Archive for November, 2010

200,000 and counting on Flickr

200,000 and counting on Flickr

The stats…

200,000 page views and counting

200,000

My most popular image according to Flickr is Danbo on a firework, this reached Explore number 2 and the Front Page as well.

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

My own personal favourite is this image of Calton Hill, its also the view I’ve photographed most in Edinburgh. This reached a high of 15 in Explore and went front page as well. This image was also published by the Edinburgh Evening News:

Classic Edinburgh - Explored & FP

My First front page image was this abstract number which went as high as number 24 in Explore:

Back garden bokeh - FP Explored

This was my 2nd Front Page image which curiously only went as high as 48 in Explore, usually out the range of a FP image:

Hoverfly drama queen with added willowherb - FP Explored

My 5th and latest FP was this shot taken in Princes Street, Edinburgh which went as high as number 22:

Princes Street Light Trails - Explored, FP

I’ve now had 90 images in Explore, of which this slightly embarrassing shot was the very first:

Hulk want daisys EXPLORED

The rest of my Explore images can be seen here

Thanks to everyone who’s every commented, fav’d or even viewed my stuff on Flickr!

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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!