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Edinburgh in the springtime, a photographic guide

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

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

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

Edinburgh Sunset 17 March 2012

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

Newhaven Sunset 18 March 2012

Forth Bridge Sunset

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

Storm over Edinburgh

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

Cramond Causeway 24 March 2012

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

Ashley Boathouse in Spring

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

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

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Ta Ta Jessops

So it finally happened. The last surving high street photographic retailer bit the dust just after New Year. Jessops is no more, it is an ex-camera shop, it has ceased to be.

Looking at it though, it’s no real surprise. Jessops has been facing some stiff competition from the online retailers for years. But, that’s not the whole story, it’s not just online retailers, it’s good old brick and mortar retailers who just got smarter than Jessops at online trading who have helped drive the nail in this particular coffin.

When I look in my camera bags I can say that at least 70% of my current kit was a Jessops purchase. Some of it bought way back when the internet was but a nipper, and some more recent when the pricing wasn’t too bad or on offer. One of the main reasons for my using Jessops was if I had decided on a new camera body, or lens, I wanted it there and then. Not ordered, paid for and wait for 3 days on a delivery. There and then and that’s where Jessops had a real upper hand on the internet retailing.

There’s no substitute for walking into a shop, handling the camera, testing out that lens to see what works for you. I nearly bought a Nikon D300 but after handling it in store and a D7000 I changed my mind and the D7000 was bought. You simply can’t do that buying online.

So, if this was so great a benefit to Jessops what went wrong?

Quite simply, to me at least, Jessops became skilled in the art of pissing off the customer.

Jessops prices were consistently at the higher end of the market, I think we all accepted that but they were also high as an internet retailer, the one place you MUST be competitive. So how did they get around that? A dual pricing structure. An online price, and an in-store price.

As I found out recently this meant that I could find a new tripod head on Jessops website, £140 in store but only £100 online. Even more, I could order online and pay and collect in-store for £100. Walk in of the street ready to buy and it was £40 more expensive. Would they give you the web price in-store, even if you mentioned it? No.

So, you go home to reserve it online, but that means another trip into town and hey, there’s the internet, might as well just order it and have it delivered. But wait, why use Jessops, they have just hacked me off and there’s a million other retailers out there who haven’t and bang, there’s a lost sale.

They even started advertising cameras at a low price but with a much higher “You pay today” price, the lower price was part of a cashback deal you had to claim. Don’t know about you but if I see a price in big bold type that’s the price I expect to pay there and then, not what I’ll have eventually paid after trying to claim the cashback and waiting on the refund. It smacks of desperation.

So there you have it, high prices, dual pricing structures and false pricing, 3 great reasons not to shop with Jessops.

So, what now for high street photography?

Might it be the rise in the independent retailer? Of course it won’t. Most of them are even more expensive than Jessops. Unless an independent retailer can cater for a niche market such are old or rare kit or simply just cheaper 2nd hand they will also go under eventually. It’s a romantic notion using your local independent photo guy, supporting him to keep a shop open but in reality, he can’t sell to you nearly as cheap and the big online guy can so you won’t buy from him. You might go and look at his stuff but you’ll tell him you need to think about it and then go home and get it online a lot cheaper.

The sad part is, in the quest for the ever better deal we’re all the worse off for it. My other passion is astronomy and here already in Scotland you simply cannot go and see a telescope in a retailer before you buy. There’s not one store of any kind in Scotland with a reasonable selection of scopes from different manufacturers so you buy blind over the net.

My first scope was a monster, way to big, heavy and cumbersome. Had I seen it before I bought I wouldn’t have bought it. So what happened here, I sold it, lost money and bought another blind over the net. Thankfully this one suited me fine but ultimately this scope effectively cost me £100 more after you factor in the money I lost with the unsuitable purchase.

Sure, there are distance selling regulations to protect us but once you’ve got the product, and especially if it’s a big heavy product sending it back isn’t always that straight forward then you you’ve got the wait for the retailer to confirm they have it back and then the wait for a refund. It’s awkward and I suspect it means a lot of people end up keeping stuff rather than go to the hassle of the return.

So, like I’ve said, already with astronomy it’s an online retail world for me, soon the whole photographic world will be the same. Even with HMV gone where really can you go and browse a section of music bigger than the top 40 now? The high street is disappearing fast and I for one hope this online world we’ve all had a part in creating and feeding doesn’t turn around and bite us one day as we’ll have nowhere else to go.

A year in photos… 2012

Well, it’s that time of year again where I like to reflect back on my photographic year and look at my favourite shots from each month.

January
There was quite a few shots from January I liked but this one was the big performer. This shot went sort of viral after I uploaded it getting in excess of 10000 views in under 24 hours on Blipfoto and Flickr. This was a mere hint of aurora taken from Blackford Hill looking over towards Arthurs Seat. It was a lucky catch truth be told with all that cloud about.

Aurora over Edinburgh

February
2012 was the year I really got into the astro-photography and there was no more engaging subject than the International Space Station. Orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes or so, 200 miles up and moving at 17,5000mph all with humans on board. It’s mind boggling you can see this pass so easily from your back garden. This shot was taken in the Pentland Hills and shows the Moon, Venus, Jupiter and the trail of the ISS passing over.

Moon Venus Jupiter ISS Feb 24 2012

March
This shot was featured on the BBC Scotland website in their feature of the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. This was taken in North Queensferry looking at the planets over the top of the Road Bridge just minutes before an almighty blizzard hit.

Jupiter and Venus over the Forth Road Bridge

April
Rain was very much the theme for the year in Scotland but thankfully I managed to avoid the worst of it until this shot. I just came over the top of Blackford Hill and was met with this view, it was so epic I stayed far too long and ended up soaked. Worth it for a nice pic though!

Storm over Edinburgh

May
I got my first proper telescope in May and got to work frustrating the life out of myself planetary imaging. It’s such a difficult form of photography but oh so rewarding when you get a result, this might not look like much but the learning that went into getting this little shot of Saturn was huge and I was over the moon to get a chance to image the most awesome thing you will ever see though a telescope.

Saturn 26 May 2012

June
The rains were kicking in big time by June. Photography time was limited to say the least and astro stuff was even worse with the near constant cloud cover. This shot represented a rare trip out for a sunset.

Sunset on the Forth 18 June 2012 - Explored

July
And the rains continued into July. Edinburgh had it’s worst flooding for 10 years and I spent a day soaked to the bum cheeks capturing it. This was the Meadows slowly being turned back into the South loch.

Meadows Flooded 7 July 2012

A special mention should go to this shot as well, the Red Arrows doing the Olympic flypast over Edinburgh Castle.

Red Arrows Olympic Flypast 27 July 2012

August
Again, this might not look like much but this is the International Space Station. This took several nights to get and I never attempted it again after this shot as it was simply too difficult!
ISS 14 August 2012

September
September was a good month. There was so many pics to choose from but this was the standout for the month. A real shot from nothing. The weather wasn’t great, there were spots of rain about and I only just got to Belhaven Bay in time for the sunset and high tide just for the clouds to part and an amazing sunset to kick in.

Belhaven Sunset 21 Sept 2012

October
So many shots I loved from October but this is the shot that sent my little Facebook page from an also ran to, well, something a lot bigger. This went viral on Facebook and got over 12000 likes in 24 hours. In fact it was just one from an incredible night on Calton Hill with the best sunset I have ever seen.

Sunset of the year, 9 October 2012

Although that pic was the one that got me noticed, I prefered this one.
Calton Sunset 9 October 2012

Then there was the chance Moon-rise from Blackford Hill too…
Moonrise over East Lothian

And how about the panoramic shot the same night with the belt of Venus providing some nice colour?
Edinburgh Skyline and Belt of Venus

Or the Autumn on the Canal shot used for a charity calendar?
Autumn on the Canal

November
Again so hard to pick, November was another good month!

How about the bus trails on Princes Street?
Bus Stop Trails 4 November 2012

The Newhaven sunset?
Newhaven Sunset 3 Nov 2012

The 22 degree Moon halo with Jupiter?
Moon Halo 1 November 2012

Or the perfect morning at the Forth Bridges?
Forth Bridge winter high tide

Forth Bridge Reflections

December
December has started well too. I think the standout so far though is the shot of the Edinburgh Winter Wonderland from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle on a very very cold afternoon.

Edinburgh's Wonderland 2 December 2012

So that’s mine, what about the rest of you?

BOGOF on all prints till Christmas!

No, I’m not being rude, it’s far better than that! From now till Christmas you can buy any of the prints on the print sales page and claim a totally free A4 print of your choice with £15. The only stipulation is that both prints must go to the same address, other than that, any of the prints on the print sales page can be claimed free when you buy any other A2, A3 or A4 print.

All my prints are limited strictly to a maximum of 50 prints each, once they sell that’s it, they come off the print sales page and don’t go back. You won’t get any mass produced stuff here that everybody and their auntie has.

I’m even offering flat price postage worldwide, no additional costs for anwhere.

This offer is on from now until Christmas so take advantage while you can!

For bigger orders and bespoke items please feel free to contact me first.

What camera should I buy? A beginners guide…

I get this question a lot from people looking to get into photography. What camera should I buy?

The eventual answer though depends on budget available and what you want to do with it but in the main my answer to a beginner is usually the same, buy the absolute best you can afford.

Lets forget about compact and bridge cameras here, someone looking to get into photography properly needs some sort of interchangeable lens system. You simply don’t get that level of felxability with compacts or bridge cameras no matter how good they are. You get convenience but ultimately you need a DSLR of some sort.

I’m also going to rule out the new wave of compact system cameras for the beginner too. Even with the interchangeable lenses these cameras look like a nice easy route into photography, well made, small and portable but with the added bonus of being able to change the lens, and there-in lies their main problem. Have you seen the prices of lenses for these systems? Additional lenses are both expensive and limited in choice hence why I’d always advocate, stick to a DSLR.

I’m also going to go out on a limb here and say, forget about everything else except Nikon or Canon. Yes, I know there are other makes but these 2 are the big players, the VHS to the Betamax of the rest. Now I’ve probably offended every Pentax, Olympus, Fuji, Panasonic and Sony owner out there (and more) lets get down to camera choice.

It really doesn’t matter if you go Canon or Nikon, both are similar, both have massive ranges and are supported by a myriad of 3rd party companies too. Whatever route you go, you won’t be disappointed.

So, what to actually buy? This comes back to the opening statement, spend as much as you can possibly afford, it’ll save you in the long run. If your budget only stretches to the entry level DSLR and kit lens then great, go for it. If it can go further then start looking up the ranges.

Taking the Nikon range for example. Buy a Nikon D3100 and you’ll get a nice camera with a fairly bog standard kit lens, but the entry level DSLR doesn’t have the top screen with all your setting on it. The D3000 never came with a port to attach a wired remote of any kind either, both, in my opinion, big things to be without. If you can push the budget that little bit more, the D5100 would make a far better purchase.

I’d actually go as far as to say that if you are really looking at the bottom end of the market, seriously consider the 2nd hard option. For D3100 money you’ll pick up a used D90, a far far better camera that will last you for ages. If you can afford a D5100, consider a used D7000 and you’ll never have to think of cameras again for ages.

In my humble opinion, the amateur photographer needs look no further than the Nikon D7000 or Canon 7d, after this you get into full frame territory, serious cash and I see simply no need or justification for a amateur photographer to venture into this territory. A D7000 to all but another expert photographer match a D3 in terms of image quality. In real terms, the D3 will be far better, but in the real world, 99% of people will never be able to tell any difference and if you really learn how to use it, your D7000 will produce the most amazing and striking images.

And so lenses. Simply get the kit lens, it’ll be fine to start out with and you have other things to worry about. Factor in the cost of a reasonable tripod for starters, cheap tripods won’t last, spend at least £100 and it’ll last for ages.

You might also want to consider:

Remote control of some sort, preferably wired.
A decent bag to carry this all in, buy something big enough to accommodate future purchases as well.
A screw in polarising filter
Some sort of slot in filter system, p series system with some Hitech graduated filters is a good cheap entry level into this world and it’s the one single item that will change you from a snapper to a photographer.

There’s about £250 in that little lot of extras, you don’t need them all straight away but this is what you need to consider to take the hobby at least semi-seriously.

Once you’ve used this little lot and got to grips with it then you can start looking at lenses. You might want a wider lens, a bigger zoom even? Both good purchases. The old trusty 50mm f1.8 is a great purchase, the cheapest lens you’ll ever buy and so versatile you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.

I don’t expect everyone will agree with my reasonings but from coming through the beginner route this is my findings and my recommendation. What you buy is of course up to you but hopefully there’s some food for thought in there!

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

Top Edinburgh autumn photography locations

Ah, Autumn, thank god it’s here at last. Whatever it throws at us it can’t be worse than the soggy summer of 2012. In photographic terms at least, the next couple of months are great for getting out with the camera. Sunset and sunrise are at sociable times, nice dark (hoepfully clear skies) and the trees turning those fantastic golden shades.

So here you are in Edinburgh, what’s the hot shots to try out the next couple of months?

Lets kick off with the top sunset location for Autumn in Edinburgh and it’s predictably Calton Hill. At this time of year the sun in heading back towards the Castle at sunset meaning all those fantastic cityscapes can benefit from the full burst of colour from the setting sun.

Calton Hill Sunset 31 August 2010 - Explored

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

Leith Dusk

Sticking with Calton Hill, the just after sunrise the National Mounment will be casting some nice shadows. Get up there early though, too late and the sun will be in the way of the shot.

Unfinished Shadows

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

Cramond Sunrise

On 5th October, the sunset at high tide at both at exactly 6.31pm, with a 5m tide it’s a perfect night to head out to Belhaven Bay outside Dunbar for the Bridge to Nowhere shot.

The Belhaven Bridge to Nowhere

It’s getting a little late in the year but 8th October might be a good night to try and catch the advancing tide at the Longniddry wreck found just off the number 1 carpark.

Longniddry Sunset - Explored

Nearer the end of October with the moon out the way it might be a good chance to try for the Milky Way before it slinks off for the summer, try the carpark at Harlaw Reservoir about 2 hours after sunset, give your eyes time to adjust and you should see the dense star cloud that forms the band of the Milky Way just off to the south west.

Milky Way at Harlaw 11 September 2012

There’s obvioulsy quite a few fireworks opportunities around November 5th but keep and eye open for the South Queensferry display for a chance to catch them over water.

Fireworks in the Ferry

There might also be a display at the Castle for St Andrews day, though possible not exactly on 30th November and it’s likely to be short display too.

Homecoming Scotland Fireworks Edinburgh - Explored

With the darker nights it’s also a pefect time to try those light trails shots, with Princes Street open again it’s an obvious choice but anywhere with traffic is possible, why not try Holyrood Park about 30 minutes after sunset?

Holyrood X

It’s also a good time to get those star trails shots in, Newhaven lighthouse, is a cold but worthy spot as you can get Polaris in the shot.

Newhaven Star Trails

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

The Astro-photography Learning Curve – The Green Dot of Inspiration

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned with this astrophotography journey it’s that above everything else, patience is the deciding factor as to whether you’ll progress or not. Without it you’ll become a frustrated gibbering wreck with a badly dented telescope in next to no time at all. You’ll question your abilities, you’ll come to hate the Met Office with a passion and you’ll start to spilt words in two just to get an extra expletive in there to properly express your feelings.

So why is patience so important? Let’s do a little list to illustrate…

1. Clouds. Days and days of endless clouds, usually worse after you’ve just bought a telescope or indeed, any item of astro equipment. Clouds stop everything, there’s no middle ground. Cloudy and it’s a night in front of Coronation Street for you rather than the wonders of the Universe.

2. Wind. I’m not talking hurricane force here, just an average little wind with some mild gusts can totally ruin any imaging session with a telescope. The slightest movement means wonky stars nobody wants wonky stars now do they?

3. Clouds and wind. Welcome to Scotland where you’ll be able to use your telescope at least 2 or 3 times every year!

4. Polar alignment. Also used as a basic instrument of torture in developing countries.

5. Astrophotography processing software. There are times I think actually writing the software would be easier than trying to figure out how it works. This one stacks RAW files, oh wait, this one needs jpg’s, darks? flats? bias?, and WTF are wavelets? Are we even still talking English here? At least most of it is free…

6. Focusing the camera on deep sky objects. Most focusing from removal of the eyepiece to connecting the camera goes thus… Just a little turn, just a wee bit more, nearly there, back a bit, back a bit more, wtf?, put eyepiece back in, focus, put camera back in, did I turn that the right way, bit more, bit more, back a bit, back a bit, other way, what way did I turn it last, fuck it.

7. Tripping over things in the dark. 5m USB leads, webcams and power leads in the dark lead to much fun and strange dancing while trying to untangle.

8. Neighbours security lights. Just as your eyes have adjusted to the darker environment you’ve managed to nurture in your back garden so sooner than the stars become nicely visible then your are guaranteed a passing cat will trigger a light that has the intensity of 10 suns to ensure it’s safe passage across the neighbours garden and you can see purple spots for the next 20 minutes.

9. Met office weather forecasts. DO take note of the Met Office forecast, you’ll need to know what it said so you can complain about it being wrong at length later. As a good rule of thumb though if the Met Office say it’ll be clear skies it’ll be raining, if they say overcast it’ll be raining, if they say rain, it’ll be clear. In fact if the MO say it’s night it’ll probably be day.

10. Telescope GOTO dictatorships. Your telescope GOTO can, and will make every attempt to piss you off. If you go for a 2 star align it simply won’t give you the star you want.
You – I’ll go for Arcturus and Capella.
GOTO – No you won’t, you can’t use Arcturus.
You – Why?
GOTO – Just because that’s all.
You – *sighs*, ok I’ll go for Altair and Capella then? OK, Altair synced, why can’t I have Capella now?
GOTO – I don’t feel like giving it to you. Try Vega?
You – I dont want to try Vega, it’s like straight up and it’s a pain looking through the finder at those stars?
GOTO – Use Vega bitch…
You – But…
GOTO – VEGA!
GOTO – “Align failed, please try again…”

BUT, apart from all this once in a while it all goes right or you see something that’s makes you realise it’s all worthwhile, this week I seen Uranus (please stop making jokes about the name!) and Neptune for the first time ever, very small but a personal triumph to actually see for me.

I’ll leave you with my first image of Uranus (stop sniggering at the back), it’s very small, in fact, just a little green dot but it meant the world to me to be able to image it.

Uranus 30 September 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.

Basic astro-photography from light polluted areas

This whole astro-photography thing is a pain in the cheeks at times. There I was sat in the cold with the telescope last night, tripping over wires in the dark, cursing the GOTO for not being spot on and finally chucking it all in after 30 minutes because the wind was an even bigger pain and it was impossible to get anything worthwhile at all.

I was this close → ← to chucking the whole lot on Gumtree and packing it in totally. Such was the severity of the huff. Thankfully I didn’t but what it’s taught me is not to attempt this stuff when the conditions aren’t perfect.

Less than perfect conditions though don’t stop you having some fun with a nice clear sky, never mind how windy it is and the even better news is that you can do this stuff with some nice basic photographic gear; this post from here on will be a telescope free zone!

All you’ll need is a camera you can control the exposure on (variable zoom will help too), a tripod and a remote control for the camera or at least one with a self-timer. The hardest part is getting the clear sky but even the odd cloud can add to a shot as long as your intended target is still visible.

To demonstrate what’s easily possible, these 4 shots were taken in central Edinburgh, in light pollution with a Nikon D90 fitted with a Nikon 18-200mm VRII lens.

The technique is simple enough, keep the ISO fairly low, around 400 to 640 otherwise the light pollution will run away with your shot. Exposure times will vary maybe from less than 1s in the case of a planet to a few seconds on a star cluster, even as long as 30s on a wide field shot. The whole idea is to get enough light in to give you the shot but avoid stars trailing to get a decent shot.

Finding interesting targets is your next challenge. The sky just now is best after midnight and even with the moon out the way there’s some nice stuff you can get. After midnight the Pleiades open star cluster will be getting higher in the sky and below it will be the brilliance of Jupiter, a nice photo opportunity, especially if you can include some ground interest to give some perspective.

Jupiter and the Pleiades

The Pleiades itself is a very nice target and fills the frame nicely at nothing more than 200mm. Keep the exposure shorter when you’re zoomed in like this. The diffractions spikes on this shot were added in Photoshop with a plug-in, it’s not the natural look!

The Pleiades Sept 13 2012

Sticking with 200mm try Jupiter as well! You’ll really need a shorter exposure with the planet so bright take a few at differing exposures and you should also be able to pick up the planets moons.

Jupiter 14 Sept 2012

Winter skies usually provide the best targets but at this time of year you can also get the summer triangle, an easily visible triangle of the very bright stars Vega, Altair and Deneb.

Summer Triangle 14 Sept 2012

Light pollution needed be a killer but if you do get a chance to get out under really dark skies you might be lucky enough to catch this, the fabulous sight of the Milky Way rising in the sky above…

Milky Way at Harlaw 11 September 2012

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