Night photography

Recording a city against a velvet blue backdrop

long exposure shot of london eye lit in red
long exposure shot of london traffic lights

London Traffic Lights

Four hundred years after Caravaggio’s death we are still fascinated by light and dark, the Italian term is Chiaroscuro, it was put to excellent use in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis. Today, London at night is a photographers playground, especially if you love a deep stygian shadow sat next to an icon illuminated by artificial light. Or you love capturing textured concrete cast in shadow.  It’s the perfect setting for night photography, capturing the dramatic effect of contrasting areas of light and dark that Caravaggio craved.

Matt Mcllroy takes beautiful photos of his home city, London at night and calls it both his hobby and his passion. Greyscape caught up with him recently.

light and colour flooded river thames

Illuminated River Thames Project

Why night photography? 

My ‘day-job’ is working in acoustics, I’m dealing with noise on a daily basis. I use night photography as a way to escape the everyday hustle and bustle and pressures and stresses of work in order to try and find that elusive work-life balance. It’s immensely pleasing to find a quiet spot, set up a camera and tripod and disappear into my own bubble.  It is never boring.

Can you give some advice about how to get the best after dark image?

The best way to really learn this type of photography is to experiment, it helps if you find a subject that you are really interested in capturing. Then there is ‘style’ to consider. There are so many, some photographers love black and white, some portraits, some landscapes and my love, which is long exposure night-time photography. This is a relatively new love that I found from experimentation, but I have really taken to it and enjoy seeing the results. After every shot, I review the image on camera, which helps me make changes.  Each photo takes into account problems that might have occurred in the previous one, such as problems with lighting, positions, framings and focus so it is a constant learning curve. The evolving results are a real thrill and part of the artistic process.

turbine hall Tate

Inside the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern London

What effect does long exposure photography have on the image?  

The camera shutter is open for longer periods of time, allowing moving objects to blur or create light trails. It highlights the colours of static objects creating detailed and vibrant images. This style is usually undertaken in low light conditions, making the night-time a great time to experiment.

London Kings Cross Station flooded in light

Kings Cross Station Walkway

How do you choose a subject or topic?
I don’t actively seek out to shoot a particular place or subject, but I keep my camera close and keep my options open. I often begin the session by heading to somewhere I think is cool. Then I explore the location, it’s quite organic and a lot of the time I find the final spot quite by accident, and that’s what makes it exciting. Never know what you’re going to come back with. Having said that if I am doing night shooting, which is my favourite, I have to factor in finding places where light plays a big part.
millenium wheel lit up in red London

The London Eye by night

Where would you recommend in London for night photography?
There are staple locations that are very popular to shoot as they are iconic, very photogenic and where some lovely effects can be created.  Easy wins are Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and the centrepiece of any New Year celebration, the London Eye. They are a great starting point to bag some great shots but can sometimes be very busy. Don’t discount walking along the River Thames or venturing into the City, this can result in some unexpected and spectacular shots.
The Illuminated River Project is a great addition to the city and a huge bonus for night photographers. It has completely changed the look of the Thames and its bridges. It has created reflections across the water, which make for some really stunning shots. If you can catch the moment when a Thames Clipper or party boat passes through the shot, it creates a stunning light trail following the path of the vessel.
thames barrer long exposure shot

Thames Barrier

Do you work in any other styles?

Photography has been a passion for well over 10 years, so of course, there is a natural evolution in my style. I’ve dabbled with land and cityscapes, alternative modelling shoots as well as architecture, actually with a few other styles in between.

What camera do you use?

I use what many would call an antique these days, a Nikon D90, I got this new around 10 years ago and when you have something new and expensive you worry about protecting it. Now it is old and reduced in value I feel much more comfortable throwing it in a bag and heading out to take shots at day or night. It is a great all-rounder, but I will most likely upgrade to something a bit more flash as my photography grows.

I also use my iPhone 7plus which is a great little camera, especially when combined with the Adobe Lightroom phone app. This allows the camera to become much more dynamic and provides decent editing capabilities on such a great portable device.

golden sky crystal palace tv transmitter

TV Transmitter Crystal Palace London

Are your images mostly borderless or framed? Do you sometimes take small detail shots? 
I have been using borders to really draw the viewer into an image but have just recently started to go borderless to make it much more about then just the image. This allows for greater detail to be seen within the image. At the moment I’m mainly into cityscapes.  Occasionally I throw in some more detailed shots, plants at Kew Gardens for example. I also love documentary style photography when something of note happens, Brexit and Extinction Rebellion being at the forefront of that around London currently.
climate protesters


Tension can be a good strong subject to shoot, trying to get close up, without getting too close up, in order to portray the intense emotion of an event to someone far away looking at the image from a place of comfort.

Barbican Estate Brutalist Architecture in Shadow

Any London architectural favourites?

There’s never any shortage of impressive architecture, from the brutalist Barbican to new gleaming skyscrapers each bringing new and different challenges for a photographer from framing through to balancing detail and exposure. Each shot brings its own issues and spectacular opportunities.

beton brut photo barbican estate london

Barbican Estate

bridge over thames lit at night

Bridges Over River Thames, London

What do you tap into for inspiration? 

It can be something as simple as a favourite place. Inspiration comes in many forms. Aside from that, anywhere with iconic views, a landmark or something out of the ordinary will always appeal.

And your favourite?

Bankside looking across from the Tate Modern to St Paul’s Cathedral. The views are stunning, the River Thames in the foreground and the old Bankside power station towering behind, by day live music creates a vibrant feel, but by night its calm, peaceful and is a great place to capture images across the river with light trails from passing boats helping to enhance the image.

‘Light trails are always fun especially from busses, which is very recognisable and just screams London especially with a famous site or object, like the wonderful TFL roundels’.

red blue london underground entrance sign and street

London Underground Station

Is there a quality that a night photographer needs?

Patience! Sunset and sunrise shots are really nice to shoot but require patience and can be very hit and miss depending on the conditions on the day or night. There have been many occasions where I’ve attempted sunset photos but have not been successful (so be prepared to return to get the final image you hoped for).  However, once the sun has disappeared focus on the next job in hand, those really special long exposure shots which now take centre stage.

Can you share advice about what to do if the image isn’t coming together?

It’s a smart idea at the outset to be conscious that the shot is not always going to happen, to work out as you hoped or intended. If you get the sense that you have made too many attempts it is important not to waste too much time. I often position myself somewhere and try various shots, but lens flare can sometimes be tricky when there are lots of street lights or stray lights in close proximity. If they are all around that can be hard to block.  Try to frame your shot and capture certain trails. If it’s not working just be analytical about it, move to another spot and start again.

single yellow flower black backdrop
Do you think there are trends in photography and if so what? 
Yes, however, the photography I currently enjoy is generally unaffected by trends… aside from seasonal. Winter months will see increases in the number of night shoots, autumn provides amazing sunsets and sunrises and summer allows shooting daytime scenes for longer. Change of season is a bonus – returning to the same spot and seeing how it has altered.
What’s on your bucket list? 
A safari would be an amazing experience allowing for really challenging photography, equally quiet tranquil places with calm water and golden beaches would allow for some stunning postcard photos. Iceland is another spot on my list and the northern lights. So many places, I need to get out there.
neon signs

Gods Own Junkyard Walthamstow

Stuff we need to know

Favourite book: 
I am a big fan of John Grisham, so picking just one is hard, I think A Time to Kill or the Pelican Brief are certainly up there as favourites.
I am not a massive film fan but classics such as A Clockwork Orange or Pulp Fiction will win me over.
Instagram accounts you recommend?  There are so manly great ones. For accounts to follow, @london4all  @igerslondon Both showcase some of the best of London photos taken by professionals and amateurs alike so there will definitely be something to take your fancy.
More about Matt:
I originally hail from Portsmouth in Hampshire. Photography has always been a passion rather than a career. Somewhere in the back of my mind I always wanted to keep it fresh so it would not feel like a chore.  You could say that I wanted to keep photography just for me. I’ve lived in London and Preston and there was a time when I simply put photography on the back burner. It was the inspiring Lancashire countryside that rekindled my passion for photography and creativity.  I’m now back in London which I now call home. I’ve picked up the camera and got back out there producing the results you can see on my Instagram.
All images are the copyright of Matt Mcllroy ©

Find Matt on Instagram at

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