Spring has sprung

Out walking along the nearby Union Canal a few days ago, the first properly spring weekend of the year – we’ve had nice, bright days but usually still cold, this was sunny and also warm for the first time in the year. Beautiful light and the welcome return of colour to the world after the long, dark winter. It happens every year and yet each year it still seems like some wonderful magic as the dullness of winter suddenly gives way to a riot of vibrant colours:

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I have always found the way light reflects from water to be entrancing, and as I walked under one of the canal bridges the bright spring sunshine was bouncing off the water and creating a flickering, rippling dancing pattern of changing light on the stonework. I had taken a photo then thought it would be better in video mode, just to capture the quality of the patterns and movement. In still photo mode it looked better in monochrome (I’m not a fan of altering my pics in PhotoShop, so when you see a black and white photo from me, it means I shot it in B&W, not colour then change in PhotoShop. I know I could do it that way, but it feels better to me to shoot in B&W if a scene feels like it works better in mono, rather than just greyscale it afterwards in an editor), and fortunately the video mode in the new camera allows me to shoot in mono as well as colour, so I took a few seconds:

water under the bridge vid

Slide guitar on a spring evening

Walking home from work along the Union Canal a few days ago, gorgeous (if rather cool) spring evening. As I neared the lovely old Leamington Lift Bridge I could hear a guitar, and not just a guitar, but those long, slow, lazy, drawn-out notes you only get from playing slide. Crossed over the wee bridge and this chap was parked in one corner by the edge of the bridge, happily playing away as folks walked and jogged and cycled past on the towpath. Never seen anyone busking there before, there is a short subway underpass a few moments from this spot where musicians regularly play (the tunnel gives them some cool acoustics) but not here, so it was a rather nice surprise and brightened my amble home. Chatted with the guy for a moment or two, put a few shekels in his guitar case and took a couple of pics of him playing away in the evening light by the old canal:

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A home afloat

Dusk, walking home along the old Union Canal near where the huge Scottish & Newcastle Brewery used to dominate the area (now all gone, the large brownfield site being redeveloped, just as the canal has been already). As well as new wharfs and new buildings at the end of the canal and holiday barges (and even a floating restaurant barge) there are also folks living year round on barges, using them as house-boats, right in the centre of the city – how cosy do they look against the gathering chill of evening fall?

The Swan

A few days ago I took a black and white photograph of a swan on the Union Canal, close to my home in Edinburgh. I’ve taken plenty of shots along the canal, including many of the swans, ducks and other wildlife that enjoy the waters, but this one, for some reason, has proved to be incredibly popular on Flickr. A simple shot, last hour of daylight (sun setting so early this time of year) giving some great reflections, and a swan which instead of paddling along was drifting, slowly, as if gently dozing, or perhaps lost in admiring its own reflection. I lined up to fit in both swan and reflection and took a pic, posted it up one evening last week, to discover by the next evening, less than twenty hours later, it had received over six thousand views. It’s now sitting just a shade under nine thousand. It had, like my recent Edinburgh in Blue Hour shot, made it onto Flickr’s Explore front page, so a lot more people saw it than usual, but even so I’m blown away with how many views, I’ve never had any shot gather to many views in such a short time (and so many favourites too). I’m also slightly puzzled – don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely picture, but I think I’ve taken many that are far better and they never got that sort of reception. Guess you can never truly predict what people will really like, and I never take a photo with number of views in mind anyway, I take them because I see something interesting, or unusual, or beautiful, and I want to capture a little of it and share it. And if people really like it even more than usual, then I’m quite happy, if slightly puzzled, but certainly happy and satisfied too…

Edinburgh Canal Festival

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Last weekend was the annual Raft Race and Canal Festival just a few minutes walk from my flat in Edinburgh. I’ve been going since it started just a few years ago on the regenerated Union Canal where it ends around Lochrin Basin in central Edinburgh (although once upon a time I’m told it went a little further than this, crossing the nearby road, around the back of the old Co-Op building (which is why its back wall is curved) and through where the large modern offices of the financial district are to end nearer the West Port (I always assumed West Port meant ‘west gate’, port derived from French for a doorway), but it seems it meant port as in tying up many commercial barges). It started as just the charity raft race a few years back and obviously my camera and I went along to document it, all sorts of wacky boats and rafts taking part in a charity race. It has now grown into the Canal Festival with rides, acts, stalls and of course the raft race. And with the astonishing heat wave of weather it was pretty packed this year – was nice to go along, last year was the only one I have missed, as I was through to help dad every weekend while we waited on his operation, so I couldn’t go. Huge crowds enjoying the music, dancing, races and stalls, some cooling off by dipping their feet in the water while watching the racing.

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Oops – some raft designs didn’t quite cut the mustard and, as they used to say on the Goon Show “”he fallen in da water”. The International Rescue (no, not Thunderbirds, Pete, don’t get all excited, mate) folk were on hand to fish them out with this nifty boat which has a ramp in the bow which hinges down to make it easy to haul people in out of the water:

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They also demonstrated how to help someone out who was in difficulty – contrary to the action scenes in movies and TV you are not meant to dive in yourself, you should try using floats or lifebelts on ropes if available to reach them from the banking:

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If there is a boat in the water ask them to help guide the person in distress (not that he looks very distressed here!) to the bank as well:

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All that kayaking demonstration is thirsty work:

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I’ve seen this handsome traditional rowboat with a fabric hull at several canal fests now:

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There was music, such as this folk group set up by the old Leamington Lift Bridge:

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This band doing some rather good rock and pop covers:

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And this French chap doing some cool pop music en Francais:

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The model boat club had some nice ships, some on display nearby, some powered and actually racing around in the canal:

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Everyone seemed to be having a good time:

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Even thought some found it harder going than they envisaged, they kept going:

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And the ladies from the local belly dancing class got big cheers for their gyrations:

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At last, signs of spring…

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At last, very belatedly signs of spring here – walking home tonight it was a fine spring evening, glorious light quality, bright, clear. I noticed a lot of daffodils in full bloom, a full two months late – those should have been in bloom back in March but such was the appallingly, unseasonably cold (even for Scotland)weather for much of this spring they are only now blooming. It was so nice I went slightly out of my way to walk along the Union Canal on the walk home from work, and saw that – finally – the blossoms on the trees are starting to flower, again weeks later than they should (really they should have flowered and fallen by now leaving carpets of soft white and pink petals across the pavements). Normally I would shoot these delicate petals and the clear, blue dome of sky above in colour, but for some reason I felt like trying them in monochrome and actually I’m quite pleased with how they came out, which I attribute to the beautiful light quality more than my own eye.

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Edinburgh in the snow

Crikey, the improvised night shot I did of Edinburgh Castle covered in snow and lit a special blue for Saint Andrew’s Day on the 30th (see here) has now had over 800 views on my Flickr page in just 4 days. To put that in perspective my normal views average for my whole Flickr stream is around 750 – 900 a day, depending on if I have just posted something that gets a lot of interest, or if it is something tied to events people are following (like during the Edinburgh Festival, my Fringe pics viewings were mental). But 800 odd views in 4 days? Pretty please with that, especially for a picture I improvised by jamming the camera between railings to get a decent night shot when I didn’t have a tripod. And talking of improvised night shots, here are some more I shot around town in the snow on the way home. This pair are from North Bridge, which spans the valley between the Old and New Town, the first looking along Market Street and the edge of the Waverley Station, past the City Art Centre on the left and towards the Mound with the Bank of Scotland’s impressive headquarters and the Castle in the background:

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And this one towards Princes Street Gardens and the Scott Monument, over the roof of Waverley Station’s west side; you can see the lights of the Winter Wonderland (very appropriate given the snow) and the lights of the German Christmas Market:

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And this one is taken a couple of minutes from my work, it’s the Royal Mile in the snow, again improvised (being sans tripod) by simply setting the camera up on timer and sitting it on one of the bollards that stops vehicles using the Mile most of the time and letting it go. Quite pleased with this one, actually, given it was so improvised, like the red of the traditional (and now rare) British telephone box against the snow. Hard to believe just 12 weeks or so back I was shooting incredibly busy Fringe scenes here with wall to wall tourists and performers doing their bit to attract folks to their shows:

Royal Mile, winter night

And away from the night scenes here’s some from a snow walk around the Water of Leith then along the Union Canal; this is where the train viaduct and the canal aquaduct cross the Water of Leith, near the visitor centre:

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There were plenty of snowmen around but someone had created a whole snow family here, sitting on a fallen tree trunk by the Union Canal in Harrison Park, as if they were watching the ducks and swans using the small part of the canal that wasn’t yet frozen. It had been a bright day but then suddenly faded and this snowy mist rose in the background, giving everything this eerie blue light quality which I thought was like the sort of light quality they use in movies when they want to hint it’s spooky or it’s night, or it’s night and spooky, but it’s the way it was, I don’t use Photoshop to fiddle my pics. The Guardian’s Edinburgh blog picked up on this one and featured it on Monday, which was rather pleasing:

three snowmen by the canal

reflections

Walking along the Union Canal near the old brewery, some new buildings I’ve seen being constructed over the last year. Wasn’t sure if they were small offices or going to be homes, but I’ve been told they are a modern version of town houses, although it looks like they have completed them just in time for them to lie mostly empty as no-one can get the mortgage to buy them. I walk this way quite a lot and I’ve shot this in colour and not really cared much for the resulting pics, but shooting in black and white (and my B&W shots are shot properly in B&W, not colour then greyscaled afterwards on Photoshop, it makes a difference – any of my Flickr pics you see in B&W were shot in B&W) I was much more satisfied with the result.

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(click for the bigger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr)

let sleeping swans lie

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If you should let sleeping dogs lie then I’d imagine you should certainly not disturb snoozing swans, given how grumpy and bad tempered they can be even when fully awake, let alone being roused from a pleasant nap. This was as close as I dared get to a couple of slumbering swans basking in the last golden rays of the setting sun by the Union Canal not far from my home, contentedly snoozing just a couple of feet from all the walkers, joggers, cyclists and canoeists. Lovely to have this so close by in the middle of a heavily populated part of a major city. If you click on the pic you can go to my Flickr stream and click the ‘all sizes’ buttons to see the much larger version; it was worth edging slowly closer to the animal as I managed to get some details of the feathers into the bigger version.

Quack quack

Walking along the Union Canal this weekend, ducks and other birds (sadly I do not know everything and bird types is one area I am weak in – anyone know what these black waterfowl with the white bills are?) swimming around. The ducks go past, the black birds swim past, their little red-orange webbed feet just visible through the greenish water, working away like the paddles on an old Mississippi steamboat. Then suddenly they start diving. Ploop! One minute they are there, next moment only concentric ripples spreading outwards on the surface of the water to show where they had been, then suddenly they pop up again elsewhere, like a WWII German U-Boat doing an emergency surface. I had a sudden urge to do my Jack Hawkins impression and call for the depth charges…

It was very hard to capture these sudden movements on the camera, so I switched to video mode instead. You can hear a voice at the start which is a tiny little girl with her dad shouting “quack quacks!” in delight. Nearby some narrowboats which are lived on the whole year long, the restored old Leamington Lift Bridge (I don’t know why but it gives me such pleasure to see it raised and for holidaying folks to sail under it), the floating restaurant barge which cruises at the weekend, new waterfront cafes, offices and homes, the remains of the old Scottish and Newcastle brewery slowly being taken apart as the area is remade (Sean Connery lived just right round the corner from this spot as a boy and delivered milk in the area – now he comes back to the nearby cinema on a red carpet for the Film Festival every year). And this is all a short walk to my home in one direction and to Edinburgh Castle the other way. The little marvels we can see even in the middle of the city if we only stop and look for a moment and share that simple, childlike delight in these little surprises and presents the world offers us.

(apologies for the poor quality – my camera does very good video but that means big files so I need to reduce it so much to fit on YouTube it never looks right – oh well, it’s free!)