Week 31: Travelator between London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 1 and the tube and bus stations. Here are two travelers hurrying along to catch a train/bus from the transport hub. Just trying out my new 40mm Pancake lens, seems to be great for street photography!
I last photographed Bank Station’s travelator — or "Trav-O-Lator" as it was originally known — two years ago. The moving walkways inside the 250ft sloping tunnel, which connect passengers from street level to the Waterloo & City Line’s platforms, began construction in June 1957. Sixty years on, the design still has a sleek and futuristic aspect to it, although there’s now also a certain retro element to the concept. The tunnel is also showing its age: several of the overhead lights were out on the morning I visited, and scratches and chipped paint which I’d noticed on my last visit were now even more visible. For me, this adds to the industrial and dystopian atmosphere of the tunnel, although in some cases I felt they could be a potential distraction and would need attention in post-processing.
My aim with this take on the tunnel was a less gritty finish and with more emphasis on the tunnel’s light and leading lines. The vibrant colour in the foreground stop sign always seemed to be one of the most striking aspects of the tunnel, and I wanted to contrast this with the cool metallic tones of London’s underground with a tighter crop that would focus less on the tunnel’s vanishing point and more on the stop sign and the light and patterns around it.
I captured nine bracketed exposures while the camera was resting on the edge of the walkway, blending all but the brightest two exposures in Photoshop using luminosity masks, and taking care to preserve the highlights within the lights themselves and within the posters along the tunnel where the light was reflecting. I then used the Pen Tool to create selections of the lights that were out, flipped the corresponding light on the left or the right (as well as the reflection of the lights along the walkway’s metal surface), and masked these in. Next, I spent a little time cleaning up chipped paint on the stop sign, and removed the speakers mounted along the walls in the tunnel’s foreground, which added a certain character to the architecture but were not mounted symmetrically and which I felt would pull viewers’ eyes from the centre of the image.
The next phase of the workflow involved creating selections of the tunnel’s walkway, its walls and air vents, the panels between the overhead lights, and the stop sign. I then gently blended in my brighter and darker exposures to these areas using a mixture of linear, radial and reflective gradient masks, emphasising the light falling onto the stop sign and the lettering inside the sign, as well as the contrast between the bright walls and the dark shades of the posters along the tunnel.
Colour-grading the image was largely about finding the right shade of red for the stop sign — adding a hint of magenta and toning down the yellow — and then finding the most striking shade of blue-ish cyan for the tunnel’s walls to complement this red. This was achieved using a combination of Colour Balance and Hue/Saturation adjustments, along with a Gradient Map and the colour channels via Curves layers. I then extracted the tunnel’s walls and walkways and used Silver Efex Pro to lower their midtone and shadow structure, setting this adjustment to Luminosity and giving the image the softer and more ethereal finish I was aiming for. The grit and detail are still there, but the final image hopefully captures the drama and geometry of London’s underground, and sixty years on, perhaps also something of the aspirations which the Trav-O-Lator’s designers must have had.