Aerial shots of London by night -- magic

Here's a gallery of stunning aerial night-photos of London from Jason Hawkes, who notes, "I often shoot tethered to my MacBook Pro to check the sharpness of the images whilst I shoot." He's taking questions on technique at, too.

Just before I first moved to London, some well-meaning friends took me up on Primrose Hill at night to "see the London skyline." I didn't want to disappoint them, so I oohed and aahed, but to be frank, the skyline, as seen from the hills, isn't much of an advertisement for the city, in which the majority of buildings are old, squarish low-rises. But London from the sky -- that's something else entirely. Seen from that angle, London's purely magic. I'm convinced that the back-breaking queues for the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland are entirely driven by that opening trompe l'oieul flyover of London in miniature.

More of London from above, at night (via MeFi)


  1. You got me looking for Nasa photos (which is, of course at a greater height). Found this picture of London taken by an astronaut. I like the broken glass quality of it. Wasting more time, I found this image of Kansas Crop circles taken by satellite. This photo is just so damn cool.

    I’m a big fan of photos that takes the familiar and shows it at a completely different scale.

  2. Sigh,
    more overdone tonemapping (aka HDR tonemapping).

    Night photography can look beautiful *and* realistic. Photos that look like paintings will be an artifact of the toddler years of digital photography – 2004-2010, the time of the discovery of exposure blending and HDR tonemapping.

    For a much better, easier, and more realistic result of blending multiple exposures, use exposure fusion, such as Enfuse. It won’t look like a TV show painting, and still you can get shadows and highlights together in one image.

  3. I often think while flying over cities at night that they look like space environments all glittering in the dark of space. It is a magical kind of beauty.

  4. @#2 Oh, double sigh. Blah, blah, and the angels don’t hang the stars with scotch tape. Who cares? These are beautiful.

  5. Time for some rank speculation:
    These would probably look terrifying to eyes from other worlds. Just as our reducing oxygen atmosphere, where even iron slowly burns down to rust, would terrify them.

  6. TheChickenAndTheRice @ 3

    Steady on, there.

    You are not being handed an opinion. You are reading a personal post, by one of the writers on this blog. That’s what this blog is about.. the stuff the authors find interesting, and how they interpret it. The comment section is for your opinions, not for slating theirs.

  7. Flying into London at sunset is remarkable (um, in my opinion, I’ll let you decide #3).

    The airspace over London should be designated the first aerial national monument.

    I recall the heroic (#3?) footage of the blitz and the sky filled with searchlights and flak as the UK fought to maintain.

    I never fly into London without that thought in mind.

    BB chill on the sig rules, you’re just being silly.

  8. Just wow, I had no idea London can be so beautiful at night. Incredible pictures, and the angles, even better:)

  9. I’ve seen these pictures before and they’re fantastic. I just with the photographer was more open with them. They are plastered all over the web, but in no large formats.

    I would kill to have some of the gorgeous night pics as the wallpaper on my computer but you have to pay for the bigger pictures.

    It would be good publicity for the photographer if he threw a creative commons gallery on Flickr of his best night photos in larger formats.

  10. Wait, you call that a city scape?!
    No huge bodies of water, no towering mountains or looming volcanoes?

    I live (and fly into) Seattle regularly.

    You’ll have to do MUCH better than this to beat seeing Mt Rainer, Mt Jefferson or Mt. Baker, the Cascade range or Mt St Helens and Puget Sound on your approach to Sea-Tac airport (the worst aerodrome on the west coast).

    It’s a sight you’ll never forget.

  11. JG,

    Sig rule: If everyone did it, it’d be a mess. Comments are for conversation, profiles are for promotion. Easy.

  12. he took these pics tethered to his MacBook Pro? i didn’t realize that Apple made a dirigible version of Mac. hee hee.

  13. Lovely photos. All the better since I’ll never see the city in person again, given the other postings from Cory today regarding the UK.

  14. @#13:
    I would kill to have some of the gorgeous night pics as the wallpaper on my computer but you have to pay for the bigger pictures.

    So you would kill for a larger format image but not pay for it?

  15. @21. Don’t worry. Like the US (as it has just resoundingly proved), we have a democracy, and the next time round, we’ll vote the power crazed authoritarian loons out (who I’m embarrassed to admit I did vote for when they were perceived as the party of individual liberty). Assuming there is an alternative to vote for. Even if that alternative is *shudder* the Tories.

  16. Heh, the lava-coloured glow in this picture reminds me of the Shelley quote “Hell is a city much like London A populous and smoky city”.

    Although, in looking that quote up I found a better one:

    “Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and, in this, hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.” -John Berger

  17. Yeah, this looks like a painting of futuristic hell. That or futuristic Mordor.
    I’m really not trying to knock London, but the streets look like lava at a glance, and the dark, dreary buildings stretch on as far as the eye can see. /shudders

  18. #2,
    Multiple exposure blending using exposure fusion is so last week. History already views multiple exposure tools such as Enfuse as embarrassingly bourgeois twaddle. You’re going to want to pick up the Berndorfer semi-holistic image editor with the optional hubrimatic aperture control before we can even start to discuss modern photography.

    Luxman Windplume III

  19. @20 he took these pics tethered to his MacBook Pro? i didn’t realize that Apple made a dirigible version of Mac. hee hee.

    Apple full of hot air…never… ;)

    I loved the photos – they actually look/feel somewhat like how I feel when I am scooting round london at night, oh oh hyperreal feeling.

  20. Jeffrey Martin @2, please don’t sign your posts. They’ve already got your handle at the top, and you can provide a link to your website on your profile page.

    Also, when one of the Boingers posts about how beautiful something is, and someone comes with a jaded sigh and explains condescendingly how it’s not really anything impressive? That’s not a way to win friends and influence people.

  21. Hey #2,
    more overdone HDR tone mapping. eh? Mmm, I’d like to know how Mr Hawkes did that. See, my understanding is that to do HDR you generally need to start with multiple exposures taken with the camera locked solid on a tripod — and I don’t think a camera on a helicopter, even with a gyrostabilizer, is quite that.

    Also, in discussing his work on Mr Hawkes makes no mention of tone mapping but does mention how little time he has to work in if he wants to record color in both the sky and the streets at dusk. That rather suggests his technique doesn’t include tone mapping.

    Could it be that these are demonstrations of the versatility and dynamic range of digital cameras, and/or they’ve flushed out a jaded wiseass who can’t recognise the extraordinary when he sees it?

  22. Actually, if you compare the pictures on his site to the ones in the article, there has been subtle, but significant, colour enhancment done. Likely it was done by, and the photog probably did some work himself before publishing.

    I doubt it’s HDR though, just standard colour balancing.


    From original set

    Similar photo from set

  23. You know what was playing in my head when I looked at these?

    The song “Cage of Freedom” from the Giorgio Moroder version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

    There, I said it. I liked that version. Tough.

  24. Beautiful photos. Sometimes when I’m flying back to London, I can see something like this although, in a single-engined aircraft, I can’t fly over Central London so I tend to see it further away. I’ve blogged this post on my flying blog: It reminds me why I love flying!

  25. got to this thread googling for “Magic” “me” and “London”, all too weird,

    I’m living in London BTW, just 20 min from the last bridge far in the horizon.

Comments are closed.