A Little Taste of London Underground Film Photography [Kodak Tri-X 400]

london underground film photography

Images shot on Kodak Tri-X 400 in Yashica Electro 35 GSN

One of the previous film photo essays I published here on My Favourite Lens was called Nothing New Under the Sun. It talked about how a lot of photographs taken on CineStill 800T share common subjects.

That post probably doesn’t have a great deal in common with this one, aside from that concept in its title. No matter how you do it, shooting some images on an underground transport system is hardly revolutionary.

Bruce Davidson did it a long time ago in New York, which led to this classic book. Luke Agbaimoni did it more recently in London, which led to this modern classic book.

Even I did a little bit of Shanghai subway film photography before on that aforementioned CineStill stock. And now, with the last of the same roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 that I shot around the City of London, here’s some London underground film photography too.

london underground social distancing

2020 London underground film photography

It’s fair to say that 2020 was not a normal year. Although I got used to seeing it in Shanghai previously, seeing a whole carriage of people wearing masks on the London underground is not something that would have happened before.

You wouldn’t have seen those signs encouraging people to keep their distance from each other either. These were sometimes needed and sometimes not – because on a few trains I went on, there weren’t enough people for anyone to have to get close to one another anyway.

One thing that makes Bruce Davidson’s subway photography so fascinating to look at today is how it captured a moment in time that is long gone. A time when New York was an altogether more gritty place than it is now.

It was also a time when making photographs like that was something very few people did. We’re now at a place where everyone having a digital camera seems to erode the specialness of a lot of everyday photography. For me, at least.

But I do think the way 2020 went gave us the opportunity to capture what Davidson and so many others in the past captured too. A unique moment in time that will one day seem so, so different.

I can’t claim to have done that myself because I didn’t take enough pictures during 2020. Even this is a short article compared to some of my others. But I’m sure there are people out there who have done some fantastic work to capture the events of the year.

Hats off to you if you have, and be sure to let us know all about it in the comments below. And do the same if there are any 2020 photo projects that weren’t by you but that you want to give a shout out to anyway.

social distancing london underground
london tube social distancing

Getting off the train to shoot some more

To mention those two books just one last time, one difference between them is Bruce Davidson’s being shot mainly on the New York subway trains whilst Luke Agbaimoni’s is mainly images in and around London’s stations.

I went for a bit of both with the remaining shots I had on my roll of Tri-X 400 and ended up with four keepers of each.

The first one below was shot at Hammersmith station, obviously, while the second is from a station that has completely slipped my mind now.

The third and fourth are both at Kings Cross, where I did indeed shoot the cliché of angling my camera to make an escalator appear level in the frame.

I do remember wanting to get a shot of the outside of Kings Cross and then use what I believed would be my last exposure or two capturing the great glass roof at the neighbouring St. Pancras – which was a good plan until I found out that Kings Cross one was the final exposure on the roll, and not even that good a photo in the end, in my opinion.

Having been pretty pleased with how the rest of the roll had turned out, including the City of London ones, I guess I can’t be too disappointed to have experienced a downside to film photography as well as some of the considerable upsides on this occasion.

hammersmith underground station
london underground passage
kings cross escalator
kings cross frontage

Wrapping up this London underground film photography

I’ve said it before, like in the Nothing New Under the Sun article, and I’ll say it again. There are certain photographic films that get known for shooting one genre or style above all others.

Street photography with JCH 400. Portraits with Portra 400. The corners of vintage cars with Ektachrome E100. Neon signs and petrol stations with CineStill 800T.

This is sometimes by design. It’s what they were made to do. Other times, it’s a case of people seeing what already gets lots of likes online and simply doing what’s already been done because they think that’s what they should do.

Either reason is fine by me. I’m not here to judge. After all, I’ve just taken a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400, one of the most popular films for street photographers, and shot it around London’s streets and subway system.

I have to say I was pretty impressed with how a lot of the shots turned out, too. People like Tri-X for its grain and high contrast, and I like what it gave me in both of those departments.

It kind of suits the underground shots, I think, and the ISO 400 rating means you can shoot it down there or inside places like Borough Market in the City of London article, stop down to perhaps f5.6 instead of the f8 or f11 you might be at outside in the sun, and still get sharp enough results.

Whether your images are actually any good beyond the film’s qualities will be up to you. But why not pick some up from Analogue Wonderland, from Amazon, from B&H Photo, or anywhere else you get your film, and give it a go anyway?

Because, like me down in the tube station at midday, that’s the only way you’ll find out.  🙂

Kodak Tri-X 400TX Professional ISO 400, 36mm, Black and White Film (Pack of 3)
  • Perfect for shots requiring a good depth of field, fast shutter speeds, or extending the distance range for flash picture
  • Three Rolls of TRI-X 400 professional black-and-white, 36mm film
  • World's best-selling black-and-white film

If you enjoyed that post, why not take a look at these others to stay inspired or learn more about some other films I’ve shot and reviewed:

  1. My comprehensive review of  another iconic Kodak film
  2. Shooting another Kodak film out there in the streets
  3. Some colour street shots on Kodak Portra 400

And if you think others will enjoy this post on some London underground film photography, help them find it by giving it a share.  😀

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