After 2 years in darkness the Forth Bridge is finally lit up again, by 1000 new spotlights. I remember the old lights. You were never sure they were on at first; the lights came on gradually until the bridge was tastefully lit. These new lights though?
See for yourself from this picture.
As you can see, the lights are very… open? The bridge looks fantastic but do the lights really need to be so blatant? It’s seriously one of the worst examples I think I’ve seen of structure lighting. You couldn’t see the light source from the old lights but these lights are way too open. The light pollution around the bridge itself is huge. A snow shower moved over last night and you could see the lights streaking up way above the bridge for a fair height. It’s simply too bright.
For photography purposes this is an issue. The old favourite panoramic shot of both bridges with a wide angle lens is not really an option at night anymore, the road bridge is a lot darker than the rail bridge and the lens flares from those lights are terrible. You could try a grad filter to ease out some of the rail bridge but I think that would make the flares even worse. See below for an example, I’ve marked the lens flares on the shot.
Not that long ago I was shooting star trails with the bridge, that’ll be impossible now. You simply couldn’t get those lights under control for a 30s exposure and the resulting pollution will mask the stars anyway. I didn’t try from down the Hawes Pier last night but I suspect the problem will be even worse down there.
It’s not a lot better from the North Queensferry side either sadly, although there does seem to be access under the bridge from that side with the works now removed, one to be better checked out in daylight.
I do hope that Scotrail don’t leave the lights like this although I suspect the bridge will now be like this forever. IN a time where we are more away of light pollution it seems very odd to light up an iconic structure in this fashion, especially as we’re all supposed to be getting “greener”. Frankly, I preferred it in the dark.
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:
This is one of those locations that just begs to be given the long exposure treatment. The Scottish coastline is littered with these old piers if you know where to look for them and they make fantastic subjects as they age and deteriorate.
This particular pier gave me some amount of issues trying to find how to get access to it but once you’ve found it it’s really rather easy!
Arriving in Aberdour from the East drive though the village and you’ll go past the railway station which is on a large S bend. Around 100 yards on your right from there you’ll see signs pointing to Silver Sands down Hawkcraig Road. Follow the road down until you arrive at a large car park. Drive to the far end of the car park and park up to the left where you’ll see an opening in the trees. Walk though here and turn immediately to your left and follow the road. After a very short walk you’ll get to a little fork in the road, keep left and walk down the very steep hill towards the houses at the bottom. Continue along the little gravel lane and when you come out from between the houses that’s you at your destination!
The beach here is all medium sized loose rocks, a bit tricky to walk over to make sure you exercise some caution which approaching the pier. When I visited here, it was about an hour before high tide and it was a pretty good guess at a decent time catch the subject. You have good access all round and indeed even underneath the pier so you can get shots from a good range of angles.
While you’re here don’t forget the view you also get of the Edinburgh skyline where you can clearly make out landmarks such as Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle, the Hub spire, St Giles bell tower and the Balmoral Clock. A range up to around 200mm will get you a reasonable shot of Edinburgh from here.
This location is also interesting for the views of the various little islands dotted around the Firth of Forth including Incholm and its Abbey and the “back end” of Cramond Island. Again, a longer lens will let you get something of them from here too.
This location is best for sunsets in the winter, in the summer the sun sets off up to your right over the harbour.
All in, a nice location with loads of potential if you find yourself over on the Fife coast!
This was one of the subjects I’d seen other interpretations of on Flickr and felt it was too good to miss. Finding it though was pure change. On a run down the east coast one night heading to Longniddry Bents 3 I caught a glimpse of the wreck on the breach not far outside Port Seaton and before the Bents 3 car park. It never actually registered at the time but a search for the wreck on Flickr confirmed what I thought I had saw and a quick look at Google Maps also turned up what might be the subject in question.
On further exploration, the wreck is found near the Bents 1 car park, just outside Port Seaton. Easiest access is to park up to the right hand side (near the toilets) and walk down onto the beach from there, the wreck is about 100 yards to your left. You can also go off to the left and park, cross the little wooden bridge and clamber over the dunes and its right there in front of you. Not hard to spot by either route, unless you get there at high tide. All you’ll see at high tide is one little rib of the boat sticking up out the water, quite a way out.
To maximize your chances of getting some decent shots here I’d say be at the location around 2 hours AFTER a high tide. When you get there, the wreck should be visible but still mainly under water. Over the next while though the tide recedes quite quickly and you’ll get nice easy access to it with water still around and in it.
It’s a hugely interesting subject which has obviously been there for quite some time slowly rotting away. Sadly, I have no idea on the history of it! While you’re here though, the rest of the beach is worth an explore with lots of rock formations and the imposing sight of Cockenzie power station off to your left. The Longniddry Bents are also a nice location for summer sunsets with the sun coming down directly opposite the beach.
A worthy location of a visit if you ever find yourself down the East Lothian way!
For a fair few months now I’ve harboured a desire to capture the causeway to Cramond Island, on the outskirts of Edinburgh as the tide was just going out. If you’re not familiar with the location, from the esplanade there is a raised walkway that the tide never covers for maybe around 200ft, then at the end is a set of small steps and then you’re down on the lower level of the causeway where a half mile walk or so will take you over to Cramond Island at low tide.
Now, I’ve photographed Cramond MANY times and it’s distinctive causeway too many times to count. The causeway itself it lined with a set of old WWII sea defences which were designed to stop small boat attacks further up river at the Forth Bridge and Rosyth Naval Yard, the other side of the island to Fife was protected by anti submarine nets. All that remains now is the distinctive line of pyramid structures right out to the island which get covered more or less to within a couple of feet from the top at high tide.
The challenge though, was the photograph the tide as it came in over the causeway. It’s fairly safe to do so as long as you keep your wits about you. You need to be on the causeway itself around 3 hours before the high tide time. If you get there early the water will start to flood the sand flats either side and sit around the bases of the sea defences. You need not go to far out to get a load of interesting shots of the defences.
However, soon you will see the water start to gently spill over onto the causeway about half way along. If it’s between you and the mainland, get back quick. If not keep and eye on it and you can move up a bit and you’ll have plenty time before it reaches you. From the first signs of water on the causeway to needing to get off it you’ll get around 30 minutes. As it starts to properly flood you need to be up near the elevated section of the causeway where you can make a sharp exit to safety. Remember, the water gets around 8ft deep here at high tide.
Get yourself up near the steps and you’ll have plenty time to rattle of shots of the tide as it advances towards you. It’s a perfect place for long exposure shots especially. Just keep an eye on the water as it comes in very fast and once it starts to reach your feet it’ll be a few inches deep in minutes. Get it right and you get these sort of shots.
Get your timings right and it’s well worth a visit. Even after you need to get up on the elevated section it’s still worth hanging about as there’s still interesting shots to be hand from up here.
What a week it’s been for the old sunset shots! It also helps that sunset is at a hospitable time at the moment too. Setting around 8.40 is much preferable to being out and about at the back of 10 or worse still, being sat in work watching the sun give a great visual display on the horizon!
My last post gave you whole tale of how I managed to get my favourite sunset shot of the year so far, but as I can see from my Flickr photostream, April tends to be a particularly good month for sunset shots around Edinburgh for some reason.
This was last night’s effort. The original plan had been to head down to the Cramond Island causeway, but since I’ve done that to death I headed down to West Shore Road instead to a spot further along the coast I spotted the other night which had a perfect view of the causeway, Cramond Island and the Forth Bridges behind.
To say this was a difficult shot to take would be an understatement. The sun was still high in the sky, actually just above the top of the shot. With the distance I switched to the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM for a bit of extra reach but actually expected it to give me horrible lens flares, which surprisingly, it didn’t. Once again, I framed up the shot with no filters, locked up the tripod and slipped on the now invaluable Heliopan ND3.0 10 stopper, the result was a pleasing enough shot with a nice gentle orange glow in the sky but it left the water a touch dull.
To combat this I slipped on the adapter ring and filter holder and slipped in the sunset filter. With this in place I could stretch the exposure out to a full 60s, after a couple of goes at setting the grad this was the final result. It took a fair bit of post process if I’m honest as shooting into the sun had brought out every single dust mark on the sunset filter, of which there were many! There was also a bit of flare I’m managed to just about eridacate with a little dodge and burn. If I were to try this again I think I’d try shading the filters to try and get rid of the flare from the shot in the first place.
The night before though also produced a surprise shot for me. With the position of the sun and ideally wanting to get it over water the Western Harbour at the back of Ocean Terminal is a great spot. The obvious shot is the old pier with the Gormley statue at the end of it, but the flats at the other side of the harbour make for a good shot too, especially if the water is still.
However, it was the pier that produced the goods. I’ve shot this before on long exposure and had a lot of issues with light bouncing back into the lens from the filters and I finally figured out why. At this location there is a shiny bare metal fence which I sit the tripod up against to get the shot, the light has been bouncing off the metal and back up into the bottom of the filters and I effectively get a reflection of the inside of the lens on the shot, just putting an arm along the fence was enough to get rid of this totally, amazing what you can figure out.
Again with this shot, I set up the shot without the 10 stopper in place, played with the filters to see which combination worked best and then screwed in the ND3.0 and slipped the other filters back on top. In this case, I’ve used the ND3.0, circular polariser, ND0.9 soft grad and sunset grad filter on a 3 minute exposure to get the colour and effect on the water. The sun was still in the sky off up to the left of this shot.
That’s the more recent shots but like I already said, April is a good month for sunsets so here’s some of the month’s other highlights!
It’s not often I drop a new blog post about a single shot but I liked this one so much I thought it worthy of a little write up.
As you will see if you follow back my recent posts I’ve been experimenting with long exposure photography over the last few weeks, in fact, it’s becoming more of an obsession than an experiment.
What I have had bother with though, is getting decent colour into shots, hence why my Flickr Photostream has gone rather monotone of late. Stacking those Hitech ND soft grads is just a sure-fire route to a purple colour cast on the D90, which is pretty undesirable to say the least. However, last night everything just fell nicely into place and I ended up with, what has to be, may favourite shot of the year so far.
The original plan had been to catch the sunset at Longniddry over the rocks but other things I had to do put paid to that and I would have only made Longniddry just before the sun went down which would have been ok if I was more familiar with the location. As I’m not I diverted back up the Edinburgh coast with the intent to catch the sunset over the Western Harbour. However, since the shows are at Ocean Terminal just now and the place was overran with walking JD sports adverts with attitudes I headed for the more peaceful refuge of Newhaven Harbour instead.
I really didn’t want to be at Newhaven having really photographed the place to death over the last few weeks. Its easy location and multiple shot possibilities make it and attractive location but it’s fast becoming my new Colton Hill, somewhere I’ve visited so often I get bored of it.
With the sun setting though, it was Newhaven or nothing and apart from anything else, at this time of year bar the Forth Bridges, it’s probably the best sunset location in Edinburgh. Sunset was still about 25 minutes away when I got there so I originally setup with the Sigma 10-20mm on the D90 and took a few tester shots using the grads and polariser but no 10 stopper. 10 stoppers are only any good in harbours if the tide is out, with it in boats tend to bob about and blurred boats do not good pictures make.
With the sun and the available light dropping fast I moved position to put the sun behind the lighthouse to avoid any lens flares and replaced the ultra wide with the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM, my absolute favourite lens. This let me frame the lighthouse and harbour wall nicely but avoid any boats in the shot. I then added the 77m filter ring and slipped in the polariser, ND 0.9 soft grad and tried a few test shots. I also experimented with a light tobacco grad and sunset filter but it was the red grad, a filter I’ve never used as I hated the results that was producing the goods. With the grads set properly, I locked the tripod securely and removed the filter holder and put it down on the camera bag careful making sure the grads didn’t move. I removed the 77mm ring and fitted the Heliopan 77mm ND3.0 10 stopper, fitted the 77mm ring to that and carefully slotted in the holder with the grads. I had to do it this was as with the 10 stopper fitted there was no way to line up the red grad on the horizon as you can’t see anything.
With light fading fast I upped the ISO to 200 and opened the aperture up to f8 and went for a 2 minute exposure which was ok but the red was too intense. I tried again upping the exposure to 3 minutes which turned out perfect.
As far as post process work went, there wasn’t a lot to do, the pleasures of getting it more or less right in camera. I created a new adjustment layer and increased the exposure to lighten the inside harbour walls and bring out some detail. I then erased all but the harbour walls from the layer. I then added a new photo filter layer to intensify the colour in the water, other than that, that’s about all I had to do with this one. Thankfully the sensor clean I attempted the day before must have been spot on as there was nothing needed cloned out at all. A welcome surprise.
So here it is the final product and most certainly my favourite shot of the year, so far…
Well, I finally got my hands on a 10 stop filter. Not the B+W I had originally hoped to get, they seem to be rather hard to get hold of just now in the UK, but a Heliopan ND3.0. After a little bit of research it seems that this filter is rated as highly as the B+W so when TeamworkPhoto on Ebay put a stack up for sale at a slightly lower price than the B+W versions a sale was inevitable. At a touch under £100 for a 77mm version it might seem expensive for a little bit of round glass but it’s when you start to use these things you can see the quality and exactly what your paying for.
This particular filter is the slim version so it fits nicely onto my Sigma 10-20mm lens and I can attached the 77mm p series adapter ring to it to allow me to use the CPL and grads easily too. The lens is usable at around 12mm upwards otherwise you do start to photograph the edges of the filter holder, which isn’t too bad as even without the 10 stop in place you get this same effect at around 11.5mm so no great hardship there.
First thing I noticed and it’s fairly obvious really, you simply cannot see a thing through this filter. It’s that dark. Hold it into very bright light, i.e. into the sun and you could just about compose a shot but with grads and a CPL in place as well, not a hope. This means the shot has to be composed on the tripod (obviously); the head locked in place and then carefully fit the 10 stopper and slip the filter holder with the grads on. Bit fiddly but you won’t be taking that many shots with this arrangement in place since you’re likely to be playing around in the 3 minutes exposure mark.
This was the first attempt with the 10 stopper. Taken on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, just the 10 stop and CPL in place. VERY bright light, around 5pm with a clear blue sky and, unusually for Scotland, a nice bright sun. 3 minute exposure and it’s nicely done the trick I wanted and got rid of all the tourists walking about in front of the monument, which was sheer luck not of them stood still long enough to get into the shot.
I did have another attempt later the same day at Newhaven Harbour and got some cracking results but the sea was rough, the wind was terrible and the grads were picking up spray all over and the shots were frankly unusable as a result. Lesson learned there.
Next night out was the Forth Bridges. A very familiar subject so a good place to test the filter out. I started around 7.20pm, approx an hour before sunset with the tide coming in and the sun still quite high above the Road Bridge. It seemed pointless to go shooting into the sun so I took a shot of the rail bridge with the rocks in the foreground getting covered by the incoming tide. This was a 4 minute exposure with the CPL and Hitech 0.6 ND soft grad. Very impressed at the lack of colour cast from the grad with the 10 stopper, at least if your not looking into the sun with it.
As the sun went further down I moved to the other side of the rail bridge to get the sunset with both bridges in the shot. A popular spot for photographers and sadly, the ned element of South Queensferry too it seems.
This was the last of my 10 stop shots for the night as exposure times were getting way too long with the decreasing light. This was a 331s exposure with the 10 stopper, CPL, ND0.6 soft grad and a light tobacco grad, ISO200 f11.
I have to say I’m enjoying the learning process with this new filter although my usual hit and miss method of calculating exposure times is going to get very tiring very fast. To that ends I’ve found an iPhone app called Long Time that does the calculation for you which I’ll give a trial of next time I’m out which will hopefully see the end of hit and miss results guessing exposure times.
I’ve got a new obsession.
Actually, it’s an old one rekindled and it comes in the form of the Hipstamatic app for the iPhone. A better £1.19 you couldn’t hope to spend. Digital photography has never looked so analogue is their strapline and it’s true. The easiest way to try and describe it is to look at it as some sort of lomography affair. You get the light leaks, the vignettes, the odd colourings etc and that’s the appeal. As a Holga owner this is far easier and more convenient that getting all that 120 format film developed. Obviously, it’s not proper lomo but it’s a whole lot of fun to use.
I rediscovered the pleasures of Hipstamatic after my recent interest in long exposure photography. What do you do when you’re waiting for a 3 minute exposure to end? You rattle off some Hipstamatic shots of the same subject, that’s what! It’s perfect. I even started photographing my D90 on the tripod doing the long exposure.
in fact, I’m having so much fun with this app I’ve started to take the Hipstamatic shots and then upload them using the Flickit App to my Flickr account, which also posts to Twitter with a link to the shot. Great fun as I can do it while I’m out and about rather than having to wait till I get home.
I used to use Hipstamatic to photograph everyday situations a new way, i.e. mundane scenes in an unusual style but now I’ve tried applying it to the sort of scene I’m photographing with the D90 it’s opened up a whole new set of uses and it’s nice to see some instant different takes on a scene.
So far I’ve used it at…
The point I’m trying to get to here, is that it’s a great compliment to my usual photography. What Hipstamatic does is what no other iPhone photography app does, it makes taking photos with a mobile phone fun and interesting. Your not looking for that meag quality shot, just something quick and interesting and it ticks both those boxes many times over. Besides… it doesn’t half fill in the gaps between those 3 minute exposures!
If you follow this blog you’ll know I’ve recent found myself caught in the grip of long exposure photography. Something I’ve done in the past with mixed results, but with methodical use of my range of filters I’ve discovered a lot this past couple of weeks. I still feel I’m being constrained slightly by the equipment but learning a lot and getting some images I’m very happy with as a result.
Keep the filters clean!
This was a lesson learned the hard way. I’d never cleaned any of my slot-in filters since I got them back in September. Screw in’s for some reason Iim happy to wipe down with whatever’s at hand, but I’ve been overly precious about the slot in filters. Which became very evident after a trip out and then finding I had to clone out dozens of marks on the shots. All very well but sometimes it’s not that easy to get a smooth clone on streaky clouds etc, so best avoided.
To clean then I’ve been washing them gently under a warm tap, dabbing dry with kitchen roll and then finally cleaning carefully with a lint free cloth. Seems to work fine. You can see marks on all the filters but these don’t show up at all on the images, huge difference.
Be aware of the where sun is!
This is another one I’ve finally figured out. Some shots looked dreadful. Such a disappointment when you see the camera preview, get home and find all sorts of strange flares and marks all over the shot.
What I’ve found is that with the sun directly behind you it seems to hit the filters and bounce light back into the lens and highlights any marks on the filters. With the sun to the side and rear in some cases it causes the camera to actually record the front element of the lens on the shot as a reflection. Funnily enough, shooting near on into the sun, if you can avoid the flares seems to work fine? To this ends though I’ve taken to trying to shield the filters in some way from stray sunlight, fortunately, living in Scotland, it’s not that big an issue!
Wind is both your friend and enemy
After a night out with the camera on Friday it brought home just how good and how big a pain in the rear end wind can be. On the plus side, high winds ripple water nicely making those smooth milky sea shots a lot easier and it sends the clouds racing across your shot, also desirable. However… it also blows your tripod about all over the place, even a sturdy one. It’s worse still with a stack of rectangle filters in front of the lens giving it more to catch onto. I’ve seem me this week almost standing over the tripod trying to shield the camera from the wind. Nothing worse than a 3 minute exposure and you see the camera move just as you get near the end.
All these shots were taken in near gale force winds:
In bright conditions, lose a grad and use the polariser!
My P series filter kit gives me the option of using 3 filters in front of the lens and my screw in ND8, typically for these long exposure shots that means a Hitech ND0.9 soft grad and 0.6 soft grad. However, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, the ND0.9 causes a horrific purple colour cast.
What I found on Saturday though, was that in bright conditions with blue sky around, to replace the ND0.9 with the circular polariser and keep the 2 grads, still lets me push around 20-30s exposure in very bright conditions and keep some colour in the shot too as there is little or no cast. The polariser has the added benefit of darkening the sky and highlighting the clouds, even losing the 0.6ND and using the 0.9ND for B&W work with the polariser in place was very beneficial. So, use the polariser and experiment with your other filters in bright conditions.
All these shots were taken with the polariser in place:
Despite the best efforts of some strange foreign bloke to get in every shot, these were taken in Portobello beach with the polariser slotted in place instead of the ND0.6 soft grad.
I cannot recommend this enough; try different things you never know what you’ll get. This shot on Calton Hill was taken with the ND0.6 soft grad, ND0.9 soft grad and a sunset filter in place, not a particularly long exposure at 40s but I liked the resulting colours.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a couple of other long exposure mono shots from last nights trip to Cramond just as the tide was on its way out.
Above all though, I’m enjoying this learning curve a lot. I’ve already priced up how much a move to the Lee pro filter systems will be. At approx £550 for what I want, the saving starts now!