The Christmas Night 2019 Project


2019 saw me recovering from a badly broken ankle and foot injury that was the result of simply tripping over a piece of lego in September 2018. Don't get me started on how dangerous those little bricks of destruction are! Alongside the lack of mobility whilst my foot healed (8 months without driving and a full year before I felt a day free of pain), the year was also a year where photography couldn't be my main focus because of other work commitments.

As a person, I require space. I'm massively introverted although through other areas of my work I've learnt to perform - so much so that some people who 'know' me may question the real introverted me. Without space and quiet time to recharge after being with people, my wellbeing suffers and as a result so does my creativity. Photography has previously given me that space. Shooting street in particular I can easily lose myself in what I see of other people's lives providing a much needed escape and form of release. Whilst I was lucky enough to enjoy a trip to New York in September with my husband and my camera, last year I just didn't have enough of that space.

Approaching Christmas and having some breathing space from work over the holiday period, I wanted (and needed) to rekindle my relationship with photography. We needed more than a mere date night though, more a weekend away, to get things back on track and a brief project felt both exciting and fit for this purpose.

I had always wanted to shoot the streets of London at night. However wanting to do this alone and not feeling safe as a lone female meant that I've never felt able to do this. My ever supportive and understanding husband, Mark had encouraged me throughout the year to have some camera-time so I asked him whether he'd be prepared to drive me into London... and act as my personal assistant, tripod and kit carrier, body-guard and chauffeur for the night whilst also giving me the space for contemplation and shooting alone. It was a big ask but he agreed (yay!) so I then dropped the even bigger ask of him doing it on Christmas Night! Having secured my project assistant, it was time to plan.

My project brief was to capture London as Christmas Day ended and Boxing Day began through a collection of images, one for each hour of the night. The schedule for the night was carefully planned with locations for each hour from midnight to sunrise at 8am with consideration also given to parking possibilities and essential toilet stops - take my word for it, there are few public conveniences open during Christmas night! Driving into London meant that we had the warmth and comfort of the car if we needed it between shoots (we did) and that we could cover ground quickly between locations.

The planned schedule for the night looked like this:

Midnight: Oxford Circus

1am: Shaftesbury Avenue

2am: Regents Street

3am: Covent Garden

4am: Blackfriars

5am: The Thames

6am: Westminster Bridge

7am: Hyde Park

8am: Piccadilly Circus

The night itself was crisp and cold - just perfect for a romantic night out! Whilst a night of photography and walking the streets might not be every couple's idea of quality time, it rates as pretty much perfect in my eyes and it was a super antidote to a busy family run up to Christmas.

One thing that did surprise me though was just how busy the streets were throughout the night. I had expected London to be eerily quiet but this was not the case. The quietest part of the night was between 3 and 4.30am, time spent around the Thames. Come 6am though the buses were back up and running... and full! Christmas had well and truly ended.

Tiredness levels and the inevitable change of mind about a couple of the locations meant that there were a couple of changes to the plan as the night went on. Both my energy and enthusiasm for the night was high and in abundance until 6am. Come 6am though I found quickly that I just could not function properly at all! Maybe it was the sight of a family on their daily run across Piccadilly Circus on Boxing Day morning (each to their own but what on earth?!) that just vapped the last bit of energy I had!

The final schedule looked like this:

Midnight: Oxford Circus

1am: Shaftesbury Avenue

2am: Regents Street

3am: Millennium Bridge

4am: The South Bank

5am: Battersea Power Station

6am: Piccadilly Circus

7.30am: Bed! No photos for this location obvs! ;)

If you're interested in the kit used for this project here's the list:

Bodies: 2 x Fuji X-T2

Lenses - all Fuji X-Mount:

- 10-24mm f/4 R OIS XF (15-36mm full frame equivalent)

- 16-55mm f/2.8 XF Zoom (24-70mm full frame equivalent)

- 50-140mm f/2.8 WR OIS XF (70 - 200mm full frame equivalent) permanently on one of the X-T2 bodies

Gitzo Traveller Tripod: so light yet sturdy

My go-to lens for street work, Fuji's 35mm full frame equivalent, f/1.4 stayed in the bag for the night alongside a bunch of Lee filters.

The majority of images captured, both for the final set and the supplementary images, were shot using the 16-55mm lens demonstrating that this is such a perfect lens for travel photography - not to mention street and landscape.... can you tell I love this lens? Although, if you use it you'll already know this, it's rather weighty.

On reflection, this project was just perfect for me and I've thoroughly loved every moment of it from sharing the Millennium Bridge with the seagulls at 3am to relaxing in the warm going through the 278 images I took throughout the night. It has reminded me that it's so important to make time for the activities that bring us joy and I'll be doing my best to ensure that this coming year my camera kit doesn't gather any dust.

So enough words from me, here are the images (click to expand)...

Claire Zaffin, 5th January 2020

#streetphotographer #night #london #christmas #project #fuji

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