I honestly thought I would use nothing other than Nikon cameras. I’d been through a few in my time first as a rally photographer and lately, as a urban/landscape photographer. Over the years the D70, D90, D5200, D7000, D7100, D600, D750, D800 and D4 have all at one time or another been the camera of choice and I’ve had great experiences with them all as well.
As you’d expect, I built up a fair collection of Nikon fit lenses to go with this little lot so switching systems was something I just couldn’t envisage. I had a brief flirtation with both the Sony FX mirrorless range and a few Fuji cameras as well but it never stuck, I always went back to the Nikon gear, but there was something about the Fuji that kept nagging at me…
You’d think after having already had a X100s, X100t, X-E2 and X-T1 and eventually sold them all on, I’d have ticked Fuji off the list but no, there was something about them I just couldn’t quite get out of my system.
I lasted another 6 months and then started looking seriously at Fuji kit again. My reasoning being that I hadn’t gave it a proper chance before, I had always compromised and never had a equal lens lineup to the Nikons. By this time I was carrying around a Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 24-70mm, 18-35mm and more often than not, the big Tamron 150-600mm. The weight of the kit was started to become back breaking and I started to get problems with my shoulders that seen me in near constant pain.
This time I didn’t go into the Fuji kit by halves, I reckoned I needed enough so I wasn’t constantly turning back to the Nikon kit so bought a Fuji X-T1, 16-55mm f2.8, 10-24mm and 55-200mm. I wasn’t plugging the big zoom gap that I liked to use so much for my landscapes but for now, this was enough. I also opted to keep my old Sigma 105mm macro and use that with the X-T1 via a Fuji to Nikon adapter. I always used manual focus for macro anyway so wasn’t a huge deal.
This time it stuck. For as good as the next year, I shot nothing but Fuji only making a brief trip back to Nikon land twice to my D800 and felt the Fuji results better both times. This was the revelation I was wanting. The kit weight was a fraction of the Nikons and image quality, where it mattered was every bit as good. I missed the high ISO and blistering shutter of the D4 but for 95% of the stuff I did, Fuji worked and worked perfectly.
Over the next year I added a Fuji X-Pro2 which was a huge step up over an X-T1 which I eventually traded for an old Fuji X100s. Next to come up was the Fuji X-T2 which quite frankly is possibly the perfect camera. Into this little mix also came an X30 for travel use and while not an X series, I also added a Neo 90 Instax.
Lens wise, I kept what I had but have added the 50-140mm f2.8, 100-400mm and 2x tele. Even with this lot in the bag, it’s still lighter than the Nikon kit was! My usual carry around kit is the X-T2, 10-24, 16-55, 50-140 and 2x tele. If I need it, I’ll put the 100-400 in there as well.
And… here’s where the biggest change comes in. I’ve started doing something that I hadn’t done for years, street photography. The Fuji’s somehow cry out for it? I’ve been back to taking walks with only the X100s in the centre of Edinburgh at night, the camera set on auto ISO (200-6400), f2, min shutter of 1/60th and the Mono film simulation mode. It’s been a revelation and for me NOT to shoot in RAW is unheard of but I’m so pleased with the JPEGs coming from the Fuji’s I don’t really need to.
The X-T2 has also had some good outings. It’s been quite liberating to just take the X-T2, 16-55mm and a spare battery and just wander off to see what I find, freed up from the shackles of a kit bag, being forced to think in other ways without the luxury of a suite of lenses. It’s been inspiring and sparked a creative bug that was fading up until now. I use much the same settings with the X-T2 (and X-Pro2) but love using Classic Chrome when I shoot these.
What started out as a weight saving exercise transformed the way I take pictures now. I still have a highly capable landscape setup when I need it but I also have versatility in a manageable package, something I was lacking with large full frame cameras. Having shot full frame for a few years I had zero hesitation in going back to an APS-C sensor, it didn’t even cross my mind to be fair. Full frame isn’t the be all end all of photography, what it is though putting yourself in an expensive upgrade route and committing to large and bulky kit. I don’t miss using full frame one little bit.
So where now? Next plan is to add some primes to the lens collection, probably the 14mm, 23mm, 35mm and the 60mm first and maybe, just maybe I’ll set about trying to acquire a X-100F as well. Whatever happens though, I’ll be sticking with Fuji for the foreseeable future and my advice to anyone thinking about doing similar? Do it, but do it right and you will love it!
We’re just a few hours away from the biggest firework display Edinburgh, the capital city of fireworks puts on every year. Yes, I know it’s short and the end of Festival ones are a good 40 minutes long but the festival ones are largely naff, the midnight display though is a belter. BUT, where to watch or photograph it? I’ve had the pleasure of photographing this a few times over the years so here’s a run down of what to expect at some of the better vantage points.
Are you mad? Crammed in with 80,000 “revellers”? The view will be incredible and in windy conditions you are better closer in but you’d toil to use a tripod of any kind. Will be great to view but unless you want to shoot high ISO and handheld I’d be looking elsewhere.
No doubt, Calton has a view and a half AND you’ll also see the light and laser show on the castle rock but it’ll be busy, very very busy. There’s also building work going on up Calton that takes away some of the prime spots for photographs and large parts of the hill will be sectioned off, especially if there’s any fireworks going up from Calton as well. Photographing the festival fireworks from up here usually means you will be part of a mass of tripods all clamoring for the best view. If you have the patience to deal with it, you will get some great shots. The thing to watch out for is the fireworks smoke, it’ll drift towards the Calton direction tonight so get shots as soon as they start as you might be in the smoke as the display progresses.
Hundreds of potential viewpoints but the park will be shut so it’ll be a long walk no matter where you go, you’ll also get the full force of the wind tonight. That said, if you get high enough the pics will be fantastic.
You won’t see the light and laser show as it’ll be on the other side but it’s a good location to watch the fireworks. It doesn’t get too busy at New Year either. If you head here, presuming you are in the main car park, head up the path until you get to the first grit bin, take a right here until you get to the view of the Castle, there are 2 benches here, to the left and right. There’s a path in front that curves off to the left towards another bench, follow that path past the bench until you get to a bit with a clear view to the Castle. You get some decent shelter here from west winds so it’s a decent place for photographs, you’ll need at least a 200mm lens, preferably more.
Of all the places I’ve taken pics over the years, this was one of the worst. The view is great, you’ll also see some of the light and laser show but hands down, this was the worst place I’ve tried to take pics. Setup well before the fireworks in the 10 minutes leading up to midnight the place will fill up with mostly very posh drunk people, nightmare scenario. If you do, setup on the slope lower down, you might get lucky but don’t even attempt it up by the tree line.
Great view, great place to take pics but horrible atmosphere. Last time I was there it was heaving, lots of aggressive drunks, random fireworks being let off. Hated it but the pics were good.
At the end of Carrington Road looking over the rugby pitch of Fettes Police station there’s a decent view to the Castle. It’ll be quiet too, worth considering. You won’t see the laser or light show but a no nonsense location if ever there was one.
You’ll see everything, including Ariel shots, the light and laser show, everything. It’s warm and inviting and where I’ll be tonight!
Where ever you end up, enjoy it, stay safe and have a happy new year!
Like many photographers, over the last year I’ve been taking taking tentative steps into the world of mirrorless cameras. Well, to be honest, I’ve been dipping a toe in the mirrorless scene for a good while longer having had a Sony A7, Fuji X-E2 and Fuji X-T1 already but this time was different, both socks were off and I was knee deep paddling about in mirrorless cameras.
I’d gone into it half hearted before but that simply doesn’t work. One falter with the kit and you start wishing you had the old trusted DSLR with you instead. There IS a learning curve, no doubt about it, the cameras are similar but also very different from DSLR’s and it will take time to get into using them, as it does with any new bit of kit. With that in mind I strode forward, throwing caution to the wind and bought a shitload of Fuji gear.
I walked from Calumet carrying a Fuji X-T1, 16-55mm f2.8, 10-24mm and 55-200mm. I hadn’t even reached the car before buyer regret set in. £2.5k, just like that? What am I doing? Wonder if they will take it back?
But, I had good reason, in my mind at least. I had been having specific shoulder and neck problems and carrying about a Nikon D4 and a few f2.8 lenses plus a 150-600 puts some strain on that particular area no matter what kind of bag you use. You could use a roller bag I suppose but hardly practical walking over a muddy field not to mention looking like you were off on holiday every time you went out taking pics. No, the aim here was to lighten the kit and the Fuji X series was perfect in that respect but would it stack up in others, ease of use and image quality being the most important?
I’m happy to say it did, on all counts. Having a full kit meant I could leave the Nikon’s at home and really concentrate on using and getting to know the Fuji kit. That was the key, previously I had used the Fuji as a secondary kit to the Nikons, never really got to know it and it never quite clicked, this time it did.
I’ve shot nothing but Fuji X series since March 2016 and don’t intend to switch back to DSLR’s. I’ve since added a Fuji X-Pro2 and Fuji 100-400mm and a 2x tele all of which have been brilliant but the real jewel in the crown is the Fuji X-T2, this camera is quite simply one of the best I have ever used. It’s early days with it yet but by all accounts, from first impressions, it’s an outstanding bit of kit.
So why didn’t I go Sony and get that nice full frame sensor? Well, I wasn’t overly impressed with the Sony kit I tried, there was a horrendous flare issue with the Sony, which could have been either the A7 or the 70-200mm f4 but whatever it was, it killed Sony cameras for me. The E mount lenses are also big, they have to be for that FX sensor so that took away one of the main reasons for switching, weight. Price was another factor, the new Sony f2.8 lenses are eye wateringly expensive, sure the Fuji ones are too but nothing near the Sony prices.
So, do I have any regret in ditching Nikon? Nope.
Do I have any regret ditching full frame? Nope.
Will I switch back to a DSLR anytime soon? Not a hope.
Is there anything I can’t do with the Fuji the Nikon could? Not found anything yet.
Would I recommend it to anyone? Well, that depends on what you are after. It might not be for everyone but for me it meant I could further without kit weighing me down, it also meant I could take the whole bag with me rather than deciding what lenses to leave behind in the car.
The only thing to beware of is the expense. That DSLR kit you have, you probably built up of years of careful purchases. You will want to replicate it with the new kit and you’ll want to do in a matter of months, not years most likely and that will be EXPENSIVE! Selling existing kit will help finance some it but you’ll likely still find some significant outlay.
I now believe that these cameras like the Sony A series and Fuji X series are now the future of photography. DSLR’s won’t go anywhere for a while but in 10 years time or so, if the tech keeps moving the way it is just now, we’ll all be using mirrorless cameras and watching Canon and Nikon playing a serious game of catch up.
A year ago, I was stood in the Apple store in Princes Street, mesmerised. It was the most beautiful piece of tech I had ever seen, it was perfect and I was falling for the sales patter. “And you can do precision editing in iMovie with the Apple Pencil” and I’m stood there thinking, “That’ll be awesome, I could edit a movie on the move! And that pencil, I can draw thing, use it to take notes as well, this is a no brainer!”.
Of course, it was the new iPad Pro. It was £900 of shiny and it was oh so shiny. £900 lighter, I skipped off up the road, mind boggling with the possibilitiesa that new device would bring. This was a game changer, especially with that Pencil thing, awesome! Editing and uploading pics will never be the same again!
Fast forward a year and my iPad pro is basically a occasional games machine and a super sized Kindle. It’s been all over the place with me, I carry it every day. The number of times I’ve done real work on it? Well, a one armed man would have enough fingers to do this count. I’ve taken in on holidays, once I think I connected a camera via WiFi but it was a pain in the arse to do so never done it again, not that it mattered as the app store isn’t exactly dripping with really good RAW editors anyway. This is where the device fails, it’s fiddly. It’s fiddly to get stuff from a camera onto it. It’s fiddly to work with the files. The Apple Pencil is just fiddly full stop. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a glorious device for movie playback and for gaming but I bought it off the back of the Apple claims it could replace a laptop.
The last straw came when on holiday in Barcelona. A photographers dream location. Despite being on hols, Real Edinburgh continues to roll along. I still need to speak to customers, I still need to update the page. Stop updating and you soon fall off the radar of the timeline and it’s a bugger to get the reach up, so hols or not, I need to do this stuff. Answering customers with an on screen keyboard is a pain but that wasn’t the biggest problem.
For this trip I had had acquired a Fuji X100s, a fine camera but not the newest model. It had slipped my notice that the x100s didn’t have WiFi which was an issue. I had content for the page but no way at all of getting of from an SD card to the iPad unless I visited the Apple store for an adapter at about £30. That was the point that struck me that the iPad while a glorious device is lacking in some areas, connectivity being a biggie. No SD slot is another, especially for a photographer. Carrying about a range of bits to plug into the lightning port kind of defeats the purpose of using such a device?
So, for the first time in years, I found myself stalking the aisles of PC World today, not drooling over the Mac selections but immersing myself into the world of Windows 10 laptops. It was a strange and bewildering place, where most items appeared to be out of stock but I got the solution to what I need for my photography on the move and abroad. It came in the shape of a Dell Inspirion 13 laptop. It sports 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and 7th Gen i5 processor but what really makes it useful, 2 USB slots and an SD card reader. It’s a little larger than the iPad Pro, a fair bit thicker but crucially, it does what I need it to do and it’s small enough to travel with. It’s running Photoshop and Bridge CC just fine as well.
I have to admit I had a look at the Macs but at nearly double the price for the lovely 12” and small MacBook for the first time I felt I couldn’t justify Apple prices especially as I have a powerhouse MacBook pro that is perfect in every way, it’s just too big and heavy. Windows also gives me some flexibility to run some of the Astro software apps out there and get back into the CCD camera imaging again with a telescope.
So, what now for the shiny? Well, I still want an iPad but maybe back to the usual size one an Air 2 will be more than ample. I’ll still probably take it away as well, loaded with games and the Kindle app but at a more manageable size. I’m looking forward to traveling again and giving the x100s a good workout and being able to see and edit shots while away. I’ve a few trips lined up including a return visit to Barcelona, it’ll be interesting to see how it all works.
Well, it’s been a while since I last blogged on here hasn’t it?
3 years to be exact.
Why did I stop? I have no idea really? I don’t think I ran out of things to say but maybe just ran out of the steam to put them in a coherant order for others to read?
Why have I started again? Again, I don’t really know. I think it’s maybe the overwhelming urge to write some sort of book that’s sitting within me that’s driving it and indeed the fear of even trying to write one. As much as I’d love to give it a go, I’m scared to do it. Scared to plough in huge amounts of time and have the idea fizzle out half way though. So, maybe a return to blogging might help a little, if nothing else get me used to writing again, writing something longer than a single paragraph attempt at wit for Real Edinburgh posts.
I had thought about putting the blog on the Real Edinburgh site, the important one that sells the prints but due to the haphazard way it’s setup, it appears to be not possible without stripping out the theme or creating a whole new intro page, which I may do but impatience has brought me back here to the old blog. If I put an obstacle in the way like sorting out the other site I’ll never do it and the urge will go away so here I am, blowing the stoor of a blog untouched and unloved for the last 3 years. Giving it a shine up with the sleeve of a jumper and hoping it still works.
Only one way to find out…
There doesn’t appear to be a name for a fear of tripods, an as yet unrecognised but very real phobia. And yes, I did Google it.
When I say “fear” that’s probably too strong a word but from giving photography lessons I have noticed that a fair few of the people I’m teaching don’t own a tripod or are very self conscious of using one.
I have to sympathise with this though. I wasn’t a prolific tripod user when I started out, probably down to a mixture of dreadful cheap tripods and not really seeing much need. As I progressed into using filtration I soon started using one nearly all the time. At some locations this didn’t bother me but in the city centre I was very self conscious of using a tripod as if it were some sort of badge that marked out the weirdos of society.
I soon realised that especially living in Edinburgh photography tripods are like rats in a big city, supposedly you’re never far away from one. Look about in a city centre, you will see people using them at certain locations, they are nothing unusual at all and it’s a fear worth overcoming as the benefits to your photography are huge.
I use a tripod as a matter of course these days. Even in bright light when shutter speed isn’t going to be an issue I still prefer it. I can compose a shot, take it and then since the camera is tripod mounted I can make adjustments and be confident my composition remains unchanged. You’d be amazed at how handy this can be.
Combine a tripod with a wireless remote control and you’re onto a real winner, the perfect combination for all situations. It’s worth simply making this part of your photography workflow for all situations. Of course, by all means shoot handheld if the situation demands it. I only ever shoot action and macro handheld as using a tripod is simply too restrictive.
For landscapes though, that just isn’t an issue and getting used to setting up on a tripod and attaching your remote is a worthwhile few minutes spent before taking any pics.
A quick word on tripods though, these are the perfect example of the buy cheap buy twice philosophy. I lost count of how many tenner in Tesco’s type tripods I burned though before I moved onto cheap and nasty Jessops efforts. I wasn’t until the death of yet another sub £40 tripod I moved up and bought a nice Giottos with a tilt and pan head. It’s been abused for 3 years now, submerged in sea water, covered in sand and made a few trips at speed in a downwards direction when the carrying photographer doesn’t see the mud in the dark on Blackford Hill. Asides from me breaking the tripod head a few months back it’s still going strong. I reckon it’ll be like Trigger’s broom in Only Fools and Horses. He had the same broom for years but it had 6 new handles and 8 new heads only it’ll be legs and heads in my case.
The point being though, for £130 I’ve had a stable, well performing platform to work from for the last 3 years. Well worth every penny.
Using a tripod also allows you to explore some other functions you might never have used on your DSLR, such as Mirror Up. or mUP as it’s called on the Nikons. Mirror up essentially means you press your remote once to flip up the DSLR mirror and then again to start the exposure. The benefit of this is that you can totally eliminate any shake from longer exposures. Flick up the mirror, wait a second or 2 for the camera to settle and then take the pic. Not a massive thing with wide lenses but tripod mount a big zoom and you’ll get to love the feature.
I suppose I should make some reference to tripod heads as well. There’s a bewildering array of them out there. The ball head seems to be the current favourite but if I’m honest, I hate them. Fiddly is the word here. I prefer a good old fashioned tilt and pan, 2 levers to do all you need it do to. Simple and functional. If you ever take pictures in the dark that’s what you want but at the end of the day it’s all personal preference.
Think too about the weight of a tripod and max height of a tripod. If you’re 6ft 6” and your tripod only goes to a max of 120 cm you’re going to get backache using it. Get something appropriate for your height, that does mean the taller amongst us will be paying more unfortunately.
Weight is a factor too. 7 stone weakling doesn’t want a full aluminium tripod with a heavy duty head on it to carry about for a days shooting, carbon fibre is more expensive but a hell of a lot lighter. The payoff may be that it’s not quite as usable in strong winds. I’ve got an aluminium one and at times I can learn to hate it with the weight in it but first windy day and I can see why I stick with it.
Again it’s down to personal preference and how you intend to use it. Do you only ever take pictures 5 ft from your car? Then buy the cheaper aluminium one. Do you hike up Ben Nevis before breakfast for the sunrise? Then you might appreciate a carbon fibre one. Do you struggle to open a packet of crisps? Get the carbon fibre. Are you Geoff Capes? Get the aluminium one. You get the idea.
So, shrug off that coat of self consciousness and go forth and be proud of your tripod, your photos will thank you for it!
A photographer living in Edinburgh has, shall we say, a good few opportunities at fireworks photography. With 22 Tattoo performances each with fireworks at the end of the performance, St Andrews Day, Son Et Lumerie, New Year and of course the huge 45 minute end of Festival display we’re somewhat spoiled for choice. We even had fireworks at midday at Edinburgh Castle this year, a strange experience if I’m honest!
So, how do you go about getting the best from all these opportunities?
What I’m going to detail here is my method for these shots, this is how I’ve taken the shots below. It might not be how everyone else does it but it sure does the job for me.
So what do you need? A camera certainly, a DSLR is best but any camera that you can control the aperture and exposure time will work, we’ll be in full manual mode for this. You also MUST be tripod mounted and using a remote control. If you don’t have a remote and your camera has a self timer set it to the lowest setting (typically 2s) and use that. It’s far from perfect but can be used if you have to.
Next job up is planning. This is essential and the key to getting the best shots. Think about where your display is going to be and what vantage points you might have. This year for the Tattoo in Edinburgh I’ve been out in a range of places. Calton Hill, Salisbury Crags, the lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat and right under the Castle in Johnstone Terrace. Each of these requires a different approach which must be planned for.
Calton requires a long lens but a shorter zoom can also be handy, Salisbury Crags is similar. The lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat only need the long lens as your so far out from the Castle. Johnstone Terrace meanwhile called for a super wide lens as you can get so close to the action. This is what you need to think about before you head off. Also think about access to the location, how easy is it? Can you get a car in there or will you have to walk?
Think about the light, will it be totally dark? You’d assume so but the early performance of the Tattoo on a Saturday night finishes at 9pm and it’s still fairly light in which case you’d be best of facing away from the sunset for the shots where the sky will be darker.
Do your research, there will be stacks of info on the net about times of fireworks etc, make sure you know when to expect them and get setup in plenty time. Search sites like Flickr for pointers on locations, you might find a great place you never thought about.
This is the hard part really but once you have this info getting the actual shots will be a hundred times easier. Performances like the Tattoo fireworks have an additional advantage in that they are the same every night. You can learn the sequence of the bursts and prepare for particular bursts you know are coming.
Once you’re at the location get your camera tripod mounted and your remote hooked up. Decide what composition you want to use, remembering that the fireworks themselves will be high above where they will launch from, in a lot of cases a portrait orientation works best for the bigger bursts, landscape for the lower bursts.
Do make sure you have some context to your shots. Get some land interest in them. It gives the fireworks a sense of scale and it will really improve the final image. In my case this is nearly always Edinburgh Castle so it’s easy to work with. I take test shots before the display starts where I make sure the Castle isn’t overexposed and there’s enough light coming in from the ground to show the city.
I like to use in nearly all cases, ISO400, f7.1 and an exposure time of around 1s. You can adjust this to get a nicely balanced image. ie, if the ground in your shot is too dark, go up to f5.6, if it’s too light, drop down to f11 or more. Ideally you want to keep that 1 to 1.6s exposure. The further away you are the longer you can chance but at close quarters 1s is more than enough to get big trails and minimise the chance of burning out the fireworks.
With the camera set up, the test shots taken, the image looking nicely balanced is all about hitting that shutter at the right time now. Don’t just rattle off shots, watch the display and hit that shutter when you see a nice trail develop. You’ll get a good few shots at it and on the longer displays time to play about with settings. Just don’t panic, keep watching the display and hit the shutter when you think it’s right.
Take loads of shots. You’re dealing with a real unknown in fireworks, the more shots you have the more chance you have of that one killer image. Simple as.
When it comes to processing fireworks shots you have to be careful with them. If you shoot in jpg there’s not a lot you can do but if you shoot in RAW make use of the fill light to bring out the land element and use the recovery slider to take out any burnt out areas as much as possible. Pay attention to the curves too but above all don’t lighten the image too much.
Fireworks are not the easiest of subjects to get right but following these guidelines should put you on the right path, the rest is up to you!
Virgin Money Fireworks Display, 1st September 2013
This is the big Edinburgh display and here’s a run down of locations you might want to consider.
Calton Hill – Iconic views but really really busy. In my opinion, best avoided.
Arthur’s Seat – Incredible view from the top, take a long lens. The lower slopes have some good vantage points too, long lens again.
Salisbury Crags – Incredible viewpoint, big and medium zoom’s work well. Can be busy.
Blackford Hill – Stick to the lower slopes near the observatory, more sheltered and away from the idiots who seem to always be at the top of fireworks night. Get’s busy and limited parking but a great flat on view. Big zoom needed.
Inverleith Park – Great view of the front of the castle flat on but gets very busy again.
Princes Street – Forget it. Simply not worth it.
Johnstone Terrace – Can be spectacular but only the biggest fireworks will be in view. Very wide lens works best.
Braid Hill Drive, get’s very busy, need to be there very early better off at Blackford Hill. Ditto Braid Hills.
Regents Road – Will be busy but nice scenic view over the top of Waverley if you can get a spot.
Grassmarket – Will be busy and probably plenty drunks too. Good view though.
Kier Street, great view to the castle from here, very close so wide to medium zoom will be enough.
Bruntsfield Links – Great spot, very close a wide lens to medium zoom is best. Can be very busy.
Here’s a few of mine from the Tattoo this year.
Well, it’s been quite a while since I last blogged hasn’t it? Not quite sure how that happened, I’m guessing the whole Facebook page has just got in the way, and if you’ve never seen it, my day to day stuff can be seen on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/realedinburgh
Anyway, a subject I’ve blogged on before was about never being afraid to take the same photograph twice, three times or how many times you want to take it. You can re-create a composition but you will never recreate an image. What might be a mediocre image one night might be that killer shot the next. Never let anyone tell you “oh you photograph the same stuff all the time”. As a photographer you capture light and that light is never the same.
Another advantage of revisiting was clear to me this week when I made a 2nd trip to catch the fireworks at Edinburgh Castle which mark the end of the nightly Military Tattoo performance. My first attempt at the early show on Saturday wasn’t great as it was still simply too light so another mid week visit was in order when the show finished around 90 minutes later.
Wednesday night was that night. Warm with reasonably still conditions which were perfect. Heavy rain forecast but fingers crossed it would stay away till the fireworks had finished at least. If I’m honest, when I left the house at 9.30pm I had little enthusiasm for driving into town and hiking up Calton Hill in the dark with a bag full of camera gear after a long day at work but the sight of Edinburgh Castle from the outskirts of town all lit up and standing out like a sore thumb had me inspired enough to get going!
Calton Hill has a somewhat unsavoury reputation at night but at this time of year it’s filled with tourists in the dark and the front end of the hill isn’t particularly dark either. If you’re hesitant about going up there, don’t be, you’ll be only one of a few photographers up there more than likely but stick to the front of hill where it’s well lit and you’ll be fine and the views of the city are unbeatable.
Having shot this exact same sequence on Saturday night this gave me 3 valuable insights.
1. What time the fireworks will start (in this case, 10.30pm)
2. Where the fireworks launch from (to the right of the castle away from the Tattoo lights)
3. Roughly what will be coming, ie huge bursts or low level bursts.
Number 3 was particularly important and I was pushing the limits of what I could get in the frame using a combination of the Nikon D7100 and Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM rather than the wider 18-200mm VRII. Using the Sigma was important as it’s oh so sharp compared to the 18-200mm lens and that makes a massive difference with these shots.
With that little prior knowledge I knew the first burst was a huge red firework so I could get setup with the camera in portrait mode. I also adjusted position to put the lit front of the castle and the Balmoral clock in the centre of the firing zone so I could get both focal points in the shot.
Sure enough, 10.30pm and there goes the first shots, it was all very calm and all I had to do was wait and hit the remote at the right time, almost too easy but then again, with the forward planning most of the guesswork was out the way. This was the first shot of the night.
The next few minutes were more or less a scramble of bigger fireworks with some lower level stuff but I knew what I was after was still to come. Not that I didn’t rattle off shots in the meantime. Using a fairly short exposure, around 1.3s at ISO400 and f8 was suiting me perfectly and allowing a good range of shots.
Now, this prior knowledge paid off again. I knew there was a gap in the fireworks and after that long-ish gap was the bursts I was looking for. A series of low level bursts in an arc above the castle. Knowing this was coming I had plenty time to flip the camera to landscape mode, zoom in a bit more and make sure the focus was spot on.
Sure enough the expected bursts came and the shot I had planned was in the bag.
A previous visit along with a little planning had paid off and it’s another classic example of why you should do your homework and never be afraid of doing a shot again. Armed with this knowledge now I might have another go at these fireworks from a different location and see what the outcome is. The best of this is I’ve got fireworks shots now from a premium location, a location that will be packed to capacity for the main event on Sunday 1st September at 9pm. Where will I be that night> Not on Calton Hill that’s for sure, I’ve already got my shots from there!
If you want to try these fireworks yourself the Tattoo is on till the 24th August (except Sunday). Monday to Friday the fireworks will start about 10.30pm and last approx 10 minutes off an on. On Saturday they start at 9.00pm and again around midnight where it’s a longer display.
The main Edinburgh fireworks event takes place at Edinburgh Castle on Sunday 1st September at 9pm and lasts for around 45 minutes.
It’s been a long, at times frustrating journey. Certainly, the lows outweigh the highs by quite some number and when a hobby starts to feel like that it’s maybe time to re-examine it and why you’re doing it.
When I first got a notion for astro-photography I was under no illusions. A quick initial bit of research showed it to be a complex discipline with a lot to learn so I don’t think I underestimated it but what I did do was seriously underestimate the financial aspect and the worse still for a photographer, the lack of creativity.
I first noticed the writing was on the wall when I started to ignore clear nights and not feel like I was missing something. Before the new year any clear night I was out, imaging the Moon, Jupiter and anything else I could get too. By this time though I had already realised that with the kit I had deep space objects were going to be beyond reach but I figured I’d be happy trying to get as good as I could with lunar, solar and planetary images.
This was true for a while but once you’ve done the best you can with Jupiter 20 or so times it’s gets slightly “samey”. You see, one of the main issues with astro work is that there is no opportunity to be creative. Astro-photography is all about capturing what it there, as it is. It’s about making the most of every available photon of light. There’s no opportunity to try and be creative with what you have, it’s more a never ending fight to get more light.
It’s hard to explain.
If you were to take a picture of a flower, how many ways could you take that picture? There’s an almost infinite number of ways to interpret the scene, be it with different lenses, artificial light, angles etc etc etc… You simply cannot do that with astro work.
And now we come to telescopes. I’ve had 3 in the last year and I’ve never really liked any of them. They are fiddly to set up, tempremental to operate and lets be honest here, in all but the biggest of scopes, the views of anything other than the moon or planets is shall we say, disappointing. Those pictures you see of majestic clusters or colourful nebula are visually just grey fuzzy patches. The knowledge of what you are looking at is far more exciting than the actual view in reality.
Now we come to cost. It’s a bottomless pit. Even at the bottom end of the market it’s a massively expensive hobby. Don’t be fooled either into thinking you can do it on the cheap, you simply can’t. If you can be happy with poor to average results then yes, you can but if you really hanker after those wonderfully detailed images of planets and deep space objects be prepared to re-mortgage the house. Nothing is cheap and if it is, then it’s not up to the job. Simple. You hear of people getting “wonderful” results with £3 webcams. The results are not wonderful, they are acceptable for a £3 webcam. Wonderful is what Damian Peach puts out and he simply does not use a £3 webcam.
I can look at landscape images taken with say, a Nikon D4, Lee filters, expensive Nikon lenses and I don’t think, wish I could do that. I can do it, and at a fraction of the cost too. If you look really close, and I mean really close then yes, the image maybe isn’t quite as good but you can as near as damn it do as good as the pro kit for a lot lot less. The difference between the pro kit in astro work and what might be termed as “reasonably affordable” is massive. Don’t even think of looking at the planet images in the Astro-photographer of the year competition and think you will get to within even a million miles of that on cheap kit, you simply won’t, the best you can ever hope for it something YOU are content with.
And at the end of the day, therein lies my root problem. I wasn’t happy with the results I could get. I wasn’t prepared to plough in any more money so I hit a brick wall. Lets be honest too, the British weather didn’t help either!
So what next?
Well, I’ve steadily found I get more enjoyment if I can take astro pics using just normal photographic kit using normal photographic processing techniques. None of this Registax or Deep Space Stacker stuff, just Photoshop, nice and simple. So that leaves me with lunar, solar, comets, widefield, ISS to name but a few. Really the only thing I’m going to miss out on is deep space which I’d already decided wasn’t for me and planets, and talking of planets, only Jupiter and Saturn and really worth looking at anyway.
For now, the binoculars will keep me satisfied and at some point in the future I might look to get a 10” dobsonian scope but I’m in no hurry to do that. The sale of the astro kit will hopefully fund a nice big Sigma 150-500mm lens which I’ll be able to use to good effect on the moon and sun as well as a myriad of other uses!
I suppose this post seems like the whole thing was a very negative experience and it’s wasn’t. There were times of great excitement and feelings of satisfaction. I’ve learned so much too but I also learned that in the end, I’m a creative photographer at heart and that’s where I’m happiest. I’ve also gained massive respect for the guys who do produce these great space images, I’ve dipped a toe in there and know just how hard it is and can now fully appreciate what they do.
So, if after that, anyone fancies a full lunar, solar and planetary imaging kit in Edinburgh, get in touch!
So, since the 8th of March Comet Pan-STARRS has been gracing the Northern Hemisphere skies and true to form for any notable celestial event, it’s been largely clouded out in the UK and especially up here in Scotland. Thankfully this comet isn’t just a blink and miss it event, there were at least a few days to try and catch something.
By Tuesday 12th March the first shots of PANSTARRS were coming in from other parts of the UK, the comet easy to find next to a very young crescent moon. I had to wait till the night of the 13th though for a first attempt. Stood on top of Blackford Hill in what can only be described as Baltic conditions I searched in vain for the comet, despite a reasonably clear sky to the west and only actually spotted it in one shot after I got home and it’s hardly the clearest view of it, which was disappointing as other people seemed to have got some reasonable efforts.
The night of the 15th brought an unexpected chance though. The forecast was predictably wrong although for once in a good way. The skies started to clear around 5pm and just after 6 with still clear sky I figured it might be worth a try, this time from Newhaven Harbour, which has a fairly clear view to the West.
Arriving at Newhaven it looked reasonable but for one patch of dark cloud moving in slowly from the West. This time I decided to wait until 7.15pm before searching for it and made the most of the tail end of a nice sunset in the meantime.
By 7.15pm I was out by the lighthouse with a clear view over to Granton Harbour, using a compass I found exactly where West was and started to take shots of the sky with a 200mm lens, ISO400 and shot exposures. First sweep across the West turned up nothing, 2nd attempt and around 12 shots later, there it was, higher than I expected and very visible in the photograph. With an idea of where it was now I could try for a few wider scenic shots. The last thing I wanted was just pics of the comet with no context. I wanted this to be recognizable as Edinburgh.
The comet isn’t that visible in this shot, but it’s there dead centre towards the top of the image.
Switching to my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM and 2x teleconvertor I went for a closer look still trying to keep the Granton flats in the frame, this was probably the best shot of the night.
Finally, it would have been rude not to have a go at the comet at the full 400mm reach and what a stunning sight it was. By this time it was visible in the viewfinder and I swear it was naked eye visible once you knew where it was.
I finished the night with a peek at Comet Pan-STARRS through my 15×70 binoculars, a truly stunning first encounter with a comet. It’ll be about for a few weeks yet so if you get the chance, do some research as to where it is in the sky and get out and give it a go!
So, we’re well into February and that means the winter (might) be about to step away to make way for spring. Not that it’s always that easy to tell with the Scottish weather, not being unusual to experience spring, summer, autumn or winter all in one day, or indeed, in one hour.
However, at this point the sun starts to travel further over the sky, rising and setting in different places and reaching a higher transit point in the sky, all of which makes a different to the images you might take. Whether you’re an Edinburgh resident or just passing through this will hopefully help you make the most of the spring time months.
March and April typically mark the end of the sunset season from up on Calton Hill, after April the sun moves to far to the west to really make a big difference to that classic Edinburgh castle shot so catch it while you can.
April also marks the start of being able to get some decent sunset’s from down near the Edinburgh coastline. The sun starts to dip below the horizon over the water rather than inland and there are plenty of places to take advantage of it such as Newhaven Harbour the Forth Bridges.
You will have to keep a close eye on the weather though, rain is never far away at this time of year, not that it should stop you getting some very nice images indeed. This was from Blackford Hill last year.
Fog is another pretty regular feature in spring but as photographers that’s a good thing isn’t it!
It’s not all making the most of adverse weather though as this shot from along the Union Canal shows!
So there you have it, changeable weather but who comes to Edinburgh for the weather, you all come here for the history and some of the most incredible city views in the world don’t you!
If you are travelling to Edinburgh you could do worse than check out Roomwise.com for accommodation around the Capital. Loads of choice at reasonable rates too, what more could you want?
So it finally happened. The last surving high street photographic retailer bit the dust just after New Year. Jessops is no more, it is an ex-camera shop, it has ceased to be.
Looking at it though, it’s no real surprise. Jessops has been facing some stiff competition from the online retailers for years. But, that’s not the whole story, it’s not just online retailers, it’s good old brick and mortar retailers who just got smarter than Jessops at online trading who have helped drive the nail in this particular coffin.
When I look in my camera bags I can say that at least 70% of my current kit was a Jessops purchase. Some of it bought way back when the internet was but a nipper, and some more recent when the pricing wasn’t too bad or on offer. One of the main reasons for my using Jessops was if I had decided on a new camera body, or lens, I wanted it there and then. Not ordered, paid for and wait for 3 days on a delivery. There and then and that’s where Jessops had a real upper hand on the internet retailing.
There’s no substitute for walking into a shop, handling the camera, testing out that lens to see what works for you. I nearly bought a Nikon D300 but after handling it in store and a D7000 I changed my mind and the D7000 was bought. You simply can’t do that buying online.
So, if this was so great a benefit to Jessops what went wrong?
Quite simply, to me at least, Jessops became skilled in the art of pissing off the customer.
Jessops prices were consistently at the higher end of the market, I think we all accepted that but they were also high as an internet retailer, the one place you MUST be competitive. So how did they get around that? A dual pricing structure. An online price, and an in-store price.
As I found out recently this meant that I could find a new tripod head on Jessops website, £140 in store but only £100 online. Even more, I could order online and pay and collect in-store for £100. Walk in of the street ready to buy and it was £40 more expensive. Would they give you the web price in-store, even if you mentioned it? No.
So, you go home to reserve it online, but that means another trip into town and hey, there’s the internet, might as well just order it and have it delivered. But wait, why use Jessops, they have just hacked me off and there’s a million other retailers out there who haven’t and bang, there’s a lost sale.
They even started advertising cameras at a low price but with a much higher “You pay today” price, the lower price was part of a cashback deal you had to claim. Don’t know about you but if I see a price in big bold type that’s the price I expect to pay there and then, not what I’ll have eventually paid after trying to claim the cashback and waiting on the refund. It smacks of desperation.
So there you have it, high prices, dual pricing structures and false pricing, 3 great reasons not to shop with Jessops.
So, what now for high street photography?
Might it be the rise in the independent retailer? Of course it won’t. Most of them are even more expensive than Jessops. Unless an independent retailer can cater for a niche market such are old or rare kit or simply just cheaper 2nd hand they will also go under eventually. It’s a romantic notion using your local independent photo guy, supporting him to keep a shop open but in reality, he can’t sell to you nearly as cheap and the big online guy can so you won’t buy from him. You might go and look at his stuff but you’ll tell him you need to think about it and then go home and get it online a lot cheaper.
The sad part is, in the quest for the ever better deal we’re all the worse off for it. My other passion is astronomy and here already in Scotland you simply cannot go and see a telescope in a retailer before you buy. There’s not one store of any kind in Scotland with a reasonable selection of scopes from different manufacturers so you buy blind over the net.
My first scope was a monster, way to big, heavy and cumbersome. Had I seen it before I bought I wouldn’t have bought it. So what happened here, I sold it, lost money and bought another blind over the net. Thankfully this one suited me fine but ultimately this scope effectively cost me £100 more after you factor in the money I lost with the unsuitable purchase.
Sure, there are distance selling regulations to protect us but once you’ve got the product, and especially if it’s a big heavy product sending it back isn’t always that straight forward then you you’ve got the wait for the retailer to confirm they have it back and then the wait for a refund. It’s awkward and I suspect it means a lot of people end up keeping stuff rather than go to the hassle of the return.
So, like I’ve said, already with astronomy it’s an online retail world for me, soon the whole photographic world will be the same. Even with HMV gone where really can you go and browse a section of music bigger than the top 40 now? The high street is disappearing fast and I for one hope this online world we’ve all had a part in creating and feeding doesn’t turn around and bite us one day as we’ll have nowhere else to go.
Well, it’s that time of year again where I like to reflect back on my photographic year and look at my favourite shots from each month.
There was quite a few shots from January I liked but this one was the big performer. This shot went sort of viral after I uploaded it getting in excess of 10000 views in under 24 hours on Blipfoto and Flickr. This was a mere hint of aurora taken from Blackford Hill looking over towards Arthurs Seat. It was a lucky catch truth be told with all that cloud about.
2012 was the year I really got into the astro-photography and there was no more engaging subject than the International Space Station. Orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes or so, 200 miles up and moving at 17,5000mph all with humans on board. It’s mind boggling you can see this pass so easily from your back garden. This shot was taken in the Pentland Hills and shows the Moon, Venus, Jupiter and the trail of the ISS passing over.
This shot was featured on the BBC Scotland website in their feature of the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. This was taken in North Queensferry looking at the planets over the top of the Road Bridge just minutes before an almighty blizzard hit.
Rain was very much the theme for the year in Scotland but thankfully I managed to avoid the worst of it until this shot. I just came over the top of Blackford Hill and was met with this view, it was so epic I stayed far too long and ended up soaked. Worth it for a nice pic though!
I got my first proper telescope in May and got to work frustrating the life out of myself planetary imaging. It’s such a difficult form of photography but oh so rewarding when you get a result, this might not look like much but the learning that went into getting this little shot of Saturn was huge and I was over the moon to get a chance to image the most awesome thing you will ever see though a telescope.
The rains were kicking in big time by June. Photography time was limited to say the least and astro stuff was even worse with the near constant cloud cover. This shot represented a rare trip out for a sunset.
And the rains continued into July. Edinburgh had it’s worst flooding for 10 years and I spent a day soaked to the bum cheeks capturing it. This was the Meadows slowly being turned back into the South loch.
A special mention should go to this shot as well, the Red Arrows doing the Olympic flypast over Edinburgh Castle.
September was a good month. There was so many pics to choose from but this was the standout for the month. A real shot from nothing. The weather wasn’t great, there were spots of rain about and I only just got to Belhaven Bay in time for the sunset and high tide just for the clouds to part and an amazing sunset to kick in.
So many shots I loved from October but this is the shot that sent my little Facebook page from an also ran to, well, something a lot bigger. This went viral on Facebook and got over 12000 likes in 24 hours. In fact it was just one from an incredible night on Calton Hill with the best sunset I have ever seen.
Again so hard to pick, November was another good month!
December has started well too. I think the standout so far though is the shot of the Edinburgh Winter Wonderland from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle on a very very cold afternoon.
So that’s mine, what about the rest of you?
No, I’m not being rude, it’s far better than that! From now till Christmas you can buy any of the prints on the print sales page and claim a totally free A4 print of your choice with £15. The only stipulation is that both prints must go to the same address, other than that, any of the prints on the print sales page can be claimed free when you buy any other A2, A3 or A4 print.
All my prints are limited strictly to a maximum of 50 prints each, once they sell that’s it, they come off the print sales page and don’t go back. You won’t get any mass produced stuff here that everybody and their auntie has.
I’m even offering flat price postage worldwide, no additional costs for anwhere.
This offer is on from now until Christmas so take advantage while you can!
For bigger orders and bespoke items please feel free to contact me first.
I get this question a lot from people looking to get into photography. What camera should I buy?
The eventual answer though depends on budget available and what you want to do with it but in the main my answer to a beginner is usually the same, buy the absolute best you can afford.
Lets forget about compact and bridge cameras here, someone looking to get into photography properly needs some sort of interchangeable lens system. You simply don’t get that level of felxability with compacts or bridge cameras no matter how good they are. You get convenience but ultimately you need a DSLR of some sort.
I’m also going to rule out the new wave of compact system cameras for the beginner too. Even with the interchangeable lenses these cameras look like a nice easy route into photography, well made, small and portable but with the added bonus of being able to change the lens, and there-in lies their main problem. Have you seen the prices of lenses for these systems? Additional lenses are both expensive and limited in choice hence why I’d always advocate, stick to a DSLR.
I’m also going to go out on a limb here and say, forget about everything else except Nikon or Canon. Yes, I know there are other makes but these 2 are the big players, the VHS to the Betamax of the rest. Now I’ve probably offended every Pentax, Olympus, Fuji, Panasonic and Sony owner out there (and more) lets get down to camera choice.
It really doesn’t matter if you go Canon or Nikon, both are similar, both have massive ranges and are supported by a myriad of 3rd party companies too. Whatever route you go, you won’t be disappointed.
So, what to actually buy? This comes back to the opening statement, spend as much as you can possibly afford, it’ll save you in the long run. If your budget only stretches to the entry level DSLR and kit lens then great, go for it. If it can go further then start looking up the ranges.
Taking the Nikon range for example. Buy a Nikon D3100 and you’ll get a nice camera with a fairly bog standard kit lens, but the entry level DSLR doesn’t have the top screen with all your setting on it. The D3000 never came with a port to attach a wired remote of any kind either, both, in my opinion, big things to be without. If you can push the budget that little bit more, the D5100 would make a far better purchase.
I’d actually go as far as to say that if you are really looking at the bottom end of the market, seriously consider the 2nd hard option. For D3100 money you’ll pick up a used D90, a far far better camera that will last you for ages. If you can afford a D5100, consider a used D7000 and you’ll never have to think of cameras again for ages.
In my humble opinion, the amateur photographer needs look no further than the Nikon D7000 or Canon 7d, after this you get into full frame territory, serious cash and I see simply no need or justification for a amateur photographer to venture into this territory. A D7000 to all but another expert photographer match a D3 in terms of image quality. In real terms, the D3 will be far better, but in the real world, 99% of people will never be able to tell any difference and if you really learn how to use it, your D7000 will produce the most amazing and striking images.
And so lenses. Simply get the kit lens, it’ll be fine to start out with and you have other things to worry about. Factor in the cost of a reasonable tripod for starters, cheap tripods won’t last, spend at least £100 and it’ll last for ages.
You might also want to consider:
Remote control of some sort, preferably wired.
A decent bag to carry this all in, buy something big enough to accommodate future purchases as well.
A screw in polarising filter
Some sort of slot in filter system, p series system with some Hitech graduated filters is a good cheap entry level into this world and it’s the one single item that will change you from a snapper to a photographer.
There’s about £250 in that little lot of extras, you don’t need them all straight away but this is what you need to consider to take the hobby at least semi-seriously.
Once you’ve used this little lot and got to grips with it then you can start looking at lenses. You might want a wider lens, a bigger zoom even? Both good purchases. The old trusty 50mm f1.8 is a great purchase, the cheapest lens you’ll ever buy and so versatile you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.
I don’t expect everyone will agree with my reasonings but from coming through the beginner route this is my findings and my recommendation. What you buy is of course up to you but hopefully there’s some food for thought in there!
Ah, Autumn, thank god it’s here at last. Whatever it throws at us it can’t be worse than the soggy summer of 2012. In photographic terms at least, the next couple of months are great for getting out with the camera. Sunset and sunrise are at sociable times, nice dark (hoepfully clear skies) and the trees turning those fantastic golden shades.
So here you are in Edinburgh, what’s the hot shots to try out the next couple of months?
Lets kick off with the top sunset location for Autumn in Edinburgh and it’s predictably Calton Hill. At this time of year the sun in heading back towards the Castle at sunset meaning all those fantastic cityscapes can benefit from the full burst of colour from the setting sun.
Don’t forget the twilight too from up here, any direction is good, why not try Leith at twilight for something a little different?
Sticking with Calton Hill, the just after sunrise the National Mounment will be casting some nice shadows. Get up there early though, too late and the sun will be in the way of the shot.
Seafront locations are not at their best at this time of year for sunsets but the Cramond causeway can provide a nice sunrise.
On 5th October, the sunset at high tide at both at exactly 6.31pm, with a 5m tide it’s a perfect night to head out to Belhaven Bay outside Dunbar for the Bridge to Nowhere shot.
It’s getting a little late in the year but 8th October might be a good night to try and catch the advancing tide at the Longniddry wreck found just off the number 1 carpark.
Nearer the end of October with the moon out the way it might be a good chance to try for the Milky Way before it slinks off for the summer, try the carpark at Harlaw Reservoir about 2 hours after sunset, give your eyes time to adjust and you should see the dense star cloud that forms the band of the Milky Way just off to the south west.
There’s obvioulsy quite a few fireworks opportunities around November 5th but keep and eye open for the South Queensferry display for a chance to catch them over water.
There might also be a display at the Castle for St Andrews day, though possible not exactly on 30th November and it’s likely to be short display too.
With the darker nights it’s also a pefect time to try those light trails shots, with Princes Street open again it’s an obvious choice but anywhere with traffic is possible, why not try Holyrood Park about 30 minutes after sunset?
It’s also a good time to get those star trails shots in, Newhaven lighthouse, is a cold but worthy spot as you can get Polaris in the shot.
Hopefully that little lot will give you some ideas for Edinburgh photography over the next few months!
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned with this astrophotography journey it’s that above everything else, patience is the deciding factor as to whether you’ll progress or not. Without it you’ll become a frustrated gibbering wreck with a badly dented telescope in next to no time at all. You’ll question your abilities, you’ll come to hate the Met Office with a passion and you’ll start to spilt words in two just to get an extra expletive in there to properly express your feelings.
So why is patience so important? Let’s do a little list to illustrate…
1. Clouds. Days and days of endless clouds, usually worse after you’ve just bought a telescope or indeed, any item of astro equipment. Clouds stop everything, there’s no middle ground. Cloudy and it’s a night in front of Coronation Street for you rather than the wonders of the Universe.
2. Wind. I’m not talking hurricane force here, just an average little wind with some mild gusts can totally ruin any imaging session with a telescope. The slightest movement means wonky stars nobody wants wonky stars now do they?
3. Clouds and wind. Welcome to Scotland where you’ll be able to use your telescope at least 2 or 3 times every year!
4. Polar alignment. Also used as a basic instrument of torture in developing countries.
5. Astrophotography processing software. There are times I think actually writing the software would be easier than trying to figure out how it works. This one stacks RAW files, oh wait, this one needs jpg’s, darks? flats? bias?, and WTF are wavelets? Are we even still talking English here? At least most of it is free…
6. Focusing the camera on deep sky objects. Most focusing from removal of the eyepiece to connecting the camera goes thus… Just a little turn, just a wee bit more, nearly there, back a bit, back a bit more, wtf?, put eyepiece back in, focus, put camera back in, did I turn that the right way, bit more, bit more, back a bit, back a bit, other way, what way did I turn it last, fuck it.
7. Tripping over things in the dark. 5m USB leads, webcams and power leads in the dark lead to much fun and strange dancing while trying to untangle.
8. Neighbours security lights. Just as your eyes have adjusted to the darker environment you’ve managed to nurture in your back garden so sooner than the stars become nicely visible then your are guaranteed a passing cat will trigger a light that has the intensity of 10 suns to ensure it’s safe passage across the neighbours garden and you can see purple spots for the next 20 minutes.
9. Met office weather forecasts. DO take note of the Met Office forecast, you’ll need to know what it said so you can complain about it being wrong at length later. As a good rule of thumb though if the Met Office say it’ll be clear skies it’ll be raining, if they say overcast it’ll be raining, if they say rain, it’ll be clear. In fact if the MO say it’s night it’ll probably be day.
10. Telescope GOTO dictatorships. Your telescope GOTO can, and will make every attempt to piss you off. If you go for a 2 star align it simply won’t give you the star you want.
You – I’ll go for Arcturus and Capella.
GOTO – No you won’t, you can’t use Arcturus.
You – Why?
GOTO – Just because that’s all.
You – *sighs*, ok I’ll go for Altair and Capella then? OK, Altair synced, why can’t I have Capella now?
GOTO – I don’t feel like giving it to you. Try Vega?
You – I dont want to try Vega, it’s like straight up and it’s a pain looking through the finder at those stars?
GOTO – Use Vega bitch…
You – But…
GOTO – VEGA!
GOTO – “Align failed, please try again…”
BUT, apart from all this once in a while it all goes right or you see something that’s makes you realise it’s all worthwhile, this week I seen Uranus (please stop making jokes about the name!) and Neptune for the first time ever, very small but a personal triumph to actually see for me.
I’ll leave you with my first image of Uranus (stop sniggering at the back), it’s very small, in fact, just a little green dot but it meant the world to me to be able to image it.
I don’t know when it started but after owning nothing but Nikon DSLR’s since the launch of the original D70 I’m getting itchy feet to explore the wonderful world of Canon. Switching systems is a big move though, as those itchy feet are shuffling nervously as the urge to go for it gets stronger.
So, why the sudden change of heart? Well, it’s certainly not because my Nikon kit isn’t capable. It’s more than capable of anything I throw at it and I’ve got a fair bit of kit built up over the years to cover most eventualities so I’m rarely left floundering in the kit stakes.
I think the real issue is Nikon themselves. Since the launch of the D7000 we’ve had the D4, D800 and now the D600, all full frame and all with a bullock busting £2k+ price tag to match. Below the D7000 we’ve got the aging D90 and entry level D3200 and D5100. That leaves only the now elderly D300s sat alongside the D7000. The range is limiting and when you kit the D7000 the only way up on full frame which I have NO desire to commit to.
Canon through seem to have a myriad of crop sensor models of varying capability topped off by the fantastic 7d. Lens selections on Canon also seem more varied and indeed, better priced from my initial research.
Canon too is far wider supported in terms of astro-photography and the ability to add the Magic Lantern firmware is a rather compelling plus point to me at least. In terms of day to day photography the7d and D7000 seem pretty evenly matched so with switching it seems I have nothing to lose yet might make possible gains, it’s hard to argue against that.
Of course with 2 Nikon DSLR’s and 8 Nikon Lenses it’s not going to be straightforward making the move. I need too sell on my Nikon kit for the absolute best possible return in order to replace it with equivalent Canon kit and may have to sacrifice that handy 2nd body if I went for a 7d.
It’s a dilemma alright. Once you buy into one system that’s usually it, people never switch unless of course they are the type of person that can afford to replace their loo roll with a pile of used £20 notes.
I’ve done a bit of maths regarding potential returns on private sales of the Nikon kit and have a nice shopping list of Canon kit and the 2 just about work out. If I can sell the Nikon then it might well be game on…
Wish me luck.
This whole astro-photography thing is a pain in the cheeks at times. There I was sat in the cold with the telescope last night, tripping over wires in the dark, cursing the GOTO for not being spot on and finally chucking it all in after 30 minutes because the wind was an even bigger pain and it was impossible to get anything worthwhile at all.
I was this close → ← to chucking the whole lot on Gumtree and packing it in totally. Such was the severity of the huff. Thankfully I didn’t but what it’s taught me is not to attempt this stuff when the conditions aren’t perfect.
Less than perfect conditions though don’t stop you having some fun with a nice clear sky, never mind how windy it is and the even better news is that you can do this stuff with some nice basic photographic gear; this post from here on will be a telescope free zone!
All you’ll need is a camera you can control the exposure on (variable zoom will help too), a tripod and a remote control for the camera or at least one with a self-timer. The hardest part is getting the clear sky but even the odd cloud can add to a shot as long as your intended target is still visible.
To demonstrate what’s easily possible, these 4 shots were taken in central Edinburgh, in light pollution with a Nikon D90 fitted with a Nikon 18-200mm VRII lens.
The technique is simple enough, keep the ISO fairly low, around 400 to 640 otherwise the light pollution will run away with your shot. Exposure times will vary maybe from less than 1s in the case of a planet to a few seconds on a star cluster, even as long as 30s on a wide field shot. The whole idea is to get enough light in to give you the shot but avoid stars trailing to get a decent shot.
Finding interesting targets is your next challenge. The sky just now is best after midnight and even with the moon out the way there’s some nice stuff you can get. After midnight the Pleiades open star cluster will be getting higher in the sky and below it will be the brilliance of Jupiter, a nice photo opportunity, especially if you can include some ground interest to give some perspective.
The Pleiades itself is a very nice target and fills the frame nicely at nothing more than 200mm. Keep the exposure shorter when you’re zoomed in like this. The diffractions spikes on this shot were added in Photoshop with a plug-in, it’s not the natural look!
Sticking with 200mm try Jupiter as well! You’ll really need a shorter exposure with the planet so bright take a few at differing exposures and you should also be able to pick up the planets moons.
Winter skies usually provide the best targets but at this time of year you can also get the summer triangle, an easily visible triangle of the very bright stars Vega, Altair and Deneb.
Light pollution needed be a killer but if you do get a chance to get out under really dark skies you might be lucky enough to catch this, the fabulous sight of the Milky Way rising in the sky above…
Ah, the dark nights are coming and for once I’m over the moon about it. Dark nights and colder days mean longer dark clear nights with means longer to check out the celestial displays above. I’d always viewed the summer nights are preparation for the winter when I’d really be able to get into the astro-photography and after what seems like the worst summer in living memory it’s just about upon us.
For once Edinburgh had a rare happening. A weekend night with a clear sky. Normally the sky clears when I’ve got to be up at half 6 in the morning so it was nice to see it on a Saturday night for a change. So, out went the scope about 9.15 to cool down, this time, I was going to do everything right.
I even had a go at EQ aligning the NexStar SE5. This telescope has a built in basic wedge (I mean really basic but it’s better than not having one!). The alignment process seemed like something from the Krypton Factor but thanks to this blog (http://astroadventures.wordpress.com/) I found I was able to figure it out and it’s not really that hard!
So, with scope levelled, aligned and the precise GOTO working while the sky was getting darker I let my nephew play about with the skytour on the handset, you have to encourage potential young astronomers don’t you?
Encourage maybe but little did I realise what the half hour of near constant slewing of the scope was about to do. All was well until we homed in on M57, the Ring Nebula. There it was nice and clear. Camera onto the visual back, couple of shortish exposures to get the focus and all was good. Started ramping up the exposure times with the D7000 tethered to my MacBook, even better I was getting 30s exposures with no trailing and loads of stars so I set the MacBook to keep taking shots and walked away and left it.
5 shots in I noticed a problem. Those nice stars were more like lines, not just elongated stars, lines! What the hell? Figuring a possible alignment issue I realigned the scope and pointed towards the Double Cluster in Perseus. Same problem. So, I flattened out the wedge and aligned in Alt-Az mode, same problem.
At this point I was getting irate. Nasty words were floating around in the dark and the telescopes parentage was being questioned. With not a lot else to try I ran the mains power out to the scope and plugged into that instead of my Maplin’s power tank and guess what? Yes, everything was fine. So I’d undone my EQ align for nothing, it was down to my crap cheap power tank being ran down with constant slewing with the skytour earlier.
With proper power restored, I managed to get 20s exposures in Alt-Az mode on the Double Cluster and also had another go at Jupiter once I cleared the neighbours tree. Jupiter was a revelation, last time I tried it on the webcam it was a disaster, and this time I could actually see banding on the planet on the capture programme. I didn’t get many shots at it until the not forecast clouds rolled in. I’m sure the met office had a random weather selector, their forecasts seems to have little in common with the weather in the real world.
By this time it was near 1am so I packed up figuring the clouds would hang about all night. An hour later I’m back in the garden taking the dog for a piddle and guess what, a fantastically clear night again. Typical.
Still, I’m reasonably pleased with the modest haul of shots I got, certainly one of my better nights to date.
Jupiter, top shot is 2 AVI captures processed at merged to show the planet and the moons. Bottom is a 2x Barlow AVI capture of just the planet.
Double Cluster, I’ve added some diffraction spikes to this one in Photoshop, not sure about the effect but I think I like it.
The Ring Nebula, just a single RAW in the end but pleased at how clear the nebula is!
Plan last night was to head down to Marine Drive in Edinburgh which is right on the coastline next to Cramond where there was a chance of photographing the moon rising over the water. Using The Photographers Ephemeris on the Mac it was possible to see where the moon would rise and there was nothing but water in-between last night. Better still, it was a fairly clear night so off I trotted.
Marine Drive is a funny place. Actually pretty dark, has great views over to Fife and is a prime spot to look for aurora, the only downside is that is seems to be a popular dogging spot which means you get random cars drive up, park, check what you’re up to and head off back up to the dark part of the road!
If you can put up with that though it’s a prime photo spot with a few possible shots, doggers not included.
When I got there the eastern horizon was so dark you really couldn’t tell if there was any cloud there or not but with 10 minutes to go before the moon came up I used the view west for a few shots. Over an hour after sunrise there was a fantastic colour in the sky on the western horizon, too good to miss in fact when you also take into account the slowly receding high tide catching the last of the golden light.
These shots were the result, no filters, just a bit of PP work and that’s about it. The 2nd shot looks closer in towards the Cramond Island causeway.
By this point though, it was clear there was cloud on the horizon as the moon hadn’t appeared but there was some hope, a very faint orange glow so worth hanging about for.
In the meantime I took a few shots of the planes on final approach to Edinburgh Airport. This is right under the main flight path and in the dark you can get some pretty dramatic trails.
2 things stood out on the sky at this point, the bright red star Arcturus to the west and the constellation of Cassiopeia, that distinctive W shape. After watching a few landings I got the compositions right and this was the result. 1st shot is past Arcturus and 2nd is past Cassiopeia.
Finally though the moon had started to show, that faint orange glow was now very obvious so on went the bigger lens, after some playing about I got the shots I was after. This might be better with a thinner crescent moon, as the exposures might be closer, as it was I had to really overexpose the moon to get any detail in the foreground.
Just a wee bonus, I was back in the car heading for home to get the telescope out when I spotted a plane heading right for the moon, a chance to get that elusive plane in front of the moon shot. With everything packed away I had about 20s to get the tripod out, extended and the D7000 adjusted and on top. No time for the remote so I had to press the shutter button and hope. This was the result, really not clear but I’ll get it next time now I know roughly where and when I can get it from.
All in, a good night for the 40 minutes or so I was there, much better than the dreadful night had with the telescope later but that’s a story for another day…
I stumbled across this earlier totally by accident but I can see it becoming a little obsession for a while.
While shooting the fireworks one camera had a really cheap remote control on it, the sort where you can push the button up and if you have the camera set to high speed drive it’ll just keep taking pics until you run out of memory space. This meant I just engaged that camera to run and I manually triggered the other one. The upshot was, I had long sequences of shots, one after the other which when flicked through in iPhoto sort of looked like a little movie…
An energy saving lightbulb lit up gradually over my head and I ended up going through all the pics taken on Sunday night with the D90 and found quite a few multi shot sequences.
These were all in RAW so I had a hell of a lot of processing to do, the trick being to take each sequence and process every shot in exactly the same way, I done this by saving the settings in ACR and applying to every shot in the sequence.
Next up with all the shots processed was to order them, as I saved with the default name I just ordered by name.
Now, using iMovie on a Mac you simply have to drag all the files in one go into iMovie. From here, highlight all the pics and set the time interval to 0.1 or 0.2s in the clip adjustment menu (little blue drop down in the bottom the highlighted pic. Now pick the Cropping, Ken Burns and Rotation menu, whatever Ken Burns is it’s a pain. Switch all the shots to Fit and click done. This will stop that stupid zoom in thing on every shot from happening. You might also have to go into File — Project Properties and change the Initial Photo Placement drop down to Fit in Frame.
With this done you can now preview the movie and make any further adjustments. Now go to Share — Export Movie and pic the best option for you. I picked the 1080p HD option but beware, 167 12mp frames ended up as a 70+mb .mov file. The .mov is fine for upload to You Tube, Facebook and Flickr so I would assume it’ll upload to other video services too.
And that’s about all there is to it, I’ve also now applied this to sequence of shots meant for a star trail that shows the movement of the stars once you give it the time lapse treatment.
You can check out the final movies on You Tube:
Well, that was probably the most challenging night I’ve ever had shooting fireworks in Edinburgh. Fireworks are never particularly easy but add in a fairly brisk westerly breeze and it makes it even more of a challenge as the burst gets blown in the wind leading to nasty trails. Not the best but I got around it to an extent.
The location of choice for the 2012 Virgin Money Fireworks Concert at Edinburgh Castle was the old favourite of Blackford Hill. I went for Blackford over the Crags this year as with the wind coming from the west the smoke from the fireworks would drift towards the Crags but off to the South, Blackford would be fine.
Blackford has the added advantage of being flat onto the back of the Castle so you are shooting the bursts as they are, rather than through them which you do from Calton or the Crags. Inverleith is the same as Blackford but looks directly onto the Front of the Castle, arguably a better location but Blackford is higher too which I think helps.
The setup for this year was again 2 cameras on the go. The Nikon D7000 had a Nikon 18-200mm VRII on this year for some wider atmospheric shots and the D90 had the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 for those closer in shots, both tripod mounted (obviously) and both with remotes attached. The D90 was set to high speed drive so with the remote engaged I could leave it to snap away while I manually triggered the D7000.
As I said earlier, the wind was a real issue. Any wind causes the fireworks trails to trail with the wind too leaving you with messy trails, the solution I used was to try and keep the exposures short, against the conventional way of shooting fireworks.
Most exposures I kept down to 1s or under, especially on the closer in shots, wider could stretch a bit longer and I wanted the lights from the city too. The upshot of this wasn’t the glowing long trails of usual shots but the shorter trails and quicker exposure combated the nasty drift from the wind. In this mode I was able to rattle off nearly 600 images from the 2 cameras which gave me plenty to cherry pick from to get the best. All in, not as good as previous years but I certainly handled the conditions better than I have on previous windy nights.
Just as an aside, I know the whole display was geared up to be viewed from Princes Street but a lot of Edinburgh watches it from other locations too. This 2012 display was pretty poor from any vantage point that didn’t look onto the front of the Castle. Long gaps of nothing visible, and I’m talking 5 minutes upwards was the order of the night and certainly not as good as previous years. I even missed the finale as there was a massive gap with nothing notable happening, not until I packed up and was halfway back to the car at least.
Roll on the Hogmanay fireworks and hopefully no wind!
You can view the whole set at:
or even head over to Facebook to http://www.facebook.com/RealEdinburgh and hit the like button and see them there was well!
A few choice shots…
I even got the lead shot on BBC News this year too!