A photographer living in Edinburgh has, shall we say, a good few opportunities at fireworks photography. With 22 Tattoo performances each with fireworks at the end of the performance, St Andrews Day, Son Et Lumerie, New Year and of course the huge 45 minute end of Festival display we’re somewhat spoiled for choice. We even had fireworks at midday at Edinburgh Castle this year, a strange experience if I’m honest!
So, how do you go about getting the best from all these opportunities?
What I’m going to detail here is my method for these shots, this is how I’ve taken the shots below. It might not be how everyone else does it but it sure does the job for me.
So what do you need? A camera certainly, a DSLR is best but any camera that you can control the aperture and exposure time will work, we’ll be in full manual mode for this. You also MUST be tripod mounted and using a remote control. If you don’t have a remote and your camera has a self timer set it to the lowest setting (typically 2s) and use that. It’s far from perfect but can be used if you have to.
Next job up is planning. This is essential and the key to getting the best shots. Think about where your display is going to be and what vantage points you might have. This year for the Tattoo in Edinburgh I’ve been out in a range of places. Calton Hill, Salisbury Crags, the lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat and right under the Castle in Johnstone Terrace. Each of these requires a different approach which must be planned for.
Calton requires a long lens but a shorter zoom can also be handy, Salisbury Crags is similar. The lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat only need the long lens as your so far out from the Castle. Johnstone Terrace meanwhile called for a super wide lens as you can get so close to the action. This is what you need to think about before you head off. Also think about access to the location, how easy is it? Can you get a car in there or will you have to walk?
Think about the light, will it be totally dark? You’d assume so but the early performance of the Tattoo on a Saturday night finishes at 9pm and it’s still fairly light in which case you’d be best of facing away from the sunset for the shots where the sky will be darker.
Do your research, there will be stacks of info on the net about times of fireworks etc, make sure you know when to expect them and get setup in plenty time. Search sites like Flickr for pointers on locations, you might find a great place you never thought about.
This is the hard part really but once you have this info getting the actual shots will be a hundred times easier. Performances like the Tattoo fireworks have an additional advantage in that they are the same every night. You can learn the sequence of the bursts and prepare for particular bursts you know are coming.
Once you’re at the location get your camera tripod mounted and your remote hooked up. Decide what composition you want to use, remembering that the fireworks themselves will be high above where they will launch from, in a lot of cases a portrait orientation works best for the bigger bursts, landscape for the lower bursts.
Do make sure you have some context to your shots. Get some land interest in them. It gives the fireworks a sense of scale and it will really improve the final image. In my case this is nearly always Edinburgh Castle so it’s easy to work with. I take test shots before the display starts where I make sure the Castle isn’t overexposed and there’s enough light coming in from the ground to show the city.
I like to use in nearly all cases, ISO400, f7.1 and an exposure time of around 1s. You can adjust this to get a nicely balanced image. ie, if the ground in your shot is too dark, go up to f5.6, if it’s too light, drop down to f11 or more. Ideally you want to keep that 1 to 1.6s exposure. The further away you are the longer you can chance but at close quarters 1s is more than enough to get big trails and minimise the chance of burning out the fireworks.
With the camera set up, the test shots taken, the image looking nicely balanced is all about hitting that shutter at the right time now. Don’t just rattle off shots, watch the display and hit that shutter when you see a nice trail develop. You’ll get a good few shots at it and on the longer displays time to play about with settings. Just don’t panic, keep watching the display and hit the shutter when you think it’s right.
Take loads of shots. You’re dealing with a real unknown in fireworks, the more shots you have the more chance you have of that one killer image. Simple as.
When it comes to processing fireworks shots you have to be careful with them. If you shoot in jpg there’s not a lot you can do but if you shoot in RAW make use of the fill light to bring out the land element and use the recovery slider to take out any burnt out areas as much as possible. Pay attention to the curves too but above all don’t lighten the image too much.
Fireworks are not the easiest of subjects to get right but following these guidelines should put you on the right path, the rest is up to you!
Virgin Money Fireworks Display, 1st September 2013
This is the big Edinburgh display and here’s a run down of locations you might want to consider.
Calton Hill – Iconic views but really really busy. In my opinion, best avoided.
Arthur’s Seat – Incredible view from the top, take a long lens. The lower slopes have some good vantage points too, long lens again.
Salisbury Crags – Incredible viewpoint, big and medium zoom’s work well. Can be busy.
Blackford Hill – Stick to the lower slopes near the observatory, more sheltered and away from the idiots who seem to always be at the top of fireworks night. Get’s busy and limited parking but a great flat on view. Big zoom needed.
Inverleith Park – Great view of the front of the castle flat on but gets very busy again.
Princes Street – Forget it. Simply not worth it.
Johnstone Terrace – Can be spectacular but only the biggest fireworks will be in view. Very wide lens works best.
Braid Hill Drive, get’s very busy, need to be there very early better off at Blackford Hill. Ditto Braid Hills.
Regents Road – Will be busy but nice scenic view over the top of Waverley if you can get a spot.
Grassmarket – Will be busy and probably plenty drunks too. Good view though.
Kier Street, great view to the castle from here, very close so wide to medium zoom will be enough.
Bruntsfield Links – Great spot, very close a wide lens to medium zoom is best. Can be very busy.
Here’s a few of mine from the Tattoo this year.
Well, it’s been quite a while since I last blogged hasn’t it? Not quite sure how that happened, I’m guessing the whole Facebook page has just got in the way, and if you’ve never seen it, my day to day stuff can be seen on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/realedinburgh
Anyway, a subject I’ve blogged on before was about never being afraid to take the same photograph twice, three times or how many times you want to take it. You can re-create a composition but you will never recreate an image. What might be a mediocre image one night might be that killer shot the next. Never let anyone tell you “oh you photograph the same stuff all the time”. As a photographer you capture light and that light is never the same.
Another advantage of revisiting was clear to me this week when I made a 2nd trip to catch the fireworks at Edinburgh Castle which mark the end of the nightly Military Tattoo performance. My first attempt at the early show on Saturday wasn’t great as it was still simply too light so another mid week visit was in order when the show finished around 90 minutes later.
Wednesday night was that night. Warm with reasonably still conditions which were perfect. Heavy rain forecast but fingers crossed it would stay away till the fireworks had finished at least. If I’m honest, when I left the house at 9.30pm I had little enthusiasm for driving into town and hiking up Calton Hill in the dark with a bag full of camera gear after a long day at work but the sight of Edinburgh Castle from the outskirts of town all lit up and standing out like a sore thumb had me inspired enough to get going!
Calton Hill has a somewhat unsavoury reputation at night but at this time of year it’s filled with tourists in the dark and the front end of the hill isn’t particularly dark either. If you’re hesitant about going up there, don’t be, you’ll be only one of a few photographers up there more than likely but stick to the front of hill where it’s well lit and you’ll be fine and the views of the city are unbeatable.
Having shot this exact same sequence on Saturday night this gave me 3 valuable insights.
1. What time the fireworks will start (in this case, 10.30pm)
2. Where the fireworks launch from (to the right of the castle away from the Tattoo lights)
3. Roughly what will be coming, ie huge bursts or low level bursts.
Number 3 was particularly important and I was pushing the limits of what I could get in the frame using a combination of the Nikon D7100 and Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM rather than the wider 18-200mm VRII. Using the Sigma was important as it’s oh so sharp compared to the 18-200mm lens and that makes a massive difference with these shots.
With that little prior knowledge I knew the first burst was a huge red firework so I could get setup with the camera in portrait mode. I also adjusted position to put the lit front of the castle and the Balmoral clock in the centre of the firing zone so I could get both focal points in the shot.
Sure enough, 10.30pm and there goes the first shots, it was all very calm and all I had to do was wait and hit the remote at the right time, almost too easy but then again, with the forward planning most of the guesswork was out the way. This was the first shot of the night.
The next few minutes were more or less a scramble of bigger fireworks with some lower level stuff but I knew what I was after was still to come. Not that I didn’t rattle off shots in the meantime. Using a fairly short exposure, around 1.3s at ISO400 and f8 was suiting me perfectly and allowing a good range of shots.
Now, this prior knowledge paid off again. I knew there was a gap in the fireworks and after that long-ish gap was the bursts I was looking for. A series of low level bursts in an arc above the castle. Knowing this was coming I had plenty time to flip the camera to landscape mode, zoom in a bit more and make sure the focus was spot on.
Sure enough the expected bursts came and the shot I had planned was in the bag.
A previous visit along with a little planning had paid off and it’s another classic example of why you should do your homework and never be afraid of doing a shot again. Armed with this knowledge now I might have another go at these fireworks from a different location and see what the outcome is. The best of this is I’ve got fireworks shots now from a premium location, a location that will be packed to capacity for the main event on Sunday 1st September at 9pm. Where will I be that night> Not on Calton Hill that’s for sure, I’ve already got my shots from there!
If you want to try these fireworks yourself the Tattoo is on till the 24th August (except Sunday). Monday to Friday the fireworks will start about 10.30pm and last approx 10 minutes off an on. On Saturday they start at 9.00pm and again around midnight where it’s a longer display.
The main Edinburgh fireworks event takes place at Edinburgh Castle on Sunday 1st September at 9pm and lasts for around 45 minutes.
So, since the 8th of March Comet Pan-STARRS has been gracing the Northern Hemisphere skies and true to form for any notable celestial event, it’s been largely clouded out in the UK and especially up here in Scotland. Thankfully this comet isn’t just a blink and miss it event, there were at least a few days to try and catch something.
By Tuesday 12th March the first shots of PANSTARRS were coming in from other parts of the UK, the comet easy to find next to a very young crescent moon. I had to wait till the night of the 13th though for a first attempt. Stood on top of Blackford Hill in what can only be described as Baltic conditions I searched in vain for the comet, despite a reasonably clear sky to the west and only actually spotted it in one shot after I got home and it’s hardly the clearest view of it, which was disappointing as other people seemed to have got some reasonable efforts.
The night of the 15th brought an unexpected chance though. The forecast was predictably wrong although for once in a good way. The skies started to clear around 5pm and just after 6 with still clear sky I figured it might be worth a try, this time from Newhaven Harbour, which has a fairly clear view to the West.
Arriving at Newhaven it looked reasonable but for one patch of dark cloud moving in slowly from the West. This time I decided to wait until 7.15pm before searching for it and made the most of the tail end of a nice sunset in the meantime.
By 7.15pm I was out by the lighthouse with a clear view over to Granton Harbour, using a compass I found exactly where West was and started to take shots of the sky with a 200mm lens, ISO400 and shot exposures. First sweep across the West turned up nothing, 2nd attempt and around 12 shots later, there it was, higher than I expected and very visible in the photograph. With an idea of where it was now I could try for a few wider scenic shots. The last thing I wanted was just pics of the comet with no context. I wanted this to be recognizable as Edinburgh.
The comet isn’t that visible in this shot, but it’s there dead centre towards the top of the image.
Switching to my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM and 2x teleconvertor I went for a closer look still trying to keep the Granton flats in the frame, this was probably the best shot of the night.
Finally, it would have been rude not to have a go at the comet at the full 400mm reach and what a stunning sight it was. By this time it was visible in the viewfinder and I swear it was naked eye visible once you knew where it was.
I finished the night with a peek at Comet Pan-STARRS through my 15×70 binoculars, a truly stunning first encounter with a comet. It’ll be about for a few weeks yet so if you get the chance, do some research as to where it is in the sky and get out and give it a go!
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.
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.
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.
Fog is another pretty regular feature in spring but as photographers that’s a good thing isn’t it!
It’s not all making the most of adverse weather though as this shot from along the Union Canal shows!
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!
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It’s gone beyond funny now.
Seriously, the Scottish summer has put a major dampener on my enthusiasm for photography this year. There’s only so many pictures you can take of rain soaked Edinburgh before it gets very long in the tooth indeed. I done a blog post a wee while back about not letting the rain put you off, that’s fine when you get occasional rain but not constant heavy rain!
I’ve never done a landscape shot for weeks, what’s the point? I don’t need any more shots of Edinburgh with dull grey skies and the camera gear isn’t all that keen on being wet all the time.
I’ve never done an astro shot since I don’t know when. What’s the point? Nearly total and constant cloud cover has all but stopped that particular pleasure and the telescope lies gathering dust having only had one brief spell of use in the last 6 weeks or so. Nearly every visible phase of the moon has been blocked by it being too low to see over the house or more often, thick cloud. Saturn has all but gone and I’ve no confidence at all in being able to see the Jupiter/Moon occulation this weekend at all.
I can’t get a clear shot at the sun either, we see a faint glow now and again but it’s not enough to get any sunspot detail.
Normally I spend a lot of time in summer down by the Botanic Gardens, not this year. My style of floral photography usually involves unusual angles etc, and lying in wet and mud to get a shot it’s really my idea of fun so that particular pleasure has gone for now too.
Macro shots in the woods are out, I usually combine it with walking the dog but there’s so much mud the dog gets caked and it’s a total pain.
All I seem to have done for weeks on end is macro insect shots from things I find in the garden, there just doesn’t seem much point doing anything else. It was a brief bit of interest chasing the flooding around Edinburgh at the weekend getting pics but that too involved being wet for nearly the whole day, caked in mud and there’s a sore throat in the post too.
Roll on autumn and winter and some decent photography weather!
]It’s been a funny old couple of weeks weather wise in Scotland. We’ve gone from sitting in the garden in shorts and t-shirt to snow, hail, torrential rain and even thunder and lightning. One thing about the Scottish climate, it certainly keeps you on your toes.
It’s been a very mixed bag for me photography wise. On one hand for astrophotography I want totally clear skies but for landscape I’d prefer a cloudy sky or at least some clouds in the sky. Clouds give you options, slow the exposure down and you can streak the clouds, or if you’re lucky enough to get huge high contrast clouds it can give a shot real drama. Clouds also help a sunset along no end; a slightly cloudy sky will always yield a better sunset than a clear sky will.
The last couple of days though have been really challenging, mainly due to the one thing that can stop play. Rain. Rain can be a real pain in the back end, water on the camera gear isn’t usually desirable although less of an issue with weatherproofed DSLR’s. It’s entirely possible to get some decent shots in rain though, you just need to adapt to the conditions. Remember too, rain can also come with extreme weather and nothing makes a better shot than extreme weather!
Certainly though, rain will stop you using filters, unless you want to sit cloning out rain drops on your shots for days on end. In these conditions I find it best to go simple. Shoot handheld, with the lens hood on and just bring the camera out when you want to take a shot. Balancing exposures will of course be an issue but there’s another weapon at your disposal here. HDR.
There, I said it. That dirty photography word, HDR. “Stone him” I hear you all cry. But wait! Why not? I’ve hardly used HDR for the last 18 months but the last couple of days it’s been a useful style to adopt. HDR is really down to personal taste but if done tastefully then I can’t see any reason why not? A bad shot will still look like a pile of poo in HDR but a good shot can look particularly pleasing if done properly.
My bad weather method of shooting HDR is as follows.
1. Low as ISO as you can, HDR always works better with a low ISO, I try to stick to ISO200 or lower.
2. Shoot 3 bracketed shots for everything, +2, 0 and -2ev. Most DSLR’s have an auto bracketing feature.
3. Turn on your high speed drive and if you have it vibration reduction, image stabilization or whatever it’s called on your camera.
4. Frame the shot, focus and press the shutter until you hear all 3 shots rattled off.
It’ll take about as long as a blink of the eye and you should have 3 shots, sharp, bracketed and not that far off the same position. Use features matching in Photomatix when you’re combining the exposures and you should be fine.
I like to bump up the contrast in Photoshop of HDR shots after the tone mapping is finished; I feel it gives a cleaner look with more tonal depth. Tone mapped images can look a little bland to me and bumping up the contrast finishes off a shot how I like it.
While you’re getting your shots though, do try to keep the lens pointed down when you’re not shooting and keep a close eye open for rain drops on the front lens element. They might not be that noticeable on the preview screen but they’ll be the cause of much wailing and gnashing of teeth if you find them once the pics are downloaded.
These shots were all taken in rain the last 2 days using a Nikon D7000 and Nikon 18-200mm VRII lens. All are 3 exposures combined in Photomatix Pro 4 and finished in Photoshop.
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.
I’ve been considering this a bit over the last few days, thoughts sparked by the Lost Edinburgh Facebook page. If you’ve yet to take a look then mosey on over and feast your eyes on the huge array of Edinburgh pics from bygone years. It’s fascinating stuff.
The more I flicked through these, the more I started to think about how my own photography might endure the next 100 years or so. I focus on 2 differing types of photography, what I like to refer to as my “arty” stuff and the stuff I do for the Real Edinburgh blog. The more “arty” stuff goes to Flickr and what I consider to be more snapshots, to Real Edinburgh.
The blog stuff is by far the easier to take, I go out with just a camera, one lens and that’s it. No remotes, no filters, just me and the camera. While I’ll still compose shots, I worry less about the technical perfections and hence get what I would more term as a snapshot, a quick picture anyone with a modicum of photography skill could have taken even with a compact camera.
What you’ll notice about the Lost Edinburgh stuff is that none of the pics taken there were utilising long exposure techniques, fancy lenses and the likes. Most are simply point, click, picture. Job done and even years on the shots are, if anything, more relevant than when they were taken. They point to a bookmark in time that’s gone, the scene is as it was, not enhanced by modern photographic techniques and that makes it honest and a better historical reflection.
Here’s an example for you.
I would consider this one of my more “arty” shots.
This was taken with super wide lens, camera on a tripod, using a variety of filters including a 10 stop ND to give a nice long exposure. I think it’s a nice shot but was that really what it looked like down at the bridges that day?
Now consider this shot taken a few weeks earlier also at the Forth Bridges:
Point, click. Job Done.
Which of the 2 in 100 years time do you think will tell more of a story of the day they were taken?
These pictures matter. It’s as important to capture real life as it is to create a piece of art every time you press that shutter. It’s even more important for future generations that they can look back and see how our towns and cities were from a realistic perspective.
Next time your out with a ton of camera gear on your back and your stressing about whether the scene calls for a 0.9 or a 0.6 grad maybe just look about a bit too and forget the technicalities and just press that shutter button and capture a slice of life as it is and do your part in documenting the world for the kids of tomorrow.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.