Updated 24/04/2017 : Added new low-tide image at Horsleydown Upper Stairs Foreshore
Along side Westminster and Big Ben, Tower Bridge is arguably the most iconic landmark in London. In the 19th century it was evident a new easterly bridge was necessary to to ease traffic across the busy Thames, but a traditional bridge at street level was not advantageous as it would have cut off access by ships to the port facilities in the Pool of London. The upper walkway and lifting draw bridge were therefore integral to the design to maintain both pedestrian and river traffic. The bridge was completed in 1894 where it has stood ever since as a proud symbol of London. But where is the best place to shoot the Tower Bridge? We'll run you through a few of our favorite spots.
From London bridge
Firstly, don't confuse Tower Bridge with London bridge. The latter was a historic bridge adorned with shops and houses that lay directly upstream of Tower Bridge. The ‘Old London bridge’ was demolished in 1762 and replaced twice, the last time in 1977 with the depressingly uninspiring bridge that sits there today. Ugly as it may be, it makes a great place to set up your tripod and shoot downstream to Tower Bridge. Offering front-on views of the tower and great sunsets. Bring along a nice telephoto if you want to get a good full frame shot.
From Tower Wharf / Tower of London
One key element to factor into your frame will be what lies behind the Tower Bridge. Many positions will give you a backdrop of modern London, be that the Gherkin, Canary Wharf, City Gall or the Shard. This is what sets Tower Wharf apart. From the promenade in front of the Tower of London, your perspective will place Butler’s Wharf behind the Tower. The former dockside warehouse was built in the same époque as the bridge giving this view the most harmonious continuation of architectural style. You could almost forget you were in the heart of a bustling 21st century city.
From St Katharine Docks
Continuing downstream (easterly) on the northern banks of the Thames will bring you to St. Katharine Docks where one can find a couple of statues to frame into a shot with the Tower Bridge: a girl playing with a dolphin, and a large sundial. The background view is of the modern glass structure that is the City Hall of Greater London.
From Butler’s Wharf
Opposite the River Thames to St. Katherine Docks, on the south-eastern side of the bridge lies Butler’s Wharf. From Shad Times, there is a modest walkway that turns into a waterside footpath with some good views of Tower Bridge. From this vantage point, modern London and the skyscrapers of the City are located behind the bridge. The morning light can be quite striking on the stone facade if you can wake up early enough.
From The Queen's Walk / City Hall / Potters Field
Continuing upstream (westerly) along the Queen’s Walk will find you at the Potters Fields Park, home to the futuristic City Hall of Greater London. There is a long promenade here with great views of the bridge without too much clutter behind the bridge. If the weather is playing in your favour you will find some nice sunset shots from this point. The lighting along the promenade can be worked into an image to give your shot that something extra.
From Tower Bridge
Don’t neglect shooting from the bridge itself. There are lots of details and perspectives to complete your Tower Bridge profile. If you look closely you will see Dragons on the Coat of Arms of the city of London, who administer the bridge. Indeed they’re not the only Dragons in London, we wrote a whole blog post about these creatures in the Square Mile.
Spots to avoid
Normally when scouting a location, one looks at a map and plots out the vantage points, but you can scrub off the next couple immediately. Both Tower Bridge Wharf and Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden on St Katharine’s Way (north east) seem like they would be good at first, but the view from Hermitage Riverside is marred by Tower Bridge Wharf, which in itself is marred by HMS President.
The Thames is a tidal river, so you can access some special vantage points when the tide is out. From St Katharine’s Way (north east) you will find the Alderman Stairs, which lead you down onto the foreshore. From here you can walk west over the rocky banks, under the HMS President and get a shot with the Shard squared up behind the Towers.
From the south-eastern side you can pass through the Horsleydown Upper Stairs from Shad Thames and step down onto the foreshore. The view from here is quite similar to that of Butler's Wharf, but with the lower perspective you will drop the City skyline from your shot and focus more on the bridge in itself. The low perspective of this position gives the Towers even more power and grandeur.
If you want to brave the slippery, slimy rocks that cover the low tide banks of the Thames, wander further west from Horsleydown Upper Stairs, passing under the bridge, and you will be rewarded with this image. The low-angle removes a lot of the modern buildings behind the bridge, which means the images focuses more on the Gothic Revival architecture by eliminating most modern distractions from your shot.
An image of Tower Bridge isn’t complete without a view of the drawbridge opening to let pass Thames traffic. Tower Bridge actually advertises their lift times in advance so you can make sure to time your visit with a bridge lift. Try to match the lift with the sunlight and the direction of the boat. Up-river means the boat will head west, so the light will be best in the late afternoon, whereas down-river is best shot from the east, so an early morning lift would be advantageous.
With the symmetrical design of the bridge, most angles of the bridge itself will be similar. So when shooting there will be other elements playing in your photograph. Each angle presents the viewer with a different backdrop to the bridge, the Shard, the City, Canary Wharf, etc. And deciding which of these elements you want as a backdrop will play primary focus on your location to shoot. Secondary focus would be paying attention to timing, the sun sets in the west, so you can get some golden colours on the bridge from the west in the evenings, and great shots from the east early in the morning.
I hope this map helps you find the best location to shoot the Tower Bridge. If you want an introduction or brush up of your photography skills, consider a photography tour with Aperture Tours in London to make sure you take control of your camera and capture the best images of the Tower Bridge.
Author: Alexander J.E. Bradley
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours which run photography tours in the most photogenic cities across the globe. A professional photographer for over a decade, Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.