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!
The big problem with photographing fireworks displays in Edinburgh is trying to get something that’s not been done 100 times before. This year along we’ve had the half hour display from Edinburgh Castle for the Festival, a shorter display from the castle for St Andrews Day, a display from Calton Hill as part of the Hogmanay celebrations and just over 24 hours later, another huge display from the castle again at midnight for New Year. That’s quite a lot of opportunities with iconic landmarks.
For the Festival display I trudged high up on Salisbury Crags with what felt like 10 tones of camera gear but nailed the shots I wanted so it was all worth it.
The St Andrews Day display though was another matter. With no firm time for the display and a strong biting wind I had gave up on my Calton Hill location thinking they had been cancelled, thankfully when I realised that hadn’t I was only down by Regent Road so did get some shots, nothing I’d describe as killer though.
Ok, so it’s not bad and the Bank building in the shot rather than the castle is different but it’s not the shot I wanted, not the best of nights.
Next big chance was the Son et Lumiere on Calton Hill, the end of the Hogmanay torchlight procession. In previous years I’ve shot this from the hillside itself from the back of the 10,000 strong crowd but have never been that pleased with the results.
This year I decided to try something different. Earlier in the year I took some shots from the Holyrood side of the Radical Road around Salisbury Crags trying to get traffic light trails with a backdrop of the Parliament and Calton Hill. The idea struck me, why not try and combine the two? So that’s what I did. 2 cameras set up, D7000 with the Sigma 70-200mm shooting Calton close in in portrait format, the D90 with the Nikon 18-200mm lens shooting the wide scene on 15s exposures to get the light trails and the fireworks. And guess what? It worked. Exactly the shot I wanted and something I’ve not seen done before.
The good times didn’t last though. For the big New Year celebration fireworks I had scouted out an easy access location with a clear view to the front side of the castle. Trouble was, this was a daylight scouting mission and on arriving at the location with no time to get anywhere else, the error I had made was obvious. There’s a rugby club here and they had strong security lights on their clubhouse, right in front of the castle which caused a load of issues with light flares on both cameras.
To say this was a nightmare was an understatement, I had to spend the whole display fiddling with settings and compositions and came away with nothing I was happy with at all. Eventually I had to resort to blending two fireworks bursts together and then blending in another shot of the castle before the display to get anything approaching a usable shot. I’m not that happy with the results, it looks too perfect. No smoke obscuring the castle is the big give away. To the man in the street it’s a good shot but to a semi knowledgeable photographer, it’s a dirty big fake and that doesn’t sit that easily with me.
So, lessons learned?
Scout out new locations at night.
Use your existing shots for inspiration for locations and techniques.
Get all the info you can on the display.
Use 2 cameras on different settings if at all possible.
I’ve got a few months now before there will be anymore, I just hope I remember the lessons learned by then!
With the year drawing to a close and a new year looming ominously on the horizon rather than reflecting on the year past I’m going to look forward to the new year and the new photographic challenges I’m going to set myself, some of these I might achieve, others will be dependent on the full co-operation of Mother Nature but if I tick all these off I’ll be a happy man come this time next year.
1. To capture the Aurora
The night sky has become quite a fascination in recent months, the increased hours of darkness seem to make you more aware of what’s “up there” and without a doubt the Aurora must be one of the most magical of these night-time phenomenons. If I lived in Iceland I suppose I’d be quite blasé about photographing natures greatest light show but it’s not something you get in Central Scotland a lot. Now I’m a bit more up on how to make an educated guess on when it might happen this year will be my first attempt at really giving it a go. Locations might prove difficult near Edinburgh but I’m intending on a scouting mission to see where further North I could reasonably get to from Edinburgh at short notice and even North Berwick/Dunbar area seems possible so who knows, all I need now is a decent magnetic storm!
2. The Milky Way
Sticking with the night sky, this is one I’m looking to tick off the list sooner rather than later. Having had a few goes at capturing the Milky Way from up in the Pentlands with minor success a trip to the dark skies area of Galloway Forest Park will be on in the not too distant future. The Milky Way is visible to the naked eye in the dark of Galloway so it should easy with the camera, shouldn’t it?
3. More attempts at star trails
Despite knowing the theory behind star trail shots for a long time I’d never actually tried it until a couple of weeks ago and there is a massive sense of satisfaction when you start to blend those stacks of images and see the pic grow in front of you. Aim for the year though is to try and “star trail” as many of the Edinburgh landmarks as I can, obviously some are easier then others due to light pollution but it’ll be an interesting project if nothing else.
This has to be the year I get the lightning shot. We had some cracking storms this year but every time I was caught out without the camera or my storm chasing skills took me in the wrong direction. The nearest I got was capturing the huge anvil cloud that hammered Edinburgh in the summer causing widespread local flooding. My aim though, has never been to capture lightning from the garden or anywhere mundane, oh no. I want it in a classic Edinburgh shot so you might we see me heading to Calton Hill if the skies start to rumble.
5. Better Fireworks
I really enjoy fireworks photography, it’s just a pity there’s only really a few brief chances a year to have a go at it, the only chance I really had to experiment was the 30 minutes of the Festival Fireworks. Despite some decent results I still feel it’s all a bit hit and miss so this year I’m going to try and step up a gear and put all the experience of the last few years together and see what I can come up with!
6. Extreme Macro
As the summer arrives and the insects become plentiful my attention generally turns to macro photography. I really learned a lot last year with regards to using flash in macro and the results showed but what I really hanker for is to get REALLY close in. The Sigma 105mm f2.8 Macro is a great lens but 1:1 is no longer enough, I want magnification and it seems reversing/coupling rings are the way to go along with focus stacking. Fiddly and frustrating but my god, the results when you get it right!
7. More Street Photography
I’ve really enjoyed my Real Edinburgh photo project this year. Wandering the streets of the city capturing everyday life has both been enjoyable and eye opening and despite the dark nights doing their best to slow the project down I intend to keep it moving through the year, it’s been too enjoyable not to.
So that’s mine, some things I’ve never done, others I want to improve at. Why not leave a comment and let us know what you want to get from your photography in 2012?
As we near the end of the year I’m going to take a look back over the last year and pick my favourite shots each month. I’d love to see what other photographers rated as their best shots by month too!
The year started well as I’d make the decision to shun the traditional Scottish Hogmany in favour of staying sober so I could get some shots of the fireworks from Edinburgh Castle at midnight. Standing on Bruntsfield Links stone cold sober while all around you could hardly stand was “interesting” to say the least, at least I got this shot as way of compensation.
February was a pretty difficult month for me personally, as I spent most of it ill, a culmination of 5 months of feeling like crap. The intense low temperatures in February didn’t help although with the Western Harbour frozen solid it did let me get some killer reflections in the ice.
March was the month of the “Supermoon”, although cloud cover did all it could to scupper any chances of a decent shot. Funnily enough it was a freak weather condition that sorted out my favourite for March. This shot from Calton Hill after some late winter snow was sheer chance. 10 minutes before it was clear and 5 minutes after it was clear again, for 5 minutes the Castle disappeared into the fog.
April was the start of my long exposure period. A Helipoan 10 stopper was bought and the long exposures commenced. To be fair I really enjoyed it at the time but couldn’t see past it. Everything had to be at least 60s exposures or it wasn’t good enough. I did get some nice shots out of it though, of which this of the Falkirk Wheel was one.
Still in long exposure mode I found the bridge to nowhere in Behlaven Bay near Dunbar. It took a few trips to get high enough tides but finally I got a shot of the water all round the bridge.
In June, I finally figured out how to time the tides at the Cramond causeway so I could catch the tide coming in from down at the water’s edge. After several goes and wet feet to be going on with, I had this shot in the bag.
July was a good month. A lot happened including the mother of all thunderstorms over Edinburgh. The shot of the anvil cloud retreating over the Pentlands was a tempting pick for this month but July was really about macro for me, and this may well be one of my favourite ever macro shots, taken in the Botanic Gardens lying flat on my back in the dirt getting funny looks from all around…
August was a hard month to choose but this had to be the shot for the month. Probably one of the best I’ve ever taken and the first trip out with my new Nikon D7000.
September was all about the Festival Fireworks or Leuchars Airshow. The Red Arrows pip the fireworks to the post for me, quite an awesome sight.
This was an easy winner for October. I’d been playing about with twisting the zoom during long exposure shots and this was the result down on a still night at the Victoria Quay with the Scottish Executive building, a single exposure!
We got the best sunset I’ve ever seen one night in November and was lucky enough to be up on Calton Hill waiting for it. This was the pick of the bunch from that night.
No contest here, December was the first time I had really tried to do a star trails shot and this was the result. 100 30s exposures over 50 minutes blended to get the final result.
I’ve had my eyes opened photographically recently. I had absorbed myself so far in a world of trying so hard to get that “perfect” image I had started to become more obsessed with getting hold of the right kit to do a job rather than look at what’s important. Which is of course, the image you produce. I never seemed to go anywhere without a tripod, a stack of filters, remote controls and a collection of lenses, which is all very well but I was becoming to purist.
I became obsessed with only ever wanting to shoot at ISO100 to ISO200 to make sure I eliminated noise. I only used a tripod, never shot handheld if I could help it. I used filters all the time, more so when I went through my 10 stopper phase.
Three things changed all that. Getting my Nikon D7000 was the start, it’s get exceptional high ISO performance so gradually I’ve been started to worry less about noise. Next up was the Nikon 18-200mm VRII, which coupled with the D7000 means I can practically shoot handheld in the street at night easily. Third, and probably most importantly, getting an interest in street photography.
What the street stuff done, was got me back shooting handheld. I now reckon I shoot 75% of my stuff handheld as opposed to 0% this time last year. I think more about the composition and the shot than the technicalities and it’s from this that I’ve started to explore other things to try and create “different” images.
This was shot at the Edinburgh Christmas funfair handheld with the D7000 and 18-200mm VRII. VR switched on and a slow-ish shutter speed. At the point of opening the shutter I quickly twisted the zoom back a little and got this effect. It’s quite abstract and not to everyone’s taste but compared to the legions of identical tripod shot images of this that appear every year, it’s different and that’s what I like about it.
This shot used the same technique from further out.
This also used the same technique but was shot over a longer exposure on a tripod. It still adds a new unusual quality to the image.
Back at the Christmas fair, this image was shot with the same sort of exposure as the twist shot but rather than twist the zoom, I twisted the entire camera at the time of opening the shutter.
This image was shot using a slow shutter, handheld. Again, a shutter speed just long enough to blur the motion. No twisting or zooming this time.
Traditionally I’d have shot this on a tripod but in this case, I upped the ISO and shot handheld, this gave a freedom to quickly try different compositions as the sunset was fading rapidly.
Remember, exploring these sorts of techniques in this digital age costs you nothing. It’s not like film where you could spend a fortune and get nothing. If the image isn’t to your liking, try again and again and again. You can always delete them later. Of course, these sort of techniques can be a little hit or miss but it’s simply doesn’t matter and the more you explore these type of things, rather than just frame and click the more you build up the chances of getting a unique shot. These won’t work in every situation but when you find the ones that do you’ll know and might actually enjoy the experimentation.
As an aside, I now find that when I do shoot on the tripod with the filters and remotes I actually enjoy it more now it’s no longer the rule. Photography is a limitless hobby so don’t impose limits, push those boundaries of your imagination and you might just like what you come up with.
With most of the year over and not a lot likely to be happening in December I thought it might be an ok time to look back over my photographic year and pick out my favourite shots by category. I’ve tried a lot of different stuff this year and been generally pleased with the results. I defintely feel I’ve improved as a photographer which is what pleases me most.
Up until a week ago this would have been won by one of the Newhaven lighthouse shots I took this year but at the last minute I reckon this sunset from Calton Hill tied it for my top sunset shot so I’ll nominate the pair of them.
No contest in this one, I only manged a single sunrise all year but luckily, I do like it a lot. From the Cramond causeway.
This long exposure shot of the wreck on the breach at Longniddry in East Lothian is my clear favourite, the Heliopan 10 stopper put such a nice colour on the shot.
In the city
I liked this one as it took me about 3 goes to get the shot I wanted, that’s going back 3 nights in a row, not taking 3 shots…
This shot of the Scottish Executive building reflecting in Victoria Quay on a still night was a real high point. A single exposure with the zoom effect coming from twisting the zoom during exposure.
Another shot from the Cramond causeway gets the vote here. I figured out how to time the tide coming up the causeway fairly accurately this year so got a few variations on this shot.
I really felt I started to make some good inroads with my macro photography this year and this shot taken lying flat on my back in the Botanics was my favourite of the year.
I got a fair few decent insect shots this year, this bluebottle I stalked in the Botanics for ages and got a stack of shots.
I’ve got this one on a huge canvas in my hall, enough said.
Danbo didn’t get so much of an outing this year but I reckon the Buttercup Bokeh shot was the best of the year.
Contenders in this category had to be from either my Lensbaby, digital Holga or M42 something or other lens, and the winner was… the lensbaby.
I’ve done a stack of street stuff this year thanks to my side project Real Edinburgh, this was one of my favourites.
Normally this would be a railings shot, I have a thing about photographing railings. I liked this shot of chained up bikes taken during the festival though.
I took stacks of mono stuff this year, especially when I was learning long exposures. This from Calton Hill is one of the standouts to me.
The Red Arrows performing in Edinburgh was a highlight of the year and not something I’ll forget in a hurry, however I think this shot from the Leuchars Airshow pips the Edinburgh shots to the post.
I love photographing fireworks and hiking 2 SLR’s, 2 tripods, 6 lenses and various other bits and bobs up Arthurs Seat for the festival fireworks this year really paid off.
Finally, my wee dog, Scrappy, always features heavily in my photography. This is my favourite of him this year, soaking wet on a beach in Berwick with the mother in laws dog in the background.
I’ve stared doing this little street photography thing lately. You might even like to check it out at Real Edinburgh. I figured it was diverse enough to what I usually do to warrant doing it totally separately on a new blog.
When I started this a few weeks ago, my intention had been to document life in Edinburgh, from the city centre to the rough council estates. What I didn’t expect though, was the see photography in a whole different light. I have to admit, I was getting a little jaded with my usual styles as I always seemed to be at the same places photographing the same things and I was, dare I say it, getting a little bored. When I find I have to motivate myself to get out with the camera it’s time to try something new.
This street stuff though was a totally different discipline, a bit scary to start with and also quite liberating photographically. I used to carry around at least 1 DSLR body, 5-6 lenses, filters, remotes and a myriad of little bits and bobs, not to mention a tripod to indulge in photography. For the street though, all I take is the D7000, 18-200mm VRII lens and that’s it. Now, I know this isn’t probably your usual “street” kit, but since I can’t afford a Lecia M9 I’ll have to make do and the 18-200mm VRII provides flexibility with the added bonus of the VR.
I also decided to forego colour and shoot mainly in monochrome. Camera settings are easy, lens wide open, preview set to mono, ISO 800 or above, aperture priority and off I go. Rather than worrying about the technicalities of the shot, now I concentrate solely on the composition and light and what an eye opener it’s been. Try doing this stuff handheld in the streets after dark and you’ll really come to appreciate the importance of seeking out light.
Getting used to photographing people too was a challenge. What I want to avoid at all costs is any interaction with subjects. I don’t want posed shots, I want them doing what they are doing without concentrating on me. At first, I was overly wary of photographing people but as time goes on you start to relax and find more inventive ways of getting the shot largely undiscovered. Of course, there’s a large element of hit and miss but the hits make the misses worthwhile.
I’ve also noticed a new edge to my more usual landscape photography, since I’m not concentrating on that 100% of the time it’s interesting me more again. It’s actually nice occasionally to get out and about with a ton of equipment and indulge in the technicalities of the deeper camera settings. It’s nice to take some of the principals of the street stuff and transpose these over to other styles.
I couldn’t recommend this as a style enough to anyone looking for a new photographic challenge. Of course, I’ve got a lot to learn but for the time being at least, its fun and breathing new life into the hobby for me. Please check out the other blog at Real Edinburgh, all feedback is very much appreciated.
A few of my favourite shots from the project so far…
It’s not everyday you get something this dramatic nearly on your doorstep is it? Three 20+ story tower blocks all being blown up at the same time, how could you not go for a look, especially if you’re a photographer.
This was the 2nd controlled demolition in Sighthill in this area, the last one about 2 years ago I spectacularly badly timed and realised right at the moment I was still in the house when I heard the boom. Not long after that, 3 similar blocks came down in Gracemount in Edinburgh but there wasn’t particularly good access to that one so I ended up catching it from around 2 miles away on Blackford Hill where you really lost any of the drama of the event.
For this one though, plans had to be made. Finding the website of the company doing the demolition, Safedem, was the perfect start, all the planned timings were on there, along with road closures etc. With this info in the bag, it was time for a quick scout around the area looking for a vantage point. The exclusion zone though was a problem and to get a view with nothing in the way Sighthill Park was the only realistic option. This gave the possibility of an added dimension of being the main spectator area hence, the chance to catch crowd reaction to the event as well.
Getting to the location was not a huge issue, living nearby I know the area well and parked up in Broomhouse and 5 minute walk had me in Sighthill Park just at 11am. Amazingly for Edinburgh, the sun was out and just to the left of the flats which was an issue, try to get all 3 in 1 shot and you also got the sun and flares regardless of how you did it. Options were to move further to the left but that restricted the view so I decided to go for each one individually.
I knew there would be a couple of second’s gap in-between each but which one of the 3 to focus on? As the warning explosion was set off I took a gamble on Hermiston Court at the right, which predictably was the wrong one which meant I had little or not time to compose and it was now a case of catch what you can. D7000 was on low speed drive, full AF and f8 giving nice quick shutter. From the shots I got I think I basically just get shooting an moving across the blocks till the buffer filled up on the D7000 then I switched to my D90 I had as backup.
I managed some wide stuff with the D90 of the emerging dust cloud before switching back to the D7000 for even wider shots of the approaching dust cloud. I knew we were going to be hit by it with the wind direction. Confirmed by the water spray from the damping down that goes on prior to these demolitions drifting over us as well. But, there are times you just have to put up! To get upwind would have meant a lesser view so what’s a little dust?
I toughed it out watching the crowd start to panic at the intensity of the dust cloud and decided to save the cameras getting both packed away and heading immediately to the right where the cloud was thinner. It’s not a pleasant experience these dust clouds but thankfully I missed the worst of it and it passed reasonably quickly. It’s quite amusing seeing those who obviously arrived early and parked really close verging on distraught at the covering their cars got, and the amount of wee neds who has kindly scratched their name in the dust on them too. This was a demolition in Sighthill/Broomhouse, if you know Edinburgh you also know there are not the most well to do areas of the city and hence, this sort of thing wasn’t really a surprise!
The haul of shots though for the day was reasonable though and the best are below.
OK, to the Festival is in full swing but on September 4th at 9.00pm nearly every camera in Edinburgh will be pointing towards the Castle for the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert. 30 minutes of MASSIVE fireworks over Scotland’s most iconic landmark. It’s a photographic opportunity not to be missed, but where can you photograph this from?
You can see the Castle from multiple locations around Edinburgh but some will be much better then other for photographic purposes so I’m going to give you a little rundown of some of the spots that might work for you and those you should avoid.
Bad move. A prime location sure, it’s really where the whole thing is designed to be watched from but it’s oh so busy and there is no way you’d ever get a tripod setup in that crowd. Possibly iif you were up Castle Street or Frederick Street but personally, I’d stay well away from here.
Plenty viewing down this way but arrive early and get yourself a prime spot above the duck pond on the edge of the slope so nobody can get in front of you. Arrive late and you’ll be kicking yourself as it will be heaving here. Also sadly has a bit of a reputation for drunks on fireworks night but it looks directly onto the front of the castle so you’ll get the bursts exactly as they were meant to be seen. Long lens needed.
Normally my favourite spot. Again, you need to arrive early as there is limited parking and it fills up quickly. It’s a prime viewing spot looking straight onto the back of the castle so you get the bursts perfectly. It’s a large area so no problems with getting a bit of personal space to get your shots. Again though, it’s started to get a bit of the drunken teenager element up there which was especially bad last year, normally higher up the hillside so stay down near the observatory.
Arthurs Seat/Salisbury Crags
Again, another very popular location and the roadside parking will fill up very quickly. Get onto the high road at St Margaret’s Loch and drive around till you can see the Castle, if you can get parked you’re in a prime spot. If not, go round again and it’s all one way. If you can get parked you have the option of going up to the top edge of the crags, be careful though as it’s not that easy going, very rocky underfoot in places. The Radical Road, the high path around the base of the crag cliffs is shut for a rock fall so expect there to be someone in place that stopping you getting up that way on the night.
If you feel fit you could get higher up on Arthur’s Seat and get great views but be careful in the dark, the very top is likely to be busy as well. You look along the line of the castle from this angle so you tend to shoot through the bursts which can be difficult.
So close to the city centre this is a prime spot and as such it will fill up quickly and early. Again, you’re shooting through the fireworks and if the smoke drifts towards you it’s going to be game over after the first few minutes, you take your chance! Plenty spots you can get a good view bit likely to be no parking anywhere in the same postcode.
There’s a reasonable view of the Castle from here if Calton Hill is too busy. Again though, you’ll be shooting through the bursts which can lead to messy images.
From the east side there are some ok views but the buildings and trees are an issue, worth considering if you get caught out and can’t get anywhere better.
A prime city centre location. Loads of space, goood view to the back of the castle and you don’t need a monster lens either, a mid range zoom will be more than adequate here. This location will get busy but it’s just far enough away from the Princes Street area to make access in and out easy enough. Not much parking around the Links at the best of times but you should get something in the area.
Prime spot but likely to be jam packed so not worth considering.
Right under the back end of the castle, likely to be busy and you’ll need a wide lens. So tight underneath you’ll be out of view of some of the smaller bursts.
Huge lens needed from up here but at the view point round by the back of the zoo you get a clear view of the Castle with Arthur’s Seat behind. About miles walk in from Cairmuir Road but very limited space.
Good viewing point, pretty long lens needed. Probably not as busy as some other places.
Braid Hills Road is a popular spot and unless you’re there early you have no hope of parking, get there early though and from the Comiston side you get a good view, once that’s full though the further you go towards the Liberton side Blackford Hill gets in the way but there are views from the Liberton side. Up on Braids Hill itself is too far away to be practical, better headed for Blackford Hill instead.
There are quite a few spots along Ferry road that have a clear view towards the front of the Castle, you’ll need a big lens though.
Some LONG range alternatives
For something a bit different you might try the beaches of Fife which mostly have a clear view towards the city and the Castle will be easy to pick out. You’ll need a decent big lens and will be more photographing the city with the bigger bursts above rather than the castle.
Longniddry Bents no.3 car park also has a clear view to the castle; you can get the skyline nicely with a 200mm lens.
I’m sure there will be more spots, how about telling us some more in the comments?
Unless you live near an airbase or in near of the events the Red Arrows regularly visit the opportunity to photograph the RAF’s display team doesn’t come around that often. With the announcement that the Red Arrows would be performing over the skies of Edinburgh as part of the Armed Forces Day celebrations this was simply a chance too good to miss. Of course, I could make the trip to the Leuchars Airshow any year and catch them less than 2 hours drive away but to get them over your home city was something quite special.
Edinburgh Council recommended viewing points of Calton Hill, Braid Hill, Corstorphine Hill or Cramond Promenade, none of which were particularly near the display or particularly great viewpoints. Calton Hill at a push would have been ok but too far from the actual action and would have meant using a monster lens all the time.
With the display centering on Leith the best options seemed to be either the roof of the Ocean Terminal car park or down on the sea front at Newhaven. Figuring that the Ocean Terminal side would be busy I went for Newhaven instead. Down here if you drive past all the flats you can get parked up close to the old lighthouse right at the sea entrance to Leith Docks, from here it was a perfect vantage point over the docks and the Firth of Forth where the bulk of the action was to take place.
Having never photographed anything like this before it was a bit of a learning curve to say the least. Obviously, the important thing here was going to be getting a fast enough shutter. To get this I put the D90 on Shutter priority mode at 1/800th and let the camera pick the aperture. I did try auto ISO as well limiting the range to a max of 800 but the camera seemed to always want to be on ISO800 when it could easily have dropped a lot lower than that. The light wasn’t helped either by the big black cloud moving over at display time although it did accent the smoke trails nicely!
Lens choice was simple; I went for the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM. Perfect lens for this sort of stuff. Mega quick focus, no extending barrel and very sharp. I had also planned to use the 2x teleconverter but on getting to the location it was simply too much zoom, especially on a crop sensor DSLR. I had intended to use spot metering but trying this on test shots of planes coming into Edinburgh Airport the sky was way overexposing so I went back to metering the scene and compensating to +1ev so as to not underexpose the sky, which in the event worked out almost spot on.
I let the D90 handle the auto focus, using 3D tracking and a wide area centre point which worked perfectly paired with the 70-200mm lens. Days of photographing fast moving rally cars with this lens proved to be valuable experience!
One the display started I tried to concentrate on the smoke trails rather than the actual aircraft, figuring the best shots would come from the wider shots with the swooping trails rather than close-up’s of the jets. I did get some closer shots, even switching to using the 2x teleconverter for some. With a 24 minute display there was plenty opportunity to test out a few different things and get some variation in shots. In the main though, the 70-200 was more than enough and coupled with the D90’s high speed shooting I rattled off in the region of 500 shots over the 24 minutes.
One thing was very evident over the course of the display, the D90’s buffer was WAY to weedy for this stuff. After about 5 shots in RAW it was starting to stutter so I had to be careful not to waste the high speed shots too early or risk missing the perfect moment.
At the end of the day, the display was awesome, the only way to describe it and I was well pleased with the shots I came back with. The only thing I missed was trying to get a shot of the close pass of 2 planes with the 2x on to get closer in. I’m planning a visit to Leuchars in September though so hopefully I’ll get another chance at that particular shot.
Best of the weekend’s shots below: