Blog, Prints & Photography Lessons from Edinburgh and the Lothians

Posts tagged “tips

Never be afraid to try something new in your photography

I’ve had my eyes opened photographically recently. I had absorbed myself so far in a world of trying so hard to get that “perfect” image I had started to become more obsessed with getting hold of the right kit to do a job rather than look at what’s important. Which is of course, the image you produce. I never seemed to go anywhere without a tripod, a stack of filters, remote controls and a collection of lenses, which is all very well but I was becoming to purist.

I became obsessed with only ever wanting to shoot at ISO100 to ISO200 to make sure I eliminated noise. I only used a tripod, never shot handheld if I could help it. I used filters all the time, more so when I went through my 10 stopper phase.

Three things changed all that. Getting my Nikon D7000 was the start, it’s get exceptional high ISO performance so gradually I’ve been started to worry less about noise. Next up was the Nikon 18-200mm VRII, which coupled with the D7000 means I can practically shoot handheld in the street at night easily. Third, and probably most importantly, getting an interest in street photography.

What the street stuff done, was got me back shooting handheld. I now reckon I shoot 75% of my stuff handheld as opposed to 0% this time last year. I think more about the composition and the shot than the technicalities and it’s from this that I’ve started to explore other things to try and create “different” images.

This was shot at the Edinburgh Christmas funfair handheld with the D7000 and 18-200mm VRII. VR switched on and a slow-ish shutter speed. At the point of opening the shutter I quickly twisted the zoom back a little and got this effect. It’s quite abstract and not to everyone’s taste but compared to the legions of identical tripod shot images of this that appear every year, it’s different and that’s what I like about it.

Christmas Abstract 2

This shot used the same technique from further out.

Christmas Abstract 1

This also used the same technique but was shot over a longer exposure on a tripod. It still adds a new unusual quality to the image.

Scottish Executive Streaks

Back at the Christmas fair, this image was shot with the same sort of exposure as the twist shot but rather than twist the zoom, I twisted the entire camera at the time of opening the shutter.

Christmas Abstract

This image was shot using a slow shutter, handheld. Again, a shutter speed just long enough to blur the motion. No twisting or zooming this time.

Big Wheel blurs

Traditionally I’d have shot this on a tripod but in this case, I upped the ISO and shot handheld, this gave a freedom to quickly try different compositions as the sunset was fading rapidly.

Big Wheel Sunset

Remember, exploring these sorts of techniques in this digital age costs you nothing. It’s not like film where you could spend a fortune and get nothing. If the image isn’t to your liking, try again and again and again. You can always delete them later. Of course, these sort of techniques can be a little hit or miss but it’s simply doesn’t matter and the more you explore these type of things, rather than just frame and click the more you build up the chances of getting a unique shot. These won’t work in every situation but when you find the ones that do you’ll know and might actually enjoy the experimentation.

As an aside, I now find that when I do shoot on the tripod with the filters and remotes I actually enjoy it more now it’s no longer the rule. Photography is a limitless hobby so don’t impose limits, push those boundaries of your imagination and you might just like what you come up with.


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


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!


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!


So you want to upgrade to a digital SLR?

You’ve had your compact camera for ages now and while you like the convenience you’re thinking of making a step up to a DSLR aren’t you? It’s hardy surprising, 10 years ago a DSLR was very much a luxury item, you could by a car for less than most around at the time, these days with entry level DSLR’s wit kit lenses coming in at under £400 for everything you need to get started it’s becoming a more and more tempting proposition for many.

But… before you rush off to your local camera dealers, or start furiously researching best prices online, ask yourself, what do you actually want from your camera? Do you just want to take pics of your mates drunk in the pub or just a few snapshots of the kids? Then, save yourself some cash and stick with your compact, it’s more than suited to the tasks in hand. On the other hand, if you find yourself getting a real interest in photography, feeling the urge to try and take better pictures and find you use your camera a lot then go right ahead, you won’t be disappointed.

Actually, that last statement is a lie; you will be horribly disappointed and equally frustrated when you move up to a DSLR. Just because you have a “proper” camera, it won’t make you a photographer overnight. There will be a lot of learning ahead, trial and tribulations and probably tantrums and tears as you get to grips with your new toy but rest assured, its worth it all as eventually you’ll get the results you want if you persevere.

What you have to remember is, this is a proper photographic tool you’re investing in. Even a cheap one will blow most compact cameras out of the water but you have to change your way of thinking. Don’t use it like a compact; don’t stick it on auto and snap away, what’s the point of that? Your compact can do that! What I’m going to detail isn’t how to use your camera but the things you should stick at to learn how it works properly. What to focus on to help you get the most from your new camera.

First things first, what equipment do you “really” need?

Ok, so obviously, you’re digital SLR. Be in Canon, Nikon or any other makes, it might seem unimportant but think on before you buy. That Pentax might be a great deal as you eye it up in Jessop’s, but think further down the line. Is there a good supply of lenses for it? How do the prices look? It’s important as typically once you buy into one system and start to add more lenses you won’t want to switch to another. I bought into the Nikon system and have since added 9 lens to my collection, to switch to Canon and re-buy all these lens’s would be horribly expensive so choose wisely. My honest opinion, go Nikon or Canon, a safe bet all round. Try both in the shop; see what you prefer as both will be very capable performers.

DO; buy the camera with the kit lens. It’ll be cheaper than buying the body only and adding a lens to that. Most kit lens will be in the 18-55mm range which is fine for a wide range of applications and it’s enough to get you going. The camera shop will invariably try to see you a UV filter to go with your new toy. No harm in that, it’s good for protecting your lens and does cut down haze but… think about it first. If the shop is trying to sell you a branded UV filter you may be paying upwards of £30 for it. They’ll sell it mainly as lens protection and there’s no doubt that it will protect your lens front element, however which in a camera bag etc, your lens cap will also do that and while it’s in your hands, the chances of scratching the lens is minimal. I have no UV filters anymore, I had 9 scratch free lens’s and believe me I am the worst in the world for chucking them back in the bag minus lens caps. Don’t waste your money on a UV, just treat your lens with respect, look after it and if you have the cash invest in a polarising filter instead.

Used properly, a circular polariser will enhance the blues in sky, make the contrast to clouds better and cut out glare from water, shiny surfaces etc. A million times more useful than a UV. More expensive sure, but look about online, you’ll get unbranded ones that while certainly not as good as your Hoya’s etc it’ll be more than adequate for starting out and you’ll get more proper benefit from it than you will a UV.

Also invest in a tripod of sorts, how much you spend is up to you. Tripods can range from a few pounds for small spindly effort to hundreds of pounds for the all signing and dancing carbon fibre models. Go mid range, even going to about £50 will pay dividends in the end. You’ll almost certainly upgrade it if you really get into this stuff no matter what you buy. While you at it, get onto eBay and get a remote control too. Needn’t be one of the mega bucks ones, a simple IR or corded remote for a few pounds is adequate.

Finally, a bag. You’ve got minimal kit so a small bag will do right? Well, depends if you’re going to add more as you go along? Eventually, that small bag will be overflowing and you’ll need another one. I bought a Loewpro mini trekker many years ago. £60 seemed a fortune for a bag but it’s still going strong although bursting at the seams now. You get what you pay for here!

So now you’ve got your kit, what first? Well, forget auto mode. Stick the camera on Av, aperture priority mode and leave it there. Learn about depth of field, how to focus, the difference of aperture vs. focal distance etc and you’ll get a pretty good grounding. Aperture is all in photography. Take a pic of something close to you, say 2ft away at f3.5 which your lens will probably do, then take the same pic at f22. Look at what you have and you’re on the way to understanding the cornerstone of photography.

Do; use your tripod and remote switch often. Not just in low light, if you photographing landscapes get into the way of using it, even in good light with fast shutter speeds. I originally shied away from the tripod, feeling a touch self conscious using it out in public, now I rarely take a shot handheld.

Now, this next statement will have some photographers out there crying in disbelief… and this is all the more important if you’re photographing landscape, cityscapes etc… LEARN ABOUT HDR PHOTOGRAPHY. For a few quid you can buy Photomatix Pro software and you’re on your way. HDR, which spat upon by most advanced or pro photographers is a post processing technique where you combine 3 exposures, one normal, one overexposed and one underexposed to get an final composite image with an increased tonal range. In shot, it can make an average picture look stunning, especially to a beginner. Read all about it and learn how to do it. Why? Because if you do, you will be amazed at the results, so will your friends and family and that encouragement will drive you on. I love HDR; it gave me a real boost while I was learning. It let me do things my camera and kit were not capable of doing in a single shot and these results spurred me onto more. I rarely do HDR anymore as I’ve increased my understanding of filters etc but in the short term it will give you great incentive to take more and to experiment and that can’t be a bad thing can it?

Sign up to Flickr or Blipfoto. Get involved in the communities, you’ll find plenty people willing to offer advice or even some tuition to help you along. Remember to not make it all one way traffic though, the more you put into these the more you get out. Upload regularly, learn and be inspired by others and you’ll be surprised how quickly you come on.

This will all keep you gripped for months but eventually you’ll want to add more kit. It happens to us all; maybe even upgrade your DSLR? You could spend forever but spend wisely. Think about what you’re getting, what you’ll use it for and most importantly spend as much as you can afford. Cheap lenses especially are rarely good lenses.

Initially for lens purposes think about adding a 50mm f1.8 first. This is a prime lens, i.e. no zoom, it has a large maximum aperture of f1.8 to allow some great depth of field shots and most importantly, they are cheap in lens terms, around the £100 mark. Every photographer should own one.

After this look for a decent zoom, something up to around 200mm. There are a load of cheap lenses out there up to 300mm but believe me, image quality at 300mm is crap, don’t be swayed by it. I bought a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM, expensive yes at over £600 but I’ve never needed another big zoom since, it’s so good it does it all!

These 3 will be more than enough for most but you may also get the urge to add a wider lens at some point, a valuable addition to any landscape photographer’s camera bag. True macro Len’s are also popular, by true macro I mean 1:1 reproduction. Don’t be fooled by lens’s which have 1:2 or 1:3, these are general purpose lenses with a macro function, NOT a true macro lens. There is a massive difference, believe me.

You might also notice the huge array of filters available. I would recommend getting yourself a P series holder and some 85mm filters, starting with a set of ND and ND soft grad filters. These will fit any lens regardless of size as long as you get the adapter ring for each lens. Much more convenient that the screw in systems.

Above all, have fun with it. It won’t all be easy going, you’ll get days you look at what you took and delete the lot but stick with it, you get it in the end and every now and again you’ll get an image that actually excites you then you’ll understand why you do it!


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!


More Long Exposure Photography Fun…

So… I’m still kind of obsessed with this long exposure monochrome photography thing. It’s a bit addictive once you’ve sussed it out. For me, going out every night with a camera isn’t out of the ordinary, my parallel addiction to blipfoto.com feeds that habit, but since getting into this long exposure stuff I can’t wait to get out and about. It’s like wiping my photography slate clean and I can go back and photograph everything I’ve photographed before in a new way.

What I have learned though, is that Formatt’s range of Hitech filters are NOT particularly good, something I found particularly evident with some experimentation tonight. Shooting with a very cheap screw in ND8 on the Sigma 10-20mm lens there is no colour casting at all. Add in a Hitech 0.9 and 0.6 ND soft grad, with this £5 screw in, no colour casting. Add in the Hitech 0.9ND and it all goes purple in the sky. Take out the ND8 and it’s all still purple.

Examine this logically. The ND8 gives a 4 stop reduction in light; the 0.9ND gives a 3 stop. The 2 grads give a 3 and 2 stop reductions, combined to 5. Now, with the screw in, that’s overall 4 stops reduction with a further 5 stops grad in the sky, no cast. With the ND0.9, that’s overall 3 stops with a further 5 in the sky, less than with the screw in and the colour cast is horrible. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes style power of deduction to realise it’s that Hitech 0.9 ND that’s spoiling this party for the colour shots! It’s got to go and I NEED a B+W ND110 and quickly. From what I see from other people with this filter, no casts! Poor show Formatt.

Anyway, tonight’s trip took in Newhaven Harbour, the Old Pier at the back of Ocean Terminal shopping centre at the Western Harbour and finally, a quick pit stop in the Dean Village for the Water of Leith. The 2 coastal stops were, shall we say, challenging. It was cold, blowing a gale and there were occasional spots of rain in the air. Despite this though, both Newhaven and the old pier gave some decent shots overall. I’ve photographed that old pier a few times now; finally I’ve got a shot I’m happy with.

Old Pier Mono 2

Tried some new angles at Newhaven, thankfully the gate was open at the top here and I didn’t have to do any acrobatics over the fence…

Newhaven Lighthouse Mono

The wind was so bad down here tonight you literally had to shield the tripod with your body to get a decent shot. Typical Scottish wind too, came from every angle and was bloody cold!

Quick trip inland to the Dean Village was the best option to escape the wind. It’s a great location this and the last twice I’ve visited here there was a film crew on the bank I wanted and the time before that the Water of Leith was in serious spate at the banks were under water. No so today and a few different angled shots of this great scene were had. I liked this one best, very low angle from the opposite bank from the one I wanted. Worked well and the 2 ducks that were following me about thankfully kept moving so didn’t appear in the shot!

Dean Village Mono

I’ll leave you with a couple of other shots from the last few nights using this same technique.

Forth Bridge from South Queensferry.
Forth Bridge Long Exposure

And the Forth Road Bridge from the same location with some nice cloud movement.
Forth Road Bridge Long Exposure

Forth Bridge again at high tide, this was taken in pouring rain, lots of cloning out of raindrops to rescue this was needed!
Forth Bridge and Mist

And finally, a shot of the causeway at Cramond leading to Cramond Island, this was my breakthrough shot. I was down here doing a sunset and gave this a quick try before I left, best shot of the night!
Cramond Island Causeway B&W


Long Exposure learning curve

Up until last September I was quite happy to grab the camera, a lens, usually with a polariser attached and go for a wander, snapping whatever took my fancy and then usually converting it to HDR. Then something happened… I discovered proper filters.

Now, I’d used filters, or more correctly, briefly filtered with some cheap screw in filters but to no great length, I had no real need as I was quite happy with what I was doing and the results I was getting. Then I started to take notice of some stuff on Flickr, those cream water seascapes and the likes and something kindled a new interest.

After some research, I decided not to go down the Lee filters route, yes, I know how good they are but being realistic, there was no way I could commit to the Lee system with the cost of the filters. I’m not a pro therefore didn’t feel I could justify the huge expense of these; it has to be said, very good filters.

Cokin was rejected after reading some horror stories about colour casts so I eventually bought myself a set of 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 Hitech ND’s and a set of 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 Hitch soft grads. Throw in a 67mm and 77mm adapter ring, holder, wide angle holder and a Kood slot in circular polariser and I was ready to experiment. Since then I’ve also added a Kood light tobacco grad, Kood red grad, Cokin 81A warm up filer and a cheapy ebay sunset filter. All in cost, less then the cost of 1 Lee filter. Nothing likes the quality but good enough for me to play around with on my D90.

First impression was this was going to be a huge learning curve. I got the dreaded colour casts while using the ND0.9 and ND0.9 soft grad and to be honest, I was ready to give up once I see that. BUT, I kept using them, mainly just a single grad and polariser and got some reasonable results. Steadily the grads especially became 2nd nature to use but something was missing, I wanted the flat sea and streaky cloud shots and these filters were just to giving me that.

Then, by chance I found an old ND8 screw in filter I had forgotten about, which being double threaded let me put the 77mm adapter ring on top of that, with the filter holder attached to the adapter ring, and the ND0.9, ND0.9 grad, ND0.6 grad in the holder I was able to push exposure times to 3 minutes and more in daylight, finally, the result I wanted without the expense of buying a B+W ND110 10 stop filter.

Cramond Island Causeway B&W

To be honest, it only works in B&W as the colour casts are horrible, but until I can get my hands on one of those B+W ND110′s then this do just fine for me. Very happy with the results.

Still got a lot of learning to do, I wish I had stacked 2 grads taking this shot but at least it gives me an excuse to go back and try again. Amazing what you can do with what you find lying about in the pits of the camera bag!

The Old Pier

Newhaven Lighthouse


In search of Supermoon…

There’s nothing better than a special event to bring out the photographers in Edinburgh, even more so it seems if it’s a once every 20 years lunar event as we had on Saturday 19th March. The event in question, the Perigee Moon saw the moon at it’s closest to earth for 18 years meaning it would look 14% bigger and 30% brighter. Would we even notice? Who care’s it’s a photographable event and plans had to be made!

Last week after being in North Queensferry I had noticed the moon directly above the Rail Bridge so that was a possible location. Blackford Hill was another but it gets slightly cold up there if it’s windy. So, with the help of Twitter and The Photographers Ephemeris, I decided on Calton Hill. From the Photographers Ephemeris you could see the position and time of the moonrise, around 6.30pm and due East.

On arriving at Calton Hill the first thing that struck me was the amount of photographers already setup at 6pm with cameras on tripods facing the wrong direction! I can only assume one set up incorrectly and the rest followed as they had all moved by 6.30pm.

It was cold on the hillside on Saturday and as you would expect, half 6 came and went with no sign of the moon. Typically, the clear skies of earlier in the day had given way to heavy cloud cover, not what you want for moon photography. My efforts were further hampered by missing my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 lens, which has to go for repair earlier in the day leaving me with just my backup Sigma 28-300mm zoom, nice enough lens but oh so soft on the focus at the 300mm end. With that in mind, moon shots were out but moon above a landmark might still work out.

Just when I was about to give up hope the first glimmers of an appearance were in the Eastern sky, at this point I was up at the side of Observatory house and this was the first shot I got of any sort of moon just to the side of the National monument:

Supermoon

Walking past the monument revealed where at the photographers had went; they were dotted everywhere around the hillside here. The moon however, was not in a mood to show itself and the only other shot I got was this:

Supermoon

Long exposure and moon shots don’t go but there wasn’t even a remote chance of shooting the land and then the moon to combine in Photoshop. Fed up and cold I packed up and headed off being that I wasn’t interested in getting the moon high in the sky. Typically, on the way back to the car with all the gear packed away the moon popped out, just for a minute.

Now, I hate not getting the shot I went for so the next night, the moon was due to rise at 8.15pm again, due east. On checking possible locations this time I went, appropriately, for the car park of the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill. You don’t want to be parking in the public car park up here at night unless dogging is your thing…

Predictably, 8.15 came and went and it was nearly 20 minutes later till the first glow in the clouds gave away moon position. Higher than I’d have liked I started to get some exposures of the land hoping if the cloud cleared I’d get a change of an exposure for the moon to combine in. After another 20 minutes of hanging about, finally the clouds obliged. 2 shots were got, first of the moon then without moving the camera a longer exposure for the land. This was the final result of the 2 combined with Photoshop CS5.

Not quite so supermoon but still quite super

Not quite the weekend of lunar photography I’d hoped for and 18 years to wait for it to happen again.

Or fake it?

Processing this shot last night I thought an added moon gave it a nice balance!

Blackford Twilight

Not that dissimilar to another faked shot from a couple of months back:

Full Moon and Arthurs Seat

Lesson to be learned? You can’t control the elements so if you really want the shot, learn to fake it! ;o)


Fog on the Forth

When the Forth Road Bridge Twitter stream tells you there’s a speed restriction on the bridge because of fog, what’s the first thing you should do as an Edinburgh photographer? Check the road bridge webcam of course! Which I did and it confirmed what I’ve been looking for now for a while, the fog was heavy enough to obscure the opposite bank, meaning that the elusive bridge disappearing into the fog shot I’ve been after might be possible.

Heading to North Queensferry just after work seemed like the best plan, get in underneath the bridge and get “that” shot. In the event, the good people of Fife had other ideas and in their scramble to get home the bridge was chockers with traffic. Plan B swung into action as the sunset was approaching and a path was blazed down to South Queensferry instead.

If you drive in past the rail bridge there’s a spot with some parking and you can get down to the beach at low tide. Perfect spot and the fog was also perfect, more on the North side of the water it was low and thick. It obviously drew out the photographers as there were loads of them about.

Highlight of the night down here wasn’t the fog, or the bridge or anything even related to why I was there; nope it was watching the Rover 25 slide off the road, down the slope and end up at a 45 degree angle against the sea wall. Any thoughts of offering help went out the window when the driver stormed out the car shouting at the other occupants to move it as “a cannae be here…”, intrigue indeed.

Anyway, back to the photography.

Sun was setting and I went to work with the filters, what was apparent though was that the fog was getting worse. With the last of the decent light I got some shots off but just as we were looking for the sunset the fog went all pea souper on us and blocked out the last of the golden tones.

Still, I did get this shot before it closed in…

Forth Bridge in the Fog

By this point light was fading fast and the fog was so thick options were getting limited. Took some shots with the Nikon 18-70mm to let me zoom out past the rocks and also tried out the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM to get close in and get some detail.

Forth Bridge in the Fog

And the detail shot at 200mm from the beach:

Foggy Forth Bridge (detail)

With the light going fast a change of location seemed like a good idea so moved up to the Binks car park and headed down to the beach at the side of the little harbour. Now, this is normally a pretty good location but with the tide right out it wasn’t the best tonight so after a few shots abandoned here and headed over the bridge to the North Queensferry side.

Driving over the bridge the thickness of the fog was apparent, nearer the north bank you could hardly see 20ft in front of you but as soon as you cleared the water the fog thinned right out.

When you come into North Queensferry if you go right at the first junction you come to you’ll head towards the bottom of the road bridge. You can park up near the houses and there is a little gap in the low wall leading to a grassy area that leads to a fantastic spot to get shots of the underside of the road bridge.

I was kind of glad I didn’t get here till the twilight was setting in as the lights were on on the bridge and and casting a sort of eerie glow in the fog. I’d only taken the Sigma 10-20mm with me and to be honest, this lens doesn’t perform well from the side of the bridge; the wide angle distortion is VERY obvious. The Nikon 18-70mm lens would have been a better choice.

Undeterred, the one spot this lens does work well in directly under the bridge, not somewhere your really supposed to be so nipped in and out quick, got the shot and headed out. Glad I did as this was the result…

Into the fog

Finished the night off round at the harbour and by the side of the rail bridge getting some shots of the lights in the fog, which I’ll process later.

All in all, a 3 hour night on the camera with some fairly satisfying results and very glad to finally have got the Bridges fog shots at last, another one ticked off the list. Not that I won’t be back for the next bout of fog as well…


Snow and Mist over Edinburgh

Lets be honest, this is Edinburgh, a wee bit of snow in mid-March isn’t that unusual, what was through was the amount the weather forecast said we were going to get, anything up to foot of the white stuff. Now, having had well over a foot of snow back in November/December I had kind of mixed feelings about this. On one hand it’s a major pain in the back end especially now I don’t have the luxury of a 4WD car now, but on the other hand, it’s a rare photographic opportunity. I wish I had made more of it when I had the chance back in November but when every day was a struggle to even get the car out the drive the focus was somewhat elsewhere!

In the end, this major snow event was kind of disappointing. Edinburgh got an inch or so of slushy stuff. Not quite what I’d hoped for. Undeterred, I made my way down to Calton Hill, yet again. I know I photograph this place far too much but what the hell, it’s an amazing view and it’s a good spot to walk the dog at the same time. With different weather conditions it was also another chance to go the “classic” Edinburgh shot from the hill slightly different again.

I probably should have got there earlier as when I did about 1pm the snow was melting fast, so much in face that there were torrents of water running down the steps up the hill. On the hill itself, there was still some slushy stuff on the ground but the city rooftops were largely clearing fast. There was also a little fog on the top of the Crags so if nothing else, that might have made a decent shot.

Light was very flat and with a drizzle in the air using the filters was always going to be a hiding to nothing so again opted to shoot for HDR. The fog on Arthur’s Seat thickened up and it made for a little atmosphere over the city but nothing to get excited about.

Half an hour later, getting bored, wet and cold and facing dealing with a soaking wet dog I was about to call it a day when the fog started to roll in. And what a fog it was. Within minutes the Castle was totally obliterated and even the Balmoral Clock was starting to disappear. As I was at the front of the hill I headed back up to the side of the Observatory house to get “that shot” again, in a way I’ve not managed to get before.

There used to be a castle there

And a closer view:

Edinburgh Fog

Within 15 minutes the entire city centre was hidden below the fog and it was starting to thicken up on the hillside too.

Fog on Calton

By this point there was not a lot of reason to hang around, the lens was getting wet and basically you couldn’t see anything!

Pleased with the shots though, something a bit different in an often photographed place which is always a good thing. Sadly, my next stop at the Forth Bridges was a washout, no fog to speak off down there. One day, I’ll get that shot of the Bridges disappearing into the fog! It’s eluded me so far but I’ll be back for it one day!


A windy night on Calton Hill

Ok, so first of a new blog posting type for me that should get me blogging more regularly. I’m going to start and document some of my photographic trips out around the city, which as I’m out most night should be hopefully fairly regular and with any luck give a more in depth insight into photographing Edinburgh.

I’m going to start off with a trip I made up to Calton Hill on Thursday 10th March. So if you’re all sitting comfortably?

Thursday had been a belter of a day weather wise. Sat at work during the day we’d gone from sunshine and blue sky to torrential rain, hail and sleet on and off all day, thanks mainly to the gale force winds. With all this in mind, plans were hatched for a trip to Calton Hill for long exposure streaky cloud shots after work.

As usual with the best laid plans I got held up and didn’t even leave the house to head down to the hill until nearly 5.25, not the best with at least a 20 minute drive through the city centre at rush hour and sunset due at 6.05. This time of year is one of the last chances to get a sunset over the Castle as the sun starts to set to far to the right and sunset over the St James Centre isn’t as quite as attractive a proposition.

Arriving at Calton at nearly 5.50 thanks to a dittering woman driving in front of me for most of the way I was thankful I’d sorted out what gear I’d use on the night before I left the house so rather than take everything I left only what I needed in the Lowepro mini trekker to save on weight which I was thankful for after heading up the hill at high speed.

Sadly, once I got the top, the fantastic sunset that was happening as I left the house was now hidden behind a massive black cloud and the rain was starting. Undeterred, I got myself up at the side of the Observatory House and slotted in the CPL, Hitech 0.9ND and Hitech 0.6ND soft grad and tried some longer exposure stuff. I was getting about 40s as the light was fading fast but it soon became very obvious that there was no hope of keeping the tripod still enough for very long exposures in the wind, which by this time was picking up big time.

So, in this situation what to do? Wasted trip or make the most of it? In an effort to make the most of it I took at the filters off which were picking up rain spots anyway, fitted the lenshood and set to aperture to around f10 which with no filtration was giving me a fairly quick shutter on ISO200. 3 shot HDR was going to be the order of the night. Not that bad an option too looking at the epic skies over the city.

Storm over Edinburgh

This was one of the earlier shots from the night, a 3 shot HDR conversion, camera set at f10, ISO200 on aperture priority. No filters and auto bracketing set at 3 shots -2,0 and +2ev. Thankfully the rain was staying off and it was much easier to clean the odd drop off the Nikon 18-70mm lens rather than the filters. By this point I had abandoned the Sigma 10-20mm and the wide distortion was starting to annoy me.

From here I wandered around the Observatory, took a few shots of the National Monument and thought about packing up for the night. I was after 6.30 and it was shall we say, “brass monkey” weather up on the hillside.

However… as I rounded the corner looking back towards the city the clouds had started to move over and there was the tail end of a sunset peeking through. An unexpected bonus indeed. The only problem was that the wind was getting worse and the light was dropping fast so the longest exposure of the HDR 3 was going to be around the 30s mark. Thankfully though, I got a little sheltered spot just to the side of the Observatory house that kept me out of the worst of the wind and this was the results!

Edinburgh Sunset March 2011

Calton Hill sunset and storm clouds March 2011

These were about the last 2 shots of the night and I’m well chuffed with the results, it paid to tough out the conditions for a bit. Doesn’t always pay off but as long as the rain stayed off you can always warm up again later can’t you?

I’d say for this particular location it’s always well worth waiting till after sunset a bit, once the lights come on over the city it makes for a fantastic image, especially at twilight more than the proper dark of night.

Only thing I will say is that don’t do it on a weekend night, Calton is safe enough to be on after dark but with the added threat of drunken wee arseholes a lot higher at the weekend I’d say keep yourself and your expensive camera gear clear of the hill after dark then. Otherwise I’ve been up there a few times over the last year after dark and never had a problem, it’s mainly joggers and other photographers you’re likely to bump into!

Edit!
I’ve finally got around to processing more of the images from that night so without further ado…

Storm Clouds over Edinburgh

Old Town Twilight and storm

Leith Walk Twilight

Leith Twilight


RAW vs JPG, what’s right for you?

I follow a lot of photographers on Twitter and this is a debate that’s been rearing its head a lot of late, but is one really better than the other?

For the most part, it seems to be less experienced photographers that shoot in jpg with those who have a bit more experience making the switch to RAW. For my own part, I started off only in jpg, progressed to jpg and RAW and now 95% of the time shoot only in RAW.

So, what’s the big deal about shooting in RAW?

Quite simply, it’s all about the control you have over your image. Using RAW for your photography you can safely forget all about white balance, it’s easily adjustable in the RAW file. Blown out highlights? Not a problem, the recovery slider will get you out of that one most times. I’m not suggesting that RAW should make you lazy and you should digitally correct every imperfection, what it does is gives you a “get out of jail free card”. In other words, you take that shot of a lifetime but you forgot about the white balance, now in jpg this would be a nightmare to sort, in RAW, the shot is easily saved. It’s a great safety net, especially when you’re learning.

Of course making the switch to RAW will be slightly confusing at first until you get to grips with Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW or any other RAW importer but the benefits of control over your final image rather than settling for the manufacturer process algorithm are massive. Once you get used to dealing with RAW files you will start to realise the creative control you have over your images and it’s this I feel is the trigger to make sure you never switch back to jpg. Once you get that level of control you won’t want to lose it again.

Your other big plus point of course is that RAW is the scene as the camera see’s it. Unprocessed and every last bit of image detail intact. It’s a lossless format, unlike jpg which after it’s gets processed and compressed loses a lot of image data, even at the highest resolution. If it’s the most perfect file you want, RAW and 16bit TIFF are your way forward. High quality jpg is fine in most situations but it’s nice to know, if you ever need it, you have the full unaltered best quality image. In some cases where I’ve licensed images the printer has specifically asked for TIFF rather than RAW, an option if you have the RAW file, not so if only a jpg.

BUT… jpg has its place.

I learned this one the hard way a few years ago. I used to do a lot of rally photography with my D70 and Sigma 70-200mm f2.8. Always shooting in jpg I would come home with hundreds of images that could be quickly downloaded, cropped and upped to the web. After a few years away from this I went to a rally again but this time shot over 500 frames in RAW. Process 500 RAW images? Not a hope. I know you can automate it but if you’re doing that, what’s the point? The next time I photographed a rally I used jpg which was the right choice for the situation.

I also switched to jpg when I was out and about the Royal Mile in Edinburgh photographing the Fringe acts performing. Again, it was a case of so many shots, processing the RAW was not going to be feasible so jpg again won the day. In both the cases though, the crucial element was that I didn’t need a much creative control over the scene as I did with a landscape or flower macro photograph, I was purely documenting what was happening at that particular time.

So, that’s my take on the debate. If you need the creative control, which I do most of the time, RAW is the perfect choice. If you documenting an event and it’s more important to rattle off shots on high speed drive rather than control ever last pixel then jpg makes a lot more sense.

I’m sure this is a debate that will run and run as long as cameras give us the option of which format to use, it’d be interested though to hear your thoughts on the subject!


Favourite Edinburgh Photographs of 2010

Inspired by a blog post I read tonight by Scott Liddell I thought I’d trawl through the archives and pick my favourite Edinburgh photographs of the year month by month.

January
Spylaw Park

This was a strange shot to take. I was taken at the back door of the building of my then employer who 2 weeks earlier had gone bust. I was still working at the time for the Administrators and to be frank the days were long and lonely knocking about in a big building that once had over 100 people working in it and at this point had a dozen at most. A multiple shot pano and hdr conversion of Spylaw Park in the Colinton area of Edinburgh.

February
Entrance to the Pentlands

I didn’t do a lot of photography in February. Job uncertainness mixed with a really crap working day didn’t inspire me much, this was a standout though taken on a lunch break just up at the entrance to the Pentland Hills at Bonaly. I had gone up for a misty landscape but in the end the sun hit this scene so in went f2.8 on the Sigma 70-200mm and the shot of the month was had.

March
10 to 3

March was a really lean month. I seemed to spend most of it playing with the Hipstamatic app on the iPhone. Life picked up though, got made redundant but had a new job already. Bonus! This was taken on the Radical Road on Arthurs Seat and was done by twisting the zoom on the Sigma 70-200mm as I took the shot. Weird effect and I’ve never tried it again since.

April
Union Canal boathouse - Explored

I started taking lots of photos again in April, the mixture of better weather and finally job security had me out and about again. This is one of my favourite subjects, Ashley Boathouse on the banks of the Union Canal. Great spot to walk the dog and its only a mile or so from the house. Taken lots of pics of this this year.

May
Dean Village in summer - Explored

A hard month to pick this one as I had loads in May. However, this shot of the Dean Village in central Edinburgh has served me well this year. I thought I had overdone the colour in the HDR but it’s been rather popular and it’s going to be on greetings cards next year after I had a request to licence it.

June
Bridges Sunset 4 June 2010

I don’t seem to have done a lot in June for some reason but this is the standout shot. Once of many attempts at sunset at this location this one probably the best. This shot is special as it’s going to be the cover of a magazine in January, of which I’ll blog more about at the time…

July
Looking down Princes Street sepia

I liked this one for July, Edinburgh city centre at full flow. Taken from near the foot of Calton Hill, which if you have read this blog you’ll know if one of my favourite places in Edinburgh.

August
Reflected Fringe - Explored

August in Edinburgh is all about the Festival. Now, I had to admit I was never a festivally person before I got the photography bug but now I firmly am. I was never away from the Royal Mile in August and got some great shots of the acts. I liked this one though, a living statue held this ball and I think everyone took pics of the reflection; I got this one printed in the Metro newspaper though.

September
Princes Street Gardens

September was a funny month, I turned 40, developed an inner ear condition called Labyrinthitis which is still causing me issues and I started to play about with proper filters and move away from HDR shots. This is one of the better examples of my early playing about. I had done it as an HDR the day earlier but hated it and went back next day with the sun in a better place and nailed it. Or at least I think I did!

October
Victoria Terrace

October I took a series of shots for Maxies Wine Bar and Bistro and done their website. This was one I went to get especially at night which came out near perfect.

November
Unfinished Shadows

I had to pick this for November, it was the shot I went to get that day. I had seen something similar in snow but the sun was so strong this Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed and headed down to Calton just in time to give it a go.

December
Sundown at Cammo

December has been a good month for photographs in Edinburgh, mainly thanks to the snow. But rather than pick an obvious classic Edinburgh in the snow shot I’m going for this one taken on the Cammo Estate on the western edge of the city. I liked this as I shot into the sun and tamed the flares!

So there you go, my favourites of the year, hope you enjoyed them too!


Never be afraid to take the same photograph again…

As a photographer I’m constantly seeking out new views and subject matters. However, with Edinburgh being my main focus over time it can be difficult to find something new. What this led me to discover is that doing the same shot over and over again isn’t a bad thing. Familiarity with the subject and trying something a little different can often produce a vastly improved or very different shot.

This is the scene I’ll use to demonstrate, the classic Edinburgh Calton Hill shot, taken from the side of the Observatory building with the Dugald Stewart Monument on the left and Edinburgh Castle and the Balmoral Clock behind. THE iconic Edinburgh view.

This is a fairly typical shot, sunny day, nice blue sky. Just the Nikon D90 fitted with the Nikon 18-70mm lens, CPL and ND Soft Grads used.

Classic Edinburgh under blue sky

However, try the scene again at sunset…

This first example is the same shot done at sunset in February (the sun only sets in this scene from later October to March). This one has had quite a lot of PP work done and is a 3 shot HDR image.

Classic Edinburgh - Explored & FP

Another sunset, this time at the end of August, the sun is setting out the frame but the HDR processing has brought out the sunset colours in the sky.

Calton Hill Sunset 31 August 2010 - Explored

Finally another sunset, this time in October and not given any HDR treatment, this is down to the use of ND soft grads.

Calton Hill Sunset 11 October 2010 - Explored

So, 3 shots, all from exactly the same spot but a very different result from each.

How about at night?

Classic Edinburgh at Night

Weather can also play a big part. As soon as the snow hit Edinburgh in 2010 it was time to try the shot yet again, but with added snow!

Again, same scene but a very different shot yet again.

Calton in the Snow

So we’ve seen how the processing of the shot, times and weather can all produce different results, how about using a different lens?

Obviously for this particular scene using a big zoom would be pointless as you’d lose the foreground interest of the monument but this shot was taken with a Lensbaby 3G, a selective focus lens at around 55mm, too much to get the whole monument in but we can still get enough of it so you know it’s the same shot.

From Calton with a Lensbaby

Or how about even a very different camera, this was taken with a cheap Holga on 120 format B&W film.

Calton Hill Holga

So there you go, same scene, 8 times but 8 very different shots and I wont hesitate to take this one again if I think I can get something different again.

I’ll leave you with one other example, this was a shot I took just after Christmas 2009 on the Cammo Estate in Edinburgh with a fair bit of snow on the ground, initially I loved the shot, the HDR just worked perfectly but the fencepost on the right fouled the tree behind it and it bugged me every since I spotted it.

The way in... - Explored
However, with the snow on the ground again before Christmas 2010 I got a chance to redo the shot, which now I’m very happy with.

The Way In - revisited

Never be afraid to revisit places you’ve been and take the same shot, at the end of the day if you get enjoyment out of it take the same shot every day. There’s always something different even if the same scene if you look for it!


Photographing traffic light trails – a quick guide

Done correctly, traffic light trails can produce striking almost abstract images. However, getting the perfect shot isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.

So, what’s the technique behind it?

Well, the good news is to capture light trails all you need is a camera that will allow you to control the exposure time and a tripod, no expensive filters required, no fancy lens’s although a very wide lens will give a more dramatic result, as we’ll see further down the page.

Obviously, you won’t be capturing light trails in daylight, no lights on the traffic equals no light trails, no matter how much you filter out the light so we’ll be working at dusk, dawn or for best results at night.

Also, think carefully about your location. An obvious place to start is a motorway footbridge. The advantages here are, dark road, lots of traffic and on a bridge you can get central to it safely.

The actual technique is the same in all the shots below. Set your camera to Aperture Priority mode and try to get your shutter speed into the 20s sort of bracket, any more and you risk flooding the scene with too much light, 20s on fast moving traffic will be more than enough. Be careful to not to over or underexpose the surrounding area. Under exposed and you’ll get a dark image with the light trails, over exposed and it’ll likely take on a brownish hue and look false. Get the scene correct and let the light trails take care of themselves!

This shot was taken on a bridge on top of a 2 lane dual carriageway, the trick here is to time the shot when the most traffic is in the scene, try to make sure there are cars on both side of the road to get a balanced shot.

Light Trails and Light Pollution

Another option is to get right down to the roadside and take the shot from the pavement. Don’t be tempted to do this with a motorway for obvious reasons. A squashed photographer doesn’t take many good shots! This is best attempted in an urban area where there is something of significant background interest.

This shot was taken at the top of the Mound in Edinburgh, the technique is mainly the same as above. Expose the scene correctly and then wait for the traffic before you open the shutter. Don’t just give it one go, once your setup, take loads, you’ll get all different results. Emergency vehicles with flashing lights give unusual results too.

Once you’re in an urban setting buses are your friend. As the bus is lit inside as well as having headlights you get a stronger trail from a bus. Double deckers are even better as it gives you some nice high trails in the shot.

Light Trails on the Mound

Be careful though, this is a failed attempt at side of road light trails, the reason it failed? Too much ambient street lighting. The junction was simply too well lit and the trails just don’t stand out enough.

Failed light trails

This is an example of putting the roadside and central technique together. Here I’ve placed the tripod directly in the centre of Edinburgh’s famous Princes Street. Luckily, this location has a small thin traffic island running the length of the road providing a safe area to take the shot.

This example was taken with a very wide lens at 10mm. There’s a lot of ambient light here but it’s out to the sides of the shot and doesn’t affect the trails. As there’s a LOT of bus traffic it’s a near perfect location. This is a 20s exposure at f22. The scene is correctly exposed, there’s sufficient background interest and because the traffic goes along in a straight line we get very definite straight light trails. By far the best method but choose your location carefully and above all, be safe.

Princes Street light trails

Princes Street Light Trails - Explored

You can also just about do this sort of shot at dusk or dawn. This was meant to be a sunrise shot with the big wheel and Scott Monument, in the event it was dull and overcast. There was too much light to get a 20s exposure but even the shorter exposure has added to a not very dramatic scene adding a much needed burst of colour.

The wheel at dawn

So there you have it. It’s not that hard and it’s 90% about choosing your location wisely. Do experiment when you find a good location, different densities of traffic provide very different shots. Don’t be afraid to rattle off hundreds of shots if need be. Every one will be different and you never know what might be the best when you download the results.

Feel free to leave a comment below or show us your best light trail examples!


6 Top Locations to Photograph an Edinburgh Sunset

I wish I could have made this a top sunset and sunrise blog post but not being an early morning person, sunset locations will have to do!

Of course, there are millions of places to photograph the sunset from, but not all of them will have anything to interesting in the shot. I’ve tried to avoid city centre locations s there are literally millions of places, what I’ll concentrate on there are the more full on landscape sunsets.

Some of these are pretty seasonal depending on the position of the sun and I’ll attempt to tell you when best to go and take your sunset pictures from there, as always, Suncalc is an invaluable resource in planning your location and timings.

1. Calton Hill

Calton Hill Sunset 11 October 2010 - Explored

Classic Edinburgh - Explored & FP

Calton Hill is undoubtedly one of the best locations for a sunset but it’s seasonal. From roughly October to March the sun will come down in view of the front end of the hill, i.e. the bit that looks onto Edinburgh Castle. The rest of the year your Calton Hill sunsets will have either St James Centre or the roof of the Omni Centre in the foreground, not the most attractive buildings it has to be said. The first shot below was late October and the 2nd one was early February. If you want the sun behind the Castle, early to mid November is the time to aim for.

2. Salisbury Crags

Edinburgh Castle at Sunset HDR

This one is pretty much an all year round location but autumn and spring will see the sun down nearest the castle. Due to the height it’s a challenging place to photograph the sunset and I don’t feel I’ve got a shot I’m happy with from here yet. Don’t go up with a really wide angle lens though; otherwise you’ll get the undesirable flats of Dumbiedykes in the foreground of your shots.

3. Forth Bridges

Forth Bridge Sunset June 4 2010

Forth Road Bridge sunset - Explored

South Queensferry is such a good location if I could only take one picture again it would be this one and the Bridges. Get down the little road to the right of the rail bridge and you can get both bridges in one shot, it’s a summer shot though as the sun comes down too far to the left once you get to late October.

The road bridge is easier to get in the sunset shot but again, it’s best in summer unless you go over to the North Queensferry side.

4. Cramond

Cramond sunset

Cramond Sunset 4

Cramond again is best in summer, later in the year the sun will come down over the land and not the water, far less spectacular. In the height of summer on a calm night, try getting the boats moored at the mouth of the Almond or get out onto the causeway at low tide and get the sun reflecting in the wet sand. You might even want to risk some wet feet and get the sun through the submarine defences, do take care to check the tide times though.

5. Newhaven Harbour

Newhaven Lighhouse at Sunset

Sunset is possible at Newhaven Harbour most of the year but later in the year the sun will set over Granton and you’ll lose the reflections on the water. Earlier in the year you’ll be able to get the lighthouse and long reflections of the sun in the Firth of Forth or from further back, even directly through the mouth of the harbour itself.

6. Blackford Hill

Sunset over Edinburgh from Blackford Hill

Edinburgh Sunset from Blackford Hill - Explored

Blackford Hill is a bit of a funny location for the sunset. Ideally you’d want the sunset with Edinburgh Castle as your main focus from here but the sun comes down nowhere near the Castle from Blackford, you’ll only get that orange glow bleeding that far over the sky on the most perfect sunset nights. Otherwise, you’ll need to get right to the top at the trig point to make the best of it. The sun will come down roughly behind Corstorphine Hill in summer moving round to behind Braid Hill in winter. Best foreground interest will be the houses of Morningside or Craiglockhart Hill.

So, that’s my 6 favourite locations, how about adding some more in the comments below?


10 top tips for Photography beginners

Let’s start with a little background information…

I would never describe myself as anything other than a keen amateur at photography despite having an interest for at least the last 10 years. I got my first DSLR when the Nikon D70 hit UK shores and for years took nothing other than motor sport shots, particularly rallying. Now, rally photography, no matter what anybody tells you isn’t rocket science. Shutter priority, pick your spot and off you go. Easy.

Over all those years I never explored further until I started to kindle an interest in “other” types of photography in early 2009. After struggling with the D70 I finally bit the bullet and bought a Nikon D90 in May 2009 and the learning curve began. What follows are some of the biggest lessons I learned which hopefully will prove helpful to other “learners” such as myself.

1. Whatever you do, get your pictures out there on the internet.

Why, you might think, would I want to do this? Simple, websites such as Flickr or Blipfoto allow you to interact with other photographers and from there you’ll get feedback on your images and be able to see how other people achieved their results. Flickr was the single biggest source of learning and inspiration for me and its well worth paying for the pro subscription but do make an effort to get involved, the more you contribute the more you’ll get back. I learned loads from people on Flickr and now enjoy passing on some of the knowledge.

2. Always buy the best you can afford.

It makes a difference. If you can afford to buy a decent DSLR and lenses then it will pay dividends for you. If all you can afford is a compact, then that’s fine but get the more feature packed one you can. By that I don’t mean all different pre-set modes or wireless printer links etc, make sure you can control the camera manually by setting the aperture etc, once you progress you’ll want more control and if you don’t have it you’ll stand still taking snapshots.

3. Diversify.

Don’t pick one subject matter or one style of photography when you’re starting out, try all sorts and from that, decide what works for you. I have a real passion for photographing my home town, Edinburgh but I also enjoy macro photography, low depth of field shots, etc etc. It keeps things interesting and if you enjoy landscapes its good to have something else to do if the weather isn’t the best for tramping around the countryside. You never know, you might just find a style that suits you and your equipment better.

4. Invest in lenses carefully

If you go the DSLR route then you’ll start to build a collection of lenses. Lenses no matter what manufacturer you go for are never cheap so be careful what you buy. Carefully consider what you want it for and what you need for the job. Most cameras will come with a kit lens, a fairly cheap lens usually in the 18-55mm range. This will serve you well for most situations. I’d say from that add a decent bigger zoom lens, my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM was expensive but the quality is fantastic and its been used without fault for years. It’s usually always true the more you spend the better you’ll get.

Don’t be too hung up on only buying Nikon or Canon branded lenses etc, Sigma and other 3rd party manufacturers all produce some great glass and usually cheaper prices and in some cases, they are even better than the camera manufacturer’s equivalent. I’ve got a mix of Sigma and Nikon lenses and never had any problems with the Sigma’s which are all of excellent build quality.

A kit lens and a decent zoom will serve you well and you can add specialist glass such as macro lenses, or super wide lenses as you grow and learn.

5. Invest in a decent tripod and remote switch

Don’t skimp on a tripod. You might not see it as a huge problem but having been through loads of cheap, and by cheap I mean sub £30 tripods I finally broke the bank and spent £120 of a Giottos tripod and head and never looked back. The ease of use and build quality are well worth paying for. It might seem a lot for something to sit a camera on but having wasted over £60 on cheap tripods believe me it’s not that bad. As I’ve progressed I find I use it all the time, even it good light as you’re taking no chances with camera shake and ruining a good shot.

A decent remote shutter release is also a godsend. Don’t be too hung up on the IR ones, they do work but your better of with one connected by a cable. £20 on EBay will buy you a programmable one and they go hand in hand with the tripod use.

6. Learn the importance of filters early on

Filters are the key to great images. You probably will already have a UV or skylight screw in filter on your lenses to protect the front element but take the time to learn what circular polarisers and natural density filters can do for you. Most people start with screw in versions as they are easy to use and mainly, you can get them fairly cheap. The downside of them is that if you have different lenses with different sized filter threads you need different filters to fit them all.

In this case, look at square filter systems such as the Cokin P range. To start with, unless you’re a lottery winner don’t bother too much with the top range stuff like the Lee filters unless you’re going to make a business from your photography. The 85mm Cokin P range is fine for most amateur use and a hell of a lot cheaper. You’ll need filter adapter rings to fit your lenses but after than everything else fits on all lenses, you only need one filter holder and one set of filters. I bought the following on eBay for under £100 and it serves me well in 99% of situations. The only limitation is with my Sigma 10-20mm lens but I can use the filters down to 12mm with no vignette from the holder.

77mm adapter ring
67mm adapter ring
Cokin P holder
Cokin P wide angle holder
Kood 85mm circular polariser
Set of 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 Hitech ND filters
Set of 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 Hitec ND Soft Grads

7. Learn and understand about your cameras aperture priority mode.

I wont attempt to tell you about aperture settings in photography, there’s a million tutorials if you Google it. Read up on it, it’s the single most important thing you’ll learn.

8. Don’t be afraid to repeat a shot

So you’ve taken a trip out and came back with a handful of images. You’re maybe quite happy with what you got. BUT, don’t think that’s it, best I can do from there. Go back, try again, maybe do something different. You will be amazed at how you can improve a picture by become familiar with the scene. I’ve done the classic Edinburgh shot from Calton Hill dozens of times and improve it every time or get something different every time and never tire of it. Try the shot at sunrise, sunset, dusk, dark, cloudy days, blue sky etc etc, you will be amazed at how many differences you can get and how you will get better and better at it.

9. Plan a trip out before hand.

Check the internet, is where your going closed at a certain time? Check Suncalc, what’s the sun position when I get there? Look at the location on Google Maps; see where you can get access and what angles you might get. Think about what shots you might take and what equipment you might need. Plan where to park or even if you can park? Check the weather forecast. Doing costal shots? Check Tide Times. Planning can make a world of difference!

10. If your camera lets you, shoot in RAW

RAW is the key to great images, if you can set your camera to give you RAW output, use it and learn how to process it. I use it with Adobe Camera Raw with photoshop but there are stacks of programmes out there to read and process RAW files, once you try RAW you won’t ever go back to jpeg!

So that’s my tips for any beginners or upcoming amateurs. I’m not saying I’m perfect but this is what’s worked well for me, hopefully, it’ll work well for you too. Any other tips, feel free to leave them in the comments.


Photographing Toys – The secret life of Danbo

Danbo… I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been asked why when people see my Danbo pictures. The answer is, it’s a bit of fun and something to do when the real photography gets a little dull or the dark nights finally take away the post work photo outings.

So who is Danbo? Danbo, or Danboard to give him his Sunday name is a popular cartoon figure in Japan, he’s a small boy in side cardboard boxes to make him look like a robot. Danbo figures appeared quite some time ago and more recently the amazon.co.jp and 7-11 brands had special editions made. The Amazon version seems to be particularly popular and comes in 2 sizes. Big Danbo is about 5 inches tall, mini Danbo about 2 inches.

Although a bit of a Flickr phenomenon Danbo isn’t that easy to get in the UK. Amazon doesn’t sell them on the UK site and the Japanese site doesn’t ship to UK addresses. EBay is your best bet but expect to pay around £40 for either version. Yesasia.com do occasionally stock them at about half that price but I’ve yet to actually see them in stock on that site,

The idea with Danbo and indeed any other toys is to make them seem almost real. To put them in posed real life situations. Let your imagination run riot, add props, and add even more toys to the shot, whatever you like! I use a Domo Kun (another Japanese cartoon favourite) in my Danbo shots a lot to give me more scope what they an do and have built up a theme of fierce looking Domo torturing the cutesy Danbo, just for the fun of it! I’ve also go a mini Domo, Morph (remember him?) and the Corsa guys. All have been used at some time or another in mainly silly shots that make me laugh.

It’s popular on Flickr for people to use Danbo in cute, twee poses, as you’ll see from the pics that follow, that’s not what really what I go in for…

1. To Boldy Go…

To boldly go... - Explore #2, FP

This is the best one I done. This shot not only made Flickr Explore, it went onto the Front Page and peaked at number 2 for November 4th 2009. By far my best Flickr performance! The white borders either side were to turn it from portrait to square as Flickr never features portrait shots on its front page.

This was actually 2 shots grafted together in Photoshop, as are a lot of these. Danbo was taped to the rocket for shot 1; I placed it in the light of my back security lights and played about with a few shots on a 50mm lens at about f4. With shot 1 in the bag, Danbo was carefully removed from the rocket and the rocket lit. Camera was triggered at the same manual settings from a remote and high speed drive to get the lit shot then both RAW files were processed the same and merged together in Photoshop.

2. Danbo Arrives

Danbo arrives...

My first attempt at a Danbo. Nothing to taxing here. A 50mm lens at f1.8 and job done. The huge bokeh effect was tin foil behind, crumpled up and flattened out again, lit from the side by a little flash.

3. Danbo Gets a Fright

Danbo gets a fright

This shot was 3 shots grafted together. It was just too hard to get Danbo to sit in that position so I had to hold him, take the shot, hold him in the same place but with fingers in another bit, take a shot and finally take the pic of my hand with the mini blowtorch. The first 2 shots were put together, I took the 2nd one to replace the bit of Danbo where I held him in the first, and then this was blended to the 3rd shot with the blowtorch.

4. Up, Up and Away

Up up and away... - Explored

This was done in a single shot and took a bit of setting up to get right. The background is an A0 piece of mounting card with a huge sheet of paper attached to it. Danbo was taped to the balloon and the balloon taped to the top of the board. The fan and Domo were placed in last. Getting the angle to take the shot wasn’t the easiest!

5. Trapped in a Mac Danbo was sad…

Trapped in a Mac Danbo was sad - Explored

Again, 2 shots needed for this one. Shot one was the Danbo in the Mac shot on a white background with his head down looking sad. That shot was processed and placed in the bottom corner of a white background jpg. That shot was then opened using OSX’s preview and the Macbook and Danbo placed into shot together for the final shot.

6. Danbo Rain

Danbo Rain

Danbo works well looking sad. This was again shot with the 50mm f1.8 lens, flash on and Danbo stood on the roof of my car. The rain was provided by the garden hose with a sprinkler attachment. The flash worked well in freezing the motion of the raindrops.

7. Domo was being nasty

Domo was being nasty today... - Explored

Taken with the same background as shot 4, the pen is blue tacked to Domo’s arm (handy stuff).

8. Domo’s Snowball

Domo's snowball

I quite like to try and tell a story with these shots, and 2 shots are always better than one for this. With the camera on a tripod its easy to take shot 1, then adjust for shot 2 and it’s easily combined for the final image.

9. If you gotta go…

If you've gotta go... - Explored

Easy one this. Danbo positioned at the edge of the table and the water spout aimed just past his waist level. Water jet not in front of Danbo cloned out to give the Danbo piddling impression!

10. Danbo’s little switch

Danbo's little switch - Explored
Danbo has a little switch on the side of his head to make his eyes light up or at least mines did till it broke off. Here it’s got an alternate use. 2 shots again, Danbo suspended from a washing line with fishing guy for shot 1. Shot 2 is the mini blowtorch photographed outside at night and the resulting flames grafted on to Danbo’s legs in Photoshop.

So, there you go, 10 ideas for photographing Danbo but its done regularly on Flickr with all manner of toys, Lego figures are particularly popular. Give it a try; you might just enjoy yourself with it!


Top 10 Edinburgh Railings You Must Photograph

Railings? Railings, I hear you cry? Why on earth would you want to take pictures of railings? Well, put quite simply, done correctly with a shallow depth of field, you can get some amazing abstract images and it’s really not that hard to do. I’ve also found it a great way to save a photo outing when the light is terrible for “normal” shots. Regardless of the light you’ll be able to do something with a humble railing.

So, what do you need? Well, a DSLR helps, obviously, or a compact that will allow you to control the aperture. All the shots that follow were taken with either a Nikon 50mm f1.8 or Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM lens. Both end of the spectrum here, the 50mm is ultra cheap, around £110, the Sigma nearer £700 but both will let you do great railings. In fact, even a kit lens at its widest setting, usually about f3.5 will allow you to get some kind of decent bokeh effect.

It might seem obvious but metal railings are what we’re looking for, not wooden fences, mainly as the light will “glint” on metal railings allowing us to get that bokeh effect we’re looking for. What’s bokeh? See those little fuzzy circles of light, that’s bokeh and using it correctly can produce some very striking results.

The main technique involves setting the lens to its widest setting, in the 50mm case, f1.8, in the 70-200mm, f2.8. Now, pick your railing and pick a spike to focus on, you want to be as near as possible to the minimum focal distance from it you can. In the case of the 50mm its about 45cm. Focusing on a spike at 45cm distance at f1.8 will produce an extreme bokeh effect, moving a few feet away and focusing on the same spike will lessen the effect, play about and see what works.

Try to pick railings that curve round corners or have light falling on them in some way, anything to give a little more to the shot than a straight look down a fence. Check out the example below, I’ll even tell you where to find them…

1. National Gallery of Scotland

Walking towards the Playfair Steps there’s a set of railings here with fairly sharp spikes. This shot was taken on a fairly sunny day at a big zoom at f2.8 with the Sigma giving a WILD bokeh effect.

Extreme fence bokehery - Explored

2. Still at the National Gallery

Running right around the National Gallery are another pointy set of railings, immediately across from the first shot, again, an extreme bokeh effect with a little sunlight hitting the tops of the peaks.

The Depth of the National Gallery Fence

3. Calton Hill

These railings are found on the driveway up to Calton Hill; they are right at the entrance gates and sweep round into Regents Road. At the right angle with a little sunlight, this is roughly what you’ll get!

Calton bokeh fence

4. The Playfair Steps

Found at the top of the Mound leading down to the National Gallery of Scotland is the Playfair Steps, looking down these gives a nice effect, even better if there’s a few pedestrians about waiting to be turned into lovely bokeh!

Bokeh all the way down

5. Mound Place/The Mound

The Mound is a great area to play around with these shots, there’s so many railings! This is on the corner of Mound Place and The Mound, a nice sweepings set round the corner. Focus on the apex of the curve, job done.

Round the Mound

6. The Hub

The Hub’s not hard to find. It’s that huge spire just next to Edinburgh Castle. At its entrance is a nice set of sweeping railings. This is the one to the right, heading up towards the Castle.

Hub Railings Part 3

7. The Botanic Gardens

A bit out the City Centre but the Botanics is a photographers dream at the best of times. If you get fed up with the flowers, try the railings! This set is just to the left of the North Gate.

Botanics fence-keh or is it fenceh?

8. Waverly Bridge

These attractive green railings are at the bottom of Waverly Bridge, just at the bottom entrance to East Princes Street Gardens. This was a shot with the 50mm lens after an outing to take shots of the Xmas big wheel during the day, in the end I preferred this to any of the wheel shots.

More railings than you can shake a stick at

9. The Dugald Stewart Monument

The Dugald Stewart Monument is usually the subject of many of Edinburgh’s classic views from Calton Hill but take a closer look at the structure and you’ll see these great ornate railings around the base. Shot with the 50mm lens.

Calton Railings

10. Regents Road

Just below Calton Hill is Regents Road, there’s a huge set of railings down one side of the road here, get in the right position and you can get Arthur’s Seat as a backdrop! Shot with a Nikon 18-70mm DX at f3.5.

Leading to Arthurs Seat

So that’s my top 10, I’d love to hear any other suggestions. Feel free to post them or your own shots of Edinburgh railings in the comments below.


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