October Buses

My last two stories for October came along together – in best London bus tradition – on a Thursday evening on the last day of the month.

Probably I should have stayed at the first event, where a small crowd was picketing London University’s Senate House against the invitation to speak at a meeting there given to former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, a man described as a para-military drug gang leader responsible for a ‘dirty war’ against the people of Colombia, responsible for the deaths of thousands and the internal displacement of millions of Colombians. The BBC call him a ‘tough conservative’ whose ‘ political life has been dominated by the desire to rid the country of the rebels who killed his father 20 years ago.’ The opposition in Colombia call Uribe the ‘Vulture of Death‘. He has condemned the efforts by his more reasonable successor to negotiate with the FARC rebels which currently look likely to reach a successful conclusion.

I photographed the protesters moving in to the area in front of the main entrance under Senate House. It’s fairly well lit and for most of the pictures I was able to work at ISO3200 without flash, resorting to flash only when I wanted to be sure of stopping a little action – you can see the pictures at Protest Against Colombian ‘Vulture of Death. Mostly I used aperture priority on the 16-35mm, stopping it down around half a stop from wide open – though that really isn’t necessary with this lens.

But I thought it unlikely that they would actually enter Senate House itself, and that almost certainly Uribe would be brought in, probably with a considerable entourage of bodyguards, by one of several other entrances, and I felt that little more would happen.

I decided I could leave Senate House and catch a bus to Kensington, where a protest calling for the release of the Greenpeace Arctic 30 was taking place close to the Russian embassy. This is one of several embassies in a private road close to Kensington Palace where protests (and photography) are forbidden, and the protests take place a short distance away across the busy Notting Hill Gate, opposite one of the embassy outposts.

Travelling by bus in London in the rush hour is seldom a good idea. My journey started well as the 390 arrived just as I reached the stop and I jumped on, but it was soon caught in the Oxford St traffic jam, moving in fits and stops at around walking pace. Around Bond St the announcement came that the bus would terminate at Marble Arch, and I jumped up and ran down the stairs to get off at the stop before and wait for the next service in the right direction.

This was a good move, as when my bus got to Marble Arch there was a large crowd waiting for it, and room for only a few. The bus crawled along the Bayswater Road and eventually brought me to the stop opposite the protest. The 3 mile journey had taken roughly the same time as I could have walked it. I should have taken the tube – even with a longer walk to the station at each end I would have saved 20 minutes. But fortunately (as I’d guessed) it didn’t really matter – this was a static protest and still in full swing when I arrived.

The protest pen here is perhaps one of the darkest places on a main road in central London. I took a few pictures without flash at ISO 3200, but it was clear that I was going to need flash.

Again I was working with Aperture priority, setting the aperture at f5.0, though since I’d also set the minimum shutter speed to 1/80 I might just as well have used manual, and I think all the images are at f5.0, 1/80s. At ISO 3200 there was generally just enough ambient to show the background, leaving it looking like it was night and avoiding burn out in a bright doorway and the lighting on a nearby pub. The actual level of the ambient light did change a little with the light from the passing traffic.

I particularly wanted pictures of the two journalists – Keiron Bryan from the UK

In front of the protest was a display of black and white photographs of around half of the Arctic 30, all with wide black borders, and pictures of the others were held up by the protesters. All that white did upset the metering a little, and I was working with an exposure bias of -1 EV. For the wide-angle you need to use the built-in diffuser to get fairly even coverage, and I often use the small built-in white reflector with the flash head angled up at 45 degrees too.  For those pictures where I was much closer to some of the photographs than the others I tried to even out the lighting a little by twisting the flash head off-centre away from them, making use of the fall-off, though even so some compensation was needed in post-processing.

and Russian freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov, who I’d just written about.

I’ve seen some other pictures taken of the event that show all the things about direct flash that I don’t like, the flatness and black backgrounds. It doesn’t have to be like this, and while I like to keep flash simple – one flash in the hotshoe – it isn’t hard to do considerably better. I’m sure I could improve on what I do by taking flash off the camera, using multiple flashes and so on (like the Strobist) but I’m reasonably happy with these results – more at Russia, Free Greenpeace Arctic 30.

My decision to leave Senate House was probably a bad one. The protesters did manage to get inside, and protested in the lecture theatre where Aribe was speaking. If I’d stayed I might have got some better pictures. But then I wouldn’t have covered the Arctic 30 protest. I’ve not yet worked out how to be in two places at once, or mastered time travel, though I was accused of being ‘Dr Who’ the other day when friends I’d been with earlier turned up at a protest to find I’d beaten them there.

And yes, there were two cows on the top deck of the bus on my way home.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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