06.19.16: Market scene

Phone booths bathed by morning sunlight in Shepherd Market in Mayfair, London. 


Technical information

March 14, 2010,
10:59 a.m.

51°30’24” N,
0°8'49" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L (26mm)   


1/160th second


It’s amazing how one everyday object in a photo can tie a street scene to a specific location.

Take this photo, for example. It would be an interesting street scene photograph without the red phone booths. With them, the scene becomes London.

The red phone booths (or boxes, as Englanders call them) are iconic symbols of the United Kingdom and are found throughout England. When people see one in a photo they think “London,” just as they do when the see a photo with a double-decker red bus or with Big Ben in the background.

These phone booths caught my attention when I was taking a short photography break during a London business trip. I was returning to the hotel, cutting through a corridor that runs from Curzon Street (through the Curzonfield House at 42-43 Curzon St., to be exact) to Shepherd Market, when I encountered this scene. 

I immediately liked how the sun was hitting the phone booths, how the warm red booths contrasted against the muted surrounding colors and how the lines (the buildings, windows, shadows, etc.) framed the scene. That’s a significant number of compositional elements pulled together by the bright red booths. It was a photo waiting to happen.

I wanted the red phone booths to be the visual focus of the photo but I needed some people moving through the scene to provide a secondary focal point and to make the scene look less static. So I held my position and snapped a couple of shots each time someone walked through the scene.

I selected this photo because the woman walking between the building and lamppost provided a perfect counter to the more dominant phone booths. She is positioned along the extension of the shadow from the lamppost (a perfect spot to catch the viewer’s eye as it flows away from the red booths) and is gazing at something unseen behind the building on the left as she walks toward the camera. The color of her jacket sleeves contrasts nicely against the surroundings. As a viewer studies the photo they will find a second person in a brown coat entering a store in the background and a third walking between the phone booths and store. It’s these secondary elements that make street scenes so interesting.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.