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

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