 3200-4000K, which I why the sky is so blue.
In Lightroom I boosted the contrast quite a bit to enhance the lines and separate the colours, which I then further controlled with HSL. I put the vibrance and clarity up high to give it added punch,.
It is a high energy image; the lines taking the eye around the image and back again, bouncing off the buildings and looping around. The streaks created by the long exposure just enhance this feeling of speed and energy.
What do you think?
Now let’s look at the story that I think about this for this image
I live an odd life, I know that. One day I might be out at 4am wandering the streets of a city, then home by 11am and napping. I can also be found working past midnight processing images, writing, sending emails. I might be teaching at midday, having a meeting with a gallery or meeting my printers.
I’m not in London at the moment, but even when I was my life has never had much of a schedule or fixed routine.
And therefore my personal story of London is not really of someone who takes part in the daily rhythm of going to work in the morning and returning home in the evening.
I feel like I am mostly an observer to this life that so many people lead. I see it, but I’m not in it.
When I am out shooting in the morning, I am out way before most people are even awake. I watch the sky changing, the light appearing, feel the beautiful calm. Then a trickle of people starts to appear. One or two at first, and then speeding up.
Before long the trickle turns to a mad rush of people walking, cars, buses, trains, boats even. Everything and anything that can be used to get people to work and school – and quickly.
The energy rushing through the city is intense and feels sometimes like it wells up from nowhere. A tap has been turned on full, a button has been pushed and released.
I like this image because it shows how intense metropolitan life is. It feels both hectic and crazy busy – but ordered and organised too.
You have the rush of people, but they are lines, following the path, using the city efficiently to get to their destinations on time.
Because this shot taken when it was still early you can see those who rise first, and I feel their energy to start the day and get moving are represented in the streaks of light. These people are active and in the chase.
There is also the glow of lights from the office buildings – people who are at work already? Or who never left? Perhaps they are the people who come to clean and care for the building, coming and leaving unnoticed, like whispers in the night.
So many stories could be told from the people you know are in this image, but you can’t see.
To me, this image talks about the energy you need in the pursuit of survival. The city is big and unwieldy and hard. But with desire and focus, you can command the city to your will.
What do you think? I would love to know what you think of the photo and my analysis. Let me know below.
Today is one of those days that I often really struggle with in London. It’s grey, the light is flat, there is some of that very sprinkly rain that doesn’t totally warrant the whole rain gear outfit but is none the less an inconvenience.
Di went for a walk down by the river this morning and told me how many people were out jogging and rowing. I couldn’t help but mutter to myself, crazy people!
You know what, though? (And this would have made me splutter with surprise when I first got off the boat from California all those years ago) – English weather ain’t that bad for taking photos of London. And this is because this city is so incredible, so interesting and diverse and amazing, it almost taunts me by saying I don’t need blazing sunshine and spectacular light to show off what a fascinating city I am. Explore me and you will discover incredible things.
My favourite part of the city to photograph is – hands down – East London. If you don’t know this city and you come here, I urge you to go east and explore.
I think it’s mostly to do with the contrasting architecture – you’ll be walking down some ancient street, where you can literally smell the history, and suddenly a sparkly new building will appear, like it’s grown from the ground like a weed, shooting up in its shimmering glass and steel.
You’ll then turn into another street to suddenly be sucked into the riot and colour and noise of a street market, before feeling like you’ve moved into a totally different city with the delicious smells from a row of Indian restaurants.
It’s the constant juxtaposition of architecture, cultures and communities that is so awesome to photograph.
But what stands out for me is the street art. I’m sad to say there ain’t much street art in my quaint environs of West London. It’s all a bit samey this side of the city, but there you’ve got incredible artists displaying their breathtaking talents on all kinds of amazing textures, walls and buildings.
What makes me think they are even more super-awesome is how temporary it all is. Like, I am just going to put this beautiful picture out there, let it go into the world and not worry if it lasts just a day or 2 years.
There is an energy to this part of London that I don’t feel in other parts. Yes, it can be a very intense energy of struggle, being the part of the city in which so many new communities land, working crushingly hard to get a foot into a new life. But there is also the energy of possibility – it’s the place where many artists live and work, where entrepreneurs are often found starting their businesses with big ideas. It’s the home of artisan food shops and the birthplace of many cultural trends that then sweep across the city.
So you can totally imagine my absolute sheer joy when I was asked to do a book about this very area of London that I love. A limited edition photo book of 1,000, no less, commissioned by a very cool new aparthotel that has just landed in the East End.
I brought together my favourite images of the area, and then went out and shot some more.
I took my son to explore the early morning street markets and we shot together. I went out on one cold and flat morning and shot the Balfron Tower – and it didn’t matter that there was no spectacular sunrise that morning. That’s what I mean about this city – even when it’s dull, it’s incredible to photograph.
I went into the ‘edgelands’ that are so much part of East London, places that are neither city or country, that are filled with desolate-looking industrial estates that feel devoid of life, but are in fact teeming with industry.
The upshot being that I photographed a tremendous part of the city, and I loved every minute of it.
This project is now coming to fruition and the book is being launched at the end of the month. Now, it’s only and exclusively available for purchase at the Leman Locke, the amazing design-led aparthotel that commissioned the book.
I have got 50 of these beautiful books for sale, yeh! These are signed by me and will be have an edition number inside. I have chosen to go for a slightly different look to my last books: I’m using a beautiful thick matt paper that I think really works with the project – this is, after all, one of the most intensely urban parts of London.
(And by the way, you are the first to hear about this, because we love you guys!)
As I only have fifty books, I am expecting them to sell super quickly (for my last book I sold 100 books on the first day I announced it! Which was so exciting.)
It’s a cloth bound, A4 hardback with 80 pages capturing my vision of East London at dawn, really quite beautiful if I say so myself.
Di has written some beautiful words and collected some great quotes for the project. It’s a really special collection, and we are both very proud of the book.
If you’ve ever wanted to own a little piece of my art, this is a good time to do it! And what a great present! You can say you know the artist 🙂
If you would like to get one of these limited edition books, you can purchase them here. Remember, I only have 50 – so if this looks like something you’d like you know what to do. Here they are!
And thank you! It really is the most tremendous thing that all of you stick around and read our writing about photography and creativity. The life of a photographer is often a very solitary one; to have this worldwide group that gives me so much feedback and inspiration is incredible. I hope you all know how much it means to me to know you’re out there and how many of you send me emails and comments – it’s just beautiful!
BBC London did a feature on the project – see here. (BBC World a few years back did an amazing feature on my dawn projects too, including of Paris and Venice)
I was up very early this morning. In the streets of East London I watched the pre-dawn sky change colour, from the magnificent midnight blue to ever lighter shades of blue. Colourful ribbons of pinks and yellows burst across the sky, and little wisps of purple and blue clouds appeared and disappeared at random.
There is some warmth to the early morning air now, an exciting sign that spring is here and we are entering my favourite period of life in London. Warmth, sunshine, and it feels like everyone is opening up as they come out of their winter hibernation.
Today I am not offering any big challenging teachings – today I want to give you something easy, something light and joyful. We have to be light and joyful sometimes right? Especially with the thing we love so much – taking photos and being creative!
First thing – today I want to focus on the subject of spring. What could be more joyful for us creatures who are emerging from the dark cold of winter into this light-filled nature-filled spring time? I know not all of you are in a springtime area, but I think you can sympathise, right?
Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’
Second thing – as you know, photography is not just about the aesthetics. It’s about capturing and evoking emotion. How many ‘pretty’ photos have you seen in your life that have created no lasting impact. ZILLIONS. Even if your subject is gorgeous and wonderful, you still need an additional element – lighting, an interesting expression or something that will invoke emotion.
My challenge today is to encourage you to go out and capture the feelings of spring – ebullient, hopeful, sorrowful…whatever they may be. And if you’re not in a spring-zone, then you can capture any mood created by a season.
I thought this is a perfect challenge for people who struggle to get emotion into their photography. If you start with something pretty simple like this, then you can build up your confidence to capture some more complex emotions.
Now – let’s explore some themes that we could bring into our spring photos.
You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.
Spring is a pretty hopeful time me thinks. Light pouring into our lives after a time of relative darkness. That’s why I think this photo of the daffodils feels like a ‘hope’ photo.
I am definitely up for some renewal right now! In fact, I believe in having regular times of renewal and rejuvenation. But unlike that feeling of renewal at the beginning of January that seems to come, I believe, from a place of guilt or panic (Must improve my life! Must get fit and start saving!) the feeling of spring’s renewal feels fun and frivolous, and very creative. A time to play with your photography, a time to experiment and explore.
Desire for adventure
In winter, I plot and plan. In spring, I move.
Having grown up in a different era where I could go out and play unattended for hours at a time, in a place that was basically summer and spring-like all year, there is something incredibly evocative for me seeing my kids in nature. But don’t we all have that nostalgic feeling when we see kids playing in nature; even my London-born wife who didn’t have the kind of outdoor adventurous life that I did feels wistful at the sight of our kids muddy and playing with sticks.
Even if it’s not about kids there is an opening up of the spirit when spring arrives. You stop hunkering down in the cold, and possibilities, ideas, thoughts of adventures start to flow. So adventure feels like a good theme for your photographs.
This photo below could be called ‘young love’. To me it is all about that feeling of beautiful weather and being finally outside, being with someone you like a lot, plus that playfulness that young couples have.
To get these kinds of shots you have to (respectfully) really look at, and notice, the interactions between people. So not just what they look like, but the dynamic they are creating together. You have to look, notice and then step forth and be brave and click when you see something interesting.
Spring has a definite feeling to it; the air somehow changes, people’s mood changes, and to capture not just an individual mood of something, but the the mood of a place is a great thing to practise in your photography.
I mean think about it, right. Every day you go out of your house and there is a mood or feeling created by the time of day, the weather, and any other extraneous events going on. Like when it’s dark there could be a sinister feeling, or an earthy atmosphere at the beginning of autumn.
For me there was a palpable mood the day after the Brexit referendum, for example, or the day after the US elections. When there is a collective contemplation about an event that also seems to change the atmosphere.
The sheer vitality of life
Sometimes it can be displaying the sheer amazing aliveness that spring brings into our lives. Waking up the soil, bringing millions of flowers, plants and trees into a dazzling life-affirming display.
As with everything, though, there is always an edge, an opposite
To all of this life and vitality there is also the reminder that darkness, loss, winter, are also part of life. I think this photo hints at that edge, the darkness that is looming after the burst of colour and life.
The delight of spring light
Gotta love all that light in spring. Especially as our days get longer. Here is a very typical shot for me. Light and shadow – the shadow creating a nice contrast to the beautiful light, and that contrast makes the light more intense and more delightful.
I also love interesting lines. Can you see the horizontal lines which, although not straight, are creating structure in the photo? Then the last element is the contrast of the old crumbly wall and the beautiful delicate flowers, which is another ‘typical’ thing I do. Contrasting old and new, fresh and decaying, light and dark. The contrasting elements always help to enhance the other, making them more ‘decaying’ or more ‘fresh’ looking.
The play of light and shadow, though, is what makes it a good shot, as you can see here. This is a similar composition but not as good.
Can you see how the set up in the two photos is almost the same – the ancient crumbling wall contrasted with the pretty vibrant flowers. I ‘organised’ the elements of the photo along horizontal lines, almost rule-of-third-ish. But of course the difference with the last photo is the absence of incredible light!
As if I need to tell my regular readers how important light is! You guys totally know don’t you?!?.
So I hope you enjoyed that! I hope it makes your feet itch and you want to get out and take photos.
I am wrapping up a very exciting week where I launched my new book. It arrived from the printer on Monday (you can see me ‘unboxing’ it here.) It was super thrilling to see all this work we’ve been doing come to fruition. Can I say too that it is an awesome, awesome book, really my best yet?
You can still get one of the last books that I have of East London at Dawn right here. But they won’t be available for long as my stock has almost run out!
Have a great day, and happy photographing! As always let me know what you think! Comment below, I love hearing from you.
Anthony and Diana
This is the main barrier to improving your photography
You haven’t heard from me for a while and I’m sorry about that. I’ve been mulching in a creative bubble. I have a super cool project; a new hotel has commissioned me to put together a limited edition book of East London at Dawn. As a photographer this is the kind of work you dream of: being paid to fulfil one of your creative ideas and, as so many of you who’ve been on my London workshops know, East London is my favourite part of the city.
But while I’m doing work like this – creating, shooting, thinking, looking at my images, I find it really difficult to live in the real world and do all those other things that life requires of me – emails, bills, etc. Di says I start acting like a cloud. I forget to return phone calls, I’m not great at remembering what’s happening in my diary. At least I can say, look man, I’m just an artist. And people sort of, sort of, understand 🙂
I think the point here being that any kind of creative pursuit requires more time than you think, and it requires a totally different brain space to the one that is keeping you going on a day to day basis. So although I totally, totally advocate keeping your camera at hand and taking photos as you go about your daily life because that is a powerful habit to develop for your creativity – remember, too, that carving out time for some dreaminess, drifting and creative mulching is also super beneficial for your photography.
Now let’s get to the main point of this post. The main point of this post is illustrated by this photo that I took a few mornings ago in Wapping.
I walked past this butcher and thought – awesome! Capturing people up at dawn is really hard, less so at the moment as dawn is so late in autumn and winter, but it’s still difficult to find people doing interesting things. I knew Di would love this shot – that blue early morning light on the buildings contrasting with the yellow tungsten inside. It really was a perfect combination of elements.
I lifted my camera, shot this, but I obviously wasn’t happy with it because the positioning is all wrong. Then I saw that the butcher had spotted me. Guess what I did? I carried on walking! I had been totally overtaken by the fear and just left the scene.
To be honest it sort of surprised me how fearful I was. I have a lot of years under my belt of photographing strangers; I teach a workshop about it! It just shows you, though, that fear is not something you overcome and then that’s it, it’s gone. It can come back at any time. And of course we professionals are not immune.
But you know what? That’s OK. For me the best way is to accept that fear is a bit like clouds in the sky or rain in London – it comes and then it goes. The worse thing for me to do is let it stop me from taking the shot – or in this case, going back and taking the shot.
I’ve written about fear a few times on my blog, and I will continue to, because I truly believe that fear in its many forms is the main barrier to improving your photography. It’s not just the thing that will stop you from photographing strangers – it will also stop you pushing yourself further with your creativity. It will stop you from envisioning what is possible to do with your photography – and then getting on with it.
Fear is an insidious and pervasive force that affects us all in different ways across our lives. But in terms of creativity it can severely limit how much you’re prepared to push yourself to experience new things, to work at seeing the world in new and fresh way and to create something that is unique to you.
It’s good to note though that it’s totally natural to feel fear when you are creating.
“We’ve evolved to distrust creative ideas: except in a crisis, there’s little survival benefit to trying something new.” Oliver Burkeman
I see fear all the time with my students, and often they are surprised when I tell them that everyone experiences fear when they are taking photos. They are not unique or alone in this. With them I see fear come up in the form of:
Not staying at a scene long enough
Self-consciousness when using a camera in groups of people. So instead of being in the moment, connecting to your environment and composing your image, half of your mind is distracted with what people might be thinking or what is happening outside the moment of the photo
Not shooting what you really want to photograph because it scares you too much
Not getting started! I see this a lot. Worrying about doing it just right, so people don’t even get themselves out the door. (Perfectionism is just another form of fear.)
“The real question, then, is not whether creativity provokes fear, but what to do when it does. Far too many authorities urge you to conquer it… but as with any emotion, launching an all-out attack on fear is counterproductive. That just puts it centre stage, and risks reinforcing the notion that creativity must – and should – be one endless, bare-chested struggle.”
So what I encourage in the dealing with fear is:
Be patient with yourself. Fear is just a feeling. Don’t react to it. Let it come up and eventually it with leave you. Probably the worse thing you can do is start adding lots of thoughts and judgements about your fear. Thoughts are like adding fuel to the fire. Let the fire just burn itself out.
Accept that it’s part of being creative: putting yourself out there in terms of showing your work, being out there in the world with your camera, doing something outside of your day to day life is going to provoke feels of discomfort. And really, if you are feeling discomfort you are on the right path – it shows you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone, you are onto to something new and different.
I also like this idea about overcoming fear by distracting your mind and creating habits:
“There’s nothing wrong with fear; the only mistake is to let it stop you in your tracks.
Athletes know the power of triggering a ritual. A pro golfer may walk along the fairway chatting with his caddie, his playing partner, a friendly official or scorekeeper, but when he stands behind the ball and takes a deep breath, he has signaled to himself it’s time to concentrate.
A basketball player comes to the free-throw line, touches his socks, his shorts, receives the ball, bounces it exactly three times, and then he is ready to rise and shoot, exactly as he’s done a hundred times a day in practice. By making the start of the sequence automatic, they replace doubt and fear with comfort and routine.” Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.
When I am really struggling with fear I like to remember what Seth Godin advises about starting small:
“What we need to do is say, “What’s the smallest, tiniest thing that I can master and what’s the scariest thing I can do in front of the smallest number of people that can teach me how to dance with the fear?” Once we get good at that, we just realize that it’s not fatal. And it’s not intellectually realize – we’ve lived something that wasn’t fatal. And that idea is what’s so key — because then you can do it a little bit more.”
So I will be heading back to Wapping to get that shot – maybe it’ll be worth it and it’ll make the book, maybe it won’t and it won’t be the shot I want. Ultimately, though, I need to do it for myself. To show that I am doing the best that I can for both myself and for this project – since photography is totally an inner game and loosing confidence in myself is not a path I want to take. And because:
“Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished?
Yes; work never begun.” Christina Rossetti
I’ll be coming out of my creative cloud pretty soon. Which is awesome if you have an email that you’ve sent me and you are waiting for an answer (sorry!). The book is hitting the designers soon and I’ll have a bunch of organising and ‘real work’ to do – working with the printer, launching the book, sorting out my new website etc. Which is all super cool. I love what I do, and I feel so super grateful that I get to live like this – taking photos, working with other photographers, putting my ideas and images out there. Life could actually be no better.
Thank you for being part of this community of photo lovers, it’s so awesome working with you, hearing from you and talking to you about your work.
I’d also like to ask something of you today – Di and I are currently working out the subjects of our next few months of blog posts and we want to make them uber useful. We’d love to know therefore:
“What are you most struggling with photographically right now?”
Just drop me an email. I promise to answer 🙂 We can then write posts that are totally focused on what you need right now on your photo journey.
Have an awesome weekend – and happy photographing!