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5 tips on photographing the view from The Shard

Photography / 7 Comments / June 25, 2013

Built to a design by Renzo Piano and inaugurated in July 2012, the Shard is Europe’s highest skyscraper. It includes a viewing gallery on floors 69-72, with the uppermost of them being open to the elements. offering commanding views across London, this is a must for any photographer visiting the city. Based on my visit, below my photos are five tips to help you make the most of yours.

1. Check the weather forecast before you book

A clear, dry evening is best but some cloud will nevertheless make the sky more interesting. I thought I had struck lucky but as I emerged at the top, the London skyline was completely obscured by a snow shower. The view was stunning as it gradually emerged but, unfortunately for me, the snow also left rain drops on the exterior of the glass.

2. Choose the right time of day

For best results, shoot here before, during and after sunset. You get the best of all worlds: the last of the afternoon sun for some daylight shots then the magical transformation as all of the city lights come on whilst the light fades and, finally, the lights against the inky night sky.

The City of London and Tower of London as dusk begins to fall.

The City of London and Tower of London as dusk begins to fall.

3. Get to the base of the skyscraper in good time.

An hour before sunset is ideal; it takes a few minutes and two lift rides to get to the top – you will then have a few minutes to get out your camera and take a few daylight shots before the light fades. I went up in mid-March this year  and started my ascent at 5.30pm, half an hour before sunset at 6pm: I wish I had gone up at 5pm. Tickets are timed and you won’t usually be allowed up early. I stayed until about 7pm in temperatures that hovered around freezing point.

The City of London and Tower of London illuminated by office and street lights.

The City of London and Tower of London illuminated by office and street lights.

4. Take a small tripod

This is clearly a must for long-exposure dusk and night photography. Note, however, that large bags or items are not allowed, so you are better off bringing a small model that will collapse to a compact size and be unobtrusive to other visitors; I took most of my photos crouching down behind a mini tripod, which enabled me to get my lens close to the glass.

St. Paul's Cathedral surrounded by offices in the City of London at dusk, photographed from The Shard.

St. Paul’s Cathedral surrounded by offices in the City of London at dusk, photographed from The Shard.

5. Bring a piece of dark cloth to act as a secondary lens hood.

Photographing behind glass in an illuminated observation gallery means that you will suffer from reflections caused by the ambient lighting . I improvised with the nylon case for my travel tripod; it reduced stray lighting but didn’t eliminate it altogether. A polarising filter probably wouldn’t have been very effective, given the darkness into which I was shooting.

Bonus tip

Shoot Raw images, not JPGs.  Straight out-of-camera, your images will have an orange colour cast because of all the street lights. For best results, reduce the colour temperature  of your night-time images to give them a much cleaner look. I found 3,300K to be the sweet spot for my images.

Skyscrapers in the City of London, including the Walkie Talkie, shot at night from The Shard.

Skyscrapers in the City of London, including the Walkie Talkie, shot at night from The Shard.

Tickets

Buy your ticket online in advance; I got mine a couple of days in advance to secure my preferred time. Turn up and ride tickets from the kiosk were about £100; I didn’t see anybody buying at that price!

Getting there

The View from the Shard is situated next to London Bridge Station on the South Bank. On leaving the station concourse, climb the mound on which the Shard is built, then take a flight of stairs down to the visitor centre. Its entrance is separate from the main entrance and lifts to office and apartment floors. Opening times are as advertised by The View from the Shard.

A final thought

Perhaps one of the best things about View from the Shard is that, to echo Guy de Maupassant speaking about the Eiffel Tower over a century ago, it is the one place in London from which you can’t see the Shard itself. It is a real pity that it and all the other tower blocks in the City of London had not been relegated at least a couple of miles away from St. Paul’s Cathedral, the dome of which, until just 50 years ago, rightly dominated the skyline.

7 Comments
  • Paul Godfrey / December 11, 2013 / Reply

    Some useful advice and great pictures.

    • Dominic / December 17, 2013 / Reply

      Thank you very much for the feedback, Paul.

  • AlanT / June 28, 2014 / Reply

    Thanks for the tip about the reflections. I’m going up in a couple of days and will wear dark clothes and fix a sheet of black card around the lens.

    Your evening pictures are really good.

  • Paul Little / August 17, 2017 / Reply

    How did you manage to get in with your mini tripod? did you hide it from the staff? I’m going up there on Monday night and being a photographer I’m wondering how to go about this as I’m not allowed a tripod 🙁 I have bought a ‘fat gheko mount’ that sucks onto he window and a lens skirt but do you think the mount will be allowed in?

    • Dominic Brenton / August 18, 2017 / Reply

      I visited on a weekday evening in mid-March, back in 2013, when it wasn’t too crowded. It might well be that they weren’t so strict about tripods then. Even so, mine was only about 40cm tall and I was crouching down a lot. You might get away with your fat gecko, but I daresay they might not be too keen on suction marks on the glass. I’m sure you’d get away with a table-top tripod if you’re unobtrusive with it (I got mine from 7dayshop.com); the worst they can do is tell you to put it away. The viewing gallery is on two levels, so if you get told off, you can always go to the other one. Good luck!

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