Blog, Prints & Photography Lessons from Edinburgh and the Lothians

Posts tagged “scotland

Edinburgh Fireworks made easy

A photographer living in Edinburgh has, shall we say, a good few opportunities at fireworks photography. With 22 Tattoo performances each with fireworks at the end of the performance, St Andrews Day, Son Et Lumerie, New Year and of course the huge 45 minute end of Festival display we’re somewhat spoiled for choice. We even had fireworks at midday at Edinburgh Castle this year, a strange experience if I’m honest!

So, how do you go about getting the best from all these opportunities?

What I’m going to detail here is my method for these shots, this is how I’ve taken the shots below. It might not be how everyone else does it but it sure does the job for me.

So what do you need? A camera certainly, a DSLR is best but any camera that you can control the aperture and exposure time will work, we’ll be in full manual mode for this. You also MUST be tripod mounted and using a remote control. If you don’t have a remote and your camera has a self timer set it to the lowest setting (typically 2s) and use that. It’s far from perfect but can be used if you have to.

Next job up is planning. This is essential and the key to getting the best shots. Think about where your display is going to be and what vantage points you might have. This year for the Tattoo in Edinburgh I’ve been out in a range of places. Calton Hill, Salisbury Crags, the lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat and right under the Castle in Johnstone Terrace. Each of these requires a different approach which must be planned for.

Calton requires a long lens but a shorter zoom can also be handy, Salisbury Crags is similar. The lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat only need the long lens as your so far out from the Castle. Johnstone Terrace meanwhile called for a super wide lens as you can get so close to the action. This is what you need to think about before you head off. Also think about access to the location, how easy is it? Can you get a car in there or will you have to walk?

Think about the light, will it be totally dark? You’d assume so but the early performance of the Tattoo on a Saturday night finishes at 9pm and it’s still fairly light in which case you’d be best of facing away from the sunset for the shots where the sky will be darker.

Do your research, there will be stacks of info on the net about times of fireworks etc, make sure you know when to expect them and get setup in plenty time. Search sites like Flickr for pointers on locations, you might find a great place you never thought about.

This is the hard part really but once you have this info getting the actual shots will be a hundred times easier. Performances like the Tattoo fireworks have an additional advantage in that they are the same every night. You can learn the sequence of the bursts and prepare for particular bursts you know are coming.
Once you’re at the location get your camera tripod mounted and your remote hooked up. Decide what composition you want to use, remembering that the fireworks themselves will be high above where they will launch from, in a lot of cases a portrait orientation works best for the bigger bursts, landscape for the lower bursts.

Do make sure you have some context to your shots. Get some land interest in them. It gives the fireworks a sense of scale and it will really improve the final image. In my case this is nearly always Edinburgh Castle so it’s easy to work with. I take test shots before the display starts where I make sure the Castle isn’t overexposed and there’s enough light coming in from the ground to show the city.

I like to use in nearly all cases, ISO400, f7.1 and an exposure time of around 1s. You can adjust this to get a nicely balanced image. ie, if the ground in your shot is too dark, go up to f5.6, if it’s too light, drop down to f11 or more. Ideally you want to keep that 1 to 1.6s exposure. The further away you are the longer you can chance but at close quarters 1s is more than enough to get big trails and minimise the chance of burning out the fireworks.

With the camera set up, the test shots taken, the image looking nicely balanced is all about hitting that shutter at the right time now. Don’t just rattle off shots, watch the display and hit that shutter when you see a nice trail develop. You’ll get a good few shots at it and on the longer displays time to play about with settings. Just don’t panic, keep watching the display and hit the shutter when you think it’s right.

Take loads of shots. You’re dealing with a real unknown in fireworks, the more shots you have the more chance you have of that one killer image. Simple as.

When it comes to processing fireworks shots you have to be careful with them. If you shoot in jpg there’s not a lot you can do but if you shoot in RAW make use of the fill light to bring out the land element and use the recovery slider to take out any burnt out areas as much as possible. Pay attention to the curves too but above all don’t lighten the image too much.

Fireworks are not the easiest of subjects to get right but following these guidelines should put you on the right path, the rest is up to you!

Virgin Money Fireworks Display, 1st September 2013

This is the big Edinburgh display and here’s a run down of locations you might want to consider.

Calton Hill – Iconic views but really really busy. In my opinion, best avoided.
Arthur’s Seat – Incredible view from the top, take a long lens. The lower slopes have some good vantage points too, long lens again.
Salisbury Crags – Incredible viewpoint, big and medium zoom’s work well. Can be busy.
Blackford Hill – Stick to the lower slopes near the observatory, more sheltered and away from the idiots who seem to always be at the top of fireworks night. Get’s busy and limited parking but a great flat on view. Big zoom needed.
Inverleith Park – Great view of the front of the castle flat on but gets very busy again.
Princes Street – Forget it. Simply not worth it.
Johnstone Terrace – Can be spectacular but only the biggest fireworks will be in view. Very wide lens works best.
Braid Hill Drive, get’s very busy, need to be there very early better off at Blackford Hill. Ditto Braid Hills.
Regents Road – Will be busy but nice scenic view over the top of Waverley if you can get a spot.
Grassmarket – Will be busy and probably plenty drunks too. Good view though.
Kier Street, great view to the castle from here, very close so wide to medium zoom will be enough.
Bruntsfield Links – Great spot, very close a wide lens to medium zoom is best. Can be very busy.

Here’s a few of mine from the Tattoo this year.

From Calton Hill, this arc of fireworks was good to me this year!
Tattoo Fireworks 24 August 2013

Tattoo Fireworks 21 August 2013

Tattoo Fireworks 2 - 14 August 2013 - Explored

Tattoo Fireworks 14 August 3

From Johnstone Terrace, right under the display
Tattoo Fireworks 22 August 2013
From Salisbury Crags, sunset and fireworks at the same time!
Fireworks at Sunset

From the lower slopes of Arthurs Seat
Tattoo Fireworks arc 23 August 2013


Photographing fireworks in Edinburgh

Well, it’s been quite a while since I last blogged hasn’t it? Not quite sure how that happened, I’m guessing the whole Facebook page has just got in the way, and if you’ve never seen it, my day to day stuff can be seen on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/realedinburgh

Anyway, a subject I’ve blogged on before was about never being afraid to take the same photograph twice, three times or how many times you want to take it. You can re-create a composition but you will never recreate an image. What might be a mediocre image one night might be that killer shot the next. Never let anyone tell you “oh you photograph the same stuff all the time”. As a photographer you capture light and that light is never the same.

Another advantage of revisiting was clear to me this week when I made a 2nd trip to catch the fireworks at Edinburgh Castle which mark the end of the nightly Military Tattoo performance. My first attempt at the early show on Saturday wasn’t great as it was still simply too light so another mid week visit was in order when the show finished around 90 minutes later.

Wednesday night was that night. Warm with reasonably still conditions which were perfect. Heavy rain forecast but fingers crossed it would stay away till the fireworks had finished at least. If I’m honest, when I left the house at 9.30pm I had little enthusiasm for driving into town and hiking up Calton Hill in the dark with a bag full of camera gear after a long day at work but the sight of Edinburgh Castle from the outskirts of town all lit up and standing out like a sore thumb had me inspired enough to get going!

Calton Hill has a somewhat unsavoury reputation at night but at this time of year it’s filled with tourists in the dark and the front end of the hill isn’t particularly dark either. If you’re hesitant about going up there, don’t be, you’ll be only one of a few photographers up there more than likely but stick to the front of hill where it’s well lit and you’ll be fine and the views of the city are unbeatable.

Having shot this exact same sequence on Saturday night this gave me 3 valuable insights.

1. What time the fireworks will start (in this case, 10.30pm)
2. Where the fireworks launch from (to the right of the castle away from the Tattoo lights)
3. Roughly what will be coming, ie huge bursts or low level bursts.

Number 3 was particularly important and I was pushing the limits of what I could get in the frame using a combination of the Nikon D7100 and Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM rather than the wider 18-200mm VRII. Using the Sigma was important as it’s oh so sharp compared to the 18-200mm lens and that makes a massive difference with these shots.

With that little prior knowledge I knew the first burst was a huge red firework so I could get setup with the camera in portrait mode. I also adjusted position to put the lit front of the castle and the Balmoral clock in the centre of the firing zone so I could get both focal points in the shot.

Sure enough, 10.30pm and there goes the first shots, it was all very calm and all I had to do was wait and hit the remote at the right time, almost too easy but then again, with the forward planning most of the guesswork was out the way. This was the first shot of the night.

Tattoo Fireworks 14 August 2013

The next few minutes were more or less a scramble of bigger fireworks with some lower level stuff but I knew what I was after was still to come. Not that I didn’t rattle off shots in the meantime. Using a fairly short exposure, around 1.3s at ISO400 and f8 was suiting me perfectly and allowing a good range of shots.

Now, this prior knowledge paid off again. I knew there was a gap in the fireworks and after that long-ish gap was the bursts I was looking for. A series of low level bursts in an arc above the castle. Knowing this was coming I had plenty time to flip the camera to landscape mode, zoom in a bit more and make sure the focus was spot on.

Sure enough the expected bursts came and the shot I had planned was in the bag.

Tattoo Fireworks 2 - 14 August 2013

A previous visit along with a little planning had paid off and it’s another classic example of why you should do your homework and never be afraid of doing a shot again. Armed with this knowledge now I might have another go at these fireworks from a different location and see what the outcome is. The best of this is I’ve got fireworks shots now from a premium location, a location that will be packed to capacity for the main event on Sunday 1st September at 9pm. Where will I be that night> Not on Calton Hill that’s for sure, I’ve already got my shots from there!

The 2nd image above is for sale as matt prints or canvas up to A0 size, which can be ordered from here: http://goo.gl/ZMTkar or by visiting my website at http://www.realedinburgh.co.uk

If you want to try these fireworks yourself the Tattoo is on till the 24th August (except Sunday). Monday to Friday the fireworks will start about 10.30pm and last approx 10 minutes off an on. On Saturday they start at 9.00pm and again around midnight where it’s a longer display.

The main Edinburgh fireworks event takes place at Edinburgh Castle on Sunday 1st September at 9pm and lasts for around 45 minutes.


Comet Pan-STARRS, we meet at last…

So, since the 8th of March Comet Pan-STARRS has been gracing the Northern Hemisphere skies and true to form for any notable celestial event, it’s been largely clouded out in the UK and especially up here in Scotland. Thankfully this comet isn’t just a blink and miss it event, there were at least a few days to try and catch something.

By Tuesday 12th March the first shots of PANSTARRS were coming in from other parts of the UK, the comet easy to find next to a very young crescent moon. I had to wait till the night of the 13th though for a first attempt. Stood on top of Blackford Hill in what can only be described as Baltic conditions I searched in vain for the comet, despite a reasonably clear sky to the west and only actually spotted it in one shot after I got home and it’s hardly the clearest view of it, which was disappointing as other people seemed to have got some reasonable efforts.

Comet Panstarrs March 2013

The night of the 15th brought an unexpected chance though. The forecast was predictably wrong although for once in a good way. The skies started to clear around 5pm and just after 6 with still clear sky I figured it might be worth a try, this time from Newhaven Harbour, which has a fairly clear view to the West.

Arriving at Newhaven it looked reasonable but for one patch of dark cloud moving in slowly from the West. This time I decided to wait until 7.15pm before searching for it and made the most of the tail end of a nice sunset in the meantime.

Newhaven Sunset 15 March 2013

By 7.15pm I was out by the lighthouse with a clear view over to Granton Harbour, using a compass I found exactly where West was and started to take shots of the sky with a 200mm lens, ISO400 and shot exposures. First sweep across the West turned up nothing, 2nd attempt and around 12 shots later, there it was, higher than I expected and very visible in the photograph. With an idea of where it was now I could try for a few wider scenic shots. The last thing I wanted was just pics of the comet with no context. I wanted this to be recognizable as Edinburgh.

The comet isn’t that visible in this shot, but it’s there dead centre towards the top of the image.

Comet Panstarrs over Granton 2

Switching to my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM and 2x teleconvertor I went for a closer look still trying to keep the Granton flats in the frame, this was probably the best shot of the night.

Comet Panstarrs over Granton

Finally, it would have been rude not to have a go at the comet at the full 400mm reach and what a stunning sight it was. By this time it was visible in the viewfinder and I swear it was naked eye visible once you knew where it was.

Comet Panstarrs 15 March 2013

I finished the night with a peek at Comet Pan-STARRS through my 15×70 binoculars, a truly stunning first encounter with a comet. It’ll be about for a few weeks yet so if you get the chance, do some research as to where it is in the sky and get out and give it a go!


Edinburgh in the springtime, a photographic guide

So, we’re well into February and that means the winter (might) be about to step away to make way for spring. Not that it’s always that easy to tell with the Scottish weather, not being unusual to experience spring, summer, autumn or winter all in one day, or indeed, in one hour.

However, at this point the sun starts to travel further over the sky, rising and setting in different places and reaching a higher transit point in the sky, all of which makes a different to the images you might take. Whether you’re an Edinburgh resident or just passing through this will hopefully help you make the most of the spring time months.

March and April typically mark the end of the sunset season from up on Calton Hill, after April the sun moves to far to the west to really make a big difference to that classic Edinburgh castle shot so catch it while you can.

Edinburgh Sunset 17 March 2012

April also marks the start of being able to get some decent sunset’s from down near the Edinburgh coastline. The sun starts to dip below the horizon over the water rather than inland and there are plenty of places to take advantage of it such as Newhaven Harbour the Forth Bridges.

Newhaven Sunset 18 March 2012

Forth Bridge Sunset

You will have to keep a close eye on the weather though, rain is never far away at this time of year, not that it should stop you getting some very nice images indeed. This was from Blackford Hill last year.

Storm over Edinburgh

Fog is another pretty regular feature in spring but as photographers that’s a good thing isn’t it!

Cramond Causeway 24 March 2012

It’s not all making the most of adverse weather though as this shot from along the Union Canal shows!

Ashley Boathouse in Spring

So there you have it, changeable weather but who comes to Edinburgh for the weather, you all come here for the history and some of the most incredible city views in the world don’t you!

If you are travelling to Edinburgh you could do worse than check out Roomwise.com for accommodation around the Capital. Loads of choice at reasonable rates too, what more could you want?


A picture goes viral on Facebook…

Viral might be an over statement but in the realms of my little Facebook world last night was, what can only be described as, mental. It was social media overload and it all came from a little picture of a sunset I posted online last night.

Last night I hadn’t even really planned to go out for sunset, it’s the sort of in-between time of year where the coastal locations are finished for the year with sunsets and Calton Hill is the only real obvious choice for an Edinburgh sunset. The problem being though, I’ve been there are done it, many times but that said, with the thin wispy clouds it was obvious this was going to be a cracker of a sunset, no big bank of cloud out to the west to ruin it, just light clouds to carry the light.

Sunset was 6.27pm and I got to Calton at about the same time, I don’t think I even took a shot until near 6.40pm and at that time the light from the sky was still to much for even a stacked 0.9 and 0.6 grad filter to cope with, it was a good 10 minutes later until the light came good. The real good light didn’t come till nearly 40 minutes after the sunset by which time the lights on the Castle were on too.

I left the hillside about 7.20pm with a haul of about 90 shots, mainly sunset views and a few looking into the Leith twilight. Back home looking at the RAW files there was one real standout shot, a shot of the Castle and clock with a real pink sky behind, needed a little work to tease out the detail but overall the base shot was pretty reasonable.

I uploaded the image to Flickr and set out a tweet for it and uploaded to my Real Edinburgh Facebook page at about 9.30pm last night. This is when it all started to get a bit surreal.

The shot picked up some momentum on Twitter, quite a few comments and retweets of the Flickr shot and the views build steadily to over 500 in a little over an hour. Facebook though was going mental.

Within minutes of uploading the shot it had gathered over 100 likes, comments started flooding in, shares were going through the roof and page likes were coming in by the second. In less than 15 minutes the shot had racked up over 1000 likes and nearly 100 shares. I figured it had to slow down soon but it didn’t, and over 14 hours later still hasn’t.

At the time of writing this the shot has merrily skipped past 8000 likes, way over 300 comments and god knows how many shares. Page likes have doubled to over 4000 and continue to rise. The pic has been viewed by over 50,000 people on Facebook.

There is a downside though, I’ve already found a version of the shot ripped off from Flickr on the EA Fifa 13 forums and who knows how many Facebook profiles it now sits on top off. Worse still, how many saved it and passed it off as their own? Quite a few I’ll bet but that’s the perils of sticking stuff out there on the internet, it’s a trade off between getting your work viewed and the thoughtless minority.

I’ve no idea where this is going to go. I’d noticed the page building up some momentum the more likes it picks up but it feels like it’s ran out of control just now. My next post will automatically drop onto the timelines of over 4000 people; I suppose I better watch what I say in future!

One thing you can’t deny though, Facebook is oh so very powerful in this sort of situation. Much more so than any other social media outlet. I never watermark images, but I so wish I had with that one now! Still who knows, if everyone gets 15 minutes of fame maybe that was mine? Pressure now is to keep following it up with shots of equal quality! Not the easiest with the Scottish weather!

Check out the Facebook page: Real Edinburgh on Facebook

And the pic? Here is is…

Sunset of the year, 9 October 2012


Photo Mo-Jo No-No

It’s gone beyond funny now.

Seriously, the Scottish summer has put a major dampener on my enthusiasm for photography this year. There’s only so many pictures you can take of rain soaked Edinburgh before it gets very long in the tooth indeed. I done a blog post a wee while back about not letting the rain put you off, that’s fine when you get occasional rain but not constant heavy rain!

I’ve never done a landscape shot for weeks, what’s the point? I don’t need any more shots of Edinburgh with dull grey skies and the camera gear isn’t all that keen on being wet all the time.

I’ve never done an astro shot since I don’t know when. What’s the point? Nearly total and constant cloud cover has all but stopped that particular pleasure and the telescope lies gathering dust having only had one brief spell of use in the last 6 weeks or so. Nearly every visible phase of the moon has been blocked by it being too low to see over the house or more often, thick cloud. Saturn has all but gone and I’ve no confidence at all in being able to see the Jupiter/Moon occulation this weekend at all.

I can’t get a clear shot at the sun either, we see a faint glow now and again but it’s not enough to get any sunspot detail.

Normally I spend a lot of time in summer down by the Botanic Gardens, not this year. My style of floral photography usually involves unusual angles etc, and lying in wet and mud to get a shot it’s really my idea of fun so that particular pleasure has gone for now too.

Macro shots in the woods are out, I usually combine it with walking the dog but there’s so much mud the dog gets caked and it’s a total pain.

All I seem to have done for weeks on end is macro insect shots from things I find in the garden, there just doesn’t seem much point doing anything else. It was a brief bit of interest chasing the flooding around Edinburgh at the weekend getting pics but that too involved being wet for nearly the whole day, caked in mud and there’s a sore throat in the post too.

Roll on autumn and winter and some decent photography weather!


Adapting to the conditions, photography in the rain

]It’s been a funny old couple of weeks weather wise in Scotland. We’ve gone from sitting in the garden in shorts and t-shirt to snow, hail, torrential rain and even thunder and lightning. One thing about the Scottish climate, it certainly keeps you on your toes.

It’s been a very mixed bag for me photography wise. On one hand for astrophotography I want totally clear skies but for landscape I’d prefer a cloudy sky or at least some clouds in the sky. Clouds give you options, slow the exposure down and you can streak the clouds, or if you’re lucky enough to get huge high contrast clouds it can give a shot real drama. Clouds also help a sunset along no end; a slightly cloudy sky will always yield a better sunset than a clear sky will.

The last couple of days though have been really challenging, mainly due to the one thing that can stop play. Rain. Rain can be a real pain in the back end, water on the camera gear isn’t usually desirable although less of an issue with weatherproofed DSLR’s. It’s entirely possible to get some decent shots in rain though, you just need to adapt to the conditions. Remember too, rain can also come with extreme weather and nothing makes a better shot than extreme weather!

Certainly though, rain will stop you using filters, unless you want to sit cloning out rain drops on your shots for days on end. In these conditions I find it best to go simple. Shoot handheld, with the lens hood on and just bring the camera out when you want to take a shot. Balancing exposures will of course be an issue but there’s another weapon at your disposal here. HDR.

There, I said it. That dirty photography word, HDR. “Stone him” I hear you all cry. But wait! Why not? I’ve hardly used HDR for the last 18 months but the last couple of days it’s been a useful style to adopt. HDR is really down to personal taste but if done tastefully then I can’t see any reason why not? A bad shot will still look like a pile of poo in HDR but a good shot can look particularly pleasing if done properly.

My bad weather method of shooting HDR is as follows.

1. Low as ISO as you can, HDR always works better with a low ISO, I try to stick to ISO200 or lower.
2. Shoot 3 bracketed shots for everything, +2, 0 and -2ev. Most DSLR’s have an auto bracketing feature.
3. Turn on your high speed drive and if you have it vibration reduction, image stabilization or whatever it’s called on your camera.
4. Frame the shot, focus and press the shutter until you hear all 3 shots rattled off.

It’ll take about as long as a blink of the eye and you should have 3 shots, sharp, bracketed and not that far off the same position. Use features matching in Photomatix when you’re combining the exposures and you should be fine.

I like to bump up the contrast in Photoshop of HDR shots after the tone mapping is finished; I feel it gives a cleaner look with more tonal depth. Tone mapped images can look a little bland to me and bumping up the contrast finishes off a shot how I like it.

While you’re getting your shots though, do try to keep the lens pointed down when you’re not shooting and keep a close eye open for rain drops on the front lens element. They might not be that noticeable on the preview screen but they’ll be the cause of much wailing and gnashing of teeth if you find them once the pics are downloaded.

These shots were all taken in rain the last 2 days using a Nikon D7000 and Nikon 18-200mm VRII lens. All are 3 exposures combined in Photomatix Pro 4 and finished in Photoshop.

Forth Bridge in the Rain

Storm Clouds over the Bridge

Pier and Bridge

Crags to Calton Hill


The Forth Bridge lights

After 2 years in darkness the Forth Bridge is finally lit up again, by 1000 new spotlights. I remember the old lights. You were never sure they were on at first; the lights came on gradually until the bridge was tastefully lit. These new lights though?

See for yourself from this picture.

Forth Bridge lit up

As you can see, the lights are very… open? The bridge looks fantastic but do the lights really need to be so blatant? It’s seriously one of the worst examples I think I’ve seen of structure lighting. You couldn’t see the light source from the old lights but these lights are way too open. The light pollution around the bridge itself is huge. A snow shower moved over last night and you could see the lights streaking up way above the bridge for a fair height. It’s simply too bright.

For photography purposes this is an issue. The old favourite panoramic shot of both bridges with a wide angle lens is not really an option at night anymore, the road bridge is a lot darker than the rail bridge and the lens flares from those lights are terrible. You could try a grad filter to ease out some of the rail bridge but I think that would make the flares even worse. See below for an example, I’ve marked the lens flares on the shot.

Not that long ago I was shooting star trails with the bridge, that’ll be impossible now. You simply couldn’t get those lights under control for a 30s exposure and the resulting pollution will mask the stars anyway. I didn’t try from down the Hawes Pier last night but I suspect the problem will be even worse down there.

It’s not a lot better from the North Queensferry side either sadly, although there does seem to be access under the bridge from that side with the works now removed, one to be better checked out in daylight.

Forth Bridge at night with lights

The Lights are on

I do hope that Scotrail don’t leave the lights like this although I suspect the bridge will now be like this forever. IN a time where we are more away of light pollution it seems very odd to light up an iconic structure in this fashion, especially as we’re all supposed to be getting “greener”. Frankly, I preferred it in the dark.


Why those snapshots matter…

I’ve been considering this a bit over the last few days, thoughts sparked by the Lost Edinburgh Facebook page. If you’ve yet to take a look then mosey on over and feast your eyes on the huge array of Edinburgh pics from bygone years. It’s fascinating stuff.

The more I flicked through these, the more I started to think about how my own photography might endure the next 100 years or so. I focus on 2 differing types of photography, what I like to refer to as my “arty” stuff and the stuff I do for the Real Edinburgh blog. The more “arty” stuff goes to Flickr and what I consider to be more snapshots, to Real Edinburgh.

The blog stuff is by far the easier to take, I go out with just a camera, one lens and that’s it. No remotes, no filters, just me and the camera. While I’ll still compose shots, I worry less about the technical perfections and hence get what I would more term as a snapshot, a quick picture anyone with a modicum of photography skill could have taken even with a compact camera.

What you’ll notice about the Lost Edinburgh stuff is that none of the pics taken there were utilising long exposure techniques, fancy lenses and the likes. Most are simply point, click, picture. Job done and even years on the shots are, if anything, more relevant than when they were taken. They point to a bookmark in time that’s gone, the scene is as it was, not enhanced by modern photographic techniques and that makes it honest and a better historical reflection.

Here’s an example for you.

I would consider this one of my more “arty” shots.

Forth Bridge Winter Sunset Panorama

This was taken with super wide lens, camera on a tripod, using a variety of filters including a 10 stop ND to give a nice long exposure. I think it’s a nice shot but was that really what it looked like down at the bridges that day?

Now consider this shot taken a few weeks earlier also at the Forth Bridges:

Point, click. Job Done.

Which of the 2 in 100 years time do you think will tell more of a story of the day they were taken?

These pictures matter. It’s as important to capture real life as it is to create a piece of art every time you press that shutter. It’s even more important for future generations that they can look back and see how our towns and cities were from a realistic perspective.

Next time your out with a ton of camera gear on your back and your stressing about whether the scene calls for a 0.9 or a 0.6 grad maybe just look about a bit too and forget the technicalities and just press that shutter button and capture a slice of life as it is and do your part in documenting the world for the kids of tomorrow.


A year in pictures, month by month

As we near the end of the year I’m going to take a look back over the last year and pick my favourite shots each month. I’d love to see what other photographers rated as their best shots by month too!

January

The year started well as I’d make the decision to shun the traditional Scottish Hogmany in favour of staying sober so I could get some shots of the fireworks from Edinburgh Castle at midnight. Standing on Bruntsfield Links stone cold sober while all around you could hardly stand was “interesting” to say the least, at least I got this shot as way of compensation.

Edinburgh Hogmanay Fireworks 2011 - FP, Explore #2

February

February was a pretty difficult month for me personally, as I spent most of it ill, a culmination of 5 months of feeling like crap. The intense low temperatures in February didn’t help although with the Western Harbour frozen solid it did let me get some killer reflections in the ice.

Western Harbour Reflections

March

March was the month of the “Supermoon”, although cloud cover did all it could to scupper any chances of a decent shot. Funnily enough it was a freak weather condition that sorted out my favourite for March. This shot from Calton Hill after some late winter snow was sheer chance. 10 minutes before it was clear and 5 minutes after it was clear again, for 5 minutes the Castle disappeared into the fog.

There used to be a castle there

April

April was the start of my long exposure period. A Helipoan 10 stopper was bought and the long exposures commenced. To be fair I really enjoyed it at the time but couldn’t see past it. Everything had to be at least 60s exposures or it wasn’t good enough. I did get some nice shots out of it though, of which this of the Falkirk Wheel was one.

On Top of the Falkirk Wheel

May

Still in long exposure mode I found the bridge to nowhere in Behlaven Bay near Dunbar. It took a few trips to get high enough tides but finally I got a shot of the water all round the bridge.

Belhaven Bridge Revisted 2

June

In June, I finally figured out how to time the tides at the Cramond causeway so I could catch the tide coming in from down at the water’s edge. After several goes and wet feet to be going on with, I had this shot in the bag.

Timing of the tide - Explored

July

July was a good month. A lot happened including the mother of all thunderstorms over Edinburgh. The shot of the anvil cloud retreating over the Pentlands was a tempting pick for this month but July was really about macro for me, and this may well be one of my favourite ever macro shots, taken in the Botanic Gardens lying flat on my back in the dirt getting funny looks from all around…

A Brace of Coneflower

August

August was a hard month to choose but this had to be the shot for the month. Probably one of the best I’ve ever taken and the first trip out with my new Nikon D7000.

Newhaven Cobbles - Explored

September

September was all about the Festival Fireworks or Leuchars Airshow. The Red Arrows pip the fireworks to the post for me, quite an awesome sight.

Red Arrows Leuchars 2011

October

This was an easy winner for October. I’d been playing about with twisting the zoom during long exposure shots and this was the result down on a still night at the Victoria Quay with the Scottish Executive building, a single exposure!

Scottish Executive Streaks

November

We got the best sunset I’ve ever seen one night in November and was lucky enough to be up on Calton Hill waiting for it. This was the pick of the bunch from that night.

November Sunset from Calton Hill

December

No contest here, December was the first time I had really tried to do a star trails shot and this was the result. 100 30s exposures over 50 minutes blended to get the final result.

Forth Bridge Star Trail - Explored


Sighthill Eyesores go Kaboom…

It’s not everyday you get something this dramatic nearly on your doorstep is it? Three 20+ story tower blocks all being blown up at the same time, how could you not go for a look, especially if you’re a photographer.

This was the 2nd controlled demolition in Sighthill in this area, the last one about 2 years ago I spectacularly badly timed and realised right at the moment I was still in the house when I heard the boom. Not long after that, 3 similar blocks came down in Gracemount in Edinburgh but there wasn’t particularly good access to that one so I ended up catching it from around 2 miles away on Blackford Hill where you really lost any of the drama of the event.

For this one though, plans had to be made. Finding the website of the company doing the demolition, Safedem, was the perfect start, all the planned timings were on there, along with road closures etc. With this info in the bag, it was time for a quick scout around the area looking for a vantage point. The exclusion zone though was a problem and to get a view with nothing in the way Sighthill Park was the only realistic option. This gave the possibility of an added dimension of being the main spectator area hence, the chance to catch crowd reaction to the event as well.

Getting to the location was not a huge issue, living nearby I know the area well and parked up in Broomhouse and 5 minute walk had me in Sighthill Park just at 11am. Amazingly for Edinburgh, the sun was out and just to the left of the flats which was an issue, try to get all 3 in 1 shot and you also got the sun and flares regardless of how you did it. Options were to move further to the left but that restricted the view so I decided to go for each one individually.

I knew there would be a couple of second’s gap in-between each but which one of the 3 to focus on? As the warning explosion was set off I took a gamble on Hermiston Court at the right, which predictably was the wrong one which meant I had little or not time to compose and it was now a case of catch what you can. D7000 was on low speed drive, full AF and f8 giving nice quick shutter. From the shots I got I think I basically just get shooting an moving across the blocks till the buffer filled up on the D7000 then I switched to my D90 I had as backup.

I managed some wide stuff with the D90 of the emerging dust cloud before switching back to the D7000 for even wider shots of the approaching dust cloud. I knew we were going to be hit by it with the wind direction. Confirmed by the water spray from the damping down that goes on prior to these demolitions drifting over us as well. But, there are times you just have to put up! To get upwind would have meant a lesser view so what’s a little dust?

I toughed it out watching the crowd start to panic at the intensity of the dust cloud and decided to save the cameras getting both packed away and heading immediately to the right where the cloud was thinner. It’s not a pleasant experience these dust clouds but thankfully I missed the worst of it and it passed reasonably quickly. It’s quite amusing seeing those who obviously arrived early and parked really close verging on distraught at the covering their cars got, and the amount of wee neds who has kindly scratched their name in the dust on them too. This was a demolition in Sighthill/Broomhouse, if you know Edinburgh you also know there are not the most well to do areas of the city and hence, this sort of thing wasn’t really a surprise!

The haul of shots though for the day was reasonable though and the best are below.

Sighthill Demolition 1
Glenalmond Court

Sighthill Demolition 2
Wier Court

Sighthill Demolition 3
Hermiston Court, this was also the lead image on the BBC News Scotland website for the story.

Sighthill Demolition 4
Start of the dust cloud

Sighthill Demolition 5
And time to go…


Photography Location Guide – The Gormley at Ocean Terminal

Ocean Terminal is best known in Edinburgh as the last docking point of the Royal Yacht Brittania. If you’re so inclinded you can board the Queen’s cast off boat for a tour down here or if that’s not you’re thing, Ocean Terminal itself is a huge many floored shopping centre with plenty of shops, coffee houses, restaurants and even a cinema to keep most people entertained.

For photographers however, there is a much better prize on offer in this unlikely setting. To find it, continue past the front doors of Ocean Teminal and either park in the surface carpark at the far end at the Debenhams or if that’s full there’s the multi-storey right next to it. Just to the side of this is a path named Britannia Walk which runs right along the side of Leith Docks which in iself can be a nice photographic opportunity depending on what’s docked in here at the time.

Continue down the walk and you’ll see Britannia docked on your left, straight ahead though is what we’re here for! Leading out into the docks Western Harbour is a derelict wooden pier, which in it’s own right is an intersting enough subject but a couple of years back an Anthony Gormley statue (think Angel of the North) was installed at the end of the pier as part of the Gormley 6 exhibition which placed 6 statues of the artist at strategic points along the water of Leith with the last one being situated here.

This area can be a magnet for local photographers so don’t be too surprised if you’re not the only one here with a camera. The pier itself isn’t great for access as it’s in a very deep section of the docks and the only option of a shot of it is over the railings which isn’t a great hardship here. It’s ripe for long exposures but do watch out for light reflection up of the shiney railings which will be under your lens which can have an effect on images. You can shoot this pier in a variety of ways some of which are showen below.

While you’re here though, take a look over the harbour to the flats on the other side, these make a great shot in still conditions, especially at night. You might also be lucky enough to see some of the cruise boats that visit Edinburgh in here, not the bigger ships as they dock typically at Hound Point at South Queensferry but some sizeable liners and naval vessels make regular appearances in here too.

Again, it’s a nice shot for sunset in summer, late May to August typically being the best time to attempt this shot.

Sunset long exposure shot along the pier:
Gormley Sunset 26 April 2011

Long exposure to the left of the pier:
Old Pier Mono

Closer shot of the Gormley:
Gormley 6

Effect achieved by twisting the zoom on the camera during the exposure:
Twisted artwork

Newhaven Flats on a still day:
Western Harbour Reflections

Newhaven Flats on a still night:
Western Harbour Night Reflections


Photography Location Guide – Newhaven Harbour

Newhaven Harbour is one of these undiscovered gems that 9 out of 10 tourists will never find with they visit the city which is a pity as it’s one of the most attractive areas along the Edinburgh coastline. Situated just to the east of Leith Docks and west of the larger Granton Harbour this small harbour provides a wealth of photographic opportunities.

Getting to Newhaven is easy; simply head along the A901 which hugs the Edinburgh coastline, if the Firth of Forth is on your left coming from the west of the city or on your right coming from the east then keep going and you’ll eventually find it. There’s lots of free parking in the area, either in the free bays along Starbank Road to the South of the Harbour or if you turn hard left just part the harbour and follow the road around you can park on the cobbled area right next to it.

By far the most striking feature of this small harbour is its lighthouse. One of the best and most accessible local examples you’ll find in this area. You can walk right out to the base of the lighthouse and it’s hard to take a picture of Newhaven without if featuring in some way or another.

At low tide the harbour all but drains of all it’s water creating plenty of opportunity for long exposure shots of the boats as they beach on the harbour’s muddy bed. At low tide to the north of the lighthouse the large jaggy rocks of the sea defences are exposed and a bit of careful exploration can take you over the seaweed line right down to the rocks for some dramatic shots up to the lighthouse.

At high tide the harbour fills up quite a way and the water will come quite far up the cobbled slipway which is again a popular shot with local photographers. The boats themselves at the harbour are mainly leisure boats but there is a mix of working boats in there too although you don’t that often see many boats coming or going from here.

You can get pretty unrestricted access around the north, west and south edges of the harbour, only the eastern edge is restricted access. At low tide if you’re careful you can pick your way around the seaweed covered walkway at the bottom of the slipway right around to the lighthouse, be warned though, it’s exceptionally slippy!

Newhaven is one of the best locations in Edinburgh for a summer sunset; the sun comes down over the Firth of Forth giving ample opportunity to photograph the lighthouse or boats at sunset without any other objects in the way of the sun.

This is one of my favourite locations in Edinburgh and one that I visit often, especially during the summer months. Below are a few examples of shots you can expect to take away from Newhaven.

Long exposure of the lighthouse at sunset:
Easter Monday Sunset

The slipway at high tide:
Newhaven slipway

Looking along the exposed rocks at low tide:
Lighthouse Low Tide 2

Boats at low tide:
Newhaven Low Tide

Boats at high tide:
Newhaven Harbour 2


Photography Location Guide – Aberdour Old Pier

This is one of those locations that just begs to be given the long exposure treatment. The Scottish coastline is littered with these old piers if you know where to look for them and they make fantastic subjects as they age and deteriorate.

This particular pier gave me some amount of issues trying to find how to get access to it but once you’ve found it it’s really rather easy!

Arriving in Aberdour from the East drive though the village and you’ll go past the railway station which is on a large S bend. Around 100 yards on your right from there you’ll see signs pointing to Silver Sands down Hawkcraig Road. Follow the road down until you arrive at a large car park. Drive to the far end of the car park and park up to the left where you’ll see an opening in the trees. Walk though here and turn immediately to your left and follow the road. After a very short walk you’ll get to a little fork in the road, keep left and walk down the very steep hill towards the houses at the bottom. Continue along the little gravel lane and when you come out from between the houses that’s you at your destination!

The beach here is all medium sized loose rocks, a bit tricky to walk over to make sure you exercise some caution which approaching the pier. When I visited here, it was about an hour before high tide and it was a pretty good guess at a decent time catch the subject. You have good access all round and indeed even underneath the pier so you can get shots from a good range of angles.

While you’re here don’t forget the view you also get of the Edinburgh skyline where you can clearly make out landmarks such as Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle, the Hub spire, St Giles bell tower and the Balmoral Clock. A range up to around 200mm will get you a reasonable shot of Edinburgh from here.

This location is also interesting for the views of the various little islands dotted around the Firth of Forth including Incholm and its Abbey and the “back end” of Cramond Island. Again, a longer lens will let you get something of them from here too.

This location is best for sunsets in the winter, in the summer the sun sets off up to your right over the harbour.

All in, a nice location with loads of potential if you find yourself over on the Fife coast!

To the right of the pier:
Aberdour Pier 2

Directly underneath:
Aberdour Pier

View towards Edinburgh:
Storm clouds over Edinburgh


Photography Location Guide – The Longniddry Wreck

This was one of the subjects I’d seen other interpretations of on Flickr and felt it was too good to miss. Finding it though was pure change. On a run down the east coast one night heading to Longniddry Bents 3 I caught a glimpse of the wreck on the breach not far outside Port Seaton and before the Bents 3 car park. It never actually registered at the time but a search for the wreck on Flickr confirmed what I thought I had saw and a quick look at Google Maps also turned up what might be the subject in question.

On further exploration, the wreck is found near the Bents 1 car park, just outside Port Seaton. Easiest access is to park up to the right hand side (near the toilets) and walk down onto the beach from there, the wreck is about 100 yards to your left. You can also go off to the left and park, cross the little wooden bridge and clamber over the dunes and its right there in front of you. Not hard to spot by either route, unless you get there at high tide. All you’ll see at high tide is one little rib of the boat sticking up out the water, quite a way out.

To maximize your chances of getting some decent shots here I’d say be at the location around 2 hours AFTER a high tide. When you get there, the wreck should be visible but still mainly under water. Over the next while though the tide recedes quite quickly and you’ll get nice easy access to it with water still around and in it.

It’s a hugely interesting subject which has obviously been there for quite some time slowly rotting away. Sadly, I have no idea on the history of it! While you’re here though, the rest of the beach is worth an explore with lots of rock formations and the imposing sight of Cockenzie power station off to your left. The Longniddry Bents are also a nice location for summer sunsets with the sun coming down directly opposite the beach.

A worthy location of a visit if you ever find yourself down the East Lothian way!

Longniddry Wreck 3

Longniddry Wreck

Longniddry Wreck 2

And a more general shot of the beach at this location:
Longniddry


Photographing the Belhaven Bridge

For a good while I’d seen this bridge on Flickr. Never paid much attention to it but it did feature in some pretty cool images. It’s not your normal bridge; this bridge was slap bang in the MIDDLE of the water with no visible means of access either side. Weird!

After a bit of research I found the location, in Belhaven Bay just to the east side of Dunbar. Take a look at Google maps for the exact location; you can actually see it on there quite clearly. I also discovered that the bridge actually does have a purpose, at low tide it spans the Biel Water where it empties into Belhaven Bay and the North Sea, at high tide the water effectively cuts the bridge and the sand flats beyond off. Makes a lot of sense if you see it at low tide!

The obvious time to photograph this place is high tide, so check the tide times before you make a trip out there. Ideally, a tide of 5m+ is what you’re looking for to make sure the small walkway to the bridge is under water.

The location itself is pretty accessible. Lots of parking about and the bridge itself is just feet away near the high tide line on the beach.

The traditional shot here is a mono conversion long exposure, such as this:
Belhaven Bridge Revisited 2

If the tide isn’t quite high enough then this is more what you’ll get, not so bad with the path leading you into the picture:
Belhaven Bridge

Ideally, you’ll need to lenses to get the most of this location, a super wide and a wide with a little zoom. If the tide isn’t covering the walkway, the super wide will be your weapon of choice, if it is and your forced further back from the bridge by the water then you’ll wish you had a little zoom at your disposal.

If you visit here at low tide then the bridge itself is a worth subject and you can use the better access to the bridge to find a few different angles. This was a low tide shot on a VERY windy day:
Belhaven Bridge - Explored

Of course, if you’re lucky you’ll get a preferential tide to coincide with sunset, I’ve yet to manage this perfectly but this is as close as I’ve got to the 2 at the right time:
Belhaven Bay Sunset

High tide 45 minutes earlier and I’d have been onto a winner; still it does give me an excuse to visit the location again in search of that perfect shot!

A quick note about this location, it’s a great place to be and on a nice night, it’s one of the best spots with easy access I’ve yet to find but if the weather is bad you’ll be really exposed, high winds and rain and not that uncommon, it took me 3 visits till the wind dropped enough to use the 70-200mm lens to get a shot of the Bass Rock from here that wasn’t blurred due to the wind blowing the lens about!


Photographing the Cramond Causeway

For a fair few months now I’ve harboured a desire to capture the causeway to Cramond Island, on the outskirts of Edinburgh as the tide was just going out. If you’re not familiar with the location, from the esplanade there is a raised walkway that the tide never covers for maybe around 200ft, then at the end is a set of small steps and then you’re down on the lower level of the causeway where a half mile walk or so will take you over to Cramond Island at low tide.

Now, I’ve photographed Cramond MANY times and it’s distinctive causeway too many times to count. The causeway itself it lined with a set of old WWII sea defences which were designed to stop small boat attacks further up river at the Forth Bridge and Rosyth Naval Yard, the other side of the island to Fife was protected by anti submarine nets. All that remains now is the distinctive line of pyramid structures right out to the island which get covered more or less to within a couple of feet from the top at high tide.

The challenge though, was the photograph the tide as it came in over the causeway. It’s fairly safe to do so as long as you keep your wits about you. You need to be on the causeway itself around 3 hours before the high tide time. If you get there early the water will start to flood the sand flats either side and sit around the bases of the sea defences. You need not go to far out to get a load of interesting shots of the defences.

Cramond Defences

However, soon you will see the water start to gently spill over onto the causeway about half way along. If it’s between you and the mainland, get back quick. If not keep and eye on it and you can move up a bit and you’ll have plenty time before it reaches you. From the first signs of water on the causeway to needing to get off it you’ll get around 30 minutes. As it starts to properly flood you need to be up near the elevated section of the causeway where you can make a sharp exit to safety. Remember, the water gets around 8ft deep here at high tide.

Get yourself up near the steps and you’ll have plenty time to rattle of shots of the tide as it advances towards you. It’s a perfect place for long exposure shots especially. Just keep an eye on the water as it comes in very fast and once it starts to reach your feet it’ll be a few inches deep in minutes. Get it right and you get these sort of shots.

Around 5 minutes before the tide will arrive at your feet!
Waiting for the Tide

Getting closer still…
The Tide Arrives

Time to go!
Timing of the tide

Get your timings right and it’s well worth a visit. Even after you need to get up on the elevated section it’s still worth hanging about as there’s still interesting shots to be hand from up here.

Cramond High Tide


Photography and planning around nature

In the time I’ve been seriously taking photographs, one thing I’ve discovered is that a little research pays dividends before you travel to a location to photograph it. I used to just turn up where I fancied and snap away, now with a bit more experience under the belt I usually have some idea of what kind of shot I want before I get there and it’s pointless going if the conditions aren’t going to be right!

Here’s a perfect example, this is the Belhaven Bridge just to the east of Dunbar:
Belhaven Bridge
At this location, high tide covers the walkway to the bridge so the bridge looks as if it goes nowhere with deep water either side, it in fact, spans the Beil water as it exits into the sea at this point which you can see at low tide. So, using the Tide Times website, I knew when high tide would be so headed down there for that. Sadly, it didn’t co-incide with sunset which you could check out on Suncalc.

Arriving later than hoped the tide was peaking but not covering the walkway. I know from research that night at the high tide height was 4.6m so; it follows logic that the walkway was just on the verge of being covered so waiting for a day with a tide predicted to be higher than 5m will give me the shot I want. The perfect time to take this shot will be a high tide, 5m+ co-inciding approx 20 either side of sunset. High tide and sunset co-incide on 24th May but with a predicted tide of only 4.2m it’s not the perfect night to get the shot, better to wait a couple of weeks and try again.

Tides also play an important part of decisions where harbours are concerned. I love long exposure shots but high tide, long exposures and boats bobbing about don’t go! Nobody wants blurred boats! In this instance, it’s better to forgo the 10 stopper and use a faster shutter and wait for a lower tide, or at least the boats in the front of the shot to be grounded. Of course, you always have the option of cutting the boats out of the shot altogether, but unless there’s something else as a good focal point then this leaves you with limited options.

This is Newhaven Harbour at high tide, boats left out of the shot:
Easter Monday Sunset

And at low tide, with boats!
Harbour Streaks
Both shots long exposure but with very different results.

Clouds are another feature of nature to keep and eye on. Nice blue skies are all very well, and indeed welcome in some cases but a bit of cloud cover always helps. To try and give an example, this is the top of the Falkirk Wheel on a day with little or no cloud cover:
On Top of the Falkirk Wheel

and a few weeks later on a bright day with loads of clouds of giving nice contrasts in the sky:
Falkirk Wheel up top

I know which shot I prefer…

Fast moving clouds, by which I mean heavy broken cloud, are great for long exposure photography. Huge dark clouds with little or no definition are not! Clouds can also add a lot to sunsets as the light bounces off them and in HDR photography you can create dramatic scenes with a nice cloud cover:
Storm Clouds over Edinburgh

So, before you head off. Keep an eye on the:

Weather
Cloud cover
Tide times
Tide Height
Sunset/Sunrise time
Sunset/Sunrise position

And plan accordingly!


Flickr or Blipfoto?

For over 2 years now I’ve regularly used 2 photo sharing websites. The almighty Yahoo monster that is Flickr and the smaller Edinburgh based Blipfoto. To date I’m approaching 2000 uploads to Flickr and nearly 600 in Blipfoto. Both sites are heavily focused on the social networking theme but the main difference between the 2 is that you can only upload one single image a day to Blipfoto, and only on the day you take it making it more of a photo journal than Flickr.

So, why do I upload to both?

I get different things from both sites. Like I’ve already said, both sites could be termed as social networks. You have the ability to follow certain peoples uploads on both, add comments and favourites. Where the big difference lies though is that Flickr is very much a give to receive mentality. Comment regularly on others work on Flickr and in turn you’ll get a load of comments back yourself. This though, in my opinion, leads to sycophantic commenting by some who are just desperate to collect as many comments as possible on their work, genuine or not.

Blipfoto on the other hand is a very giving community. People comment because they like your photo, not because you drop by every day and leave a one word comment on theirs. Of course the give to receive thing does happen, you see some very average pics with stacks of comments but it’s not the norm, at least in my experience. It’s a more genuine, friendlier atmosphere on Blipfoto.

If your looking however to the more technical side of photography and a strive for the best images you can take then Flickr is the place for you. With so many uploads to Flickr of course it has it’s fair share of dross but cut through it and you will find a whole host of very talented individuals posting regularly and a lot of these are happy to share the settings, filters, techniques etc used to get the shots.

Blipfoto on the other hand suffers badly from the photograph anything brigade. It’s very nature of a photo a day leads people to photograph anything just to keep up their perfect tally of a photo every day. Looking at it’s front page of most recent uploads there’s less beautiful landscapes or creative images than there are quick snaps of peoples kids, cats, toilets or indeed anything that will let them post a pic with the minimum of effort. That’s not to say the photographic content is suffering as there are some incredible photos uploaded to Blip, you just have to look a bit harder to find them.

Another side effect, I’ve found, of this photo a day business is that it really does get you out taking pictures. Of course, some prefer to not leave the confines of their house and photograph the back grass growing in order to fulfil and upload but for me it gets me out and about nearly every night and as a consequence, I will happily credit Blipfoto as part of the overall package that makes we want to be a better photographer. I very rarely compromise by Blipfoto uploads these days, I won’t post and iPhone shot for the sake of it, I’d rather not upload so this actually does make me get up of my arse and get out with the camera. From my own journal on Blipfoto I can see that my own photos have massively improved since I first started to upload. Out practicing every night has to pay dividends in the end. Flickr doesn’t give you this drive and there’s no incentive to upload every day.

I won’t go into the features of both sites, suffice to say that if you subscribe to either you get access to a whole host of exclusive features that will just about satisfy anything you need from a photo site.

So, which do I prefer? Well, ask me this 2 years ago and the answer would have been Flickr without having to think about it. Now, after spending lots of time on both sites, watching them evolve, becoming immersed in their communities if I could have only one, it would be Blipfoto.

I strive to upload every day to Blipfoto and to upload as best an image as I can. Flickr now is largely an online depositary for my images. Comments on Blip tend to mean more to me that those on Flickr, I’ve been called an inspiration lately on Blipfoto; I’ve been told I photograph the same old crap on Flickr. See what I mean about the friendly thing? There’s no doubt that Flickr has opened more photographic opportunities for me and it’s where I go if I’m looking for ideas of locations, how to use particular filters etc but it’s just not got that feel good factor anymore.

If you’ve never tried Blipfoto, sign up a free account and give it a go, but please… try and resist photos of your kids, granny on the bog, your dinner, sunsets on your mobile phone but most of all… please don’t blip your cat!


Photographing Edinburgh’s April Sunsets

What a week it’s been for the old sunset shots! It also helps that sunset is at a hospitable time at the moment too. Setting around 8.40 is much preferable to being out and about at the back of 10 or worse still, being sat in work watching the sun give a great visual display on the horizon!

My last post gave you whole tale of how I managed to get my favourite sunset shot of the year so far, but as I can see from my Flickr photostream, April tends to be a particularly good month for sunset shots around Edinburgh for some reason.

This was last night’s effort. The original plan had been to head down to the Cramond Island causeway, but since I’ve done that to death I headed down to West Shore Road instead to a spot further along the coast I spotted the other night which had a perfect view of the causeway, Cramond Island and the Forth Bridges behind.

To say this was a difficult shot to take would be an understatement. The sun was still high in the sky, actually just above the top of the shot. With the distance I switched to the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM for a bit of extra reach but actually expected it to give me horrible lens flares, which surprisingly, it didn’t. Once again, I framed up the shot with no filters, locked up the tripod and slipped on the now invaluable Heliopan ND3.0 10 stopper, the result was a pleasing enough shot with a nice gentle orange glow in the sky but it left the water a touch dull.

To combat this I slipped on the adapter ring and filter holder and slipped in the sunset filter. With this in place I could stretch the exposure out to a full 60s, after a couple of goes at setting the grad this was the final result. It took a fair bit of post process if I’m honest as shooting into the sun had brought out every single dust mark on the sunset filter, of which there were many! There was also a bit of flare I’m managed to just about eridacate with a little dodge and burn. If I were to try this again I think I’d try shading the filters to try and get rid of the flare from the shot in the first place.

Silverknowes Sunset

The night before though also produced a surprise shot for me. With the position of the sun and ideally wanting to get it over water the Western Harbour at the back of Ocean Terminal is a great spot. The obvious shot is the old pier with the Gormley statue at the end of it, but the flats at the other side of the harbour make for a good shot too, especially if the water is still.

However, it was the pier that produced the goods. I’ve shot this before on long exposure and had a lot of issues with light bouncing back into the lens from the filters and I finally figured out why. At this location there is a shiny bare metal fence which I sit the tripod up against to get the shot, the light has been bouncing off the metal and back up into the bottom of the filters and I effectively get a reflection of the inside of the lens on the shot, just putting an arm along the fence was enough to get rid of this totally, amazing what you can figure out.

Again with this shot, I set up the shot without the 10 stopper in place, played with the filters to see which combination worked best and then screwed in the ND3.0 and slipped the other filters back on top. In this case, I’ve used the ND3.0, circular polariser, ND0.9 soft grad and sunset grad filter on a 3 minute exposure to get the colour and effect on the water. The sun was still in the sky off up to the left of this shot.

Gormley Sunset 26 April 2011

That’s the more recent shots but like I already said, April is a good month for sunsets so here’s some of the month’s other highlights!

Newhaven Lighthouse, April 26th
Easter Monday Sunset

Edinburgh Skyline from Longniddry, April 19th
Edinburgh Sunset

Portobello Sunset, also April 19th
Portobello Sunset

Another Newhaven sunset, also April 19th
Newhaven Sunset

Forth Bridges, April 12th
Forth Bridge at Sunset April 12 2011

Newhaven… again! April 10th
Newhaven Sunset April 10th 2011

Forth Road Bridge, April 9th
Forth Road Bridge sunset - Explored 10 April 2011 #321

Cramond, April 8th
Cramond Boat Sunset

Ashley Boathouse, April 7th
Ashley Sunset 7 April 2011 - Explored 7 April 2011 #44

Edinburgh City Centre, April 6th
Edinburgh Sunset 6 April 2011

Calton Hill, April 3rd
Calton Hill Sunset 3 April 2011


Happy with a sunset photo at last…

It’s not often I drop a new blog post about a single shot but I liked this one so much I thought it worthy of a little write up.

As you will see if you follow back my recent posts I’ve been experimenting with long exposure photography over the last few weeks, in fact, it’s becoming more of an obsession than an experiment.

What I have had bother with though, is getting decent colour into shots, hence why my Flickr Photostream has gone rather monotone of late. Stacking those Hitech ND soft grads is just a sure-fire route to a purple colour cast on the D90, which is pretty undesirable to say the least. However, last night everything just fell nicely into place and I ended up with, what has to be, may favourite shot of the year so far.

The original plan had been to catch the sunset at Longniddry over the rocks but other things I had to do put paid to that and I would have only made Longniddry just before the sun went down which would have been ok if I was more familiar with the location. As I’m not I diverted back up the Edinburgh coast with the intent to catch the sunset over the Western Harbour. However, since the shows are at Ocean Terminal just now and the place was overran with walking JD sports adverts with attitudes I headed for the more peaceful refuge of Newhaven Harbour instead.

I really didn’t want to be at Newhaven having really photographed the place to death over the last few weeks. Its easy location and multiple shot possibilities make it and attractive location but it’s fast becoming my new Colton Hill, somewhere I’ve visited so often I get bored of it.

With the sun setting though, it was Newhaven or nothing and apart from anything else, at this time of year bar the Forth Bridges, it’s probably the best sunset location in Edinburgh. Sunset was still about 25 minutes away when I got there so I originally setup with the Sigma 10-20mm on the D90 and took a few tester shots using the grads and polariser but no 10 stopper. 10 stoppers are only any good in harbours if the tide is out, with it in boats tend to bob about and blurred boats do not good pictures make.

With the sun and the available light dropping fast I moved position to put the sun behind the lighthouse to avoid any lens flares and replaced the ultra wide with the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM, my absolute favourite lens. This let me frame the lighthouse and harbour wall nicely but avoid any boats in the shot. I then added the 77m filter ring and slipped in the polariser, ND 0.9 soft grad and tried a few test shots. I also experimented with a light tobacco grad and sunset filter but it was the red grad, a filter I’ve never used as I hated the results that was producing the goods. With the grads set properly, I locked the tripod securely and removed the filter holder and put it down on the camera bag careful making sure the grads didn’t move. I removed the 77mm ring and fitted the Heliopan 77mm ND3.0 10 stopper, fitted the 77mm ring to that and carefully slotted in the holder with the grads. I had to do it this was as with the 10 stopper fitted there was no way to line up the red grad on the horizon as you can’t see anything.

With light fading fast I upped the ISO to 200 and opened the aperture up to f8 and went for a 2 minute exposure which was ok but the red was too intense. I tried again upping the exposure to 3 minutes which turned out perfect.

As far as post process work went, there wasn’t a lot to do, the pleasures of getting it more or less right in camera. I created a new adjustment layer and increased the exposure to lighten the inside harbour walls and bring out some detail. I then erased all but the harbour walls from the layer. I then added a new photo filter layer to intensify the colour in the water, other than that, that’s about all I had to do with this one. Thankfully the sensor clean I attempted the day before must have been spot on as there was nothing needed cloned out at all. A welcome surprise.

So here it is the final product and most certainly my favourite shot of the year, so far…

Easter Monday Sunset


10 Stopper Photography Fun

Well, I finally got my hands on a 10 stop filter. Not the B+W I had originally hoped to get, they seem to be rather hard to get hold of just now in the UK, but a Heliopan ND3.0. After a little bit of research it seems that this filter is rated as highly as the B+W so when TeamworkPhoto on Ebay put a stack up for sale at a slightly lower price than the B+W versions a sale was inevitable. At a touch under £100 for a 77mm version it might seem expensive for a little bit of round glass but it’s when you start to use these things you can see the quality and exactly what your paying for.

This particular filter is the slim version so it fits nicely onto my Sigma 10-20mm lens and I can attached the 77mm p series adapter ring to it to allow me to use the CPL and grads easily too. The lens is usable at around 12mm upwards otherwise you do start to photograph the edges of the filter holder, which isn’t too bad as even without the 10 stop in place you get this same effect at around 11.5mm so no great hardship there.

First thing I noticed and it’s fairly obvious really, you simply cannot see a thing through this filter. It’s that dark. Hold it into very bright light, i.e. into the sun and you could just about compose a shot but with grads and a CPL in place as well, not a hope. This means the shot has to be composed on the tripod (obviously); the head locked in place and then carefully fit the 10 stopper and slip the filter holder with the grads on. Bit fiddly but you won’t be taking that many shots with this arrangement in place since you’re likely to be playing around in the 3 minutes exposure mark.

This was the first attempt with the 10 stopper. Taken on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, just the 10 stop and CPL in place. VERY bright light, around 5pm with a clear blue sky and, unusually for Scotland, a nice bright sun. 3 minute exposure and it’s nicely done the trick I wanted and got rid of all the tourists walking about in front of the monument, which was sheer luck not of them stood still long enough to get into the shot.

3 Minute Monument

I did have another attempt later the same day at Newhaven Harbour and got some cracking results but the sea was rough, the wind was terrible and the grads were picking up spray all over and the shots were frankly unusable as a result. Lesson learned there.

Next night out was the Forth Bridges. A very familiar subject so a good place to test the filter out. I started around 7.20pm, approx an hour before sunset with the tide coming in and the sun still quite high above the Road Bridge. It seemed pointless to go shooting into the sun so I took a shot of the rail bridge with the rocks in the foreground getting covered by the incoming tide. This was a 4 minute exposure with the CPL and Hitech 0.6 ND soft grad. Very impressed at the lack of colour cast from the grad with the 10 stopper, at least if your not looking into the sun with it.

Forth Bridge April 12 2011

As the sun went further down I moved to the other side of the rail bridge to get the sunset with both bridges in the shot. A popular spot for photographers and sadly, the ned element of South Queensferry too it seems.

This was the last of my 10 stop shots for the night as exposure times were getting way too long with the decreasing light. This was a 331s exposure with the 10 stopper, CPL, ND0.6 soft grad and a light tobacco grad, ISO200 f11.

Forth Bridge at Sunset April 12 2011

I have to say I’m enjoying the learning process with this new filter although my usual hit and miss method of calculating exposure times is going to get very tiring very fast. To that ends I’ve found an iPhone app called Long Time that does the calculation for you which I’ll give a trial of next time I’m out which will hopefully see the end of hit and miss results guessing exposure times.


Hipstamatic! The ultimate iPhone photography app?

I’ve got a new obsession.

Actually, it’s an old one rekindled and it comes in the form of the Hipstamatic app for the iPhone. A better £1.19 you couldn’t hope to spend. Digital photography has never looked so analogue is their strapline and it’s true. The easiest way to try and describe it is to look at it as some sort of lomography affair. You get the light leaks, the vignettes, the odd colourings etc and that’s the appeal. As a Holga owner this is far easier and more convenient that getting all that 120 format film developed. Obviously, it’s not proper lomo but it’s a whole lot of fun to use.

I rediscovered the pleasures of Hipstamatic after my recent interest in long exposure photography. What do you do when you’re waiting for a 3 minute exposure to end? You rattle off some Hipstamatic shots of the same subject, that’s what! It’s perfect. I even started photographing my D90 on the tripod doing the long exposure.

D90 at the pier

That shot on Calton... Hipstamatic

in fact, I’m having so much fun with this app I’ve started to take the Hipstamatic shots and then upload them using the Flickit App to my Flickr account, which also posts to Twitter with a link to the shot. Great fun as I can do it while I’m out and about rather than having to wait till I get home.

I used to use Hipstamatic to photograph everyday situations a new way, i.e. mundane scenes in an unusual style but now I’ve tried applying it to the sort of scene I’m photographing with the D90 it’s opened up a whole new set of uses and it’s nice to see some instant different takes on a scene.

So far I’ve used it at…

Newhaven Harbour
Newhaven Lighthouse Hipstamatic

Ashley Boathouse
Ashley Boathouse Hipstamatic

Dean Village
Dean Village Hipstamatic

Dean Village Railings

Portobello Beach
Porty Beach Hipstamatic

Porty Beach Breakwater Hipstamatic

Calton Hill
Calton Hipstamatic

Calton Hill Hipstamatic

Cramond
Cramond Beach Hipstamatic

My favourite Hipsta shot ever…
Cramond Causeway

and the Forth Bridges
Forth Road Bridge Hipstamatic

Forth Bridge Hipstamatic

Forth Bridge Hipstamatic

The point I’m trying to get to here, is that it’s a great compliment to my usual photography. What Hipstamatic does is what no other iPhone photography app does, it makes taking photos with a mobile phone fun and interesting. Your not looking for that meag quality shot, just something quick and interesting and it ticks both those boxes many times over. Besides… it doesn’t half fill in the gaps between those 3 minute exposures!


The Long Exposure Learning Curve Continues…

If you follow this blog you’ll know I’ve recent found myself caught in the grip of long exposure photography. Something I’ve done in the past with mixed results, but with methodical use of my range of filters I’ve discovered a lot this past couple of weeks. I still feel I’m being constrained slightly by the equipment but learning a lot and getting some images I’m very happy with as a result.

Keep the filters clean!
This was a lesson learned the hard way. I’d never cleaned any of my slot-in filters since I got them back in September. Screw in’s for some reason Iim happy to wipe down with whatever’s at hand, but I’ve been overly precious about the slot in filters. Which became very evident after a trip out and then finding I had to clone out dozens of marks on the shots. All very well but sometimes it’s not that easy to get a smooth clone on streaky clouds etc, so best avoided.

To clean then I’ve been washing them gently under a warm tap, dabbing dry with kitchen roll and then finally cleaning carefully with a lint free cloth. Seems to work fine. You can see marks on all the filters but these don’t show up at all on the images, huge difference.

Be aware of the where sun is!
This is another one I’ve finally figured out. Some shots looked dreadful. Such a disappointment when you see the camera preview, get home and find all sorts of strange flares and marks all over the shot.

What I’ve found is that with the sun directly behind you it seems to hit the filters and bounce light back into the lens and highlights any marks on the filters. With the sun to the side and rear in some cases it causes the camera to actually record the front element of the lens on the shot as a reflection. Funnily enough, shooting near on into the sun, if you can avoid the flares seems to work fine? To this ends though I’ve taken to trying to shield the filters in some way from stray sunlight, fortunately, living in Scotland, it’s not that big an issue!

Wind is both your friend and enemy
After a night out with the camera on Friday it brought home just how good and how big a pain in the rear end wind can be. On the plus side, high winds ripple water nicely making those smooth milky sea shots a lot easier and it sends the clouds racing across your shot, also desirable. However… it also blows your tripod about all over the place, even a sturdy one. It’s worse still with a stack of rectangle filters in front of the lens giving it more to catch onto. I’ve seem me this week almost standing over the tripod trying to shield the camera from the wind. Nothing worse than a 3 minute exposure and you see the camera move just as you get near the end.

All these shots were taken in near gale force winds:

Newhaven Harbour and Lighthouse
Newhaven Lighthouse Mono

Newhaven Lighthouse Long Exposure

Old Pier in the Western Harbour, the wind was especially bad here:
Old Pier Mono 2

Old Pier Mono

In bright conditions, lose a grad and use the polariser!
My P series filter kit gives me the option of using 3 filters in front of the lens and my screw in ND8, typically for these long exposure shots that means a Hitech ND0.9 soft grad and 0.6 soft grad. However, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, the ND0.9 causes a horrific purple colour cast.

What I found on Saturday though, was that in bright conditions with blue sky around, to replace the ND0.9 with the circular polariser and keep the 2 grads, still lets me push around 20-30s exposure in very bright conditions and keep some colour in the shot too as there is little or no cast. The polariser has the added benefit of darkening the sky and highlighting the clouds, even losing the 0.6ND and using the 0.9ND for B&W work with the polariser in place was very beneficial. So, use the polariser and experiment with your other filters in bright conditions.

All these shots were taken with the polariser in place:

Cramond Beach
Cramond Beach April 2011

Cramond Tide April 2011

Despite the best efforts of some strange foreign bloke to get in every shot, these were taken in Portobello beach with the polariser slotted in place instead of the ND0.6 soft grad.

Porty Breakwater

Porty Seascape

Portobello Groynes

Experiment!
I cannot recommend this enough; try different things you never know what you’ll get. This shot on Calton Hill was taken with the ND0.6 soft grad, ND0.9 soft grad and a sunset filter in place, not a particularly long exposure at 40s but I liked the resulting colours.

Calton Hill Sunset 3 April 2011

Finally, I’ll leave you with a couple of other long exposure mono shots from last nights trip to Cramond just as the tide was on its way out.

Cramond Causeway Mono April 2011

Cramond Causeway Mono 2 April 2011

Above all though, I’m enjoying this learning curve a lot. I’ve already priced up how much a move to the Lee pro filter systems will be. At approx £550 for what I want, the saving starts now!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,408 other followers