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The easy guide to photographing star trails

So, star trails. Striking images certainly but surprisingly easy to do with the right software.

First things first, to make your life a million times easier, if you’re using a Mac, download StarStax and on a PC, Startrails.exe, Google them, easy to find and both a free download. This is the software that will combine your final set of images into the star trails shot. If you really enjoy spending ages with Photoshop you can blend each image separately but these make life a lot easier.

Other than that all you need is a camera capable of doing 30s exposures, a tripod, remote control and a nice dark area where you can see plenty of stars. Don’t underestimate the power of light pollution to ruin a shot, the example below was taken in my garden in a built up area of Edinburgh, the light pollution is easy to see so try and get out of town somewhere.

The effects of light pollution

With everything in place you now need to locate Polaris. It’s not essential but if you can keep Polaris in the image then the stars will nicely rotate around it. To find it look for the Plough, one of the more well known star clusters. It’s in the shape of a soup ladle (roughly) so follow the handle around to the scoop and locate the last 2 stars in the Plough. From there in a straight line around 3 times as far away as the 2 stars are from each other will be a slightly duller star, this is Polaris. Or even easier, get one of the smartphone apps such as Star Walk on the iPhone and use that to locate Polaris.

With this done compose your image. You want a 30s exposure that doesn’t overexpose any foreground interest but shows up a lot of stars in the preview image. Usually you’ll be around f7.1 or wider and ISO400 or above to get what you want. The more stars you see on the preview, the more trails you’ll get in the final image. Shoot in RAW mode too if possible. I’ve also found that the wider the lens the better. You’ll want to be on manual focus, and with focus set to infinity.

Once you’re happy with the shot it’s time to settle in for the long haul. You’ll need at least 40 shots to get a decent trail in your final image. The more the better but you’ll be there longer to get them. A decent compromise is around 60 shots if you are picking up a lot of stars. You’ll either need to fire the shutter every 30s or if you have a programmable remote set it to 30s exposure with 32s delay to give the camera time to process each image.

With your shots in the bag, it’s time to thaw out and start the process magic.

First thing to do is to process the first RAW image, how you do it is personal preference but make sure that you get a decent mix of stars in the sky, the sky kept darker and don’t blow out any foreground. Once you have a image you’re happy with, save the settings and then process every image with the same settings. It doesn’t take that long to do with ACR or Lightroom, and save each as a jpg.

Now, open all the jpg’s in your processing software, either StarStax or Startrails.exe and start it off processing them using blend lighter to combine the images. After less than a minute you’ll have the stacked image. If you find cloud has passed through the shot you can exclude these images and start again but remember you’ll get breaks in your trails. Best plan in this case is to try and blend again missing the offending frames and see if it’s any better, sometimes the cloud doesn’t matter that much.

Save the final image and open it in Photoshop or similar. From here you can do your final adjustments, usually darkening the sky, upping contrast and that it, and this is what you should get…

FRB Star Trails 29 Dec

This panoramic shot was slightly different to do. Had I shot this with the bridges at the bottom of the shot the verticals of the bridges would have been hugely distorted, to get around this I shot a single long exposure image with the bridges in the middle of the frame where the distortion isn’t an issue. I then moved the camera to where I wanted the bridges in the final shot and shot the multiple star images. I finally took the long exposure image, moved the bridges to the bottom of the shot and extended the sky with content aware fill, I then blended in the star trails image and selectively erased the bridges until I had the correct verticals version overlaid with the star trails. A bit more mucking about but a much more pleasing final image.

Forth Bridges Pano Star Trails

So, a final checklist…

Warm clothes if doing this in winter, a simple MUST have.
Sturdy tripod
Camera capable of 30s exposures
As wide a lens as possible
StarStax or Startrails.exe software
Remote control for camera
A clear night
A dark(ish) location

That’s it. Off you go and shoot those stars!

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Photographic ambitions for 2012

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?

Stars over Harlaw
Best attempt at the Milky Way from the still too light Pentland Hills

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.

Forth Bridges Pano Star Trails
Star trails at the Forth Bridges

4. Lightning

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.

Edinburgh Storm 8 July 2011
The storm that hammered Edinburgh retreating over the Pentland Hills

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!

Festival Fireworks 1
Edinburgh Festival Fireworks 2011

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!

Ready to Launch
One of my better macro attempts over last summer

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?


Tackling image copyright theft in the real world

What do I mean by real world? Surely all avenues to deal with copyright theft is “real world”. The big difference is, do you have the financial means to back up any threatened legal recourse when dealing with those who would infringe your copyright? 99/100 of us don’t. If you can hire a lawyer to deal with on your behalf, go right ahead and you’ll probably do ok from it, but if you can’t you’ll have to use different tactics.

First things first though, how do you know when someone has been nicking your work? Luckily for us those nice people at Google have made it very easy for you to see where your work is being used, on the internet at least. If you have any online photo account, Flickr etc there is a VERY good chance your work is being ripped off. Try, just for instance, picking the most popular image on your Flickr photostream, have Flickr in one window and a Google image search in another. Now click on the Flickr thumbnail and drag it into the Google image search and within seconds you’ll be able to see where that image is being used.

Most of the time you will find a stack of results that are Flickr, the search will pick up where people have added the image as a favourite and then there’s all those sites built up around the Flickr api but now and again if you check a few you WILL find instances of copyright violation.

I should point out here, this only applies as long as you don’t grant a Creative Commons licence, if you do move on and accept that your hard work is going to be distributed and mangled as anyone see’s fit. If not then read on.

From a quick search of Flickr thumbnails I found many instances of unauthorised use. These seem to fall mainly into 3 categories.

1. Blogs

Blogs are far and away the biggest of these infringements. Really though, are they worth bothering about too much? Most bloggers are just ordinary people and if you really disagree with the context your image is being used then contact them and request a removal or at least a credit, don’t weigh in with both feet demanding a million pounds and their first born in compensation, be fair, ask them politely to remove the image and if they don’t most blogs are hosted somewhere by someone so complain to the host, be it WordPress, Blogger or similar.

2. Sites where the content is user generated

The biggest issue here is those free wallpaper sites but the likes of Facebook will also turn up fairly regularly. The wallpaper sites will generally respond pretty quickly to removal requests, others will spout on about DCMA regulations but will usually remove. Don’t expect any payment, you won’t get if from these sources as they don’t upload the content and as long as they remove it, you have little recourse. Facebook ask you to fill in their automated DCMA form and are actually very good at suspending accounts where the violation has taken place.

3. Commercial Operations

This is where you take your chances. If a commercial website is using your image then you must demand payment for the unauthorised use. Don’t threaten legal action unless you can back it up. It’s usually better to send a polite email, pointing out the image, where your original version sits, the copyright notice on the page the image is on and request a realistic amount as compensation. Don’t ask for a tenner, you’ll get laughed at; similarly don’t ask for a million pounds. Be realistic, if it’s a huge multi-national go in higher they can afford it and it’ll likely be a pittance you’re asking for in their financial terms, if it’s a smaller company don’t be a dick and try and bankrupt them over it, be realistic but don’t undervalue your work and be prepared to negociate.

In some cases you’ll get emails back apologising and informing you they have removed the image, if it’s a small local business I’d accept the apology and move on, if it’s bigger stick to your guns and continue to demand payment for the image, a lot of the time you will get some sort of compensation just to go away if nothing else.

At the end of the day, if you don’t want images nicked, then don’t upload them to the internet. It’s a simple as that. If it’s a major bugbear of yours then watermark them to make the image unusable to anyone else, remember though it also spoils that image you worked hard to get and want to show off.

The biggest single bit of advice I’m going to give you though is this. Whatever you do, don’t be an utter tool about copyright violations. Don’t try and bankrupt a small business, don’t try and extort money from a little amateur blogger. Most of these people use the image without realising about the copyright. It’s not right but we all make mistakes don’t we? Stick to your guns with the bigger organisations though, they DO know the law and they CAN afford to pay you. How much is down to your negotiating skills!


A year in pictures, month by month

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!

January

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.

Edinburgh Hogmanay Fireworks 2011 - FP, Explore #2

February

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.

Western Harbour Reflections

March

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.

There used to be a castle there

April

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.

On Top of the Falkirk Wheel

May

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.

Belhaven Bridge Revisted 2

June

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.

Timing of the tide - Explored

July

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…

A Brace of Coneflower

August

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.

Newhaven Cobbles - Explored

September

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.

Red Arrows Leuchars 2011

October

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!

Scottish Executive Streaks

November

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.

November Sunset from Calton Hill

December

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.

Forth Bridge Star Trail - Explored


My photographic highlights of the year

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.

Sunset

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.

November Sunset from Calton Hill

Newhaven Cobbles - Explored

Sunrise

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.

Cramond Sunrise

Seascape

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.

Longniddry Sunset - Explored

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…

Holyrood X

Night

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.

Scottish Executive Streaks

Twilight

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.

Time to go

Macro Flower

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.

A Brace of Coneflower

Macro Insect

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.

Sooking the Hairy Leaf

Panoramic

I’ve got this one on a huge canvas in my hall, enough said.

Bridges Twilight

Danbo

Danbo didn’t get so much of an outing this year but I reckon the Buttercup Bokeh shot was the best of the year.

Danbo and the Buttercup Bokeh

Specialist Lens

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.

Edinburgh with a lensbaby

Street

I’ve done a stack of street stuff this year thanks to my side project Real Edinburgh, this was one of my favourites.

Any Spare Change

Abstract

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.

Bicycle Bokeh

Monochrome

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.

Its all about the clouds

Documentary

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.

Red Arrows Leuchars 2011

Fireworks

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.

Festival Fireworks 1

Scrappy

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.

Scrappy and Ollie at Berwick


Sighthill Eyesores go Kaboom…

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.

Sighthill Demolition 1
Glenalmond Court

Sighthill Demolition 2
Wier Court

Sighthill Demolition 3
Hermiston Court, this was also the lead image on the BBC News Scotland website for the story.

Sighthill Demolition 4
Start of the dust cloud

Sighthill Demolition 5
And time to go…


10 Stopper Comparison, Heliopan vs Hitech

With the recent purchase of a 2nd ten stop filter I finally had a chance to compare 2 of the them side by side. My original filter, a Heliopan ND3.0 has been well used and was a very good buy. However, the screw in can be cumbersome especially if you recompose for any reason.

The big problem with a screw in 10 stopper is that with it in place you can’t see anything at all through the viewfinder. This means you need to remove the filter to recompose and attach again for the shot. Either that or guess the composition, ramp up the ISO, take a test shot of a few seconds and adjust till you get the composition and then drop down to a low ISO and take the shot. Neither that handy if I’m honest.

Hence, the attraction of a slot in 10 stopper. In a perfect world I’d have bought a Lee Big Stopper, a proven product. Sadly, the Lee filter is almost impossible to get hold of right now thanks to supply issues at Lee and 2nd hand items are going for nearly double the price on ebay. Facing either nearly £200 for a Lee or a 6 month wait I opted for the new Hitech Pro Stopper.

Hitech claim this filter is made of a new IR resistant resin and they also claim to have fixed the light leak issues of the old filter by adding a 1.5mm gasket (for Lee holders, 3mm for Hitech holders). The filter comes in it’s own pouch and does seem pretty well made. Price is reasonable at £72 from TeamworkPhoto. TeamworkPhoto also supplied by Heliopan at a cost of £92 for the 77mm version.

So, how do they compare side by side?

10 stopper compare

This was a shot taken one after the other in dull conditions. Both shots were 90s exposures with a Hitech 150 0.9 GND in front of the 10 stopper. Same ISO, same lens, same f setting etc etc. The shot is a straight conversion of the RAW file to jpg for each with no PP applied.

As you can see, the Hitech does have a pronounced blue cast compared to the Heliopan which has a slightly warm cast but much better colour reproduction. Casts are not that hard to remove but obviously there is a lot less work to do with the Heliopan. The blue cast however, might be desirable in seascape type shots.

The Hitech also seems to let in slightly more light that the Heliopan, maybe not quite a full 10 stops? Other than that, all other areas of performance seem fairly equal.

So, it comes down a choice between the convenience of the slot in filter vs the colour reproduction of the screw in filter. Shooting for B&W, the slot in will be fine. Shooting for colour, I’d go with the fiddly screw in every time.

I’m going to keep the Hitech filter though, it’s got a place to be used where the screw in maybe isn’t convenient. The Hitech too unlike the other popular 10 stoppers in the market isn’t glass, it’s resin which should make it far less likely to end up in a million bits on some slippy rocks somewhere!


Where to Photograph Edinburgh Castle Fireworks?

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.

Princes Street
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.

Inverleith Park
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.

Blackford Hill
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.

Edinburgh Festival Fireworks

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.

Calton Hill
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.

Homecoming Scotland Fireworks Edinburgh - Explored

Regents Road
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.

The Meadows
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.

Bruntsfield Links
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.

Edinburgh Hogmanay Fireworks 2011 - FP, Explore #2

North Bridge
Prime spot but likely to be jam packed so not worth considering.

Johnstone Terrace
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.

Corstorphine Hill
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.

Craiglockart Hill
Good viewing point, pretty long lens needed. Probably not as busy as some other places.

The Braids
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.

Ferry Road
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?


Living with a Nikon D7000

So I finally took the plunge. From first thoughts about upgrading my DSLR I went from hankering after a Nikon D7000 to a D300s to formulating plans for a D700 then a D3 before I went full circle back to a D7000. Then decided on a D300s. In the end it was driving me mad, my old D90’s sensor was verging on minging, no matter how much I cleaned it, it never seemed clean and I had to make a decision. In the end it was the increased pixels and buying into the latest Nikon technology that swung the deal for the D7000.

This camera is laden with nice new features from Nikon and it’s a bargain at the price. I picked up mine from Jessop’s. Ordered online and picked up in store for the sum of £863, a good as any of the online retailers. A word of warning though, this camera will be easily available for under £800 if you look around. Check it’s not a grey import before you buy as if it is there is NO warranty on the camera. I don’t know about you but spending £900 without a warranty seemed a risky move to me.

So, with camera bought along with a spare EN-EL15 batter (pricey!) and a nice new Lowepro backpack capable of holding 2 DSLR’s and indeed living in it’s so big I was a happy man!

After living with the D7000 for over a week now and having had the chance to use it in a variety of ways I can assure anyone thinking of making the move, especially from a D90 that you will not be disappointed.

The D7000 is actually slightly larger than the D90 and feels very well built indeed. I’ve added a 3rd party eBay sourced battery grip with a genuine Nikon battery and it’s a chunky bit of kit. Not as big as a D3 but big enough and heavy enough to give you confidence that you’ve bought something built to last.

As I had a few Sigma lenses I was wary about having issues with them, especially my old 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM but was pleasantly surprised that it worked perfectly. Same went for my Sigma 10-20mm which functioned exactly as expected. Sadly, there the nice surprises stopped. My 2 year old Sigma 28-300 works but no longer auto focus’s on the D7000 and worse still, my 105mm EX DG Macro does not work at all. Nothing. Not even in manual mode with this lens fitted so it’ll need to go back to Sigma for re-chipping. Thankfully, Sigma seems to do this as a free service.

If you’re used a lower end Nikon, i.e. D90, D70, D5000 etc then the ergonomics of the camera will feel very similar. It’s considerably smaller than the D300s/D700 but certainly not difficult in hand at all. Button layout is pretty good with most things easily accessible in familiar places. The only odd one is the focus selector where the AF button has now gone and is unmarked on the focus A or M switch at the side of the lens mount. Took me a while to work that one out. Not that I was that bothered, the new 39 point focus system is astonishing, very very quick and accurate in auto mode.

The only complaint I have at the moment is that the rear screen while excellent seems to by default show the images a little dark so I’ve lightened mine up slightly. I’d certainly recommend using the histogram to check your exposures as the screen doesn’t seem all that accurate.

So after around 1000 shots with this camera was it worth the money? You bet it was. Total cost so far was:

Nikon D7000 – £863
EN-EL15 battery – £59.99
3rd party battery grip £37.99
2 x class 10 8GB SD cards – £8.99 each on eBay.

Under a grand a cracking bit of nice new kit to play with!

Check out a few of the sample images below from the D7000.

Newhaven Cobbles - Explored
Taken at sunset at Newhaven Harbour in Edinburgh.
Nikon D7000
Nikon 18-70mm DX AFS
Stacked Hitech 150 0.9 and 0.6 soft ND grads
Helipoan ND3.0 10 stop filter

National Museum of Scotland - Explored
The main hall of the National Museum of Scotland
Nikon D7000
Sigma 10-20mm EX DG

Big Seas at North Berwick - Explored
Big waves on the beach at North Berwick, East Lothian
Nikon D7000
Nikon 18-70mm DX AFS
Stacked Hitech 150 0.9 and 0.6 soft ND grads

Kevin Cruise
Kevin Cruise performing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Nikon D7000
Sigma 70-20mm f2.8 EX HSM

High Tide and the Road Bridge - Explored
Forth Road Bridge at high tide
Nikon D7000
Heliopan ND3.0 10 stop filter
Hitech 150 0.9 ND Soft Grad

Cramond Island Sunset
Cramond Island Sunset
Nikon D7000
Nikon 18-70mm DX AFS
Stacked Hitech 150 0.9 and 0.6 soft ND grads
2 shot stitched panorama¬


Holga? On a Digital SLR?

Holga? On a Digital SLR?

I think I first discovered “Lomo” photography with the iPhone Hipstamatic app. Of course, that’s not real lomo, not in the purest sense of the word but it was roughly in the spirit of proper lomo. What it did do was spark of an interest that saw me buy a Holga 120N with build in colour flash and go out shopping for film 120 medium format film.

What I didn’t reckon on though was the cost of this film business. Around £4-5 for a roll of film and £13 to get 12 5×5’s processed was steep, especially when you are used to digital. One B&W film was developed and I bought a roll of colour 120 film at the same time. That roll has sat, exposed in the Holga for over a year now. I love results but simply can’t be bothered with the hassle of the developing and the cost. Of course I could learn to develop myself but that’s not a route I fancy if I’m honest.

So, the Holga gathered dust and I turned my attention to Lensbabies to get a fix of strange effect photography. The Lensbabies are great but I wanted something more Holga like. The digital Diana F lenses that appeared a while ago seemed to be a possible answer but they only really worked full frame so that was them out of the running.

Out of the blue a couple of week’s back I spotted a Holga lens on ebay, Nikon fit Holga lens to be exact. I done a little research and yes there was indeed a genuine Holga lens with a Nikon DSLR fit. Prices range a bit on ebay with some UK sellers selling them for more than an entire film Holga but I eventually picked one up from a Hong Kong seller for the huge sum of £11.99 delivered to the UK which only took a week to arrive.

When it did arrive it was a pleasant surprise. It is genuine Holga. Exactly the same as the lens on the film Holga. It’s not the best built item in the world but what do you want at £11.99? Trying it out on a Nikon D90 you have to obviously go full manual as there are no electrical connections and the first thing you will notice is how dark the image in the viewfinder is. You really need to ramp up the ISO to use handheld and it simply does not let a lot of light through. Remember though, this is Holga so what’s a little noise in an image here and there?

First impressions are that the lens is VERY Holga like. You pretty much get everything you get from the film except the light leaks. Vignette, soft focus etc are all there. Even looking through the viewfinder with this lens is a whole different experience.

One issue though is that on a crop sensor it’s quite a zoom lens, in the region of 100mm to get exact, however you can get a wide angle adapter for it for the sum of £8 from Hong Kong which I’ve bought and it does the job nicely simply slipping over the top of the lens.

I’m not suggesting for a minute this is REAL Holga or lomo, which the devoted will arguer forever has to be done on film but it’s a nice second on the more versatile digital format. At around £20 for the lens and wide angle adapter it’s a no lose situation to give it a try. Lomo isn’t for everyone but if you have even a passing interest in this style of photography you could do a lot worse than check out a digital Holga lens.

Below are a few sample images I’ve taken with this lens.

This was my first attempt with the lens on an overcast evening.
Forth Bridge Holga

These next 2 were taken on a tripod just after the sun set.
Belhaven Bridge Holga 2

Belhaven Bridge Holga

This last shot was handheld in very bright sunlight. I’ve upped the vignette and used a light leak style overlay in the final image processing.

Holgafied Boats