Advice

Switching to FujiFilm X Series

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.

Edinburgh Castle in Autumn - Fuji X-T1, Fuji 10-24mm

Edinburgh Castle in Autumn – Fuji X-T1, Fuji 10-24mm

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.

Edinburgh Castle at Sunset - Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF55-200mm

Edinburgh Castle at Sunset – Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF55-200mm

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.

Sugarhouse Close, Canongate, Edinburgh - Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF16-55mm, Classic Chrome

Sugarhouse Close, Canongate, Edinburgh – Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF16-55mm, Classic Chrome

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!


New Year Fireworks, Location Guide

27We’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.

Princes Street
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.

Calton Hill
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.

Arthur’s Seat
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.

Blackford Hill
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.

Inverleith Park
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.

Bruntsfield Links
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.

Carrington Road
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.

The Telly
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!


Switching to Mirrorless

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.


An irrational fear of tripods

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!


Edinburgh Fireworks made easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virgin Money Fireworks Display, 1st September 2013

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

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

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

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

Tattoo Fireworks 21 August 2013

Tattoo Fireworks 2 - 14 August 2013 - Explored

Tattoo Fireworks 14 August 3

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

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


Edinburgh in the springtime, a photographic guide

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

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

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

Edinburgh Sunset 17 March 2012

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

Newhaven Sunset 18 March 2012

Forth Bridge Sunset

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

Storm over Edinburgh

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

Cramond Causeway 24 March 2012

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

Ashley Boathouse in Spring

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

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


What camera should I buy? A beginners guide…

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!


Top Edinburgh autumn photography locations

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.

Calton Hill Sunset 31 August 2010 - Explored

Don’t forget the twilight too from up here, any direction is good, why not try Leith at twilight for something a little different?

Leith Dusk

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.

Unfinished Shadows

Seafront locations are not at their best at this time of year for sunsets but the Cramond causeway can provide a nice sunrise.

Cramond 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.

The Belhaven Bridge to Nowhere

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.

Longniddry Sunset - Explored

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.

Milky Way at Harlaw 11 September 2012

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.

Fireworks in the Ferry

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.

Homecoming Scotland Fireworks Edinburgh - Explored

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?

Holyrood X

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.

Newhaven Star Trails

Hopefully that little lot will give you some ideas for Edinburgh photography over the next few months!


Basic astro-photography from light polluted areas

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.

Jupiter and the Pleiades

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!

The Pleiades Sept 13 2012

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.

Jupiter 14 Sept 2012

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.

Summer Triangle 14 Sept 2012

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…

Milky Way at Harlaw 11 September 2012


An Astro-photo plan comes together for once!

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.

Cramond Sunset 5 Sept 2012

Sunset over Cramond Causeway 5 Sept 2012

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.

Plane passes Arcturus

Plane passes 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.

Moonrise over the Forth 5 Sept 2012

Moonrise over the Forth 5 September 2012

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.

Plane in front of the moon

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…