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.