OneQuestion: Michael Murphy

 (This begins the first ever OneQuestion series of guest blog posts by photographers I asked to participate. I want to thank all five of them that you’ll meet this week for helping me out and letting me take a breather from all the blogging and such. But mostly I want them to know how much I appreciate the awesome answers and the depths at which they talk about how much they love what they do.)

First up is Michael Murphy, a photographer from London who creates some stunning images that I’m constantly blown-away by. He’s one of those “urban explorers” and uses HDR as a part of his workflow for most of it. Love his processing and style.  A good man, with a good name. Was so excited that he wanted to be a part of this. Thanks man.

What do you have a passion to photograph? What would make you forego much-needed sleep

because you just can’t help but get out and take more pictures?


Follow Michael Murphy: Twitter | Website

My passion is, without a doubt, taking photographs of London from up high. The feeling you get standing high above the hustle and bustle of the UK capital is amazing. The only noises are the wind, the sirens and the sound of your camera clicking away…turning off a busy street on a Friday night, going up 20 or 30 storeys and then spending several hours looking down from above is simply euphoric.

Of course, there are downsides to this passion. There aren’t many places in London which allow you to climb onto their rooftops, especially with tripods and camera gear, and definitely not late at night. Those that do provide access are places where tourists go, where photography is often restricted or completely forbidden and where the view is hindered by glass, netting or early closing hours.

This means I have to resort to access that doesn’t involve asking for permission, which is done without being seen, and which unfortunately means those 20 or 30 storeys have to be done by stairs or scaffold. Night time obviously lends itself better to these covert operations; the streets are quieter with those still wandering them mostly drunk, shadows are available to hide in, and the sites where access is gained are mostly devoid of workers making the process much easier.

The easiest spots to access are buildings that are currently being built or demolished; they often have no doors and the only active alarms, if any, are on the scaffold or hoarding. Some have security, but avoiding them is part of the fun and bumps up the adrenaline levels almost as much as standing on the corner of a high building does.

I’ve learnt the hard way that there is often a small window of opportunity when gaining access to sites (and sometimes, literally a small window). A location that is open one day may have no roof the next, or may have boards put up to stop people from entering, or an increase in security. One particular location earlier this year turned from simply being able to walk in off the street and up to the roof to suddenly having fencing, alarms and signs stating ‘these premises are patrolled by security dogs’ within the space of a week. Another time I climbed a statue in a very popular area of London which had scaffold around it for cleaning, the opportunity arose simply because I noticed the padlock to the hoarding was unlocked as I walked past. The next day the job was complete, the scaffold was removed and the chance to get up there again was gone for another 5 or 10 years depending on how often the statue is cleaned. If you sit around planning too much and deciding to go the following weekend you often find that access is no longer possible; as the old saying goes ‘you snooze – you lose’ and that’s certainly true of this game.

When it come together though, and you’re stood on the top of a 30 storey building looking around at the iconic London landmarks and knowing that you’re taking photos from a viewpoint that the majority of people will never see, there’s no greater feeling. You feel a connection with the city that you don’t get elsewhere, and a sense of belonging in a place that can sometimes be so hostile. For that short period of time you feel invincible, and like you’re the king of the world. I’ve missed many nights of sleep (and nearly one plane flight) pursuing these vantage points, and I look forward to missing many more in the future.

20 replies
  1. Brian Matiash
    Brian Matiash says:

    I always marvel at these types of high vantage point shots. Well, not only to I marvel at the shots, but I marvel at the photographers who are lucky, dedicated and brave enough to make it up here to get these shots. As someone who has some pretty nasty vertigo, I worry sometimes about whether I’ll have the fortitude to get to the edge.

    So until that time, I’m happy to live vicariously through such a talented photographer as Michael. And thanks to Mike for sharing this series with us!

  2. Chris Nitz
    Chris Nitz says:

    Wonderful writeup from Michael. I really enjoy his work, and getting a glimpse at what drives him is just awesome. Great start to this series!

  3. Heath O'Fee
    Heath O'Fee says:

    A great start to this series. I’ve always loved the amazing shots of London you post, Michael, and I’m glad you’ve been able to showcase at least one of them here on Mike’s blog.

  4. Brian Furbush
    Brian Furbush says:

    Awesome beginning to this series Mike, and I absolutely love the shots from Mike – as someone who is fairly uneasy with heights, it’s a delight to see another photographer just going for the shot at all costs – not sure I’d be able to do that myself!

  5. Jacob Lucas
    Jacob Lucas says:

    … But, that’s two questions! 😉

    All jokes aside, this is a cool idea for a series and even cooler first post. Looking forward to seeing what becomes of it.

  6. Jim Denham
    Jim Denham says:

    Great series idea Mike, and great write up by Michael! Wish I had the courage and gumption to attack structures like this and take images like Michael does! Fantastic work, great post and look forward to the next post in the series!

  7. Rick
    Rick says:

    Great idea for a serie! Love the shot from Mike. I’ve ventured up to top of buildings to catch shots, but always with permission. That’s courage to get up to places you aren’t supposed to be. Got to get the shot!

  8. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    Great start to this series. Its really intriguing to hear what drives everyone to take pictures because no two people are the same. Michael, I’m always impressed with these shots. It’s something I cannot pursue too often where I live so its neat to see others attack them.

  9. Scott Wood
    Scott Wood says:

    I’ve been a fan of Michael’s work for awhile now. Really enjoyed reading a little of the back story of how he gets those amazing images.

  10. Justin
    Justin says:

    Great start. Michael, make sure you get a good nights sleep before your next ascent. You need to have razor sharp focus up there. Love it!

  11. Viveca Koh
    Viveca Koh says:

    A great shot from Mike M, making London look positively futuristic! A really excellent post too – having been up a couple of tall buildings at night without permission I know what a buzz it is – Mike has captured the sense of this brilliantly with his words.

  12. murphyz
    murphyz says:

    Mike, thanks so much for featuring me in this excellent concept, it was a pleasure to be included and a great question to kick start the series.

    Everyone – thanks so much for your positive comments on my image, very much appreciated!

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