Comment

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.


A picture goes viral on Facebook…

Viral might be an over statement but in the realms of my little Facebook world last night was, what can only be described as, mental. It was social media overload and it all came from a little picture of a sunset I posted online last night.

Last night I hadn’t even really planned to go out for sunset, it’s the sort of in-between time of year where the coastal locations are finished for the year with sunsets and Calton Hill is the only real obvious choice for an Edinburgh sunset. The problem being though, I’ve been there are done it, many times but that said, with the thin wispy clouds it was obvious this was going to be a cracker of a sunset, no big bank of cloud out to the west to ruin it, just light clouds to carry the light.

Sunset was 6.27pm and I got to Calton at about the same time, I don’t think I even took a shot until near 6.40pm and at that time the light from the sky was still to much for even a stacked 0.9 and 0.6 grad filter to cope with, it was a good 10 minutes later until the light came good. The real good light didn’t come till nearly 40 minutes after the sunset by which time the lights on the Castle were on too.

I left the hillside about 7.20pm with a haul of about 90 shots, mainly sunset views and a few looking into the Leith twilight. Back home looking at the RAW files there was one real standout shot, a shot of the Castle and clock with a real pink sky behind, needed a little work to tease out the detail but overall the base shot was pretty reasonable.

I uploaded the image to Flickr and set out a tweet for it and uploaded to my Real Edinburgh Facebook page at about 9.30pm last night. This is when it all started to get a bit surreal.

The shot picked up some momentum on Twitter, quite a few comments and retweets of the Flickr shot and the views build steadily to over 500 in a little over an hour. Facebook though was going mental.

Within minutes of uploading the shot it had gathered over 100 likes, comments started flooding in, shares were going through the roof and page likes were coming in by the second. In less than 15 minutes the shot had racked up over 1000 likes and nearly 100 shares. I figured it had to slow down soon but it didn’t, and over 14 hours later still hasn’t.

At the time of writing this the shot has merrily skipped past 8000 likes, way over 300 comments and god knows how many shares. Page likes have doubled to over 4000 and continue to rise. The pic has been viewed by over 50,000 people on Facebook.

There is a downside though, I’ve already found a version of the shot ripped off from Flickr on the EA Fifa 13 forums and who knows how many Facebook profiles it now sits on top off. Worse still, how many saved it and passed it off as their own? Quite a few I’ll bet but that’s the perils of sticking stuff out there on the internet, it’s a trade off between getting your work viewed and the thoughtless minority.

I’ve no idea where this is going to go. I’d noticed the page building up some momentum the more likes it picks up but it feels like it’s ran out of control just now. My next post will automatically drop onto the timelines of over 4000 people; I suppose I better watch what I say in future!

One thing you can’t deny though, Facebook is oh so very powerful in this sort of situation. Much more so than any other social media outlet. I never watermark images, but I so wish I had with that one now! Still who knows, if everyone gets 15 minutes of fame maybe that was mine? Pressure now is to keep following it up with shots of equal quality! Not the easiest with the Scottish weather!

Check out the Facebook page: Real Edinburgh on Facebook

And the pic? Here is is…

Sunset of the year, 9 October 2012


Time to jump off that Nikon ship?

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.


Easy time-lapse movies from still images

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:


Fireworks and Wind, Edinburgh Festival 2012

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:

Festival Fireworks 2012 1

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…

Festival Fireworks 2012 1

Festival Fireworks 2012 11

Festival Fireworks 2012 15

Festival Fireworks 2012 18

Festival Fireworks 2012 8

I even got the lead shot on BBC News this year too!


The Astro-Photography frustrations continue…

My aspirations in Astro-photography finally bit the dust last week or at least licked the dust. After a frustrating night attempting to find the Andromeda Galaxy by star hopping, or more like star limping it has to be said I all but packed it all in. All I had to show for 2 hours out with the scope was a sore back and heightened blood pressure. What had I seen? Stars, by the bucket load but I had no idea what I was looking at and therein lay the problem.

I’d bought my scope at entirely the wrong time. I got it as the darkness retreated and potentially even worse; all the planets departed the night-time sky into the early morning. When I first got it a few hours just attempting to image Venus, Jupiter, Mars and the Moon was more than enough to keep me interested. Take all those out the equation and I was left floundering trying to find deep space objects, which in the lighter summer skies was even harder.

So, something has to change. I needed a GOTO mount otherwise I’d never see anything. I also decided the Skywatcher Explorer 200P on the EQ5 wasn’t for me. It took too long to setup, was too big and too heavy and I was already starting to skip clear nights through simple couldn’t be bothered-ness with all the mucking about to get setup.

The solution therefore was to sell the 200P and EQ5 and look for something different and so last week the scope and mount went to live with its new owner and I started a hunt for a replacement. I had decided against the GOTO upgrade for the EQ5 as it wasn’t addressing the issue of the scope size and weight.

I eventually settled on a Celestron Nexstar 5SE on the full GOTO Alt-Az mount. I know the Alt-Az isn’t the best for photography but its fine for me just now and the mount has a basic built in wedge. I won’t be doing any minute’s long exposures but I should be able to get something out of it. At F10 nowhere near as fast as the 200P at F5 but it’ll suffice for what I want to do initially. What’s important here is I get a scope that easy to handle and easy to setup so I can learn. Any images I can get that come along will be a bonus. In fact, when Jupiter come back to the night sky it might even be better than the 200P.

The new scope arrived yesterday and I have to say from first impressions I’m very pleased with it. The whole package seems better built than the Skywatcher stuff. The stock 25mm plossil eyepiece is nice and bright and much better than the Skywatcher 25mm item.

Setup was easy enough, as was the align once I realised I had my position set at Louisiana USA, not Edinburgh, Scotland and I actually got to see some stuff! My align was far from perfect just using a 2 star align but I did find the Double Cluster, Ring Nebula and Great Cluster in Hercules, a massive improvement on what had gone before.

Sadly dew was a major issue and I didn’t have a dew shield fitted which ended the session earlier than I would have liked so I never hooked up the camera but that’s now sorted and I’ll have the D7000 hanging off the scope at the first opportunity next time around.

In a true Astro-photography sense I’ve taken a step back but in doing so I’ve rekindled interest and that above all is what’s important. It’s pointless having a million pound setup if you can’t be bothered to use it. They say the best scope you’ll have is the one you use and for now at least, I’ll be using the 5SE at every opportunity!

I’ll leave you with a few shots from last night, none of these where through the 5SE after the dew got to it, these were all with my D7000 fitted to a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 and 2x tele, Samyang 500mm reflector lens or my mates Skywatcher Explorer 200PDS on an HEQ5 Pro mount.

Full Moon with Skywatcher 200PDS 2 Aug 2012
Moon with a Nikon D7000 and Skywatcher Explorer 200PDS

Full Moon with 70-200mm 2 August 2012
Moon with a Nikon D7000 and a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 and 2x tele

Full Moon with Samyang 500mm Reflector 2 August 2012
Moon with a Samyang 500mm reflector lens

Ring Nebula Skywatcher 200PDS 2 August 2012
Ring Nebula with a Nikon D7000 and Skywatcher Explorer 200PDS

Hercules Cluster Skywatcher 200PDS 2 Aug 2012
M13, the Great globular cluster in Hercules with a Nikon D7000 and Skywatcher Explorer 200PDS


Imagine if Nikon or Canon updated like Apple?

By this time tomorrow, for the first time since 2008 I won’t own any of Apple’s iOS devices. iPhone will be replaced with a Samsung Galaxy S3 and my original iPad will be replaced with a Google Nexus 7. So why, considering my VERY pro Apple stance?

Basically, I’m fed up feeling ripped off by Apple. Long gone is the company that seemed to put the user experience first. You paid a premium for Apple products but on the whole they WERE premium products. Everything from the packaging to the use of the item was so obviously carefully thought out; I at least, perceived they were worth the extra cash.

Since Apple became the world’s richest company though there’s been a distinct change. I’ve had 3 MacBook’s now but my latest 13″ Pro is by far the slowest and least reliable I’ve owned. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s simply not the product it used to be. My older Black MacBook running OSX10.6 is noticeably faster than the i5 machine running 0SX10.7. That shouldn’t be right!

Then there’s the iPad, the crowning turd of Apple’s greed. 2 years ago I bought the original iPad. £500 for a 32gb WiFi model was pricey but hey, this was Apple and it would be worth it. Was it though? At the time the iPad was unique so it was a pretty amazing bit of kit but less than 12 months later along came iPad2, faster and sleeker.

That was the first signs of something wrong. Occasional apps that would only work on iPad 2. Few and far between but there already not supporting the original machine less than 12 months after launch. Then came the new iPad, less than 24 months after I got original iPad and with it an announcement that iOS6 when it launches in the autumn won’t be supported on the original iPad.

What this means in real terms is that your original iPad is very much dead. Sure, it’ll still work but this is when the flood of iOS6 only apps will start to appear and owners of that original iPad will start to get left behind. This is now the Apple way, force the hardware upgrades by means of software updates that cripple the original device. Remember iOS4 on the original 3G iPhone? iOS4 ran like a dog on the 3G so the world went out and bought iPhone 4. You can be sure iOS6 will run like a dog on iPhone 4 so the world runs out and gets iPhone 5.

I’ve had enough of this and I’m getting off this particular bandwagon.

Now, to the original point of this post, imagine if Nikon or Canon behaved like that? I could go out now and buy a Nikon D4, the newest of the new and stick on a 30 year old Nikon lens and it’ll work. I could go out and buy a brand new Nikon lens and stick it on a 12 year old D70 and it’ll work. Buy a Nikon camera and a Nikon lens and it’ll work forever, or at least until components fail. It won’t stop working because Nikon want you to buy their new shiny lens rather than your old one that works perfectly well.

We expect and demand this of companies such as Nikon or Canon and there’s a lot of brand loyalty out there. If you buy into one system few ever change. There’s no real need to. I have a 10 year old Nikon lens; I paid around £500 for it new. I could, with confidence by any new Nikon body safe in the knowledge that it’ll work just fine, it will in another 10 years time too yet less than 2 years after spending £500 with Apple I’ve got a technological ornament? Nikon aren’t changing mounts forcing me to upgrade, no, they make sure that even if they do make changes previous kit will still work in the way you expect it to.

I can even look at my 6 year old PS3, a more direct comparison to an iPad than a camera maybe. I can buy any new game for this system and it’ll work, regardless of the age of the device, it’ll work. That’s value for money, that’s not being ripped off, that Apple, is how you should be treating customers. It’s all very well driving technical innovation but lets not forget those that have forked out their hard earned in these difficult financial times that helped you become the richest company in the world.

In the race to stay ahead, Apple may find the tides about to turn, Nikon and Canon however will still be the major players in their field in 20 years time, and I wonder where Apple will be in 20 years time?

I’ll also point out that prior to writing this I have owned… Apple Quadra 800, 15gb 3rd gen iPod, white MacBook, black MacBook, 1st gen iPod Touch, 3rd gen iPod Nano, 20″ iMac, iPad, i5 MacBook Pro, iPhone 2G, iPhone 3G and an iPhone 4. If Apple can piss me off they can piss anybody off!


Photo Mo-Jo No-No

It’s gone beyond funny now.

Seriously, the Scottish summer has put a major dampener on my enthusiasm for photography this year. There’s only so many pictures you can take of rain soaked Edinburgh before it gets very long in the tooth indeed. I done a blog post a wee while back about not letting the rain put you off, that’s fine when you get occasional rain but not constant heavy rain!

I’ve never done a landscape shot for weeks, what’s the point? I don’t need any more shots of Edinburgh with dull grey skies and the camera gear isn’t all that keen on being wet all the time.

I’ve never done an astro shot since I don’t know when. What’s the point? Nearly total and constant cloud cover has all but stopped that particular pleasure and the telescope lies gathering dust having only had one brief spell of use in the last 6 weeks or so. Nearly every visible phase of the moon has been blocked by it being too low to see over the house or more often, thick cloud. Saturn has all but gone and I’ve no confidence at all in being able to see the Jupiter/Moon occulation this weekend at all.

I can’t get a clear shot at the sun either, we see a faint glow now and again but it’s not enough to get any sunspot detail.

Normally I spend a lot of time in summer down by the Botanic Gardens, not this year. My style of floral photography usually involves unusual angles etc, and lying in wet and mud to get a shot it’s really my idea of fun so that particular pleasure has gone for now too.

Macro shots in the woods are out, I usually combine it with walking the dog but there’s so much mud the dog gets caked and it’s a total pain.

All I seem to have done for weeks on end is macro insect shots from things I find in the garden, there just doesn’t seem much point doing anything else. It was a brief bit of interest chasing the flooding around Edinburgh at the weekend getting pics but that too involved being wet for nearly the whole day, caked in mud and there’s a sore throat in the post too.

Roll on autumn and winter and some decent photography weather!


Sigma and a tale of excellent service

When I bought my D7000 I swore I would never buy another Sigma lens. It’s not the best when you get a nice new camera body and find issues with your lenses working with it which will always be an issue with 3rd party manufacturers.

Curiously, my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM which is now over 10 years old worked perfectly. However I lost AF in live view on my 10-20mm superwide but that wasn’t something that bothered me as that lens is nearly always MF only and I rarely ever use live view either.

The big problems started with my 28-300mm which was seen by the camera but just didn’t function at all. In the end I sold the lens on as I wasn’t that keen on it anyway but the real issue came with my Sigma 105mm f2.8 EX DG macro. Now, I love this lens. Every summer I cast off the shackles of landscape photography and delve head on into the wonderful world of plants and insects with the macro lens. It’s used a lot. The problem was though that the D7000 simply refused to even see the lens.

To say this hacked me off was an understatement. Sure, I still had my D90 where it worked perfectly but this lens was less than 3 years old and didn’t work with the new kit. I was so hacked off by this that when I was looking for a new mid range lens I totally discounted any Sigma product and went the extra mile for a Nikon 18-200mm VRII as hey, it’s a Nikon lens, and it’ll work for ever no matter what body I buy in future. Sure, it’s expensive but it won’t ever be obsolete.

Luckily though, Sigma DG products come with a 3 year warranty. No problem, send back to Sigma with the proof of purchase and they’ll re-chip it. Problem. No proof of purchase. I had bought it nearly 3 years ago and had no idea where the receipt would be. I phoned Jessops as I had bought the lens along with my D90 there and they couldn’t help. I emailed Jessops customer service and they did manage to locate a duplicate copy for me but when it arrived the date on the receipt was the day they had ran off the copy, not the original date of purchase.

I emailed Sigma again, expressing my displeasure that a less than 3 year old lens wasn’t working and explaining the proof of purchase issue. I had an email back asking me to phone their service supervisor which I did. In the end Sigma, with no persuasion needed offered to re-chip the lens in an act of goodwill even with no proof of purchase, something they didn’t have to do.

The lens was sent recorded delivery to Sigma in the UK and in only 5 days over a weekend too it arrived back re-chipped and cleaned too. Stuck on the D7000 and it worked like a dream. So there you go, in this day and age when the consumer now expects to be shafted silly there are sill a few companies out there giving decent service. My faith in the Sigma brand is restored and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy Sigma again, I always felt they were better built than the more expensive Nikon lenses anyway.

Now, my less than 2 year old original iPad can’t run some apps and it cost more than the lens did. Wonder what Apple’s response would be if I asked them to upgrade it?


Adapting to the conditions, photography in the rain

]It’s been a funny old couple of weeks weather wise in Scotland. We’ve gone from sitting in the garden in shorts and t-shirt to snow, hail, torrential rain and even thunder and lightning. One thing about the Scottish climate, it certainly keeps you on your toes.

It’s been a very mixed bag for me photography wise. On one hand for astrophotography I want totally clear skies but for landscape I’d prefer a cloudy sky or at least some clouds in the sky. Clouds give you options, slow the exposure down and you can streak the clouds, or if you’re lucky enough to get huge high contrast clouds it can give a shot real drama. Clouds also help a sunset along no end; a slightly cloudy sky will always yield a better sunset than a clear sky will.

The last couple of days though have been really challenging, mainly due to the one thing that can stop play. Rain. Rain can be a real pain in the back end, water on the camera gear isn’t usually desirable although less of an issue with weatherproofed DSLR’s. It’s entirely possible to get some decent shots in rain though, you just need to adapt to the conditions. Remember too, rain can also come with extreme weather and nothing makes a better shot than extreme weather!

Certainly though, rain will stop you using filters, unless you want to sit cloning out rain drops on your shots for days on end. In these conditions I find it best to go simple. Shoot handheld, with the lens hood on and just bring the camera out when you want to take a shot. Balancing exposures will of course be an issue but there’s another weapon at your disposal here. HDR.

There, I said it. That dirty photography word, HDR. “Stone him” I hear you all cry. But wait! Why not? I’ve hardly used HDR for the last 18 months but the last couple of days it’s been a useful style to adopt. HDR is really down to personal taste but if done tastefully then I can’t see any reason why not? A bad shot will still look like a pile of poo in HDR but a good shot can look particularly pleasing if done properly.

My bad weather method of shooting HDR is as follows.

1. Low as ISO as you can, HDR always works better with a low ISO, I try to stick to ISO200 or lower.
2. Shoot 3 bracketed shots for everything, +2, 0 and -2ev. Most DSLR’s have an auto bracketing feature.
3. Turn on your high speed drive and if you have it vibration reduction, image stabilization or whatever it’s called on your camera.
4. Frame the shot, focus and press the shutter until you hear all 3 shots rattled off.

It’ll take about as long as a blink of the eye and you should have 3 shots, sharp, bracketed and not that far off the same position. Use features matching in Photomatix when you’re combining the exposures and you should be fine.

I like to bump up the contrast in Photoshop of HDR shots after the tone mapping is finished; I feel it gives a cleaner look with more tonal depth. Tone mapped images can look a little bland to me and bumping up the contrast finishes off a shot how I like it.

While you’re getting your shots though, do try to keep the lens pointed down when you’re not shooting and keep a close eye open for rain drops on the front lens element. They might not be that noticeable on the preview screen but they’ll be the cause of much wailing and gnashing of teeth if you find them once the pics are downloaded.

These shots were all taken in rain the last 2 days using a Nikon D7000 and Nikon 18-200mm VRII lens. All are 3 exposures combined in Photomatix Pro 4 and finished in Photoshop.

Forth Bridge in the Rain

Storm Clouds over the Bridge

Pier and Bridge

Crags to Calton Hill


An Evening of Astro-Photography

I’m obsessed with the night sky just now. Which is unfortunate as now we’re into BST the night sky is coming at a more unsociable hour. Who’d have thought after a long winter I was going to miss the dark nights? I’ve enjoyed my recent journey into some low level astro-photography, even without a telescope to really start on deep space and planets, with some modest photography equipment it can be an engaging subject to photograph.

A crystal clear sky on any night is a joy to behold, especially if you’re away from heavy light pollution, and it’s even more enjoyable once you get an idea what you’re looking at. Last night (March 26th) was one of those special nights with a conjunction in the night sky, where 2 or more celestial bodies appear close to each other in the night sky. Last night was the turn of a nice thin crescent Moon and Venus to take centre stage.

Unlike the night before when Jupiter and the Moon were in conjunction the sky had finally lost that misty haze of the last few days and the seeing was very good indeed. Without a cloud in the sky it was too good an opportunity to miss.

We’ve all seen the proper astro-photography stuff, those striking coloured images of distant nebula or close in shots of planets which is specialised stuff but with a basic camera setup you can have a great night working these special night sky events into your pictures.

All pictures were taken with a Nikon D7000, on a tripod and fired using a wired remote control, but most cameras would do a decent job with a mid range zoom lens.

This close in shot of the Moon and Venus show’s just how close they were in the sky. This was taken with a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 and 2x teleconverter, and it filled the D7000’s frame perfectly. 1/60th, f5.6, ISO400 and 400mm. The moon needs a fast exposure to stop the detail burning out as it’s a very bright object, a full moon requires a even faster shutter, luckily Venus is so bright its fine with the faster shutter speed too.

Moon Venus conjunction March 26th 2012

Switching now to a Nikon 18-200mm VRII lens, a general purpose mid-range super zoom, we get a wider view of the same scene. This time though I’ve slightly lengthened the exposure to 1/2s, f5.6, ISO400, -2/3ev and 200mm. The result is lost detail in the bright part of the moon but I’ve picked up the Earthshine instead, the light reflecting back of Earth lighting the shadow portion of the moon.

Moon Venus conjunction with ES 26 March 2012

Pulling back the zoom even further it was possible to include Jupiter in the shot as well. Same settings as the previous shot, but at 135mm. Jupiter is on the lower right of the shot.

Moon Venus Jupiter conjunction March 26 2012

It’s all very well shooting the moon and planets on their own, you could do that from your own garden probably, but sometimes it’s nice to get a little context to the shot as well. I was at Blackford Pond in Edinburgh, not long after sunset when I was taking these so a bit of playing about got the 2 planets and the moon with the tail end of the sunset over the pond. 1/8th, f5.6, ISO400, 18mm, -4/3ev.

Conjunction Blackford Pond March 26 2012

With the pond so still there were a lot of reflections from the trees but where was the moon reflection? Moving right to the edge of the pond revealed where it was and with a little playing about with the composition and waiting for a swan to move away which was causing ripples I got a respectable shot of the reflection in the pond.

Same settings as the previous shot but -2/3ev and ISO3200. The super high ISO was required to get as fast a shutter as possible to freeze the movement of the gentle ripples in the water to stop the reflection distorting. This isb’t a major problem with high end DSLR’s these days but some old cameras will give very noisy shots at this high an ISO.

Reflected Conjunction

Final shot of the night was a closer in view of the reflection, again a high ISO was required and I also switched on the VR on the lens, which you wouldn’t normally do on a tripod but it did help. After many goes, I finally got a shot with a proper moon shape and pin point stars.

Reflected celestial triangle

To finish up with, here’s a quick shot of the Jupiter Moon conjunction the night before, if you look very close next to Jupiter and around 4 o’ clock there is 2 tiny pin pricks of light, 2 of Jupiter’s moons.

Moon, Jupiter conjunction, earthshine and Jupiter moons

Next time you find a nice clear night and you’re looking for something new to photograph, why not see how you get on with the stars? They are far from the easiest subjects to photograph thanks to the Earth rotation but with a little practice you could be adding extra depth to night landscapes.


Cameras are like arseholes…

…everybody’s got one.

I never really noticed until this weekend. When I first started properly dabbling in photography I was quite self conscious of my camera. I was even worse when I first started using a tripod regularly. What? Stand in the centre of town with a big camera and a tripod? I think not…

I eased over time and now I really couldn’t give monkeys what anyone thinks when I wander past with a fully extended tripod and big camera but nobody ever really notices anyway, that’s because everyone in the civilised world now carries a camera of some sort. Just a few short years ago it wasn’t that common, now people will look at you and point in the street if you don’t have a camera in the city centre.

Standing on Calton Hill for the sunset on Saturday night there must have been at least a dozen people with tripods and SLR’s and at least twice that again wandering around with compact cameras or smart phones with decent cameras. Not that unusual for Calton Hill I’ll admit that but it’s a remarkable amount of images all being captured in the half hour just before the sun goes down.

Where I really noticed it was Sunday night at Newhaven Harbour. Now, Newhaven isn’t exactly tourist territory, it’s far more likely to be locals down there and again there were dozens of cameras on display of all shapes and sizes. People pulled up in cars and jumped out to get a shot of the sunset. Even up to a couple of years ago down here on a cold night you could almost be the only photographer about, now it always seems to have swarms of them!

I spotted it at the Forth Bridges too recently. With the bridge lights back on I stopped in South Queensferry only to find at least 4 other photographers out with the same idea on a really cold night.

Of course the easy availability of cameras these days if one reason behind it. Even an entry level SLR could cost you less than £300 and you could pick up a compact with your weekly shopping for under £40 easily. It’s not the whole story though, cheap cameras have always been around and it’s not just the convenience of digital either. Digital’s been about for a long time now and so have cheap digital cameras so what’s the difference?

In my humble opinion, it’s the rise of social media as part of our everyday lives. We’re exposed to photographs everywhere these days, email, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Blipfoto etc etc etc whether it’s people just sharing images of their latest drunken night out or first attempts at photographing a sunset, the world finally has an outlet for it’s photographs beyond the paper envelope with your always disappoint prints that only your friends or family ever seen. The prints that ended up in a shoebox under the bed for years on end now have a place to live and been seen without being hidden away.

From my own point of view it’s the main reason I enjoy what I do with a camera. If I were to take pictures and only ever looked at them myself yes I’d still get some enjoyment from it but it’s the easy ability to share that really makes it for me. I don’t care if an image is viewed by 20 people or 20,000. I don’t care if it’s had stacks of comments or none at all. The fact that it’s seen is enough for me. It gives a purpose to an expensive and time consuming hobby if that image is enjoyed by just one other person then the effort is worth it.


The Forth Bridge lights

After 2 years in darkness the Forth Bridge is finally lit up again, by 1000 new spotlights. I remember the old lights. You were never sure they were on at first; the lights came on gradually until the bridge was tastefully lit. These new lights though?

See for yourself from this picture.

Forth Bridge lit up

As you can see, the lights are very… open? The bridge looks fantastic but do the lights really need to be so blatant? It’s seriously one of the worst examples I think I’ve seen of structure lighting. You couldn’t see the light source from the old lights but these lights are way too open. The light pollution around the bridge itself is huge. A snow shower moved over last night and you could see the lights streaking up way above the bridge for a fair height. It’s simply too bright.

For photography purposes this is an issue. The old favourite panoramic shot of both bridges with a wide angle lens is not really an option at night anymore, the road bridge is a lot darker than the rail bridge and the lens flares from those lights are terrible. You could try a grad filter to ease out some of the rail bridge but I think that would make the flares even worse. See below for an example, I’ve marked the lens flares on the shot.

Not that long ago I was shooting star trails with the bridge, that’ll be impossible now. You simply couldn’t get those lights under control for a 30s exposure and the resulting pollution will mask the stars anyway. I didn’t try from down the Hawes Pier last night but I suspect the problem will be even worse down there.

It’s not a lot better from the North Queensferry side either sadly, although there does seem to be access under the bridge from that side with the works now removed, one to be better checked out in daylight.

Forth Bridge at night with lights

The Lights are on

I do hope that Scotrail don’t leave the lights like this although I suspect the bridge will now be like this forever. IN a time where we are more away of light pollution it seems very odd to light up an iconic structure in this fashion, especially as we’re all supposed to be getting “greener”. Frankly, I preferred it in the dark.


First tentative steps with Astrophotography

Well, I knew it was going to happen. This tale kicks off back in early December when I made my first ever attempt at a star-trail image, it never happened that night as cloud rolled in but I did get a natty shot of the Forth Bridge and the Big Dipper next to it in the sky. That was the start of the near obsession with the night sky.

Winter is a difficult time for me photographically, especially a winter with little or no snow like this year. Sunsets are difficult, due to working when the sun in setting and the position of the winter sunset is tricky in Edinburgh to so I typically resort to night-time shots and to be honest, I get a bit fed up with photographing the city at night so I needed something new. That something new turned out to be the oldest thing I could photograph, our universe.

Since that night I’ve progressed though star-trails, photographing star fields, the Milky Way, the planets the ISS and anything else astro related I could manage with my current photography equipment but I still lacked one thing, mega zoom!

I needed a telescope. So I bought one for the exorbitant fee of £30 from Jessops. Now, I didn’t expect much from a £30 Jessops junior telescope with a 50mm front on it. What I didn’t reckon for was how bad it actually was. This spindly thing was dreadful and nearly put me off a telescope all together. It was so frustrating to use. I went off the idea since then and started looking at a Sigma 150-500mm lens instead, which combined with my Sigma 2x teleconverter would have gave me a 1000mm lens, 1500mm on the crop sensor. To be honest I’d have bought this but I lacked the £800 or so I needed to get one.

Then Gumtree happened. Up popped a Meade 4504 114mm Newtonian Reflector and motor-driven equatorial mount. The usual Googling was done and off I went to see it. As soon as I laid eyes on it I knew I was buying it. It was huge and that’s what matters right? £80 paid and off I went with my bazooka sized new toy. Satisfyingly filling the boot and back seat of the Mondeo it looked perfect, there was even a camera adapter with it. Glorious up close moon shots were just around the corner, or so I thought.

If you’ve never used a telescope on an Equatorial mount before then you are well unprepared for how difficult it is to get the thing pointing where you want it to. Then when you discover that your 2nd hand bargain has had a harder life than you first thought the bubble slowly starts to burst. Over the next 2 days I discovered that the mount won’t lock in place, a real pain, once you located an object it requires little more than a gnats fart to move the scope and lose the object. Not that bad with the moon but a real bollock ache with the planets.

No matter thinks I, it’s got a motor drive that’ll fix the problem! 10, yes 10 AA batteries later and the motor drive whirred into action. It works, yes. But wait, shouldn’t the mount actually move when I tell it to? Scratch that, it doesn’t work. So, I now have this massive malfunctioning telescope sat in my shed, the wife wont let me keep it in the living room. To be fair, it’s that heavy I don’t really want to carry it from the house to garden to use, 8ft out the shed is much better so there it lives under an old blanket.

Much as I was disappointed by the mount I still figured I could at least get some moon shots with this setup. That’s when I got a stark lesson in focal lengths of telescopes. No matter what I do I cannot get the D90 to focus when attached to the telescope, either using the prime focus or eyepiece projection methods. It seems as if the camera is too far from the telescope mirror. I tried every combination but nothing worked. I’ve since read that using a 2x Barlow lens might correct the issue, I’ve got one of them so that’ll be the test for tonight.

All in, it’s been a frustrating and disappointing experience so far, I didn’t expect to jump right in and be photographing details on Saturn or distant galaxies from day 1 but I had hoped at least for a sharp shot of the moon filling the frame. I’m treating this as part of the learning curve for now, I had similar issues when I first delved into proper long exposure photography but with a little dedication I did get there in the end.

But, and there has to be a but. This post sounds fairly negative, it’s not been the best of experiences but there has been a massive positive. Even with the scope not perfect, I’ve managed to observe the moon really close up, right into individual craters and even a view of the moon on the lowest magnification is awesome, it’s so sharp. A truly breathtaking sight. If that wasn’t enough I’ve also observed Jupiter and close enough in to pick out the moons and the coloured bands around the planet. Something which amazed my youngest son too. I’ve also seen Saturn and the rings around the planet, a sight so awesome it’s hard to describe. When you think about the distances involved in where these objects are its mind boggling.

Even if this telescope never takes a picture for the views I’ve had so far it’s been worth it alone. I’ve seen things that relative to the amount of people on the planet, few have seen. I get fairly awestruck seeing historic landmarks you’ve only heard about of seen pictures off, places like the unfinished cathedral in Barcelona, the leaning tower of Pisa, Pompeii to name a few but seeing Jupiter and Saturn? That’s quite a special feeling and one you can get from your back garden with an £80 investment.



Daily Mail in “Talks Bollocks” shocker

This has bugged me since yesterday.

While skimming through the “I’m off for a shit” and tweets that describe a scenario and then say “That” at the end of it on Twitter yesterday I came across this from the @photobox account.

“You’ll be left startstruck with this stunning ‘space rainbow’ shot… magical!”

A what? A “Space Rainbow”? Now that’s a new one on me, I’ve heard of lunar rainbows but a “Space Rainbow”? This must be worth a look.

The link in the tweet take you to this page on the Daily Mail website.

Now, what’s even funnier here is that they have changed the wording of the article to refer to the “rainbow” as a star cluster and have removed the line that referred to the picture as “time-lapse photography”.

The “Space Rainbow” is in fact a panoramic shot of the Milky Way (go check Flickr for panoramic shots of the Milky Way”, which is obviously done with a fairly short exposure since the stars are pin pricks of light and not trails.

And better still, the Mail goes on to say, “The Italian snapper regularly takes pictures of space but has never seen – or heard of – a rainbow being captured in space before.”

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but if this guy is in a dark sky area (which he must be), and he regularly does this kind of photography would he really be amazed by this capture and would he really refer to it as a “Space Rainbow”? Of course he wouldn’t, to capture something like this is a skilled photographer, someone who knows exactly what they are doing, it’s not been a chance capture, it’s been planned and the photographer knows exactly what he’s captured.

What we have here is a classic example of a clueless journalist making up their quota of stories for the day by using the pics and fabricating most of the story around their own ignorance to fill a page which in turn makes the photographer look like a complete dick.

The moral of the story? If the Daily Mail come asking for your pictures, unless they are being generous with the cash, tell them to get fucked!


New Ventures: Targetted photography lessons

I’ve enjoyed imparting knowledge as I’ve gained it through this blog. In fact, I really enjoy helping people with photography. Many’s a time I’ve been stood explaining to a confused tourist why their pics are turning out like they are. They do tend to ask a lot when you’re stood next to them with a big camera, tripod, remotes and bag full of lenses and filters.

I actually enjoy the imparting of knowledge thing so much I’ve decided why not make it an actual “thing”? I’ve been asked in the past for lessons but have always declined the requests, until now at least.

There’s nothing worse that seeing shots in Flickr or elsewhere and thinking, “I must give that a try”, but having no idea where to start or getting a shot nothing like what you expect. I’ve been there and been through that learning curve and came out the other end and now I’m in a perfect position to help others and hopefully save some lovely people some of the frustrations and financial faux-pas I made along the way. Equipment isn’t cheap and you don’t want to be buying the wrong stuff!

You could of course do some night classes and learn all about exposure, aperture and all that stuff and it’ll work well for you, but what these courses won’t show you is how to get that glassy surface water, how to get those star trails, or how to compose those flower macro shots. I’ll show you all this stuff in real world situations, getting the shots YOU want to get.

Sorry, I’m starting to sound like a marketing drone there.

Anyway, I’ve added a new page to the blog to expain the process, which you can read more about here.

You might also notice some of those other new pages? Since I’ve decided to ditch my old website I’ve moved some of the content over to here, this blog always got more traffic than the prints sales site ever did anyway. You can also get here now with the domain, www.photosofedinburgh.co.uk which now redirects to the blog.

Remember, if your star trails are wonky or your long exposures just aren’t long enough, drop me a line and start out on the road to brilliant pictures!


Photographing the International Space Station (ISS) from the UK

Valentines Day this year saw the start of another series of visible passes from the UK of the International Space Station, which if timed correctly can provide a nice photo opportunity. Lot’s of satellites are routinely visible from Earth but with sheer size of the ISS makes it a worthwhile subject to hunt down.

When it’s visible essentially what you will see if a very bright dot in the sky moving at a fair pace. You won’t confuse it with aircraft as it doesn’t have any flashing lights, it’s a steady white light similar to a bright star moving across the sky. For it to be visible though you need to catch it when it’s not in the Earth’s shadow as the light is provided by the sun reflecting off its surfaces, if it’s out of reach of the sun, you won’t see it.

Predicting where it will pass is pretty easy if you have access to app’s such as Star Walk on the iPhone, or any similar night sky tracker that show’s satellite positions. With Star Walk you can locate the ISS and then fast forward time to see where it will be at any given time, what it won’t show you though is if it will be visible from your location or not.

To determine visibility you’ll need the Heavens Above website. Simply select your location in the configuration settings and then look at the ISS predictions for the next 10 days, this will show you all the visible passes. Remember to deduct 1hr from the time for current UK time. Also check how long it will be visible for, it might be only a handful of seconds, it might be minutes depending on the position of the Earth shadow. The lower the mag value, the brighter the pass will be.

Armed with this information, what you need now is a nice dark location with a good view to the West and South and a clear sky, the ISS will arrive from the West travelling east. On a shorter visible pass your best bet is to setup the camera looking approx South-West, if you have access to the Star Walk app, try to see which easily identifiable star constellation it will pass near, that will help you decide where to point the camera. At the moment, it’s passing very close to Orion, one of the easier constellations to find.

Usual star photography settings apply, you want to be (in a very dark location) around ISO1600, lens as wide as you can get it (f3.5-4.5 is fine) and exposure should be enough so the sky looks light but not blown out, you can darken the sky back down again in post processing but for now we want to be sure we’re picking up as much image data on the stars as we can. In more light polluted area’s you’ll have to drop the ISO to maybe around ISO400 to stop the image blowing out.

After that it’s a case of watch and wait. Take a few test exposures so you know what field of view you’re going to capture in the shot, as you see the ISS (it’ll be fairly obvious) approach your field of view, hit the shutter (with a remote obviously) and keep taking exposures until it’s gone or you’re sure it’s out your field of view.

You can always combine multiple exposures in a programme such as Startrails.exe or StarStax to get a full trail of the ISS over the frame later.

This is an example of pointing the camera to much to the South and not enough to the South West, the little streak on the bottom right is the ISS but despite having watched it for a good 20s before it went into the shot it then went into the Earth shadow and that was it, gone for the night! There are loads of opportunities though over the next few days so if you don’t get it first time, try, try and try again!

ISS over the Pentlands

If you get a dark enough location you might also be lucky enough to get some decent star shots in general just now, with the moon well out the way of the early evening night sky the stars are nice and bright to the point it’s even possible to pick out (faintly) the Milky Way just a few miles outside light polluted Edinburgh.

Stars over Harlaw


Getting out of the print sales rat-race

After 2 years online with my own website aimed at selling prints of my work I’ve decided to give it up. On 20th of Feb this year, Photos of Edinburgh will cease to be, in it’s current form at least. I’ll retain the domain and maybe even just point it towards this blog but I’m ceasing trying to make print sales any more.

The reasons is simple. There’s no market at all for an amateur to make any decent money from print sales. In an age where anyone can buy a SLR, set up a cheap WordPress website and register their name with “photography” at the end of it as a domain, it’s a crowded market of dreamers and chancers and not a dead horse I want to keep flogging.

I licenced an image to an advertising company last year, in that one transaction (which came via Flickr) I made more profit than I did in 2 years, 4 redesign’s and god knows how many hours trying to promote my own little corner of the web. I’d be lucky to have even covered the cost of 2 years hosting and domain name renewal if I’m brutally honest.

I think most amateurs, when they get hooked on photography, go through that “I could make some serious cash here” stage. Unless you’re very lucky, I’d estimate 99% of people end up disappointed. A touch of realism is actually what’s required. Think about it, you’ve gone out and bought your fancy new camera. You’ve taken a few nice pics. Now you want to punt them for a decent price, but wait! Stop and hink about it, you’ve gone and bought that camera and taken that pic, what’s to stop anyone else doing the same? I mean, who doesn’t have or have access to a half decent digital camera these days? Click, trot off to Asda, stick the card in the machine, order the print for a fraction the cost of yours. Might not be as good but a fiver for a A3 print or £30+ for one of yours, the average punter will be more than happy with their own.

From here on it I’m stopping the self promotion with a view to profit. In the last year I’ve been shafted by a magazine, let down by others wanting work and ended up disappointed trying to get a deal to punt printed images locally. It’s simply not going to happen and it’s pointless to keep on. From here on it, photography is about the fun of it for me, not the potential profit. That’s not to say I’m going to pass up any opportunities that might fall into my lap but I’m certainly not going to going out looking for them in future.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily wish “insert your name” Photography out there all the best with their endevours but unless you’re a full time pro photographer who’s very living depends on making those sales you will likely never put the effort in to make the sale as the need for it isn’t there. The pro who’s job it is will pull out all the stops to generate the income, me? I’m a web developer, that’s what pays the mortgage and puts food on the table, that’s where I’ll concentrate the effort, photography will be my escape from that, not an extension of it.


Why those snapshots matter…

I’ve been considering this a bit over the last few days, thoughts sparked by the Lost Edinburgh Facebook page. If you’ve yet to take a look then mosey on over and feast your eyes on the huge array of Edinburgh pics from bygone years. It’s fascinating stuff.

The more I flicked through these, the more I started to think about how my own photography might endure the next 100 years or so. I focus on 2 differing types of photography, what I like to refer to as my “arty” stuff and the stuff I do for the Real Edinburgh blog. The more “arty” stuff goes to Flickr and what I consider to be more snapshots, to Real Edinburgh.

The blog stuff is by far the easier to take, I go out with just a camera, one lens and that’s it. No remotes, no filters, just me and the camera. While I’ll still compose shots, I worry less about the technical perfections and hence get what I would more term as a snapshot, a quick picture anyone with a modicum of photography skill could have taken even with a compact camera.

What you’ll notice about the Lost Edinburgh stuff is that none of the pics taken there were utilising long exposure techniques, fancy lenses and the likes. Most are simply point, click, picture. Job done and even years on the shots are, if anything, more relevant than when they were taken. They point to a bookmark in time that’s gone, the scene is as it was, not enhanced by modern photographic techniques and that makes it honest and a better historical reflection.

Here’s an example for you.

I would consider this one of my more “arty” shots.

Forth Bridge Winter Sunset Panorama

This was taken with super wide lens, camera on a tripod, using a variety of filters including a 10 stop ND to give a nice long exposure. I think it’s a nice shot but was that really what it looked like down at the bridges that day?

Now consider this shot taken a few weeks earlier also at the Forth Bridges:

Point, click. Job Done.

Which of the 2 in 100 years time do you think will tell more of a story of the day they were taken?

These pictures matter. It’s as important to capture real life as it is to create a piece of art every time you press that shutter. It’s even more important for future generations that they can look back and see how our towns and cities were from a realistic perspective.

Next time your out with a ton of camera gear on your back and your stressing about whether the scene calls for a 0.9 or a 0.6 grad maybe just look about a bit too and forget the technicalities and just press that shutter button and capture a slice of life as it is and do your part in documenting the world for the kids of tomorrow.


In search of the Aurora Borealis

Aurora over Edinburgh
Aurora Borealis over Edinburgh, Jan 24th 2012

To say I was pissed off after missing a chance to photograph the Aurora Borealis over Edinburgh on Sunday night is an understatement. The Aurora had been #1 on my list of list of photographic ambitions for 2012 and to have it basically handed to me on a plate and miss it made it even worse. The crowing glory of self pity though is that I missed it due to complete and utter apathy. I had planned to be out with the camera at the time it was clearly visible but instead made excuses, “too windy”, “too cold”, “can’t be arsed” rather than go and paid for it!

With that in mind I hauled my bones up Blackford Hill on Monday night. The skies were beautifully clear and the stars were easy to spot on the dark of the hillside but there was little chance of any Aurora since the KP index had dropped dramatically from the night before.

With the news of the huge CME heading towards earth from Monday mornings flare on the sun Wednesday night was to be prime time. Sadly, cloud was a constant feature along with fog and rain, hardly idea conditions to try and witness an atmospheric phenomenon.

Undaunted though, convinced I could see a green glow on the clouds despite a KP of only 4 at the time I headed back to Blackford Hill. Thankfully it was mild, the rain had stopped and there was little or no wind. There was also little sign of any Aurora either. On longer exposures the camera was picking up some green tinges in the sky but nothing concrete and the low cloud was in places reflecting light from the ground. To be fair, though, if you’re going to be disappointed the Blackford is the place to be, the view of the city from up here at night is amazing and a recommended visit even if there’s no Aurora.

From here I headed down to Cramond to see what conditions were like there but the fog hanging over the water of the Forth made it impossible to see anything. Nice as the still conditions were there was no chance of it moving either.

With the realisation that I needed to be up higher again I headed to the Braid Hills, it’s nicely dark up here but you do have the light pollution from the city in front of you. Still, while there, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I took some shots headed more or less directly north when I spotted a little to the North East the light around Arthur’s Seat. It certainly wasn’t green but I stuck the camera in that direction and rattled off a few longish exposures around 1.5 minutes looking for a composition which is where the tree on the right of the shot comes in!

I actually didn’t really notice the green until I downloaded the images when I finally got home after a 4 hour session out staring at the skies. Other shots in the direction had no hint of green at all and this was the only frame that did. Right place, right time, right clouds, right conditions and a lucky lucky catch.

The moral of the story? If you don’t try, you won’t get. Even if it doesn’t look perfect give it a shot, you never know what you might come back with.


Star trails revisited, 10 easy steps to better star trails pictures

It’s been a learning curve the star trails shots. What I’ve noticed is that I’m pulling more stars out the shots now than when I first started and this is turn leads to denser trails. So what’s the difference and how do you get more stars?

1. You MUST shoot in RAW.

2. Compose your shot and expose to the point that you can see a lot of stars in the preview but don’t totally blow out anything else you might have in the shot. In light polluted areas I’ve been using 30s at around f7.1 and ISO400, in darker areas I can drop to around f3.5 quite happily.

3. Take at least 20 shots, the more the longer the trails. Focal length plays a big part here. At 18mm 20 shots will give a short trail, at 50mm it’ll be a longer trail. a cheap 50mm f1.8 is the perfect lens, but if you need wider try and get more frames.

4. What I do now, is to take all the RAW images and dump them into a folder. Now with Adobe Camera Raw (this will transfer to Lightroom too), open the first 10 RAW files. Select the first file and hike the clarity up to 100%.

5. Now drop the exposure slider to the right until you are bringing out stars, bumping up the fill light also helps.

6. Now swith to the Tone Curve tab, at the bottom of the box are 4 sliders, you want the light and darks sliders, make the lights lighter and darks darker until you get a balance of the stars with a darker sky. You will also need to go back to the basic settings and fine tune Temperature and Hue.

7. Once you have a nice balance save the settings and these will now appear in the Presets menu under the name you saved it as.

8. Now select all the images you opened and apply this preset to the all and click Open Images.

9. Once all images are open simply save each jpg and close the shot, repeat for all the RAW files you have.

10. Combine the processed JPG images in your chosen programme for blending, usually StarStax or StarTrails.exe and save the final image.

Once you have that final image you can fine tune with a little colour balance if needed. A bit of dodge and burn can go a long way to to lightening and darkening areas a little at a time until you get the shot you’re happy with. Once that’s done, save and admire!

Both these shots were processed in the way above, both are only around 30 exposures (which if it’s under 0c outside is more than enough!), but the first shot was as 18mm, the 2nd shot at 50mm where you can see a big difference with regards to the trails.

18mm shot:
Newhaven Star Trails

50mm shot:
Telegraph Star Trails

by way of a comparison, this was the first star trails shots I took, you can see the difference in the amount of stars I’m managing to extract now with different processing.
Forth Bridge Star Trail - Explored