Snow fun

Like much of Europe we’ve been hit by some very severe winter weather, ironically just as meteorological spring arrives. Last weekend I was walking around town and noticing the first signs of early spring, the return of colour to the land with a few crocuses and daffodils starting to poke their heads up out of the cold soil. Last few days, several inches of snow and bitingly cold winds. For only the second time in the years I’ve lived in Edinburgh the buses were stopped, even in the city centre, trains were off, we were sent home early from work while we still could get transport and like a lot of places work just had to remain closed the next day as staff couldn’t get in and police advice was for nobody to try travelling. So fun and games! Still, even with severe wind chill and driving snow I still managed to get a few photos over the last couple of days…

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This trio of classic red British telephone boxes is a regular photo subject on the Royal Mile, I’ve snapped them a few times, by day and night and it’s a bit of a cliche as everyone takes this shot, but dammit, they looked quite cool in the snow, the red contrasting the white, so what the heck, take another…

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The park by the Union Canal was pretty busy despite the awful weather, with folks making snowmen (or snow women, or perhaps non binary snow beings), lots of dogs going nuts in the snow (and clearly wondering why their humans were not so equally enthused), the canal itself was frozen and the ducks were reduced to walking on the ice rather than paddling along in the water.

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On the walk home I paused to take a few pics in the old boneyard near my flat, when the skies opened and the snow came on heavily again, one of those snowfalls where you coat is covered white in seconds, so I snapped very quickly and beat a hasty retreat back indoors to the fireside…

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Blue Hour

Each night it is slightly lighter when I leave work as sunset slowly moves later each day as winter moves at a snail’s pace towards spring. It is still dark as I walk home, but only just, with a glimmer of pale light in the western sky – the sun already below the horizon, but a last bit of light illuminating the skies. And as I walk home east to west that’s facing me and I get a chance for a few “blue hour” shots, when the eastern sky behind me is already black but for a short period the western sky retains a pale, blue glow, which silhouettes Edinburgh’s unique skyline beautifully. It’s something that happens particularly early spring and late autumn, and it’s a sight I always love seeing…

Edinburgh on Burns Night

Royal Mile at Blue Hour, winter's night 01

Picturing the year

As usual I took a ridiculous amount of photographs through the previous year, people watching shots, landscapes, the festivals, whatever caught my eye, so here are a few of my favourites I took in 2017:

Singing to the Sea 01

Back in March I was down at Portobello beach on a windy, cold afternoon, and this group in white robes descended from the promenade onto the sand, and proceeded to sing towards the sea. I have no idea why, although it sounded and looked religious in nature, the singing in a language I didn’t know, but it sounded quite happy, joyful even.

union of cloud and hills blessed by last rays of the day

The end of an early spring day, last light hitting the peaks of the Campsie Hills, diffused through a band of cloud along the summit line.

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Looking down the Fife side of the Firth of Forth, past Inchcolm island (you can just see the silhouette of the 12th century abbey on the island), towards the mighty Forth Rail Bridge through the mist, with the mid-2oth century suspension road bridge behind, then the (at the time still being constructed) new cable-stayed road bridge.

taking the wedding one step at a time

Simply walking round town one day, saw this newly married couple who had decided to pose for their photos on the Vennel steps, which cut up from the Grassmarket, past the Flodden Wall, towards the Meadows, so I grabbed a quick candid shot from the hip as I passed.

a stroll through the market

Street market on a bright, spring day in the Grassmarket, I was taking candid people-watching shots, and got this young couple pushing their baby stroller, just as the light and shadow came together.

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I finally visited a spot I have meant to for ages – there is an Old West street hidden away behind some tenements in Edinburgh, not the sort of thing you’d expect to see here! The “cantina” door is actually the fire exit for the Morningside Library. It was built as a promotional stunt by a local firm several years back, and is now slowly decaying, although to be honest it looks more authentic now it is somewhat distressed. The things you can find if you go looking…

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At the comic con, bumped into one of my colleagues and her husband, there with their wee girl, who was dressed up as Rey from Star Wars and having great fun. Cutest Jedi padawan ever!

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Another from the comic con, this couple had matched up their cosplay costumes, which I just loved.

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I went on the March For Science in the spring and took a bunch of pics, but I especially loved this one with the student waving her sign and giving the camera a great, big smile.

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Walking through the Grassmarket one bright day, and there was an open-air tango class going on, right there in the middle of the square, underneath some trees, so the light through the leaves was dappled. I was taking several pics when one of the dancers saw the camera and just as I clicked she smiled right at me, and I was lucky enough to capture it. Sometimes you get lucky and grab a little moment like this.

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Slightly different weather in this one! I was going around the Meadows Festival when it started to rain. As I scuttled for cover I managed to snap off a couple more candid shots of people at the fest in the rain, including this one with the lady and her umbrella.

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Singer with her band at the annual Canal Festival and Raft Race, on the nearby Union Canal.

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As I came out of one of my film festival screenings I saw actor and director Danny Huston on the red carpet, about to go into the cinema for the festival screening of his own new film, The Last Photograph. The camera is always in my bag, so quickly out and click.

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Something I have been meaning to photograph for ages – the beautiful cloisters in the Neo-Gothic Glasgow University.

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Out with dad for a day in the Trossachs, a day of constantly shifting light and shadow as sun poked through clouds to illuminate patches of the landscape in shafts of light, while casting large cloud shadows over the rest. Gorgeous.

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How colourful is this costume on this wee chap at the Jazz and Blues Festival carnival??

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Close up portrait of one of the performers at the carnivale.

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Clan gathering in summer when all of our Canadian relatives were over, rest of the family all got together for food, drink and chat, while the kids played in the garden. Someone brought out soap bubbles, and one little cousin, Wee Joe, was mesmerised by them!

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All that playing can be tiring though, one of the kids curled up for a wee nap!

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Festival time on the Royal Mile, and on a whim I wandered behind the bustle of the main drag, behind the cathedral, and saw these two performers. They were rehearsing before going out onto the Mile, and didn’t see me at first, so i was clicking away merrily.

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Some street portraits of performers strutting their stuff on the Royal Mile during the Fringe, trying to attract an audience to come to their shows, always a happy hunting ground for taking photos.

relaxing in the sun

Fringe bustling all around, but this one young woman had found herself a quite spot on the edge of the cathedral, in the sunlight, to take a wee break.

wet night in the New Town

Freehand night shot, coming out of the Book Festival on a rainy night, wet streets reflecting the lights.

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Saw this musician and her partner several times on the Mile during the Fringe, and took several shots, but I really liked the way this one came out, think it caught something of the joyful exuberance she was showing as she sang.

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This lady in traditional Korean costume was dancing on one of the small stages on the Mile, where the Fringe performers can put on excerpts from their shows to try and entice audiences to come along. I shot a lot of photos of her and her fellows, but kept zooming in closer, only to find her moving just as I lined up the shot. Finally I got one, very close up, in focus and in frame. Quite pleased with this one.

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Another Fringe performer on the Mile – I loved her smile and her sign!

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Juggler on the Royal Mile.

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Author Ken MacLeod reading from a book of his and the late Iain Banks’ poetry at the regular Shoreline of Infinity science fiction evening in Edinburgh.

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This is standing inside an old doocot (dovecot), at Elcho castle, looking straight upwards, but the effect, especially in monochrome, seems otherworldly.

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“Blue Hour” in Edinburgh in autumn, when the sun has set below the western horizon but there is still some pale, blue light in it, not yet the full black of night sky. One of my favourite times for taking night photos in Edinburgh. Here it’s the Scott Monument silhouetted against that sky, and the Castle and the National Gallery.

Shoreline of Infinity November - Aurora Engine 05

Musician Aurora Engine was playing the harp and singing at a Shoreline of Infinity evening. I took several pics of her, then on a whim I zoomed in to try and capture her fingers moving deftly over the harp strings. It was in an underground venue in fairly low light, and I didn’t expect it to work, but I got this fairly sharp image and was quite pleased with it.

Commercial Quay, winter night 01

Walking around Commercial Quay at Blue Hour – these were all old dockside warehouses by the Port of Leith. Once left neglected after their working life ended, they have since been beautifully restored and are now home to apartments, businesses and many restaurants.

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Same evening, little later and darker, freezing evening, taking night photographs along the Water of Leith, by The Shore, a regenerated area near the docks which boasts lots of very nice pubs, cafes and restaurants, plus the sight of the buildings at night reflected in the river. Been meaning to take some night shots down this way for ages.

The Tower 02

Spur of the moment shot – I was zooming in on the weathervane at the top of the steeple on the Auld Kirk in Kirkintilloch when suddenly the skies darkened and these crows descended on the steeple. Suddenly it went from a detail of some old architecture to a brooding, Gothic photo that looks like a scene from a Poe novel.

me and my shadow

A couple of weeks ago, walking past Edinburgh University, bright but cold day, sun so low in the winter sky it cast as many shadows as it did light. I passed one student sitting on this bench by a stone wall, the sun casting sharp shadows and it was just begging for a black and white shot.

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Boxing day, 2017, dad and I drove over to Schoenstatt, a religious retreat by Campsie Glen, under the shadow of the hills. Freezing but bright and clear, snow had started falling on Christmas night and by next day it was crisp and frozen, crunching under foot as I walked through it, while the foliage was encased in ice, with the low winter sun shining through it.

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I can never resist taking yet another shot from the parental mansion looking out to the Campsie Hills. No matter how often I have taken pics of this landscape, it changes all the time depending on time of year, time of day, weather, and when the bright, low winter sunlight hit the snow-covered hills, while the clouds drifted by in front, I had to take another one…

Festive lights

Charlotte Square, the elegant Georgian space in the West End of Edinburgh’s historic New Town. Over summer this is the home of the largest literary bash on the planet, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which I love going along to and indeed have been fortunate enough to take part in for quite a few years. At this time of year though it is back to being private gardens for those who reside in this very wealthy square, save for this lovely Christmas tree. It’s actually a “memorial” tree – you can donate to have a light in the name of a loved one to help Saint Columba’s Hospice, so you can light a light for a departed loved one and help a good cause at the same time, a lovely idea:

Light up a Life

Register House in the East End of the New Town is being used as a giant Advent Calendar this year, the Advent windows being projected onto the building are alternated with all sorts of animations and images and music. It’s rather wonderful to just see as you are walking home from work on a winter’s night:

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This blue and white, dome-shaped light installation is at the western end of George Street, lighting up the area – it’s large, covering the whole of a junction space in the temporarily closed road, so you can walk under and around it:

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Tombstone shadows

Walking through historic Greyfriars kirkyard recently, the winter sun now very, very low in the sky. Clear but freezing day, low angle of sun creating a lovely, soft, golden light quality and casting long, long shadows, such as here where it stretched long shadows from the old tombstones out across the kirkyard.

low sun and long shadows in the old boneyard

Normally it’s not good practise to point the camera lens towards the sun, but I needed an angle looking in that direction to get these shadow strips into frame as I wanted, so I simply moved around a little until from my perspective the sun was blocked by a tree trunk just enough that I could get the shot without flaring out the image. Some days you get lucky…

After dark at the festive market

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It’s dark by half past three now, but the festive market brings light and noise and scents and life to the winter nights, with people browsing, eating, drinking, the aromas of mulled wine and hot cider and cooking food, and the bustle of excited people. It’s also a happy hunting ground for me to take some people-watching shots after dark:

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(look at the size of those frying pans!!! Handles the size of baseball bats!)

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The blue fortress of winter…

One from my photo archives, taken on this day in 2010, during the very heavy winter and snowfall we had that year, and reposted here to mark 30th November, Saint Andrew’s Day:

Edinburgh Castle, Saint Andrew's Night

I came out of my book group that evening, Edinburgh was covered in snow. And the Castle atop its great rock above the city was illuminated Saltire-blue to mark the day of our nation’s patron saint. The skyline of my gorgeous city is remarkable at any time, but on this winter’s night, the Castle in blue, the city draped in snow, it was magical, and I just stood there in the cold taking it in. These are the sorts of sights you just come across living in Edinburgh, no wonder I love it so much. As I was out at my book group I wasn’t carrying a tripod, I improvised by jamming the camera between railings overlooking the Gardens to steady it, and with so much streetlight being reflected by the snow it was enough to get a clear night shot. I didn’t expect it to come out so clearly, being an improvised shot, but it’s digital so not wasting film, may as well try, because sometimes they don’t work, other times you capture a moment like this forever…

After dark

Had a nice photo walk around The Shore, the Water of Leith and near the Port of Leith recently, around dusk and then night. With the sun setting so early now it’s pretty easy to take some nocturnal shots without having to wander the streets late at night with the camera and tripod. I’m rarely down this part of town so this was a chance to take some night shots of an area I’ve not covered much of with the camera. Good, long walk, took a bunch of pics, got some exercise but man, damnably cold – okay when you are walking about, but very chilly when standing still to take a long exposure shot.

This is Commercial Quay at “blue hour” (when it’s dark but there is still a slight bit of pale light in the sky from the now vanished sun, one of my favourite times for taking night shots. This was a long series of old warehouse buildings – you can still see the attachment at the top floors for the pulley to lift up loads) for the nearby docks at Leith. They were very run down for a long time, but have, like the waterfront areas in many formerly industrial or commercial areas in many cities, been regenerated, which is preferable to tearing down those fine, old stone buildings, and it’s now a busy area of bars, cafes and restaurants:

Commercial Quay, winter night 01

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Nearby is Teuchter’s Landing, which is the same company that has Teuchter’s in the West End of the New Town, which is slightly pricey but still a favourite pub of mine (also dog friendly, which is handy if I am meeting my chum and his hounds). This one is right on the waterfront, where the Water of Leith starts to meet the Port of Leith, and then the mighty Firth of Forth. In fact the back of the pub not only sits over the edge of a spur off the river by the docks, it even has its own floating outside beer garden moored on the water! Although understandably nobody was using it on a cold evening in November (although a couple of smokers were sitting outside the front of the pub, heavily wrapped up.

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It wasn’t quite full dark as I walked back over to the Water of Leith, although it was darker than it appears here where the camera sat drinking in much more light on a long exposure. This is down at the very end of the Water of Leith, which winds its way through the city (it runs near my flat and offers a “countryside” walk to the National Gallery of Modern Art rather than walking through town) and eventually makes it down to Leith and the busy Shore area of bars and restaurants. This is by the Malmaison, and after this spot is just the old swing bridge and then it opens into the actual docks.

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Only a few moments walk later and by now, even though it was probably only about half past five, it was fully dark, allowing for some nice reflections of the lights and buildings in the now dark waters. For some reason this part of town often reminds me of parts of Belgium and the Netherlands:

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And this is Mimi’s Bakehouse, a family-run cafe, where I thawed out with some really nice hot chocolate and a delicious raspberry Nutella cake:

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After Dark

As we move deep into autumn and winter knocks at the door, that means it is getting darker earlier and earlier each evening. This isn’t all bad, of course, because that means I get to take night shots just by walking home from work of an evening. This was the world’s largest memorial to a writer, the great Gothic rocket of the Scott Monument, last night, at “Blue Hour”, that brief, magical twilight moment when the sun has set, the eastern sky is dark but the western sky still has a pale, blue light to it from the vanished sun below the horizon, one of my favourite times of day during autumn and winter, especially as that light quality in the sky silhouettes Edinburgh’s old buildings:

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This is looking west from Waverley Bridge, across the now-dark Princes Street Gardens towards the Mound, where the National Gallery of Scotland (on the left) and the Royal Scottish Academy (on the right) can be seen, with the western sky just fading into darkness, the last burst of colours before full nightfall:

The Mound - Blue Hour

Zooming in a bit more from the previous picture, the large, plate-glass, brightly-lit windows you can see below the Royal Academy are part of the Playfair extension which lies under the plaza on the Mound between the two galleries. It was completed a few years ago and connects both structures underground with more exhibition and work spaces, plus a cafe and restaurant by these windows, looking out into Princes Street Gardens:

darkening skies, bright windows

Last night on my way home from work, the iconic old Bank of Scotland building which stands at the top of the Mound by the road which curves up from the Georgian-era New Town to the medieval Old Town above on its volcanic ridge. There was a large crescent Moon rising in the early evening sky, and from this perspective it looked as it it were right above the dome on the bank building, so I had to get a shot of it. These are the sorts of things you just get to see walking home from work when you live in Edinburgh. Not a bad commute, is it?

Edinburgh Moonrise

Festival time again

Yep, it’s August, Edinburgh is bursting at the seams like some arts festival Mr Creosote, the International Festival, Fringe, Free Fringe and the Book Festival are all on the go, the largest arts festival on planet Earth. Fun if you are off and can enjoy it, bit of a nightmare for the day to day folks living and working here as just trying to get around is an exercise in frustration, pavements packed by slow-moving gaggles of tourists and Fringe luvvies, even the bus to and from work takes longer because of the busy road and the amount of clueless tourists holding them up. Still, on the other hand as usual it gives me plenty of subjects for my roving camera lens, especially on the Royal Mile where the Fringe performers promote their shows, doing little bits of their acts and appearing in costumes to try and entice audiences…

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I came across these two Japanese performers warming up, just behind Saint Giles, a few feet away from the massively busy hurly-burly of the Royal Mile where the performers strut their stuff, looked like they were rehearsing and getting ready to go out and do their thing. They didn’t see me at first, walking around behind the cathedral and I started snapping away, then when they did notice me they kindly posed while I kept shooting away. If I’d gone down the Mile as usual I would have missed them, but on a whim I waled around the back to escape the crowds for a moment and found them rehearsing.

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Who was that masked man???

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This chap was on the Mile last year too, he plays some wonderful classical guitar

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Tooting her own horn!

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Few close up portrait shots of Fringe performers – do like the manual zoom on the current camera, gives me much more response and control to get closer up like this:

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Film Festival Planning

The box office opened for the world’s oldest continually running film festival on Friday, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which I usually take a week off to enjoy every year. Normally they send me a programme but nothing arrived this year, so on my day off, which coincided with the box office opening, I took myself off to the Filmhouse (long a second home for me in Edinburgh), grabbed the programme, parked myself in the cafe-bar (one of my favourite spots to relax in the city) and worked my way through it, circling the ones I most wanted to see, then checking them against the calendar section to see which ones conflicted with others and then back to the box office to book a whole block.

I’ve got a good mix, as usual, foreign language, animation, drama, documentary. I’ve got both strands of the McLaren Animation Awards, which celebrate the best in new animation talent, with the audience voting for the films showing, so the award goes to the one the actual film fest audiences think best deserves it. I often see some of the McLaren films turn up months later in the BAFTA and Oscars short animation nominations, which is always satisfying. Sadly the festival is about the only place I get to see these shown on the big screen – it’s a pity the tradition of showing a short before the feature film died out long ago, it would be nice if some of these short works got a few screenings in mainstream cinemas, would be a nice way for them to support new talent, even if they only did, say, one month a year where they had them as shorts before the main programme (and since it is all digital now it isn’t like they need expensive prints made and transported to the cinemas). Also on the animation front I’m really looking forward to In This Corner of the World, which the gravepine has been saying is one of the best Japanese animated movies in years.

When I saw Emer Reynolds’ The Farthest in the documentary section, I knew I had to put that one on my slate as well. The Farthest follows one of the greatest journeys of discovery in human history, the magnificent Voyager missions. Rushed into being when astronomers realised that a rare upcoming alignment of many of the planets would give them a unique opportunity, two probes were crafted in quite a short period, incredibly complex courses worked out for something never attempted before, sending a craft on a multi-planet mission. And all of this with early 1970s technology.., Technology which is still working.

After planetary encounters and sending back huge swathes of data on our neighbouring worlds that kept scientists busy for decades, following remarkable courses which used the gravity wells of the planets themselves to alter their routes, Voyager 1 and 2 both then took on a new mission, hurtling outwards to the final frontier, still sending weak signals home, searching for the point where the sun’s influence fades and interstellar space begins. Even then, once all power is gone, they still have on final mission, each carrying a gold disc with multiple-languages and music of the Planet Earth on them, just in case by some astonishing chance they are ever found by another species. A little snapshot of human life and culture that will, most likely, drift forever throughout the universe…

Manhattan

I claimed a bit of owed time back and left work slightly early to catch a classic screening of one of my favourite movies at the Filmhouse on the way home from work, Woody Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan. I have it on DVD at home in my (probably way too large) film collection, but it’s a different experience watching a movie in the cinema than it is at home. Not just the obvious screen size difference – you concentrate more on the film in the cinema, you’re there in the dark, with an audience all reacting to the scenes alongside you, not at home, pausing the DVD to go and put the kettle on or check your Twitter feed.

And it was still wonderful after all these years – I think Manhattan has one of the greatest openings in cinema, Woody’s dialogue, his writer trying out lines “he adored New York, he idolised it…” over a montage of all sorts of views of the city, from the expensive fashion stores to the family neighbourhood, that iconic skyline and then, as the Gershwin soundtrack soars that skyline erupts with fireworks, all of this in glowing black and white cinematography. New York has rarely looked more beautiful on film, it’s a magical movie moment (what I call a Triple-M, just perfect scenes in a film that live in your mind’s eye ever after and always raise that reaction no matter how often you see it). And then there’s that perfectly composed scene of Woody with Diane Keaton, sitting by a bench by the river next to the Queensboro Bridge, as dawn starts to break. Sublime.

I had a little time before the early evening showing, so I parked myself in the Filmhouse cafe-bar for some food and drink before the screening. The Filmhouse is one of my “happy places”, it’s been a second home for me since I moved to Edinburgh as a student a long time ago, and being there for a movie, the film fest or even just in the cafe-bar makes me content. As I was having my drink I was, of course, reading (always a book in my bag), in this case Simon Garfield’s On the Map, a history of cartography which I picked up in a charity store recently. And right before it was time to close the book and head up to the auditorium what do I read but a paragraph on the first appearances of America on world maps, and the first mention, in the mid 1600s, of Manhattan on a map, here referred to as “Manhattes”, just as I was about to go in to see the film Manhattan. I love little meaningless coincidences like that…