Doing street photography in London is like nowhere else. Sure, as one of the world’s great urban centers, London is undoubtedly an amazing place for shooting pretty much any kind of photography (well, except wild landscapes of course). But while many North American and even some European cities have lost a lot of their street life in recent years (thanks smartphones) London’s thoroughfares remain as bustling and vibrant as ever.
Visiting the British capital to shoot some street photography of your own? Unsure where to start? Here are my favorite London neighborhoods for capturing lively, varied, and often quite eccentric British street life.
Camden might not offer quite the same underground vibe that it did in previous decades, but this north London neighborhood still retains an important position in London’s alternative scenes – and plenty of street-level personality to boot. Without a doubt the best time to visit is on the weekend – particularly Sunday – when the world famous Camden Market is in full swing and the sidewalks are thronged with an equal mix of grungy locals, resident eccentrics, and bewildered tourists.
Oxford Street may mostly be lined with the same boring chain stores that fill most British (Indeed European) commercial areas, but the sheer number of people to be found on this central artery make it without a doubt one of the best spots for shooting street photography in London. Mingle with the crowds, and you can really get up close to your subjects; firing off several shots before they work out what you are doing.
If you are lucky, the local Hare Krishna group will be out chanting in the middle of the street too, adding to the carnival atmosphere.
Soho and Chinatown
Apparently Soho is the British capital’s unhealthiest neighborhood to live in (just as well, then, that most of its flats have been turned into offices). But with its varied street life, eccentric cast of characters, and day-and-night bustle, Soho is undoubtedly one of the best places for street photography in London.
My favorite part of Soho is around the Berwick Street fruit and vegetable market, and the “arcade” full of seedy little “private” book shops near Madame Jojo’s cabaret club (although this legendary venue seems now to be out of action, pending refurbishment). It’s an area that has a real old-school London vibe that transports me back to the 1960s.
At the bottom of Frith Street, where it meets with Old Compton Street, you’ll find Bar Italia; a Soho institution since the 1950s. This place is where the after-club crowd hangs out, making it a great late-night shooting spot. Or head south of Shaftsbury Avenue to London’s small China Town neighborhood and enjoy the neon-lit atmosphere of Gerrard Street.
For daytime street shooting, there are few better locations in London than Covent Garden. The mix of stylish locals, laidback tourists, and animated street performers makes it a really fun place for street photography. Head north from the old market area to the intersection known as Seven Dials to shoot London’s best dressed fashionistas going about their business.
London’s financial district – known locally as “the City” – may be totally deserted on weekends, but midweek it makes a fantastic street photography location. Indeed, this is where a lot of classic London street photography images have been produced over the years. Think shiny modern architecture and crowds of fast moving finance workers.
If you’re keen to capture an old-fashioned English gentleman in pin-stripe and bowler hat, the City is still the most likely place terrain for spotting a specimen of this increasingly rare breed.
The East End
Move a little further directly eastwards from the City and you’ll come to the neighborhoods of Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, and Whitechapel: all part of what is collectively known as London’s “East End.” Although hipsters and investors have transformed this place considerably in the last few years, it nonetheless retains something of its old-world charm, and is still one of the most vibrant and multicultural districts of London.
Probably the best time to visit this part of town is on the weekend, when the area is host to several quite different markets, each with its own lively and unique form of street life. Check out Columbia Road Flower Market, authentic Whitechapel Market, and the more gentrified Old Spitalfields Market. This is Jack the Ripper territory, so expect a backdrop of redbrick Victorian buildings and atmospheric railway arches.
Shooting street photography is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable ways of exploring London, providing you with an excuse to discover all manner of unusual and off-the-beaten-track corners of this exciting metropolis. And with London’s diverse and often eccentric population, you’ll have no trouble passing unnoticed in the crowds, allowing you to fire off plenty of candid images.
Looking for street photography images of London for personal or business use? Check out my gallery of street photography in London, all fully licensable and available for high-resolution download.