British Summer Time

I shot these the day the clocks went forward to British Summer Time

Ah, nothing like being by the beach in British Summer Time, eh?!

Haar had come down, the sea mist meant you couldn’t see very far, and the wind was driving cold, grey waves to smash into the sea wall by the promenade at Portobello, splashing right up and over the prom – you had to time your walk past to avoid being drenched.

Edinburgh moonrise

Moonrise over Edinburgh – spotted on walk home from work, sun almost vanished in the west, glanced over shoulder to see moon rising in a pale eastern sky. I stood to one side on the Royal Mile, right by the Mercat Cross. Stand a few feet to the left or right and this scene wouldn’t exist, but stand in just the right spot and there is is, an early spring moon rising right above the royal unicorn and saltire atop the Mercat Cross. Most folks walked past on their way home from work without even noticing. For those of us who do know to look for these things though, sometimes, just sometimes in the mundane, workaday world, you can find a moment of magic…

Ten thousand photos

A few days ago I passed something of a fairly major personal milestone on my Flickr site, uploading image number ten thousand. Yep, the Woolamaloo Flickr, which I started back in March 2007, has now passed the ten thousand photographs line. I may have a bit of a camera addiction… Here is the picture that was number ten thousand, a shot taken at night on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, by the City Chambers where a bronze plaque stands as memorial to where the last home used to stand that Mary Queen of Scots, that most unfortunate of ladies, stayed in during her very final night in her capital city, in 1567:

Over the years I’ve posted all sorts of photos – architecture, modern and ancient, memorials, street scenes, Fringe performers, family, friends, cats, dogs, jellyfish, shots of villages, shots of cities, panoramas taking in swathes of cityscape from tall structures like the Scott Monument of Eiffel Tower, or detailed close ups of a fascinating little corner that took my eye, photos of famous authors, photos of pubs, shots taken in the bright light of day, or in the swirl of snow, shots taken at night, in colour or luminous, silvery black and white. The camera lives in my bag and so goes everywhere with me, pretty much, many of those thousands of pics are opportunistic shots, taken as I saw something interesting on the walk home from work, and Edinburgh offers up many potential subjects for my camera, be it the Castle silhouetted by the setting sun, snow covering the Royal Mile, the moon over the Old Town or performers from the Fringe performing on the street or something as simple as the wonderful colour the old stone buildings turn as the setting sun bathes them. And one of the nice things about being in this habit is that part of my brain is always looking at the city and the people around me with an eye to something that makes an interesting shot. And I say interesting rather than good, as I make no claim to be a great photographer, I simply like catching moments and sharing them online, and sometimes I get lucky with those shots and they come out fairly well.

I’ve had a camera since I was a very young boy – my Uncle Jim, my dad’s big brother, was a keen amateur photographer and as a primary school kid he got me my first real camera (other than getting to use one of dad’s, I mean, my own actual camera), one of those very 1970s, oh so neat Kodak 110 cameras. Remember those? Tiny little oblongs, the small 110 film dropped into the back onto the sprockets easily, unlike the hassle of unwinding a bit of 35MM film then trying to attach it to one reel and sprocket and wind on properly. Perfect for a kid to use. A few years later he got me my first 35MM, a Ricoh compact. Not like the ones that became popular in the late 80s and early 90s which were all automatic and self contained, this was a proper compact where you had built in light meter and used your F stop settings and so on, basically almost everything you would do with a full scale 35MM SLR camera, except for being able to change lenses – a training camera. After that proper 35MM SLRs, of which we had several at home – nothing fancy, just good, solid workhorses like the old Praktica. Came in damned handy at college, I didn’t have to borrow one from the department, I used my own and I knew what I was doing so could spend more time doing work at the processing end in the dark room (always loved that part – semi gloom, quiet, you never knew what you had till developed, was it good, was it blurred, too dark? And then that magical moment when onto a blank piece of paper an image would fade into reality).

First digital camera was the rather basic but cute looking Fuji Q1 – very simple, tiny memory (even with the added memory card – a whole 64 megabytes! Nothing by modern standards, what a difference even a few years makes) so that I had to ‘empty out’ the memory card frequently to keep space in it. I think the first card was actually only something like 16MB, but to be honest to someone who came from a film background this wasn’t a problem, I was used to having maximum of 36 exposures then time to change film, so being able to take a hundred wasn’t a restriction (these days it would be, so used to having huge amounts of memory cheap and accessible). I think, as my dad has observed sometimes at his camera club, those who never learned on film have a blaze away and hope something works approach. And while I will use the bags of memory you get today to take some extra shots of something if I have time, in order to cover myself (in case one or two don’t work), most of the time I line up a shot and take it. Sniper, not spray it around Tommy Gun approach. And unlike a lot at my dad’s camera club, I don’t spend hours in PhotoShop then tweaking and changing that image until it is as they want – I do most of my editing actually in camera, lining up and framing the shot, subject and angle I want so afterwards in processing all I really do is the odd bit of cropping, maybe fine tune contrast, brightness or colour balance, nothing I wouldn’t have done in the dark room in the film days.

I don’t monkey around altering my photos, I want to get as close to showing what I saw as I can, no fakery or touch ups. To my mind that is photography. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against digital imagery and manipulation, I see some great pics that way and like them, but to my mind that is digital imagery, not photography. Photography is a discipline as well as art and medium, and my version of it involves not reworking images in the computer later until I have something that wasn’t what I saw. Like I said I like capturing moments, be it someone laughing at the Fringe or the play of sun on an old building. I’ve moved through a couple more digital cameras since that first basic one (which cost more back then than a good compact would now). My previous camera reminded me of that advanced compact Uncle Jim got me as a boy, bit chunkier than most compacts because it had more features – like being able to do decent night shots and long exposures on the tripod, and I think I worked the poor thing to death, it actually packed in. Replaced with bigger, more advanced kit, what they call a bridge camera, much like a digital SLR but slightly smaller and you can’t change lenses, but other than that very similar. Full SLR and various lenses would not be as handy for me as I like to keep this in my bag so even during regular day I can just whip it out and get a shot if one presents itself, but also have it be advanced enough that I can work it. Of course as always there’s a newer, better, fancier one, and after several years with this very good one I have an eye on the new version of the same range, but due to advanced EPS (Empty Pockets Syndrome) it will be quiet a while before I can afford it, which is okay as the one I have is absolutely fine and certainly does me well.

So as I pass ten thousand pics and hundreds of thousands of views of my photos online I find myself looking back at it. Some of those pics I’ve allowed to be re-used – some charities have used them, some teaching projects have borrowed them, as have some graduate students for their work, couple got borrowed for a community arts project, some have appeared on the BBC and BoingBoing sites, even the New Yorker’s book blog, one was used for the poster for a science conference, a few have even appeared in books – one for a charity publication, couple of author pics I took were loaned to creators I know to use (the most recent one just appeared a couple of weeks ago, author using my pic as his headshot). Maybe one of these days someone will actually license on for real money! I doubt it, but you never know…

But every time I think of all those pics, the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of views of them I’ve had so far I think about Uncle Jim, wonder what he would have made of the digital age of photography, what he might have done with some of this kit (or would he rather have stuck to film?). And I also mentally thank him for those first cameras and and encouragement, and my dad too for his or maybe I wouldn’t be doing more than the odd holiday snap today. I also find myself looking back over it and it forms a kind of visual diary for me, preserving moments and places, and I often look through the archives and tweet pics that were shot on this day in previous years. Feels nice to be able to capture these scenes and even better to be able to share them online, and with that many views I must be doing something right…

Nocturnal street mirror

I wandered around in the cold taking a bunch of night shots recently – street scenes, historic buildings of Edinburgh at night and the like, but sometimes you just find the most everyday things and they look different at night. Especially if you zoom in on them and decide to shoot in black and white. And so After shooting some buildings I turned around in a cobbled back street, saw a puddle, the dirty water no looking jet black and perfectly reflecting the world above, like a black mirror, lying in a depression in the cobbles. So on the spur of the moment I moved the tripod round and framed a shot of it:

Turned out to be very popular on Flickr – funny how something so mundane can become an interesting photo subject just because it was now night and it was shot in black and white. By day a dirty puddle of rain water in a dip in the cobbled lane, but by night it is now a Noir puddle, the sort of puddle Raymond Chandler might call upon if he needed one in a scene…

Lanterns of the Terracotta Warriors

small Lanterns of Terracotta Warriors 01

For only a few days starting this week to mark Chinese New Year, there’s a wonderful art installation by Xia Nan. Originally created for the Bejing Olympics and now touring the world, they are inspired by the famous Terracotta Warriors but here they are done like Chinese paper lanterns.

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The artist decided that the original Terracotta Warriors were a bit lonely, so for these paper lantern sculptures he also gave them some wives and kids to go along with them – including a pregnant wife as you can see in this one above. A trio at the back must have been more important than the others, they had their own raised platform above the others, and with the lights they cast these huge shadows over the old stonework:

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The exhibition is in the quadrangle of the historic Old College building of Edinburgh University each evening for just a week or so (handily right across the road from my work, just strolled right over after finishing up). Beautiful location and what a magical sight to see on those long, cold, dark winter nights, glowing in the darkness. I noticed the other day that I’d had a huge spike in views on Flickr, with two photos I’d taken of this exhibition especially going bananas. In fact the one below had just under 3000 views in a single 24 hour period, turned out it had been put into a gallery on Flickr of photos celebrating Chinese New Year, resulting in a huge number of views in a brief period, which was quite rewarding (click on the pics to see the larger versions on my Flickr):

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Retro Robots

The annual Christmas market and winter wonderland fair are running now in Edinburgh around the Mound and Princes Street Gardens, and of course I took a few photographs on the way home from work one evening. It’s not the easiest to shoot – a tripod is useless in the busy market so it means hand-held after dark photography and I don’t normally use the flash either, so a fair chunk simply don’t come out, but sometimes you get lucky, and this series I shot of a traditional toy stall with hand-carved wooden toys, the old tin-type toys, clockwork wind-ups and these gloriously retro, 1950s style robots. I was really pleased considering I was shooting hand held, no flash and at night that these came out so clearly

retro robots 01

In fact they got picked up by one of my favourite sites, BoingBoing, who ran a couple of them on their blog, which was rather nice

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wonderful toys

I do love the traditional toy stall, doesn’t matter how old you get there is something still magical about them that makes you feel like a five year old craving Christmas. And on a cold, dark, December night in winter how nice is to see this splash of colour, life and magic?

Edinburgh After Dark

With it being dark not long after four in the afternoon now it’s a lot easier to take night shots, without having to wait till much later at night and then stand around with camera and tripod as drunks come out the pubs! I was taking a few photos in Saint Andrew Square, one of two large, grand squares (along with Charlotte Square, home to the Book Festival each August) at either end of the Georgian-era New Town part of Edinburgh. In recent years the gardens in the centre of the square have been opened up to the public again and it’s a busy spot with folks coming and going, or using the garden paths as a shortcut to the other side of the square. I had been taking pics of the column and the new, small glass coffee store all lit up in the dark of a corner of the gardens when I looked behind me and realised that the wet, glistening path lined up perfectly with the vista of broad and rather posh George Street leading west, last glimpse of twilight still in the western sky. And I thought why have I never stood here and lined up this shot before? Especially at just the right time of evening where it is dark but with that last little light of dusk still in the west:

George Street, dusk
(as ever click to see the larger versions on my Flickr)

This is a zoom in on the statues that line the top of one the large, old bank headquarters on Saint Andrew Square – shot them before bathed in sunlight but not at night, the long exposure had the side effect of giving the fluttering flag this cool sense of movement which I was quite pleased with:

statues and very fluttery fluttering flag

And here’s Sir Walter Scott, seated between the enormous pillars of the soaring Scott Monument – again I have taken various shots and angles of Watty’s statue over the years but for some reason had never thought to zoom in and line it up so the illuminated clock of the Balmoral Hotel’s tower in the background would show over it like this at night, just noticed it while taking other pics nearby and realised it would make a nice picture. Funny how I have taken night shots around there so many times before but that perspective never occurred to me. One of the nice things about taking a lot of photos is sometimes you just see something you know very well in a different way because of the time of day (or night in this case), weather, season, just looking at it slightly differently…

Sir Walter and the Balmoral Clock, winter evening

Statues after dark

I’ve shot the Gladstone Memorial several times before, usually in lovely, bright light. Until recently it was inaccessible because of the seemingly endless mess the unwanted and ineptly carried out tram works – not content with blocking entire roads for years as they worked they even buggered up pavements and the small park in the West End where the memorial sits. Walking home from doing some night shots in the city centre recently I saw it was open again and as I was carrying the tripod I paused and thought – why have I never shot this at night? In the dark with only ambient illumination from streetlights several feet away the statues all around the sides of the memorial looked very different from the bright days I had shot them on before.

Gladstone Memorial after dark 01

The figure of a hooded lady particularly caught my eye and so I thought I’d quickly set up the tripod and camera again and try a couple of shots – quite a dark spot and the camera had to sit with the shutter open for a good while, drinking in every stray photon it could to come out with the above image. I was quite pleased with how it came out, especially shooting in black and white (I never use PhotoShop to greyscale my pics, if it is in B&W it means I shot it in B&W originally, I refuse to bodge or fake my images) – if you click on the image and look at the larger versions on my Flickr you can see it brought out the scant available light so well you can even see a couple of stars in the background. As it had come out so well I decided to take a closer shot and zoomed in – amazing how different the sculptures look after dark, almost creepy…

Gladstone Memorial after dark 02

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month…

Remembering the Fallen 01

I usually try to take some photos of the annual Garden of Remembrance which is around the towering stone structure of the Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens each year. This year I decided to try for some night shots again as I was pleased with how they came out last year, I thought somehow shooting this scene at night (well, early evening, street nearby still very busy, but sunset is by half past four now so you can start ‘night’ shooting at a reasonable hour then be back home in time for tea – there is an upside to the long, dark nights of winter). added something to the atmosphere, so went in with tripod and left camera lens open to drink in what little light there was till they came out, then since I had the tripod I walked my way back home, pausing to take more night shots of the city as I did, but those will be for another day.

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Remembering the Fallen 06

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Serried ranks of small crosses, drawn up neatly as if on drill parade, a poppy on each to remember the Fallen, many with hand-written messages from old comrades, friends and family

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Moonrise Kingdom

I was out taking some night shots in Edinburgh this evening – I say night, but actually I started around half past four in the afternoon as the sun has set by then at this time of year! Looking over from Princes Street Gardens to the Old Town on its volcanic ridge I could see a half moon rising in the winter night over the Bank of Scotland headquarters on top of the Mound, where the road snakes up from the New Town to the Old Town. Magical scenes like this are one of the reasons why I love living in Edinburgh, it has the most beautiful cityscape in the world (click to see larger version on my Flickr).

winter moon rising over Old Town

Sunset city

It’s now fully dark by the time I leave work, but I shot this just before the clocks went back, just after sunset, shot from the Northbridge which strides across the deep valley between the Old Town and New Town, Edinburgh Castle atop it’s great volcanic rock, silhouetted against the setting sun. I love the views I get simply walking home from work in my city…

sunset silhouette

A good session

Chum and I wandered down to Portobello the other week (Edinburgh’s seafront area), rather grey and stormy day as we walked along the promenade, as you can see:

stormy weather 01

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This howling, freezing wind, rain and grey mist and clouds, the crashing waves and blowing sand didn’t stop a few hardy souls from trying to fly kites on the beach though!

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We ducked out of the weather and into the Espy, a very nice pub and bistro right on the promenade by the beach at Porty (very child and also dog friendly place too, if you’re looking for one) and settled into the dry, welcoming warmth of the pub, finding a pair of nice, old leather Queen Anne chairs to relax back into, ale in hand, for a relaxing natter. And then the barman told us that there was someone from Innes and Gunn, the very fine independent Scottish brewer, set up in the back with samples of their wares and we should check it out. And naturally we did and had a nice talk with the brewery rep who talked us through some of their different ales, from ones we had seen and tried before to some new ones and some export only ones (they sell a lot abroad – Canada and Sweden are two of their biggest markets now).

There was an interesting stout finished in Irish whisky barrels which gave it an interesting taste (also it was, pleasantly, not as heavy and thick as some stouts can be – some feel like drinking a liquidised black pudding – this was a touch lighter, with a reddish tinge to it) and a Canadian one made with a touch of maple leaf syrup (it could only be more Canadian if you had a hockey stick projecting from the neck of the bottle). I’ve had honey ales before, some are good, some simply way too sweet, but this had a nice balance, the sweetness not too strong, just a nice touch.

a good evening's session 01

When the brewery chap left we were talking away to the bar manager and some others, he showed us some interesting import ales he had gotten in himself, then decided we may as well all try samples of those as we had the Innes & Gunn beers, naturally we agreed (be rude not to) and a much longer than planned for but rather pleasant evening ensued… I noticed one of his imported beers was from the American brewery Flying Dog and the label for it, Raging Bitch, was drawn by the great Ralph Steadman, no less. Nice beer and cool art, not bad!

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