Iconic (St Paul’s Cathedral, London)


The only photo I remember from my primary school history book is this:

St Paul’s Cathedral, rising above the bombed London skyline, is shrouded in smoke during the Blitz. Taken from the roof of the Daily Mail offices in Fleet Street. Copyright: © IWM.

I’m sure you’ve all seen it before: St Paul’s dome standing intact above the ruins, surrounded by smoke and flames, seemingly indestructible, converting into a symbol. Iconic doesn’t even begin to describe it. It was taken on 29 December 1940, the 114th night of the Blitz, by Herbert Mason, a Daily Mail photographer, from on top of the Daily Mail building in Fleet Street. I take my hat off to Mr Mason – quite apart from any other considerations, just for having the guts to stand on an exposed London rooftop during a German bombing raid, taking pictures.

St Paul’s x 71: Or How to Fail to Take a Good Photo of an Iconic Building

I went down to St Paul’s yesterday. Week 2 of the photo challenge called for a landscape and as a trip out of town didn’t appeal, I opted for an urban landscape: I had in mind the view of St Paul’s across the Thames.

After some exploration, I hit on the ideal spot from where to take the picture. Unfortunately a young bloke just beat me to it. I thought I’d wait but he had two cameras (with big enough lenses to make the rest of us feel small) and he wore an arty neck-kerchief. At some point when he moved sideways, I stepped in to take my chance, and immediately he moved back, elbowing me out of the way. He was still occupying the prime spot ten minutes later. I had to settle for a different spot:

The landscape out of the way, I experimented with some angles and reflections. I tried to tell the story of the firefighters who protected St Paul’s: twelve of them died that night when Mr Mason took his iconic picture. I caught a Routemaster passing in front of St Paul’s. In total I took 71 photos of St Paul’s yesterday (thank god for digital cameras) – none of them are anything to write home about.

I Learned That:

  • Not even an iconic building will result in a good photo if the photographer is rubbish.
  • It’s nice and quiet behind Chancery Lane on a Saturday. I actually took a couple of photos there that I’m pleased with.
  • Grey weather results in grey pictures, at least in my case.
  • I finally figured out why all my pictures came out in a blue tint whenever I took the camera off auto-intelligent: several months ago I accidentally set the white balance to incandescent.
You might also like:Iconic: a Pic and a Word Challenge
⇒ How St Paul's Survived the BlitzTake Your Time: The Case of the Neurotic Photographer

11 thoughts on “Iconic (St Paul’s Cathedral, London)

    1. I’m glad you liked them although I really feel that I failed to do justice to the place. London is a beautiful city with lots to see and do, certainly worth a visit!


  1. Pingback: Monuments ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #78 – Pix to Words

  2. <smile> You shot some nice frames here, despite the flat light. The reflection in the curved mirror is quite lovely, actually, especially with that other icon of London, the double-decker bus. And the wide symmetrical shot with the divided walkway works very well. Nicely done.

    Not rubbish at all — neither the photographs, nor the photographer. =)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – it’s nice to know that I managed to get something right. Your feedback is very valuable to me – I remember you once told me that a class where one get critiques of one’s photos is the best way to improve, it’s very true. A lot of time I literally can’t decide if a picture I’ve taken is a total flop or not. It’s much easier to recognise master pieces of great photographers than to evaluate your own!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. =) It’s helpful when critiquing our own work to do so with the same tenets we critique others’ photographs (or writing, art etc.) That is, be honest and constructive; be critical of the work, but not the creator; offer both criticism (what can be improved) and insight (suggestions on how to improve the work); be gentle; and try to begin and end a critique with the positive.

        Our tendency when learning is to be our own harshest critic, and least faithful fan. It’s useful (and good for the artistic soul) to remind oneself what works in our own creations, even if we suspect overall the result is wanting. =)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. These are all very interesting takes on a well known subject. Perhaps it was for the best that you missed the “quintessential” spot; they put the landmark into perspective, with nice London-esque details around.
    Ocercast (washed out, grey) sky might not be as appealing as a sky subject/background, but it helps smooth out contrast and makes colours pop more. After all, when in London…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi 42, I was just nosing around on your blog and trying to leave a comment that I liked your About page. Succinct! 🙂

      You have to tell me which is the quintessential spot, I’ll try it next time I go that way.


      1. In all truthfulness, I must have used the wrong word there. I was referring to the ideal spot you spoke of. In my mind, the ideal spot would had been (my) quintessential as well, leaving no room for alternative takes. That’s why I think the happy accident (with that otherwise obnoxious bloke -sharing is caring, mate!) actually helped in the process.
        Well, what can I say, I’m a man of few, and often ill chosen, words 😜

        Liked by 1 person

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