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.
It’s not everyday you get something this dramatic nearly on your doorstep is it? Three 20+ story tower blocks all being blown up at the same time, how could you not go for a look, especially if you’re a photographer.
This was the 2nd controlled demolition in Sighthill in this area, the last one about 2 years ago I spectacularly badly timed and realised right at the moment I was still in the house when I heard the boom. Not long after that, 3 similar blocks came down in Gracemount in Edinburgh but there wasn’t particularly good access to that one so I ended up catching it from around 2 miles away on Blackford Hill where you really lost any of the drama of the event.
For this one though, plans had to be made. Finding the website of the company doing the demolition, Safedem, was the perfect start, all the planned timings were on there, along with road closures etc. With this info in the bag, it was time for a quick scout around the area looking for a vantage point. The exclusion zone though was a problem and to get a view with nothing in the way Sighthill Park was the only realistic option. This gave the possibility of an added dimension of being the main spectator area hence, the chance to catch crowd reaction to the event as well.
Getting to the location was not a huge issue, living nearby I know the area well and parked up in Broomhouse and 5 minute walk had me in Sighthill Park just at 11am. Amazingly for Edinburgh, the sun was out and just to the left of the flats which was an issue, try to get all 3 in 1 shot and you also got the sun and flares regardless of how you did it. Options were to move further to the left but that restricted the view so I decided to go for each one individually.
I knew there would be a couple of second’s gap in-between each but which one of the 3 to focus on? As the warning explosion was set off I took a gamble on Hermiston Court at the right, which predictably was the wrong one which meant I had little or not time to compose and it was now a case of catch what you can. D7000 was on low speed drive, full AF and f8 giving nice quick shutter. From the shots I got I think I basically just get shooting an moving across the blocks till the buffer filled up on the D7000 then I switched to my D90 I had as backup.
I managed some wide stuff with the D90 of the emerging dust cloud before switching back to the D7000 for even wider shots of the approaching dust cloud. I knew we were going to be hit by it with the wind direction. Confirmed by the water spray from the damping down that goes on prior to these demolitions drifting over us as well. But, there are times you just have to put up! To get upwind would have meant a lesser view so what’s a little dust?
I toughed it out watching the crowd start to panic at the intensity of the dust cloud and decided to save the cameras getting both packed away and heading immediately to the right where the cloud was thinner. It’s not a pleasant experience these dust clouds but thankfully I missed the worst of it and it passed reasonably quickly. It’s quite amusing seeing those who obviously arrived early and parked really close verging on distraught at the covering their cars got, and the amount of wee neds who has kindly scratched their name in the dust on them too. This was a demolition in Sighthill/Broomhouse, if you know Edinburgh you also know there are not the most well to do areas of the city and hence, this sort of thing wasn’t really a surprise!
The haul of shots though for the day was reasonable though and the best are 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.
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 good while I’d seen this bridge on Flickr. Never paid much attention to it but it did feature in some pretty cool images. It’s not your normal bridge; this bridge was slap bang in the MIDDLE of the water with no visible means of access either side. Weird!
After a bit of research I found the location, in Belhaven Bay just to the east side of Dunbar. Take a look at Google maps for the exact location; you can actually see it on there quite clearly. I also discovered that the bridge actually does have a purpose, at low tide it spans the Biel Water where it empties into Belhaven Bay and the North Sea, at high tide the water effectively cuts the bridge and the sand flats beyond off. Makes a lot of sense if you see it at low tide!
The obvious time to photograph this place is high tide, so check the tide times before you make a trip out there. Ideally, a tide of 5m+ is what you’re looking for to make sure the small walkway to the bridge is under water.
The location itself is pretty accessible. Lots of parking about and the bridge itself is just feet away near the high tide line on the beach.
Ideally, you’ll need to lenses to get the most of this location, a super wide and a wide with a little zoom. If the tide isn’t covering the walkway, the super wide will be your weapon of choice, if it is and your forced further back from the bridge by the water then you’ll wish you had a little zoom at your disposal.
High tide 45 minutes earlier and I’d have been onto a winner; still it does give me an excuse to visit the location again in search of that perfect shot!
A quick note about this location, it’s a great place to be and on a nice night, it’s one of the best spots with easy access I’ve yet to find but if the weather is bad you’ll be really exposed, high winds and rain and not that uncommon, it took me 3 visits till the wind dropped enough to use the 70-200mm lens to get a shot of the Bass Rock from here that wasn’t blurred due to the wind blowing the lens about!
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.
In the time I’ve been seriously taking photographs, one thing I’ve discovered is that a little research pays dividends before you travel to a location to photograph it. I used to just turn up where I fancied and snap away, now with a bit more experience under the belt I usually have some idea of what kind of shot I want before I get there and it’s pointless going if the conditions aren’t going to be right!
Here’s a perfect example, this is the Belhaven Bridge just to the east of Dunbar:
At this location, high tide covers the walkway to the bridge so the bridge looks as if it goes nowhere with deep water either side, it in fact, spans the Beil water as it exits into the sea at this point which you can see at low tide. So, using the Tide Times website, I knew when high tide would be so headed down there for that. Sadly, it didn’t co-incide with sunset which you could check out on Suncalc.
Arriving later than hoped the tide was peaking but not covering the walkway. I know from research that night at the high tide height was 4.6m so; it follows logic that the walkway was just on the verge of being covered so waiting for a day with a tide predicted to be higher than 5m will give me the shot I want. The perfect time to take this shot will be a high tide, 5m+ co-inciding approx 20 either side of sunset. High tide and sunset co-incide on 24th May but with a predicted tide of only 4.2m it’s not the perfect night to get the shot, better to wait a couple of weeks and try again.
Tides also play an important part of decisions where harbours are concerned. I love long exposure shots but high tide, long exposures and boats bobbing about don’t go! Nobody wants blurred boats! In this instance, it’s better to forgo the 10 stopper and use a faster shutter and wait for a lower tide, or at least the boats in the front of the shot to be grounded. Of course, you always have the option of cutting the boats out of the shot altogether, but unless there’s something else as a good focal point then this leaves you with limited options.
Clouds are another feature of nature to keep and eye on. Nice blue skies are all very well, and indeed welcome in some cases but a bit of cloud cover always helps. To try and give an example, this is the top of the Falkirk Wheel on a day with little or no cloud cover:
I know which shot I prefer…
Fast moving clouds, by which I mean heavy broken cloud, are great for long exposure photography. Huge dark clouds with little or no definition are not! Clouds can also add a lot to sunsets as the light bounces off them and in HDR photography you can create dramatic scenes with a nice cloud cover:
So, before you head off. Keep an eye on the:
And plan accordingly!
For over 2 years now I’ve regularly used 2 photo sharing websites. The almighty Yahoo monster that is Flickr and the smaller Edinburgh based Blipfoto. To date I’m approaching 2000 uploads to Flickr and nearly 600 in Blipfoto. Both sites are heavily focused on the social networking theme but the main difference between the 2 is that you can only upload one single image a day to Blipfoto, and only on the day you take it making it more of a photo journal than Flickr.
So, why do I upload to both?
I get different things from both sites. Like I’ve already said, both sites could be termed as social networks. You have the ability to follow certain peoples uploads on both, add comments and favourites. Where the big difference lies though is that Flickr is very much a give to receive mentality. Comment regularly on others work on Flickr and in turn you’ll get a load of comments back yourself. This though, in my opinion, leads to sycophantic commenting by some who are just desperate to collect as many comments as possible on their work, genuine or not.
Blipfoto on the other hand is a very giving community. People comment because they like your photo, not because you drop by every day and leave a one word comment on theirs. Of course the give to receive thing does happen, you see some very average pics with stacks of comments but it’s not the norm, at least in my experience. It’s a more genuine, friendlier atmosphere on Blipfoto.
If your looking however to the more technical side of photography and a strive for the best images you can take then Flickr is the place for you. With so many uploads to Flickr of course it has it’s fair share of dross but cut through it and you will find a whole host of very talented individuals posting regularly and a lot of these are happy to share the settings, filters, techniques etc used to get the shots.
Blipfoto on the other hand suffers badly from the photograph anything brigade. It’s very nature of a photo a day leads people to photograph anything just to keep up their perfect tally of a photo every day. Looking at it’s front page of most recent uploads there’s less beautiful landscapes or creative images than there are quick snaps of peoples kids, cats, toilets or indeed anything that will let them post a pic with the minimum of effort. That’s not to say the photographic content is suffering as there are some incredible photos uploaded to Blip, you just have to look a bit harder to find them.
Another side effect, I’ve found, of this photo a day business is that it really does get you out taking pictures. Of course, some prefer to not leave the confines of their house and photograph the back grass growing in order to fulfil and upload but for me it gets me out and about nearly every night and as a consequence, I will happily credit Blipfoto as part of the overall package that makes we want to be a better photographer. I very rarely compromise by Blipfoto uploads these days, I won’t post and iPhone shot for the sake of it, I’d rather not upload so this actually does make me get up of my arse and get out with the camera. From my own journal on Blipfoto I can see that my own photos have massively improved since I first started to upload. Out practicing every night has to pay dividends in the end. Flickr doesn’t give you this drive and there’s no incentive to upload every day.
I won’t go into the features of both sites, suffice to say that if you subscribe to either you get access to a whole host of exclusive features that will just about satisfy anything you need from a photo site.
So, which do I prefer? Well, ask me this 2 years ago and the answer would have been Flickr without having to think about it. Now, after spending lots of time on both sites, watching them evolve, becoming immersed in their communities if I could have only one, it would be Blipfoto.
I strive to upload every day to Blipfoto and to upload as best an image as I can. Flickr now is largely an online depositary for my images. Comments on Blip tend to mean more to me that those on Flickr, I’ve been called an inspiration lately on Blipfoto; I’ve been told I photograph the same old crap on Flickr. See what I mean about the friendly thing? There’s no doubt that Flickr has opened more photographic opportunities for me and it’s where I go if I’m looking for ideas of locations, how to use particular filters etc but it’s just not got that feel good factor anymore.
If you’ve never tried Blipfoto, sign up a free account and give it a go, but please… try and resist photos of your kids, granny on the bog, your dinner, sunsets on your mobile phone but most of all… please don’t blip your cat!