Railings? Railings, I hear you cry? Why on earth would you want to take pictures of railings? Well, put quite simply, done correctly with a shallow depth of field, you can get some amazing abstract images and it’s really not that hard to do. I’ve also found it a great way to save a photo outing when the light is terrible for “normal” shots. Regardless of the light you’ll be able to do something with a humble railing.
So, what do you need? Well, a DSLR helps, obviously, or a compact that will allow you to control the aperture. All the shots that follow were taken with either a Nikon 50mm f1.8 or Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM lens. Both end of the spectrum here, the 50mm is ultra cheap, around £110, the Sigma nearer £700 but both will let you do great railings. In fact, even a kit lens at its widest setting, usually about f3.5 will allow you to get some kind of decent bokeh effect.
It might seem obvious but metal railings are what we’re looking for, not wooden fences, mainly as the light will “glint” on metal railings allowing us to get that bokeh effect we’re looking for. What’s bokeh? See those little fuzzy circles of light, that’s bokeh and using it correctly can produce some very striking results.
The main technique involves setting the lens to its widest setting, in the 50mm case, f1.8, in the 70-200mm, f2.8. Now, pick your railing and pick a spike to focus on, you want to be as near as possible to the minimum focal distance from it you can. In the case of the 50mm its about 45cm. Focusing on a spike at 45cm distance at f1.8 will produce an extreme bokeh effect, moving a few feet away and focusing on the same spike will lessen the effect, play about and see what works.
Try to pick railings that curve round corners or have light falling on them in some way, anything to give a little more to the shot than a straight look down a fence. Check out the example below, I’ll even tell you where to find them…
1. National Gallery of Scotland
Walking towards the Playfair Steps there’s a set of railings here with fairly sharp spikes. This shot was taken on a fairly sunny day at a big zoom at f2.8 with the Sigma giving a WILD bokeh effect.
2. Still at the National Gallery
Running right around the National Gallery are another pointy set of railings, immediately across from the first shot, again, an extreme bokeh effect with a little sunlight hitting the tops of the peaks.
3. Calton Hill
These railings are found on the driveway up to Calton Hill; they are right at the entrance gates and sweep round into Regents Road. At the right angle with a little sunlight, this is roughly what you’ll get!
4. The Playfair Steps
Found at the top of the Mound leading down to the National Gallery of Scotland is the Playfair Steps, looking down these gives a nice effect, even better if there’s a few pedestrians about waiting to be turned into lovely bokeh!
5. Mound Place/The Mound
The Mound is a great area to play around with these shots, there’s so many railings! This is on the corner of Mound Place and The Mound, a nice sweepings set round the corner. Focus on the apex of the curve, job done.
6. The Hub
The Hub’s not hard to find. It’s that huge spire just next to Edinburgh Castle. At its entrance is a nice set of sweeping railings. This is the one to the right, heading up towards the Castle.
7. The Botanic Gardens
A bit out the City Centre but the Botanics is a photographers dream at the best of times. If you get fed up with the flowers, try the railings! This set is just to the left of the North Gate.
8. Waverly Bridge
These attractive green railings are at the bottom of Waverly Bridge, just at the bottom entrance to East Princes Street Gardens. This was a shot with the 50mm lens after an outing to take shots of the Xmas big wheel during the day, in the end I preferred this to any of the wheel shots.
9. The Dugald Stewart Monument
The Dugald Stewart Monument is usually the subject of many of Edinburgh’s classic views from Calton Hill but take a closer look at the structure and you’ll see these great ornate railings around the base. Shot with the 50mm lens.
10. Regents Road
Just below Calton Hill is Regents Road, there’s a huge set of railings down one side of the road here, get in the right position and you can get Arthur’s Seat as a backdrop! Shot with a Nikon 18-70mm DX at f3.5.
So that’s my top 10, I’d love to hear any other suggestions. Feel free to post them or your own shots of Edinburgh railings in the comments below.
So, first things first. What exactly is a Lensbaby? In simple terms, it’s approximately a 55m lens on a bendy bellows what allows selective focus. It comes in 3 flavours, the basic Muse, which is, to be honest, not the easiest things to use. The more advanced Composer which allows you to lock focus which means you can use it on a tripod and spend time to get your focus bang on. Finally there is the Control Freak, or 3G as it used to be called. A strange looking lens that allows you to lock the focus, fine-tune it and then fine-tune your blur with the 3 adjustable screws around the lens. Owning both a Muse and 3G I can say without doubt, if you buy one, get the Composer or 3G, so much easier to use. Also, go for the glass optics, the plastic optic versions are cheaper but give a much less sharp image. Prices range from around £89.99 for the plastic optic Muse up to £229 for the Control Freak.
With the Lensbaby lesson out the way we can get onto the photo walk route. When I set out today I had no intention of this turning into a Lensbaby day, the Nikon D90 had the Sigma 10-20mm lens on to start with but when I finally used the 3G Lensbaby the idea for this blog post hatched. With that in mind, lets do a quick overview of the route, and you can always refer to the map at the bottom of this post which shows the position I took each of the following 10 shots from. I focused mainly on landmarks and steered away from arty farty type low DoF shots for this and the main focus of today was to capture the familiar in an unfamiliar way.
Parking at Kings Stable Road, which is always easy to get parked at, I went into West Princes Street Gardens, passed through to East Princes Street Gardens, back out at the same side I went in at the National Gallery, up The Mound, Mound Place, Ramsay Lane to Edinburgh Castle Esplanade. From here, out to Johnston Terrace, Castle Terrace and down the steps back to Kings Stable road. Not that hard going and took about an hour and a bit to complete. Easy enough for most people.
Equipment used was a Nikon D90, Lensbaby 3G with the f4 aperture ring fitted, Giottos Tripod and remote switch. All shots were in manual mode, as the Lensbaby will not work in any other mode setting on the D90.
1. The Ross Fountain and Edinburgh Castle
First off, the classic shot from West Princes Street Gardens. Sadly, at this time of year the flowers are dug up and the water tuned off not that it really affected this shot though. Focus was on the top of the fountain.
2. Balmoral Clock and Walter Scott Monument
Focal point here is on the clock with the blur bleeding in from the left hand edge over the Scott Monument. Taken from the side of the National Gallery looking east.
3. Buskers at the National Gallery
A popular place for street performances during the Festival there’s usually something going on here all year. Today, we were treated to a performance by these buskers. Start contrast to the 2 alcoholics begging a few yards further down! Welcome to Scotland indeed…
4. Ramsay Gardens
From the National Gallery we head up the Mound, from the first corner here you get a great view of Ramsay Gardens, the most exclusive address in Edinburgh. You’ll see why when you pass though here on the way to the Castle.
5. The Balmoral Clock
First of 3 from the high vantage point of Mound Place. Here, the focus point is the Balmoral Hotel clock face. I find if there’s anything that is expected to be sharp, writing, clock face etc, it makes an excellent focal point to Lensbaby shots.
6. National Gallery
Looking down a bit more is an ariel view of the National Gallery of Scotland. Focal point here is on the pillars on the right.
7. Princes Street
From this elevation it’s almost a tilt-shift shot with the Lensbaby. Focal point here is on the junction in Princes Street itself letting the blur come in from both edges and up from Princes Street Gardens.
8. View from the Esplanade
When the Tattoo grandstands finally get dismantled there’s a great view towards the south of Edinburgh from here. Only part of the wall was accessible today so this is the best view I could get. Focal point here is the back of the old building of the Edinburgh College of Art with the Pentland Hills as a dramatic backdrop.
9. Edinburgh Castle
Tuning right down the steps as you leave the Esplanade takes you down into Johnston Terrace where you can get this fairly classic view of Edinburgh Castle.
For our final shot we walk down Johnston Terrace to the top of the amusingly named Granny Green Steps. From this point you can get a view of where Kings Stable Road joins the Grassmarket, again from this elevation it looks almost like a tiltshift.
Below is a map showing the location I took each shot from, thanks to Google Maps for the map.
Feel free to leave your comments below, if this post goes down well I’ll try and suggest some more photo walks around the city in future.