While London Sleeps


While London Sleeps: How some magazine photoshoots actually happen

30 Oct , 2011  

'London Lights' photoshoot, Borough Market, London by Ken Sparkes

22:39 Rohini: hello! hellO!
22:42 me: hi
22:43 Rohini: I am thinking about our future big photoshoots on Spaces and i don’t think we will get to do anything amazing with the budget but i really want to do a big lighting shoot…

That’s how Rohini and I ended up photographing in the debris of deepest Camberwell in the middle of the night waiting for the breakdown service to come and rescue us. Our IM transcripts and the finished images provide some revealing insights into the creative process.

Top photo: Dream More, Work Less
Borough Market, London SE1 – ‘Ribbon’ table lamp by Claire Norcross, £99, Habitat.

22:45  me: Lights in the studio are mostly terrible, very hard work for not much return. How about lighting outside in the street or something?
22:46  Rohini: That’s exactly what i meant, and now that it is getting dark early i think it would be really worth doing in these months, kind of twilighty
ideally i’d like to do it in an urban street where all the lights are like streetlights, like down a road with a brick wall or down an alley

Photo: I’m Here For You
Roupell Street, Waterloo, London SE1 – ‘Lamp a Poser’ mouth-blown glass table lamps, The Conran Shop.

‘Lamp a Poser’ mouth-blown glass table lamps: I'm Here For You, Spaces photoshoot, Roupell Street, Waterloo, London SE1

22:48  me: sure – sorry am a bit zapped – trying to find library shot for another magazine cover & listening to some wicked Danish band
Rohini: ha
me: ok, headphones off
Rohini: no worries, it was just a whim

Photo: I Am The Happiest That I Have Ever Been – Belgrave Road, Victoria, London Sw1 – ‘Bakelite Telephone Lamp’ by Alex Randall of Jericho Hands, Deptford

'Bakelite Telephone Lamp' by Alex Randall of Jericho Hands: I Am The Happiest That I Have Ever Been, Spaces photoshoot, Belgrave Road, Victoria, London Sw1

22:51  me: doing stuff around London would be fab if we can do it well without being arrested.
22:52  Rohini: yeah i know – i would love to – but how did u light lights in the woods at Westerham?
22:54 me: We used a car and an electronic inverter that converts the battery into mains voltage.
me: the other choice was to replace all the bulbs with low voltage bulbs, but that was just plain fiddly.

Photo: ‘I don’t heart Banksy’
St George’s Drive, London SW1 – ‘Cuboluce’ light boxes by Franco Bettonica and Mario Melocchi.

‘Cuboluce’ light boxes by Franco Bettonica and Mario Melocchi - Photo: Ken Sparkes
Rohini: i will start planning, but it’s more about location isn’t it?
22:55  me: yeah – I envision hanging things off the exterior balconies of the Royal Festival Hall etc
Rohini: ha!
22:56  me: only need one shot rohini, just fling it over the parapet & shoot!
22:57  Rohini: maybe we should make that our aim – just to do it in really great locations then leg it
22:58  me: maybe dress like art students

Caution: Love Hurts
Greenheath Business Centre, London E2
Holo Mexico’ by Catherine Grandidier, Dix Heures Dix.

‘Holo Mexico’ by Catherine Grandidier, Dix Heures Dix: Caution, Love Hurts: Spaces photoshoot Greenheath Business Centre, London E2

Rohini: ok what are the easiest places to do it?
23:00  I really want to do one down a London alleyway so u can see floor lamp after floor lamp in a row – as though growing out of the ground
23:01  me: London backgrounds at dusk: the Thames, blocks of flats in Peckham, Brick Lane area or Whitechapel…
me: would like to make it VERY london if poss
Rohini: yeah ok

Photo: Don’t pass me by
Henly House, Swanfield Street, London E2
‘Lucellino’ table lamp by Ingo Maurer.

'Lucellino' table lamp by Ingo Maurer: Don't pass me by, Spaces photoshoot, Henly House, Swanfield Street, London E2

23:08  suggest we start very soon and do it over several sessions, one light per shot, one page per shot
23:09  Rohini: ok – i am free most mondays and tuesdays, we can start week after current shoot, but we really need to plan
23:12  me: only need a good car battery & a little wheelie shopping trolley

Photo: I Can’t Explain & I Won’t Even Try
Wheatsheaf Community Centre, Camberwell Rd, London SW8
‘25 Karat Blau’ T table lamp by Axel Schmid, Ingo Maurer

‘25 Karat Blau’ T table lamp by Axel Schmid, Ingo Maurer - photo: Ken Sparkes

23:17  if we went to Paris or Rome, how would we do it?
Rohini: how would we go there? or how would we do it?
23:18  me: well, just thinking to do London the way we would do a foreign city (always different approach when you go away)
23:19  but now you mention it… might have a look at Ryanair!
Rohini: ur a loon! – right i am going to research cool lights this week – u think of do-able locations, okay?
23:21  me: seriously, if we save £400 on a studio, that pays for a Ryanair special + accom. Course, there’s the products…
me: have to work on that one
23:24  Rohini: will see u on Tues with some ideas for light shoot – we are starting next Mon. We must do a summery shoot soon
23:28  me: yeah – fed up with dark shoots, want some brightness
Rohini: just this last one…

Photos: © Ken Sparkes. Stylist: Rohini Wahi  Shot on location for Spaces magazine. All Rights Reserved
The titles of the photos come from messages embedded in the pictures while waiting for some huge high-res files to upload on ftp.

How To: I used a 500W power inverter from Amazon connected to Rohini’s car battery and a long mains extension to reach the lighting. It converts the 12V battery to mains voltage. To balance the exposures, the light was toggled off before the frame had fully exposed. I also shot the scene with the light off in case I needed to composite the two shots in Photoshop. The camera was a Nikon DSLR, on a lightweight tripod, set to manual. In order to preserve the original ambiance, no additional lighting was used. In the end, we didn’t get arrested; we didn’t even meet any parking wardens.


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