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:
Ocean Terminal is best known in Edinburgh as the last docking point of the Royal Yacht Brittania. If you’re so inclinded you can board the Queen’s cast off boat for a tour down here or if that’s not you’re thing, Ocean Terminal itself is a huge many floored shopping centre with plenty of shops, coffee houses, restaurants and even a cinema to keep most people entertained.
For photographers however, there is a much better prize on offer in this unlikely setting. To find it, continue past the front doors of Ocean Teminal and either park in the surface carpark at the far end at the Debenhams or if that’s full there’s the multi-storey right next to it. Just to the side of this is a path named Britannia Walk which runs right along the side of Leith Docks which in iself can be a nice photographic opportunity depending on what’s docked in here at the time.
Continue down the walk and you’ll see Britannia docked on your left, straight ahead though is what we’re here for! Leading out into the docks Western Harbour is a derelict wooden pier, which in it’s own right is an intersting enough subject but a couple of years back an Anthony Gormley statue (think Angel of the North) was installed at the end of the pier as part of the Gormley 6 exhibition which placed 6 statues of the artist at strategic points along the water of Leith with the last one being situated here.
This area can be a magnet for local photographers so don’t be too surprised if you’re not the only one here with a camera. The pier itself isn’t great for access as it’s in a very deep section of the docks and the only option of a shot of it is over the railings which isn’t a great hardship here. It’s ripe for long exposures but do watch out for light reflection up of the shiney railings which will be under your lens which can have an effect on images. You can shoot this pier in a variety of ways some of which are showen below.
While you’re here though, take a look over the harbour to the flats on the other side, these make a great shot in still conditions, especially at night. You might also be lucky enough to see some of the cruise boats that visit Edinburgh in here, not the bigger ships as they dock typically at Hound Point at South Queensferry but some sizeable liners and naval vessels make regular appearances in here too.
Again, it’s a nice shot for sunset in summer, late May to August typically being the best time to attempt this shot.
Newhaven Harbour is one of these undiscovered gems that 9 out of 10 tourists will never find with they visit the city which is a pity as it’s one of the most attractive areas along the Edinburgh coastline. Situated just to the east of Leith Docks and west of the larger Granton Harbour this small harbour provides a wealth of photographic opportunities.
Getting to Newhaven is easy; simply head along the A901 which hugs the Edinburgh coastline, if the Firth of Forth is on your left coming from the west of the city or on your right coming from the east then keep going and you’ll eventually find it. There’s lots of free parking in the area, either in the free bays along Starbank Road to the South of the Harbour or if you turn hard left just part the harbour and follow the road around you can park on the cobbled area right next to it.
By far the most striking feature of this small harbour is its lighthouse. One of the best and most accessible local examples you’ll find in this area. You can walk right out to the base of the lighthouse and it’s hard to take a picture of Newhaven without if featuring in some way or another.
At low tide the harbour all but drains of all it’s water creating plenty of opportunity for long exposure shots of the boats as they beach on the harbour’s muddy bed. At low tide to the north of the lighthouse the large jaggy rocks of the sea defences are exposed and a bit of careful exploration can take you over the seaweed line right down to the rocks for some dramatic shots up to the lighthouse.
At high tide the harbour fills up quite a way and the water will come quite far up the cobbled slipway which is again a popular shot with local photographers. The boats themselves at the harbour are mainly leisure boats but there is a mix of working boats in there too although you don’t that often see many boats coming or going from here.
You can get pretty unrestricted access around the north, west and south edges of the harbour, only the eastern edge is restricted access. At low tide if you’re careful you can pick your way around the seaweed covered walkway at the bottom of the slipway right around to the lighthouse, be warned though, it’s exceptionally slippy!
Newhaven is one of the best locations in Edinburgh for a summer sunset; the sun comes down over the Firth of Forth giving ample opportunity to photograph the lighthouse or boats at sunset without any other objects in the way of the sun.
This is one of my favourite locations in Edinburgh and one that I visit often, especially during the summer months. Below are a few examples of shots you can expect to take away from Newhaven.