Switching to FujiFilm X Series

I honestly thought I would use nothing other than Nikon cameras. I’d been through a few in my time first as a rally photographer and lately, as a urban/landscape photographer. Over the years the D70, D90, D5200, D7000, D7100, D600, D750, D800 and D4 have all at one time or another been the camera of choice and I’ve had great experiences with them all as well.

As you’d expect, I built up a fair collection of Nikon fit lenses to go with this little lot so switching systems was something I just couldn’t envisage. I had a brief flirtation with both the Sony FX mirrorless range and a few Fuji cameras as well but it never stuck, I always went back to the Nikon gear, but there was something about the Fuji that kept nagging at me…

You’d think after having already had a X100s, X100t, X-E2 and X-T1 and eventually sold them all on, I’d have ticked Fuji off the list but no, there was something about them I just couldn’t quite get out of my system.

 

Edinburgh Castle in Autumn, Fuji X-T1, Fuji 10-24mm

Edinburgh Castle in Autumn, Fuji X-T1, Fuji 10-24mm

I lasted another 6 months and then started looking seriously at Fuji kit again. My reasoning being that I hadn’t gave it a proper chance before, I had always compromised and never had a equal lens lineup to the Nikons. By this time I was carrying around a Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 24-70mm, 18-35mm and more often than not, the big Tamron 150-600mm. The weight of the kit was started to become back breaking and I started to get problems with my shoulders that seen me in near constant pain.

This time I didn’t go into the Fuji kit by halves, I reckoned I needed enough so I wasn’t constantly turning back to the Nikon kit so bought a Fuji X-T1, 16-55mm f2.8, 10-24mm and 55-200mm. I wasn’t plugging the big zoom gap that I liked to use so much for my landscapes but for now, this was enough. I also opted to keep my old Sigma 105mm macro and use that with the X-T1 via a Fuji to Nikon adapter. I always used manual focus for macro anyway so wasn’t a huge deal.

This time it stuck. For as good as the next year, I shot nothing but Fuji only making a brief trip back to Nikon land twice to my D800 and felt the Fuji results better both times. This was the revelation I was wanting. The kit weight was a fraction of the Nikons and image quality, where it mattered was every bit as good. I missed the high ISO and blistering shutter of the D4 but for 95% of the stuff I did, Fuji worked and worked perfectly.

Edinburgh Castle at Sunset, Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF55-200mm

Edinburgh Castle at Sunset, Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF55-200mm

Over the next year I added a Fuji X-Pro2 which was a huge step up over an X-T1 which I eventually traded for an old Fuji X100s. Next to come up was the Fuji X-T2 which quite frankly is possibly the perfect camera. Into this little mix also came an X30 for travel use and while not an X series, I also added a Neo 90 Instax.

Lens wise, I kept what I had but have added the 50-140mm f2.8, 100-400mm and 2x tele. Even with this lot in the bag, it’s still lighter than the Nikon kit was! My usual carry around kit is the X-T2, 10-24, 16-55, 50-140 and 2x tele. If I need it, I’ll put the 100-400 in there as well.

And… here’s where the biggest change comes in. I’ve started doing something that I hadn’t done for years, street photography. The Fuji’s somehow cry out for it? I’ve been back to taking walks with only the X100s in the centre of Edinburgh at night, the camera set on auto ISO (200-6400), f2, min shutter of 1/60th and the Mono film simulation mode. It’s been a revelation and for me NOT to shoot in RAW is unheard of but I’m so pleased with the JPEGs coming from the Fuji’s I don’t really need to.

The X-T2 has also had some good outings. It’s been quite liberating to just take the X-T2, 16-55mm and a spare battery and just wander off to see what I find, freed up from the shackles of a kit bag, being forced to think in other ways without the luxury of a suite of lenses. It’s been inspiring and sparked a creative bug that was fading up until now. I use much the same settings with the X-T2 (and X-Pro2) but love using Classic Chrome when I shoot these.

Sugarhouse Close, Canongate, Edinburgh - Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF16-55mm, Chassic Chrome

Sugarhouse Close, Canongate, Edinburgh – Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF16-55mm, Classic Chrome

What started out as a weight saving exercise transformed the way I take pictures now. I still have a highly capable landscape setup when I need it but I also have versatility in a manageable package, something I was lacking with large full frame cameras. Having shot full frame for a few years I had zero hesitation in going back to an APS-C sensor, it didn’t even cross my mind to be fair. Full frame isn’t the be all end all of photography, what it is though putting yourself in an expensive upgrade route and committing to large and bulky kit. I don’t miss using full frame one little bit.

So where now? Next plan is to add some primes to the lens collection, probably the 14mm, 23mm, 35mm and the 60mm first and maybe, just maybe I’ll set about trying to acquire a X-100F as well. Whatever happens though, I’ll be sticking with Fuji for the foreseeable future and my advice to anyone thinking about doing similar? Do it, but do it right and you will love it!

New Year Fireworks, Location Guide

Tattoo Fireworks August 29th 2015We’re just a few hours away from the biggest firework display Edinburgh, the capital city of fireworks puts on every year. Yes, I know it’s short and the end of Festival ones are a good 40 minutes long but the festival ones are largely naff, the midnight display though is a belter. BUT, where to watch or photograph it? I’ve had the pleasure of photographing this a few times over the years so here’s a run down of what to expect at some of the better vantage points.

Princes Street
Are you mad? Crammed in with 80,000 “revellers”? The view will be incredible and in windy conditions you are better closer in but you’d toil to use a tripod of any kind. Will be great to view but unless you want to shoot high ISO and handheld I’d be looking elsewhere.

Calton Hill
No doubt, Calton has a view and a half AND you’ll also see the light and laser show on the castle rock but it’ll be busy, very very busy. There’s also building work going on up Calton that takes away some of the prime spots for photographs and large parts of the hill will be sectioned off, especially if there’s any fireworks going up from Calton as well. Photographing the festival fireworks from up here usually means you will be part of a mass of tripods all clamoring for the best view. If you have the patience to deal with it, you will get some great shots. The thing to watch out for is the fireworks smoke, it’ll drift towards the Calton direction tonight so get shots as soon as they start as you might be in the smoke as the display progresses.

Arthur’s Seat
Hundreds of potential viewpoints but the park will be shut so it’ll be a long walk no matter where you go, you’ll also get the full force of the wind tonight. That said, if you get high enough the pics will be fantastic.

Blackford Hill
You won’t see the light and laser show as it’ll be on the other side but it’s a good location to watch the fireworks. It doesn’t get too busy at New Year either. If you head here, presuming you are in the main car park, head up the path until you get to the first grit bin, take a right here until you get to the view of the Castle, there are 2 benches here, to the left and right. There’s a path in front that curves off to the left towards another bench, follow that path past the bench until you get to a bit with a clear view to the Castle. You get some decent shelter here from west winds so it’s a decent place for photographs, you’ll need at least a 200mm lens, preferably more.

Inverleith Park
Of all the places I’ve taken pics over the years, this was one of the worst. The view is great, you’ll also see some of the light and laser show but hands down, this was the worst place I’ve tried to take pics. Setup well before the fireworks in the 10 minutes leading up to midnight the place will fill up with mostly very posh drunk people, nightmare scenario. If you do, setup on the slope lower down, you might get lucky but don’t even attempt it up by the tree line.

Bruntsfield Links
Great view, great place to take pics but horrible atmosphere. Last time I was there it was heaving, lots of aggressive drunks, random fireworks being let off. Hated it but the pics were good.

Carrington Road
At the end of Carrington Road looking over the rugby pitch of Fettes Police station there’s a decent view to the Castle. It’ll be quiet too, worth considering. You won’t see the laser or light show but a no nonsense location if ever there was one.

The Telly
You’ll see everything, including Ariel shots, the light and laser show, everything. It’s warm and inviting and where I’ll be tonight!

Where ever you end up, enjoy it, stay safe and have a happy new year!

Switching to Mirrorless

Like many photographers, over the last year I’ve been taking taking tentative steps into the world of mirrorless cameras. Well, to be honest, I’ve been dipping a toe in the mirrorless scene for a good while longer having had a Sony A7, Fuji X-E2 and Fuji X-T1 already but this time was different, both socks were off and I was knee deep paddling about in mirrorless cameras.

I’d gone into it half hearted before but that simply doesn’t work. One falter with the kit and you start wishing you had the old trusted DSLR with you instead. There IS a learning curve, no doubt about it, the cameras are similar but also very different from DSLR’s and it will take time to get into using them, as it does with any new bit of kit. With that in mind I strode forward, throwing caution to the wind and bought a shitload of Fuji gear.

I walked from Calumet carrying a Fuji X-T1, 16-55mm f2.8, 10-24mm and 55-200mm. I hadn’t even reached the car before buyer regret set in. £2.5k, just like that? What am I doing? Wonder if they will take it back?

But, I had good reason, in my mind at least. I had been having specific shoulder and neck problems and carrying about a Nikon D4 and a few f2.8 lenses plus a 150-600 puts some strain on that particular area no matter what kind of bag you use. You could use a roller bag I suppose but hardly practical walking over a muddy field not to mention looking like you were off on holiday every time you went out taking pics. No, the aim here was to lighten the kit and the Fuji X series was perfect in that respect but would it stack up in others, ease of use and image quality being the most important?

I’m happy to say it did, on all counts. Having a full kit meant I could leave the Nikon’s at home and really concentrate on using and getting to know the Fuji kit. That was the key, previously I had used the Fuji as a secondary kit to the Nikons, never really got to know it and it never quite clicked, this time it did.

I’ve shot nothing but Fuji X series since March 2016 and don’t intend to switch back to DSLR’s. I’ve since added a Fuji X-Pro2 and Fuji 100-400mm and a 2x tele all of which have been brilliant but the real jewel in the crown is the Fuji X-T2, this camera is quite simply one of the best I have ever used. It’s early days with it yet but by all accounts, from first impressions, it’s an outstanding bit of kit.

So why didn’t I go Sony and get that nice full frame sensor? Well, I wasn’t overly impressed with the Sony kit I tried, there was a horrendous flare issue with the Sony, which could have been either the A7 or the 70-200mm f4 but whatever it was, it killed Sony cameras for me. The E mount lenses are also big, they have to be for that FX sensor so that took away one of the main reasons for switching, weight. Price was another factor, the new Sony f2.8 lenses are eye wateringly expensive, sure the Fuji ones are too but nothing near the Sony prices.

So, do I have any regret in ditching Nikon? Nope.
Do I have any regret ditching full frame? Nope.
Will I switch back to a DSLR anytime soon? Not a hope.
Is there anything I can’t do with the Fuji the Nikon could? Not found anything yet.

Would I recommend it to anyone? Well, that depends on what you are after. It might not be for everyone but for me it meant I could further without kit weighing me down, it also meant I could take the whole bag with me rather than deciding what lenses to leave behind in the car.

The only thing to beware of is the expense. That DSLR kit you have, you probably built up of years of careful purchases. You will want to replicate it with the new kit and you’ll want to do in a matter of months, not years most likely and that will be EXPENSIVE! Selling existing kit will help finance some it but you’ll likely still find some significant outlay.

I now believe that these cameras like the Sony A series and Fuji X series are now the future of photography. DSLR’s won’t go anywhere for a while but in 10 years time or so, if the tech keeps moving the way it is just now, we’ll all be using mirrorless cameras and watching Canon and Nikon playing a serious game of catch up.

From the shiny to the dark side

A year ago, I was stood in the Apple store in Princes Street, mesmerised. It was the most beautiful piece of tech I had ever seen, it was perfect and I was falling for the sales patter. “And you can do precision editing in iMovie with the Apple Pencil” and I’m stood there thinking, “That’ll be awesome, I could edit a movie on the move! And that pencil, I can draw thing, use it to take notes as well, this is a no brainer!”.

Of course, it was the new iPad Pro. It was £900 of shiny and it was oh so shiny. £900 lighter, I skipped off up the road, mind boggling with the possibilitiesa that new device would bring. This was a game changer, especially with that Pencil thing, awesome! Editing and uploading pics will never be the same again!

Fast forward a year and my iPad pro is basically a occasional games machine and a super sized Kindle. It’s been all over the place with me, I carry it every day. The number of times I’ve done real work on it? Well, a one armed man would have enough fingers to do this count. I’ve taken in on holidays, once I think I connected a camera via WiFi but it was a pain in the arse to do so never done it again, not that it mattered as the app store isn’t exactly dripping with really good RAW editors anyway. This is where the device fails, it’s fiddly. It’s fiddly to get stuff from a camera onto it. It’s fiddly to work with the files. The Apple Pencil is just fiddly full stop. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a glorious device for movie playback and for gaming but I bought it off the back of the Apple claims it could replace a laptop.

The last straw came when on holiday in Barcelona. A photographers dream location. Despite being on hols, Real Edinburgh continues to roll along. I still need to speak to customers, I still need to update the page. Stop updating and you soon fall off the radar of the timeline and it’s a bugger to get the reach up, so hols or not, I need to do this stuff. Answering customers with an on screen keyboard is a pain but that wasn’t the biggest problem.

For this trip I had had acquired a Fuji X100s, a fine camera but not the newest model. It had slipped my notice that the x100s didn’t have WiFi which was an issue. I had content for the page but no way at all of getting of from an SD card to the iPad unless I visited the Apple store for an adapter at about £30. That was the point that struck me that the iPad while a glorious device is lacking in some areas, connectivity being a biggie. No SD slot is another, especially for a photographer. Carrying about a range of bits to plug into the lightning port kind of defeats the purpose of using such a device?

So, for the first time in years, I found myself stalking the aisles of PC World today, not drooling over the Mac selections but immersing myself into the world of Windows 10 laptops. It was a strange and bewildering place, where most items appeared to be out of stock but I got the solution to what I need for my photography on the move and abroad. It came in the shape of a Dell Inspirion 13 laptop. It sports 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and 7th Gen i5 processor but what really makes it useful, 2 USB slots and an SD card reader. It’s a little larger than the iPad Pro, a fair bit thicker but crucially, it does what I need it to do and it’s small enough to travel with. It’s running Photoshop and Bridge CC just fine as well.

I have to admit I had a look at the Macs but at nearly double the price for the lovely 12” and small MacBook for the first time I felt I couldn’t justify Apple prices especially as I have a powerhouse MacBook pro that is perfect in every way, it’s just too big and heavy. Windows also gives me some flexibility to run some of the Astro software apps out there and get back into the CCD camera imaging again with a telescope.

So, what now for the shiny? Well, I still want an iPad but maybe back to the usual size one an Air 2 will be more than ample. I’ll still probably take it away as well, loaded with games and the Kindle app but at a more manageable size. I’m looking forward to traveling again and giving the x100s a good workout and being able to see and edit shots while away. I’ve a few trips lined up including a return visit to Barcelona, it’ll be interesting to see how it all works.

Hello? Anybody still here???

Well, it’s been a while since I last blogged on here hasn’t it?

3 years to be exact.

Why did I stop? I have no idea really? I don’t think I ran out of things to say but maybe just ran out of the steam to put them in a coherant order for others to read?

Why have I started again? Again, I don’t really know. I think it’s maybe the overwhelming urge to write some sort of book that’s sitting within me that’s driving it and indeed the fear of even trying to write one. As much as I’d love to give it a go, I’m scared to do it. Scared to plough in huge amounts of time and have the idea fizzle out half way though. So, maybe a return to blogging might help a little, if nothing else get me used to writing again, writing something longer than a single paragraph attempt at wit for Real Edinburgh posts.

I had thought about putting the blog on the Real Edinburgh site, the important one that sells the prints but due to the haphazard way it’s setup, it appears to be not possible without stripping out the theme or creating a whole new intro page, which I may do but impatience has brought me back here to the old blog. If I put an obstacle in the way like sorting out the other site I’ll never do it and the urge will go away so here I am, blowing the stoor of a blog untouched and unloved for the last 3 years. Giving it a shine up with the sleeve of a jumper and hoping it still works.

Only one way to find out…

An irrational fear of tripods

There doesn’t appear to be a name for a fear of tripods, an as yet unrecognised but very real phobia. And yes, I did Google it.

When I say “fear” that’s probably too strong a word but from giving photography lessons I have noticed that a fair few of the people I’m teaching don’t own a tripod or are very self conscious of using one.

I have to sympathise with this though. I wasn’t a prolific tripod user when I started out, probably down to a mixture of dreadful cheap tripods and not really seeing much need. As I progressed into using filtration I soon started using one nearly all the time. At some locations this didn’t bother me but in the city centre I was very self conscious of using a tripod as if it were some sort of badge that marked out the weirdos of society.

I soon realised that especially living in Edinburgh photography tripods are like rats in a big city, supposedly you’re never far away from one. Look about in a city centre, you will see people using them at certain locations, they are nothing unusual at all and it’s a fear worth overcoming as the benefits to your photography are huge.

I use a tripod as a matter of course these days. Even in bright light when shutter speed isn’t going to be an issue I still prefer it. I can compose a shot, take it and then since the camera is tripod mounted I can make adjustments and be confident my composition remains unchanged. You’d be amazed at how handy this can be.

Combine a tripod with a wireless remote control and you’re onto a real winner, the perfect combination for all situations. It’s worth simply making this part of your photography workflow for all situations. Of course, by all means shoot handheld if the situation demands it. I only ever shoot action and macro handheld as using a tripod is simply too restrictive.

For landscapes though, that just isn’t an issue and getting used to setting up on a tripod and attaching your remote is a worthwhile few minutes spent before taking any pics.

A quick word on tripods though, these are the perfect example of the buy cheap buy twice philosophy. I lost count of how many tenner in Tesco’s type tripods I burned though before I moved onto cheap and nasty Jessops efforts. I wasn’t until the death of yet another sub £40 tripod I moved up and bought a nice Giottos with a tilt and pan head. It’s been abused for 3 years now, submerged in sea water, covered in sand and made a few trips at speed in a downwards direction when the carrying photographer doesn’t see the mud in the dark on Blackford Hill. Asides from me breaking the tripod head a few months back it’s still going strong. I reckon it’ll be like Trigger’s broom in Only Fools and Horses. He had the same broom for years but it had 6 new handles and 8 new heads only it’ll be legs and heads in my case.

The point being though, for £130 I’ve had a stable, well performing platform to work from for the last 3 years. Well worth every penny.

Using a tripod also allows you to explore some other functions you might never have used on your DSLR, such as Mirror Up. or mUP as it’s called on the Nikons. Mirror up essentially means you press your remote once to flip up the DSLR mirror and then again to start the exposure. The benefit of this is that you can totally eliminate any shake from longer exposures. Flick up the mirror, wait a second or 2 for the camera to settle and then take the pic. Not a massive thing with wide lenses but tripod mount a big zoom and you’ll get to love the feature.

I suppose I should make some reference to tripod heads as well. There’s a bewildering array of them out there. The ball head seems to be the current favourite but if I’m honest, I hate them. Fiddly is the word here. I prefer a good old fashioned tilt and pan, 2 levers to do all you need it do to. Simple and functional. If you ever take pictures in the dark that’s what you want but at the end of the day it’s all personal preference.

Think too about the weight of a tripod and max height of a tripod. If you’re 6ft 6” and your tripod only goes to a max of 120 cm you’re going to get backache using it. Get something appropriate for your height, that does mean the taller amongst us will be paying more unfortunately.

Weight is a factor too. 7 stone weakling doesn’t want a full aluminium tripod with a heavy duty head on it to carry about for a days shooting, carbon fibre is more expensive but a hell of a lot lighter. The payoff may be that it’s not quite as usable in strong winds. I’ve got an aluminium one and at times I can learn to hate it with the weight in it but first windy day and I can see why I stick with it.

Again it’s down to personal preference and how you intend to use it. Do you only ever take pictures 5 ft from your car? Then buy the cheaper aluminium one. Do you hike up Ben Nevis before breakfast for the sunrise? Then you might appreciate a carbon fibre one. Do you struggle to open a packet of crisps? Get the carbon fibre. Are you Geoff Capes? Get the aluminium one. You get the idea.

So, shrug off that coat of self consciousness and go forth and be proud of your tripod, your photos will thank you for it!

Edinburgh Fireworks made easy

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.

From Calton Hill, this arc of fireworks was good to me this year!
Tattoo Fireworks 24 August 2013

Tattoo Fireworks 21 August 2013

Tattoo Fireworks 2 - 14 August 2013 - Explored

Tattoo Fireworks 14 August 3

From Johnstone Terrace, right under the display
Tattoo Fireworks 22 August 2013
From Salisbury Crags, sunset and fireworks at the same time!
Fireworks at Sunset

From the lower slopes of Arthurs Seat
Tattoo Fireworks arc 23 August 2013

Photographing fireworks in Edinburgh

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: 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.

Tattoo Fireworks 14 August 2013

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.

Tattoo Fireworks 2 - 14 August 2013

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!

The 2nd image above is for sale as matt prints or canvas up to A0 size, which can be ordered from here: http://goo.gl/ZMTkar or by visiting my website at www.realedinburgh.co.uk

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.

Why I’m finally calling it a day on telescope astro-photography

It’s been a long, at times frustrating journey. Certainly, the lows outweigh the highs by quite some number and when a hobby starts to feel like that it’s maybe time to re-examine it and why you’re doing it.

When I first got a notion for astro-photography I was under no illusions. A quick initial bit of research showed it to be a complex discipline with a lot to learn so I don’t think I underestimated it but what I did do was seriously underestimate the financial aspect and the worse still for a photographer, the lack of creativity.

I first noticed the writing was on the wall when I started to ignore clear nights and not feel like I was missing something. Before the new year any clear night I was out, imaging the Moon, Jupiter and anything else I could get too. By this time though I had already realised that with the kit I had deep space objects were going to be beyond reach but I figured I’d be happy trying to get as good as I could with lunar, solar and planetary images.

This was true for a while but once you’ve done the best you can with Jupiter 20 or so times it’s gets slightly “samey”. You see, one of the main issues with astro work is that there is no opportunity to be creative. Astro-photography is all about capturing what it there, as it is. It’s about making the most of every available photon of light. There’s no opportunity to try and be creative with what you have, it’s more a never ending fight to get more light.

It’s hard to explain.

If you were to take a picture of a flower, how many ways could you take that picture? There’s an almost infinite number of ways to interpret the scene, be it with different lenses, artificial light, angles etc etc etc… You simply cannot do that with astro work.

And now we come to telescopes. I’ve had 3 in the last year and I’ve never really liked any of them. They are fiddly to set up, tempremental to operate and lets be honest here, in all but the biggest of scopes, the views of anything other than the moon or planets is shall we say, disappointing. Those pictures you see of majestic clusters or colourful nebula are visually just grey fuzzy patches. The knowledge of what you are looking at is far more exciting than the actual view in reality.

Now we come to cost. It’s a bottomless pit. Even at the bottom end of the market it’s a massively expensive hobby. Don’t be fooled either into thinking you can do it on the cheap, you simply can’t. If you can be happy with poor to average results then yes, you can but if you really hanker after those wonderfully detailed images of planets and deep space objects be prepared to re-mortgage the house. Nothing is cheap and if it is, then it’s not up to the job. Simple. You hear of people getting “wonderful” results with £3 webcams. The results are not wonderful, they are acceptable for a £3 webcam. Wonderful is what Damian Peach puts out and he simply does not use a £3 webcam.

I can look at landscape images taken with say, a Nikon D4, Lee filters, expensive Nikon lenses and I don’t think, wish I could do that. I can do it, and at a fraction of the cost too. If you look really close, and I mean really close then yes, the image maybe isn’t quite as good but you can as near as damn it do as good as the pro kit for a lot lot less. The difference between the pro kit in astro work and what might be termed as “reasonably affordable” is massive. Don’t even think of looking at the planet images in the Astro-photographer of the year competition and think you will get to within even a million miles of that on cheap kit, you simply won’t, the best you can ever hope for it something YOU are content with.

And at the end of the day, therein lies my root problem. I wasn’t happy with the results I could get. I wasn’t prepared to plough in any more money so I hit a brick wall. Lets be honest too, the British weather didn’t help either!

So what next?

Well, I’ve steadily found I get more enjoyment if I can take astro pics using just normal photographic kit using normal photographic processing techniques. None of this Registax or Deep Space Stacker stuff, just Photoshop, nice and simple. So that leaves me with lunar, solar, comets, widefield, ISS to name but a few. Really the only thing I’m going to miss out on is deep space which I’d already decided wasn’t for me and planets, and talking of planets, only Jupiter and Saturn and really worth looking at anyway.

For now, the binoculars will keep me satisfied and at some point in the future I might look to get a 10” dobsonian scope but I’m in no hurry to do that. The sale of the astro kit will hopefully fund a nice big Sigma 150-500mm lens which I’ll be able to use to good effect on the moon and sun as well as a myriad of other uses!

I suppose this post seems like the whole thing was a very negative experience and it’s wasn’t. There were times of great excitement and feelings of satisfaction. I’ve learned so much too but I also learned that in the end, I’m a creative photographer at heart and that’s where I’m happiest. I’ve also gained massive respect for the guys who do produce these great space images, I’ve dipped a toe in there and know just how hard it is and can now fully appreciate what they do.

So, if after that, anyone fancies a full lunar, solar and planetary imaging kit in Edinburgh, get in touch!

Comet Pan-STARRS, we meet at last…

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.

Comet Panstarrs March 2013

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.

Newhaven Sunset 15 March 2013

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.

Comet Panstarrs over Granton 2

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.

Comet Panstarrs over Granton

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.

Comet Panstarrs 15 March 2013

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!