Photographer, alumnus and tutor Jonathan Kirkpatrick uncovers an Oxford of shadows, moonlight and stars.

Night and the cityBy Jonathan Kirkpatrick

It’s sunset over Radcliffe Square. Clouds have cleared after ample February rains, but the puddles remain, allowing the camera to catch the Camera in duplicate, above. Somehow the sky repeated in a pool of water has a magical profundity. The only concern, as you lean as low as possible to get the best effect, is the risk of getting some of the puddle in your camera. The rain has left a pleasing sheen on the cobbles, and the leafless winter trees, rising from Exeter College’s lofty Fellows’ Garden, present a delicate filigree effect against the glowing clouds.

Oxford by day provokes me to frenetic snapping, but photography by night demands care and patience. A long exposure helps capture the exiguous patches of light lurking amid the shadows, and the results have an appropriate dreaminess. This is partly because they are so sparsely populated — moving people disappear because of the exposure length.

Night and the cityThe Bridge of Sighs guards the entrance to New College Lane, above, and Oxford’s human inhabitants are merely implied — by the illuminated windows; by the smoke streaming into the sky; by the cycle lights wobbling past. Another feature of night photos is that they often show you more than you can see with the naked eye. This photo was taken at full moon in December, but during the exposure the moon moved a little across the sky, so it appears even fuller than in reality. Appropriately the moon is floating just above Edmund Halley’s rooftop observatory.

Night and the cityOn another evening, above, a couple, dressed in black and evidently coming from some swish party, paused at the first corner of New College Lane. I released the shutter, with the length of exposure set to ten seconds. To my delight, whatever they were up to, they took their time about it and scarcely moved.

Night and the cityA drier, clearer February night unveils the stars pinpricking the sky over the Sheldonian Theatre, above. Though the Old Bodleian and the Clarendon Building are closed, their windows dark, a concert is going on inside the theatre (I like the way the dusky muses on top of the Clarendon Building are joining in). Inside we glimpse the exuberant ceiling painted by Sir James Thornhill, its fiery cloudscape a counterpoint to the real sky outside, so cool and crystal. The long exposure reveals more stars in the photograph than I was able to see with my eyes. I like to imagine that this was more like the night sky visible to Sir Christopher Wren, before light pollution obscured its glory. Above the Sheldonian is the constellation Taurus, with the Pleiades above the corner of the Clarendon Building to the right; over the corner of the Bodleian, on the other hand, Orion is just emerging, raising aloft his martial arm.

  • Reflected glories: Jonathan Kirkpatrick captures Oxford as a world turned upside-down following a rainstorm.

  • To see more of Jonathan Kirkpatrick’s photos, or to contact him about purchasing copies, go to his website.

All images © Jonathan Kirkpatrick, reproduced with kind permission.


By Simon Glassock

Fine photographs. They remind me of how beautiful Oxford is, hidden behind the crowds. They are hugely atmospheric images and you have achieved a marvellous range of luminous colours. Which leads me to ask whether you do much post-processing or use HDR? I'm slowly getting into photography and am always struck by how much better other people's shots are!

PS I've also looked at your website and am nudged to visit Venice again.

By afarmery

Beautiful. How about some photos from Port Meadow, facing south east?

By Agnes P Thambyn...

Thank you Jonathan. These are ver beautiful photographs.

By Mark Drake

Beautiful photos - nostalgic for an alumnus. It would have been good to identify the Bridge of Sighs as being part of Hertford College, not just at the Entrance of New College.

By Joseph Barry Garner

Breathtakingly beautiful. Well planned. Well done. Thank you.

By Peter Hankey

Absolutely wonderful photos which bring back so many memories. Very effective, great work, Bravo!

By adil jussawalla

Stunning. The photo with the Sheldonian Theatre at its centre looks surreal which, to this alumnus
from the 1960s, Oxford often was. Thank you.

By M Buckley

Stunning. These capture the magical atmosphere of Oxford wonderfully. Another nostalgic alumna, who is now lucky enough to work here.

By Ron Lowry

Really superb photographs Can't wait to see more of them...

By Akhtar Hamid

Only someone who can see inside the heart and soul of Oxford could have photographed it like this.