London at Dawn: The Golden Hour

We knew the precise moment when dawn broke during our London at Dawn workshop in April.  One moment the world was exquisitely hued in blue, pink and light grey and the next minute, there was golden light covering every surface.  It was simply magical.

The Shard at dawn6.17am The Shard

This marked the end of the first hour of our workshop and the beginning of what is known in photographic circles as the golden hour. The golden hour is the first and last hour of daylight in a day where the light is softer, more diffuse and it has a specifically golden hue.  It was lovely to behold.

 All Hallows by the Tower6.23am All Hallows by the Tower

We left the Tower Bridge Millennium Pier where we can spent the pre-dawn hour photographing The Shard and Tower Bridge and we climbed up behind the Tower of London.  We spotted All Hallows by the Tower, the oldest church in London which was founded in 675AD and we marvelled at how the light seemed to draped itself over the Tower of London.

The Tower of London at dawn6.41am The Tower of London

Is it just me, or is the Tower of London a specifically difficult complex to photograph?  I never seem to do it any justice.

Neptune at Ten Trinity Square6.46am Neptune at Ten Trinity Square

I was quite enamoured by the building above, known as Ten Trinity Square.  Built in 1922 as the headquarters of the Port London Authority, this is where the inaugural meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations took place in 1946.  That is Neptune you can see ruling the building and the seas from his high perch.

While Neptune was certainly impressive, I was far more impressed by the grace and beauty of Britannia, the goddess and embodiment of Great Britain, who sat on her throne on the eastern side of the building.

Britannia at Ten Trinity Square6.47am Britannia at Ten Trinity Square

Something about the tiny medieval St Olave’s Church appealed to me.  Perhaps it was the ghoulish skulls above the gate?  St Olave’s is known for being one of the few medieval churches to escape the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Skulls at St Olaves Church6.50am Skulls at St Olaves Church

Samuel Pepys is buried here.  He deemed St Olave’s “our own church” and it is noted on a sign beside the gate that Pepys “came through this gate from the Navy Office and his home in Seething Lane to worship here”.  The Perpendicular Gothic style of the church must have impressed Charles Dickens for the sign goes on to state that he included it in his short story collection The Uncommercial Traveller, renaming it The Churchyard of St Ghastly Grim.

St Olaves Church

As we began walking the streets of the City of London, I thought that we were noticing more people out and about.  Well, that was until I realised they were pouring out of a nightclub and were still awake from the night before! They certainly weren’t fit to publish on this site!

Instead, I looked the other way and noticed this monument to the Crutched Friars (see below).  The monument adorns the corner of the building at 6 Crutched Friars at the intersection with Rangoon Street.  The term does not imply that the friars depended on staff but is a corruption of the word “crossed”.

London EC3

Before long, we arrived at Aldgate and could see the beautiful 30 St Mary Axe (commonly known as The Gherkin).  I must admit that it was a beautiful day to photograph this modern architectural masterpiece (I might be biased – did I mention I love this building?) and boy, did I photograph it.

The Gherkin 30 St Mary Axe7.03am 30 St Mary Axe

We were standing at the original site of Aldgate which was demolished in 1760.  Aldgate was the eastern entrance into the City of London through the old London Wall leading to the East End.  While there is little evidence of the existence of the gate, St Botolph without Aldgate, built in 1744, stands to this day.  The “without” part of the name refers to the fact that it stood just outside the city walls and there is a St Botolph without Bishopsgate too.

Aldgate7.04am St Botolph's without Aldgate

In 1976, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement was founded at this church and the church still welcomes LGBT members.  The church is close to where the Aldgate Bell Foundry once stood, the home of the Bells of Aldgate.

Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School7.09am Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School

By the time we reached the Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School, the sky had turned a bright blue and we realised that the golden hour had passed.  There were still plenty of photographic opportunities to come, of course, as the sun rose high into the sky.

Disclaimer: My attendance on the workshop was kindly sponsored by London at Dawn but you can still book places on their two day photography master classes taking place on June 30th & July 1st and August 4th & 5th. I simply cannot recommend these workshops enough. The knowledge and technical skills imparted by Anthony Epes and Nick Mortimer have proved invaluable and I am still shooting on manual to this day.

16 comments on "London at Dawn: The Golden Hour"
  1. You've got some wonderful photos here! And I love the idea of The Golden Hour too. Everyday things do become mgaical when illuminated by various light. Those skulls are amazing, must check that church out. Love London!

  2. Great photos! I especially love the angle of the one with the skulls in it.

  3. Gorgeous photos! I love the dawn and (usually more likely to be witnessed by me!) evening light. Everything seems magical then.

  4. I so like that special light in the first photos, and the mix of old and new buildings. You made the most of the workshop!

  5. I love taking early morning and late evening pics. The golden hue is just so soft and warming :)

  6. What a fascinating workshop. I always feel a little sorry when that time just after dawn gives way to the mundane day.

  7. Wow, you've done so much so early in the morning. There is something magical of taking pictures of places in the early morning. Thanks for the tour!

  8. I really enjoyed reading about all these places. I visited a few of them on one of the tours in my book when my bestfriend came to visit, and we particularly liked the skulls above the gate.

    Have you spent much time in Wapping? There are skulls EVERYWHERE thanks to the presence of pirates.

  9. I must admit that my personal habits prevents me from seeing much of the Morning Golden Hour, but seeing this may make me change my mind :-)

  10. Excellent photos. And there's always something about the morning light!

  11. Wow, great shots!! I'll have to check out their workshop. I am impressed how quickly you got around - were you running?!

  12. Emm, you are seriously making me homesick for London right now! Your photos are beautiful and capture the city so well. I've never heard of the "London at Dawn" tour, but I will definitely be looking into that next time I'm there. I also just have to say - yes! I hate trying to capture the Tower of London with a camera. I've only ever been there at night as well, which just seems to add yet another layer of complication to the issue. I think you did well though :)

  13. Twilight has always been one of my favourite times of day. everything looks so beautiful during the golden hour. Purely magical. the St Mary Axe building is absolutely impressive.

  14. I enjoy more in the morning.

    This is the time I hike and take photo at the same time.

  15. i really love the beautiful light and texture in these shots!

    thanks so much for this lovely pictorial tour.

    i just love london!


  16. @ Minerva: I love London too! Thank you for your compliment about the photos, we were very lucky with the lighting.

    @ Melizza: thank you! I had to get over my natural tendency to photograph objects straight on. They aren't really interesting like that!

    @ Kathy: I like dawn too. In South Africa dusk and dawn were quite pronounced but in UK it seems that we don't really see either for 6 months of the year!

    @ Josep: I certainly did! It was a fabulous workshop.

    @ Ivanhoe: after this workshop, I certainly want to take more dusk and night time photos now too.

    @ Jenny: I feel something similar (or perhaps the opposite) when the day begins to end and I feel like i haven't achieved everything I set out to do.

    @ AVCr8teur: you know, it took me a full week to recover from that morning so yes, we did so a lot in the 4-5 hours we were on the workshop!

    @ WithinIreland: no! I haven't been to Wapping yet. We should go.

    @ RuneE: ha ha! I don't mind getting up early but the idea of staying up so late I see the dawn creeps me out!

    @ Happy Homemaker UK: ha ha! No, we weren't running but we were walking rather briskly between sites.

    @ Candace: awww, don't feel too homesick for London. Although changing and moving every day, London has this strange ability to stay the same between visits.

    @ Life Ramblings: I love that building too! And yes, my appreciation for twilight is growing too.

    @ Rainfield61: I'm not up at dawn, but early morning is when I take most of my photographs now too.

    @ Betty: I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you.


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