Edinburgh from orbit

Tim Peake tweeted a shot today of my gorgeous Edinburgh taken from orbital space – and astonishingly on a clear day instead of one wreathed in clouds! For those unfamiliar with Scottish geography, follow the mighty Firth of Forth along the river, (on the far left you can see the lines of the new bridge being built as well as the older road bridge and the iconic Victorian rail bridge (it’s distinctive red colour obvious even from this distance).

time peake edinburgh from space station

Follow the river along on the south (lower half of the pic) , along almost to the far right, and you can see the squarish blue block of harbour water at Leith Docks. The vast geological bulk of Arthur’s Seat, the great extinct volcano which rises up above the city around the Royal Park and Palace of Holyrood is clear on the far mid-right, and similarly the Castle on its large, imposing volcanic mount is clear. Stunningly beautiful. I wish Tim had said he was taking a picture tho, I would have leaned out my window and waved up to him…

Saw Music on a Spring Evening

Walking home from work the other evening, after weeks of pretty yucky weather we’ve had several days of glorious spring, gorgeous golden light over Edinburgh as I was walking home in the evening. I just got my new camera back from the repair shop the day before (after a couple of years of waiting to be able to buy it what happens? Freak accident just a couple of months after I got it, water bottle burst in my bag. Argh) and with such nice light I thought I’d try it out on the walk home. I heard wonderfully weird music that sounded familiar and indeed it was – as I passed the Adam Smith monument near Mercat Cross I found Edgar Guerreiro playing his musical saw, the delightfully eerie sounds drifting out over the Royal Mile.

saw music on a spring evening 02

I’ve seen “The Saw Man” a few times on the Royal Mile, but more usually during the Festival in the summer, so was nice surprise to see him playing the Mile at this time of year. I put a few shekels in his collection box and since he was rather handily facing right towards the evening sun I had great natural light to take a couple of portrait pics.

saw music on a spring evening 03

Hazy sunset

hazy spring sunset 01

Crossing North Bridge recently, very hazy day – haar in the morning had almost hidden the summit of Arthur’s Seat and turned the Castle into a faint pencil on tracing paper outline, but the spring sunshine came out and burned it away. Then as dusk fell the mist returned off the Forth and along with some wispy clouds gave us this incredible diffused sunset turning the sky orange, pink, purple and copper, silhouetting the Castle, the spires and old buildings of Edinburgh. Only lasted a few precious moments, utterly ephemeral and yet so beautiful, stopped me and many others in our tracks, just pausing the commute home from work to drink in this magical scene. Things like this can just happen in this remarkable city, it’s another reason why I love living here.

hazy spring sunset 02

Spring sunset

Edinburgh this evening:

early spring sunset

Actually shot from top of double decker bus as it stopped on North Bridge (which connects Old Town and the Georgian-era New Town, giving some great views over the city as it does so). Normally you’re not meant to shoot pointing the lens straight into the sun or any other light source, it flares everything out and causes light streaks, lines and blobs, but I pressed the lens up against the window (to minimise reflections) and took it anyway, the colours were too nice, and besides I kind of like the light blobs and lines that resulted. Now gone from sun having set just a little before I leave work to now setting just after I leave, slowly nudging into spring and longer, lighter hours.

City at dusk

Still dark by the time I leave work now, but only just, reached that time of year where there is still that glimmer of light in the western horizon for a few brief moments after the winter sunset. Walking down Cockburn Street, which curves steeply down from the Royal Mile to connect Old Town to the New Town, trying out the new camera’s low light mode (handheld, no tripod) and got this:

Cockburn Street, dusk

And crossing North Bridge last night, again sun not long dipped below the horizon, giving this view westwards across Edinburgh, the great Gothic rocket of the Scott Monument silhouetted on the skyline:

cityscape at dusk

Nocturnal reflections

Walking home from work this week, huge, long puddle by modern offices of major company, water turned into dark mirror by the fall of night, nicely reflecting the buildings around it. No tripod since I was coming from work, didn’t think it would actually come out freehand at night, but the new camera has a lot more low light sensitivity than the previous one so sometimes I can get lucky with handheld night shots. Funny how something as mundane as a rainy puddle can become interesting in a pic…

dark reflections 01

City built on books

Reading today that the vast knowledge the great consulting detective Mister Sherlock Holmes displayed was due largely to his Edinburgh author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attending classes at the Royal Botanic Gardens in his teens. One hundred and forty year old records show a young Conan Doyle’s signature for attending his classes, where he would have learned about a number of interesting plants, including the deadly Belladonna, which would prove very useful several years later when he began writing the Sherlock Holmes tales, along with the already very well-known inspiration for Holmes himself which Doyle had in the shape of the remarkable Edinburgh lecturer Doctor Joseph Bell.

Sherlock Holmes 02

This is one of the things I most love about living here in Edinburgh – not just the very long, rich history, not just the culture (like having the largest arts festival in the world), the amazing architecture, perched in turn on top of even more astonishing geology (giving Edinburgh a skyline like no other and wonderful walking opportunities along streets which curve down and up, and around), it’s the books: this is a city built on literature as much as its geology. Books are everywhere here, and I’m not just talking about the obvious form of bookstores or the Edinburgh International Book Festival (again largest in the world), it’s the way so many corners of this old city are deeply tied to authors and writing, from Robert Burns, Hume and Scott, Stevenson and Doyle to publishers like Chambers with their great reference works.

Robert Burns on the Mile

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson 2

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson

Today you can still see Robert Louis Stevenson or Conan Doyle’s childhood homes, drink in pubs they visited… And it goes on, from the mid 20th century “poet’s pub” in Milnes, where rhymers and bards got together (the Portrait Gallery here has the wonderful painting of them all together in the pub, for where else should a Scots bard be?) to the cafes where a struggling single mother was writing what would become the Harry Potter novels which so galvanised the reading habits of millions of children (and adults!) or a drink in the Oxford Bar where Ian Rankin’s bestselling Inspector Rebus enjoys a jar or three, and indeed it is not unknown to bump into contemporary Edinburgh authors when out patronising one of our city’s many fine drinking establishments, enjoying a small refreshment. It’s a book-lover’s city.

An Iain and an Ian go into a bar

2015 in pictures

Having a week look back through my Flickr stream and decided to pick out some of my favourites from the photographs I shot during 2015. No theme here (other than being roughly chronological from January through to December), not the ones which got the most views on Flickr or anything like that, or even technically the best shots, just the ones I was most pleased with capturing through my lens last year.

This old, crumbling cemetery is St Machan’s, complete with ruined church, nestling at the foot of the Campsie Hills by Campsie Glen, and it looked especially atmospheric in the snow and that blue light quality we get on some winter’s days:

St Machan's kirkyard, winter 04

Out for a walk after dark back in January with the tripod, taking some night shots of the city – for some reason while I shot buildings and other scenes it was this simple shot of an enclosed lane which runs along the side of the Assembly Rooms, something about the angle, the lights and shadows, all screamed for a black and white shot:

well-lit lane 02

From the same winter photo walk, I’ve long meant to bag a pic of this shop, an antiques and pawnbrokers, I think, on a corner in the New Town on Queen Street, with these very distinctive eagle sculptures along the top, and as I was passing by with the tripod I thought now was the time…

Duncanson & Edwards at night

This was an improvised night shot on the walk home from work – no tripod since I was coming from work, so I set the timer for a long exposure and rested the camera on top of one of the small metal bollards along the Union Canal used for tying up barges, which seemed to make it steady enough for a long exposure – how cosy do these houseboats look?

floating homes

An afternoon in the local pub, this particular one doesn’t just allow dogs in, they don’t mind them being on the seats (as long as humans don’t need the space), and as we drank my chum’s greyhounds made themselves very comfortable, so I used the timer again and sat the camera on the seat next to them to get this low perspective shot in very low light:

sleeping pub pooches 03

March – should be springtime, but on the way to work as I crossed North Bridge (which strides over the valley the railway station lies in, connecting Old Town and New Town) early on a freezing morning, I saw this view of a snow-dusted Edinburgh Castle and paused to get a quick photo before heading on to work. These are the sorts of views I can get just going to and from work, another reason I love living in Edinburgh…

springtime in Scotland 02

I’ve taken many photos along the East Lothian coast near North Berwick as my chum often drives down there with his dogs for a good walk and I sometimes tag along. No matter how many times I’ve taken the mighty Bass Rock off the coast it’s always tempting to take another as the light and seasons change how it looks. Here though the tide was in, save for a small, flat spit of sand projecting out, and when I took the shot from this perspective it made it look almost as if the people looking towards it were walking on the water:

walking on water

In May dad and I were driving past Chryston and I had noticed a now closed petrol station – not unusual these days, so many have closed down, unable to compete with the ones run by the giant supermarket chains next to their stores. But what was unusual was that everything was still in place – normally the pumps and other equipment are taken away, leaving just the weed-strewn concrete apron behind, but here building and pumps, rusting, some burst open, all still in place, and on a bright day with good light, so we pulled over so I could shoot some images of this abandoned, rusting derelict:

this petrol station is no more, it has ceased to be 07

On the same day dad and I had driven out to Hogganfield Loch, a loch in a large park in Glasgow, which we used to go to a lot when I was a kid (it was very popular for boating and had nearby golf and putting greens), first time in years I had been there. No boating anymore there, but huge amounts of birds:

Hogganfield Loch 09

Out for a walk on a pretty cold spring afternoon in May, taking some pics, and as I passed Peter’s Yard, the Swedish bakery and cafe on Middle Meadow Walk, I paused to take a few “people watching” shots, and caught this rather nice moment between two friends sitting on the outside of the cafe:

sharing coffee outdoor 02

June arrived, Film Festival time for me, and this year the festival had asked me to write up some pieces for their site as they were showing Future Shock, a documentary about 2000 AD, and the comic’s founder and major UK writer Pat Mills was up for the screening to do a Q&A afterwards. I’ve met Pat a few times and he was kind enough to do a signing in our store before the film festival showing, where I snapped this pic:

Pat Mills signing Forbidden Planet Edinburgh 03

Late June and the Canal Festival and annual raft race came along just up the road from my flat. I took a bunch of shots but this was one of my favourite ones, as a band played on the old Leamington Lift Bridge – I think it was the smiles I captured in this shot that made me like it so much, they were clearly enjoying themselves:

music at the Edinburgh Canal Festival 05

Walking along the Union Canal near my flat during the early summer, always swans and ducks around on there, but this day an entire family out, the adult swans and these adorably fluffy-looking wee cygnets:

The Swan Family 02

Tom Gilzean is now in his nineties – despite this, this veteran is regularly seen on Princes Street rattling his cans to collect for charities, he’s raised more than £100k doing this. I’ve always wanted to get a shot of him at “his post”, so to speak, but never managed one, until I was on the way to work, the bus stopped at the lights right next to where he was just setting himself up, so I grabbed the camera from my bag and got this very quick shot through the window from the top deck of the bus before the lights changed and we moved off. Another reason why I always have the camera in my bag – never know who or what may present itself to you for a good pic as you go round town…

Tom Gilzean, charity fundraiser extraordinaire

Festival time and Edinburgh is bursting at the seams with tourists, performers and luvvies, and as usual I try to get as many shots as I can of the performers, who all congregate on the Royal Mile near the Cathedral, in a section of road given over to them during August, some doing excerpts from their shows on small open-air stages, others in costumes, walking up and down the Mile with posters and flyers to drum up interest (with hundreds of shows at the biggest arts fest in the world you need to fight for an audience). I always take a huge amount of shots on this stretch during August, but this performer from the Paperplay puppet theatre was one of my favourites, just as I was taking pics of her and some of her colleagues she turned just as I zoomed in a bit on her and gave me this smile just as I clicked. Sometimes the photo gods smile on your timing…

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 063

Another Fringe performer on the Royal Mile last summer, on one of the small stages on the street, so she was standing a bit higher than me, light was good and I managed to zoom in and get this portrait shot that I was quite pleased with:

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 081

More from the Fringe: sci-fi musical spoof Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens has become a regular visitor to the Festival, and I’ve snapped some of them in previous years, but this time they were doing a number from the show on one of the small stages and I caught this moment with one of the actors singing away:

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 089

Still on the Royal Mile during Fringe time (well, I said I take a lot of pics in August!) – I still don’t know if this was an actual couple enjoying a sudden romantic moment surrounded by the bustle of Festival-time Edinburgh, or if they were from a show and promoting it (if they were they didn’t have any obvious flyers or promo material with them). I was actually shooting some other performers, looked around, saw them behind me, whipped up the camera thinking dammit, they will have finished before I can get them in frame, zoom in and focus, but no, this clinch went on and on and it gave me the few extra seconds I needed to zoom in and capture this moment. I think this was going to be my favourite pic I took this year, but one I took a couple of months later just beat it (see further down):

ae fond kiss

August also means the Edinburgh International Book Festival and of course I was there, enjoying a number of events as well as chairing a couple of the talks as well. And catching up with fellow book people, such as the fab Sarah McIntyre. This was “backstage” by the Author’s Yurt, Sarah was getting ready for her own event and had just changed into her costume, so I grabbed some photos, including this one with her own badge for her Dinosaur Police:

edinburgh book fest 2015 - Sarah McIntyre 03

Back on the Royal Mile and a pair of very young but very talented ladies who were playing classical music in the street, lovely strong light and after shooting a couple of general pics of them with their instruments I thought I would try to zoom in a bit as I wanted to capture their expressions as they played. It’s not perfect, trying to balance strong sunlight on one side with shadow on the other, and she moved just after I had zoomed in a bit more to get that close up, so it isn’t perfectly framed, but hey, shooting live on the street you grab what pics you get and while technically not a great photo frankly I loved it because it caught her expression of delight as she played her violin in front of a Fringe crowd, and I’ll take capturing a moment over being technically proficient any day of the week:

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 0145

This was a pure chance shot – walking along George IV Bridge on a bright summer day, people sitting outside the bars and cafes having a drink and eating, I saw this couple having an animated discussion at their pavement table, sunlight right on them. I was on the opposite side of the street, in the shadow side, aimed camera and zoomed in across the street and had to try and grab a shot before traffic blocked the view, got this little moment:

animated conversation

September and a very warm, bright day – better than much of the summer had been, in fact, and so I went for a photo walk, ending up at one point on a busy Calton Hill, and the autumn light was so nice on the National Monument, and all the young tourists sitting on it in the sun, that I thought I’d try a monochrome shot:

Calton Hill, bright autumn day 03

A couple of comicker chums, Neil Slorance and Colin Bell came to do a signing, I was snapping away when they did this pose just as I clicked another shot:

Neil Slorance & Colin Bell signing Forbidden Planet Edinburgh 02

Late autumn, walking home from work on evening, that wonderful golden light we get on clear autumn days, and the long, long shadows because the sun is so much lower in the sky. I love the light quality here in autumn, it’s warm and golden, like honey on hot toast. This was the last half hour or so of daylight, sun sinking in the west, the east and north sides of the buildings sinking into deep shadows while the west-facing flanks of these tall, old stone buildings radiated that glowing copper light:

autumn evening in Edinburgh 03

Late autumn again, walking through the Meadows, unseasonably warm and again beautiful clear, autumn light, when I happened to just pass this chap making giant soap bubbles, so naturally I stopped for a pic. I love just coming across something like this, brightens the everyday world up a bit…

I'm forever blowing bubbles 03

Dad and I had a great day out visiting the Kelpies, the gigantic sculptures of these creatures from Scottish folklore, rearing up by the Forth & Clyde Canal near Stirling, quite wonderful to see. Would love to get back some time to do some shots of them by night…

Myth made steel 02

Same day out with dad, we had a quick visit to The Pineapple – I think you can see how this 1760s structure for the earls of Dunmore, near the Forth, got its name. It used to contain a hothouse for exotic plants being brought back by the many expeditions round the world at the time, the pineapple being an example of that (common to us now but then a sign of status, wealth and having travelled to far climes), while it looks down into a walled garden, which creates a micro climate allowing plants which would not normally survive the Scottish weather to flourish. The Pineapple roof is hand-carved and very clever – the projecting fronds also channel the water from it so it doesn’t collect and then damage the sculpture in winter by freezing. A wee hidden gem of a place:

The Pineapple 01

Into late October and a scene I have taken numerous times because I often walk home from work this way, straight up the famous Royal Mile. And by the end of October it is just becoming dark as I leave work – in fact the sun has actually set at this point, the streetlights are one, but there is a magical, extended twilight in autumn. I set the timer for a long exposure and sat the camera on top of a traffic bollard to steady it, pointing westwards up the Mile towards the cathedral. I’ve taken this shot several times over the years, but dammit, it’s so wonderful standing there that I just take another one to share anyway… This scene was much darker to my eyes, but I had a long exposure here, so the camera drank in what little light there was to give this brighter image, capturing what photographers call “the blue hour”, that moment when the sun has set but the western horizon still glows blue on a long exposure, only lasts a short time, but it’s wonderful when it does:

Royal Mile, blue hour

Autumn also saw a great visit from the entire Canadian contingent of our clan, including some of the younger kids who we hadn’t seen yet. At one point my uncle and I took some of them to the playpark nearby to let them run around for a wee while, and I took a bunch of pics, this one of one of my cousin’s wee girls became my favourite and probably my fave pic I took all year, just because she was so adorable and after shooting a bunch of her playing I finally got a decent close up before she moved out of frame again:

cousins at play 011

Winter and out for a shorter photo walk with dad, visiting the vast Necropolis, the huge Victorian cemetery on a small hill by the medieval Glasgow Cathedral, an astonishing place, terraced mausoleums going up the steep hillside, many large and ornate memorials, and from the top some splendid views over the city. It is reached from this, the evocatively-named Bridge of Sighs (so called because of the sighs and weeping of mourners accompanying funeral processions across the bridge taking loved ones from the vibrant city of Glasgow into this large city of the dead). An amazing place to visit:

Necropolis 012

Properly into winter and the annual festive market and fair in Princes Street Gardens had just opened, so after work I went on the prowl with the camera to take a few night shots around the market, and I couldn’t resist taking a B&W shot of these metal and glass candle holders on one stall:

glowing white in the night 02

Meanwhile, literally just a few feet from one of the brightly-lit entrances to the festive market, and all the lights, and shops and food stalls and happy browsers, this chap on the street, a reminder that not everyone gets to share in it all:

not all are included in the festive spirit

And once last night shot from the festive market – my new camera had arrived and was supposedly better at low light so I was desperate to try it out, but the weather had been so relentlessly awful, howling gales and driving rain, that most nights weren’t very suitable for a quick photo stroll after work. So when it was actually dry one night I had to go and play with the new camera – still getting used to it (unlike most bridge cameras it has manual focus and zoom options), and several times I could have sworn I had it in focus only to find out when I put them on the computer at home that the pics weren’t right, but that just needs more time getting used to the new picture box. This one came out very clearly though, especially considering it was a handheld shot at night with people moving around. Be fun to see if I can get as much out of the new camera as I did the previous one…

festive market 015

Spring blossoms in December…

Walking home today after a frankly dispiriting and depressing birthday (you know it’s not going to be a special day when the post arrives with several bills and no cards, not inspiring and it was downhill from there – should have stayed in bed and waited for the day to go away), passing the trees in the playground of a nearby school and more examples of how the bizarre weather is affecting plants: blossom petals appearing on the trees.

spring blossoms in December 01

These would normally be a March to April sight, but although we’ve been battered by gale-force storms repeatedly this month and lashing rain and floods, and despite those driving winds being bitingly cold, the actual ambient temperature has been way above what we would normally have in Scotland at this time of year. When I was home last week dad pointed out shoots of Daffodils pushing through the earth in the garden, this week I see spring blossoms in December. Strange weather, lately…

Fireside seat

Winter in Scotland, and one of the finest and simplest pleasures, sitting not just in the pub, but getting the comfy, cushion-strewn sofa right by the old stove, cosy, comfortable, ah, perfect…

a session in Teuchters 02

Waiting on chum and his dogs to arrive (the hounds, of course, after several minutes of demanding attention from me settled down happily in front of the warm stove for the rest of the afternoon), and leafing through a fascinating book while sipping a very fine ale by the fire on a chill winter’s day. The simple pleasures….

a session in Teuchters 03

Festive fair

festive market 02

It’s that time of year when the festive market, ice rink and fair is set up in Princes Street Gardens, as well as more in nearby Saint Andrew Square, so I’ve been trying to take a few night-time photos of it all on the way home from work, some with the freshly arrived new camera, but mostly with older camera as weather has been too foul since new picture box arrived to take more than a few pics so far, rather frustratingly. The upper parts of Princes Street Gardens and the Mound by the National Gallery are where the market stalls and food and drink stalls are, while the lower part is where the kid’s funfair is:

Princes Street Gardens decked out for festive season

festive market 03

I always enjoy trying to get some pics of the festive market each year, especially after dark (not a long wait for that given it is dark by about four in the afternoon this time of year) and trying to capture images of people and the items being sold. Since this means night shots but not using the tripod (too busy in the market and too awkward) and also not using the flash (too disruptive) it’s tricky to get a decent shot quite often, and a lot of what I shoot will end up being binned as useless, but sometimes they come out not half bad, like this display of metal and glass candle holders (click for the larger images on my Flickr):

glowing white in the night 02

And I like trying to catch some “street” shots, candid moments of folks interacting with the stall holders and food vendors, again often find many pics simply don’t come out, too dark and they are moving, so I get blurred or shaky images, but again every now and then some of them work:

festive market 01

nocturnal snacking 01

With it being such a very long, dark night this time of year in Scotland, it’s quite a welcome sight to have so much light and life against the winter blackness. This lovely old double-decker Venetian Carousel is especially pretty:

Venetian Carousel

While this other carousel is actually an open air bar (complete with the hobby horses):

life is a carousel

Other parts of town, such as the huge Dome bar and restaurant on George Street, or Ryan’s Bar in the West End are always lit up rather brightly for the festive season:

The Dome at night

Ryans lit up for festive season

But not everyone gets to enjoy the food and drink and lights and open-air market – this homeless man was wrapped up against the cold and sitting on the pavement just a few feet from one of the entrances to “Edinburgh’s Christmas”:

not all are included in the festive spirit