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Photography Fail - Big Ben

Updated on September 4, 2016
CYong74 profile image

Geek, gamer, writer, and graphic artist, Ced's favorite shows and adventures are those that allow him to enjoy the world from his bedroom.

Say you're in London. For a business meet or a leisurely weekend. What would be your one must-have instagram? The red telephone box? Tower Bridge? Piccadilly Circus?

I bet it would be good olde Big Ben.

Morning shot of Big Ben

Big Ben under morning sunlight.
Big Ben under morning sunlight. | Source

Yes, Big Ben. With your face before it, of course. Double chin showing and all that ghastly nonsense because you are shooting upwards with your phone. If you happen to be on the more tasteful end of things, you might instead photograph something like this:

The sort of Big Ben evening shot we all dream of

The kind of Big Ben shot we all want.
The kind of Big Ben shot we all want. | Source

Now that's a good one for some FB bragging, eh mate?

Problem. You are likely to end up with something like the following.

Big Ben failed shots

Poorly taken night picture of Big Ben, improved to its best in Photoshop
Poorly taken night picture of Big Ben, improved to its best in Photoshop | Source
This one is worse.
This one is worse. | Source

You are going to end up with gloomy horrors like these because Big Ben is one of those landmarks that is deceptively difficult to photograph. Especially during the night and if you are using a phone. The lenses installed in most phones just arenot wide enough, so you either have to settle for the pinnacle of the tower, without the surrounding Houses of Parliament, or with part of the Houses shown, but Ben's crown snipped off.

Even if you are equipped with a DSLR and a tripod, unless you are have the right lens with you, something would still need to be clipped somewhere. What you end up with depends on how you manage the situation there and then, and of course, your artistic eye for cropping during the editing process.

Wait. Wait a moment Such a problem could easily be solved by backing away? So as to capture more, right? Indeed. And a good spot to retreat to would be what I now nickname the Blofeld Helicopter Crash Spot (Go watch Spectre!). With some fiddling and adjustment, you might just get it right. That is, if you get the chance to experiment. Hereby comes human interference. London is a top tourist spot, with Big Ben its crowning jewel. You're going to have to compete with hordes of other tourists. Meandering among you guys would also be the street entertainers and Chaplin impersonators. Very likely, you wouldn't have the space to go fussy over your angling. You're too busy stopping screaming kids from knocking into your camera.

But never mind. You're on holiday. You're in London! You keep calm and march on boldly. Well, Ben has two other challenges for you. First of all, remember that this is London. You know, famous for ... ... fog? Fog which has that nasty inclination to scatter light and make your pictures go all dreamy, in a trippy way. No matter! You check the weather and you go on a clear midsummer's night. The other challenge. The technical one. The Houses of Parliament and the body of Big Ben itself are floodlit by incandescent light. Very atmospheric, but dim and yellowish compared with the bright, white-lit clock face. Unless you really, really know your stuff, or you have some sort of suitable lens filter, you would end up with one of these two outcomes. The Gothic architecture suitably illuminated but the clock face one flat, white blotch. Or the clock face showing all its intricate details, but the rest of the surroundings just misty shadows.


Maybe it's better to just buy something from an online stock image library, and hope that instagram friends do not notice. I got the good picture from above from one.

Some suggestions for photographing Big Ben

I exaggerate, for the fun of it. But my lone attempt at photographing Big Ben in the night did fail because I vastly underestimated the difficulty. My mistakes:

  1. I didn't bring my wide angle lens. FYI too, I didn't even bother to try with my phone. There were all these other tourists struggling with their iPhones and Androids. None got anywhere.
  2. I proceeded despite it being hazy after a drizzle. I ought to have gone back the next morning at dawn.
  3. I badly underestimated the crowd. It was ten-ish. I thought it would be quiet. In fact, I was a little apprehensive about going at that hour and risking getting mugged. It was positively a party there.
  4. Biggest mistake. I went after it was completely dark. Looking through stock libraries, I noticed the best shots were all taken during the blue hour. Other than this being the indisputable best hour for evening photography, this minimises that issue of extremely contrasting illuminations.


I came to know of this tour after returning from that trip. It's costly, but it is a guarantee, of sorts, to get that perfect BB at night.jpg. If you really must have that shot, perhaps this alternative is what you should consider.

Ever had a hard time photographing Big Ben?

See results

© 2016 Ced Yong


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