Edinburgh Castle

Historic Scotland give away free entry tickets to many Scottish attractions to celebrate St. Andrews Day. This year we took advantage of this to get a trip inside the prohibitively expensive Edinburgh Castle.

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Christmas Market

Walking up to the castle from the city centre gives you a good view of the Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens at this time of year. Breakfast hotdogs anyone?

It was wet, pretty cold, and up there on top of the (we hope) extinct volcano it was fairly blustery too. Time to get inside, and weave our way around for over 40 minutes for a few seconds glimpse of the Scottish Crown Jewels – that’s if you haven’t succumbed to claustrophobia in the wait and just leg it out the door the moment you get a whiff of fresh air…maybe that was just me…

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Sunshine on Leith

The best feature of the castle, in my opinion, isn’t castle. It’s the views of Edinburgh and over to the Fife coast.

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The One O’Clock gun, which faces into the city…

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The Black Watch War Memorial

Within the castle is a separate building hosting memorials to the armed forces. Each has in front of it a book of names for WWI and WWII. This one is open to a very special page…

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At the top of the second column of the left page is Pte George Thomas who died in Italy in  November 1944. He was my Grandfather.

 

This post in is tribute to the men, women, and animals who lost their lives in
WWI and WII, and all conflicts before and after. #wewillrememberthem

Thank You.

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Crail, Fife

Having been busy with work related things for the last month it was great to make the most of a cold crisp Autumn day with a trip to the coast.

I had visited Crail on the coast of Fife several years ago, and I know that I had gotten some great photos from the harbour area. I had longed to revisit with a little more time and hopefully some blue skies to make make the most of the contrast between the buildings and the sky. As the day dawned cold and clear in Edinburgh, and with snow forecast in the Highlands meaning it was going to crisp and bright towards the east coast, now seemed a good time to make the trip.

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Crail is the most easterly settlement along the south side of the East Neuk of Fife and it known for its shellfish; especially crabs and lobsters. These provide an excellent focal point of harbour photography and are frequently utilised for coastal images in much of Scotland.

Only ten miles from St Andrews, it has a much more relaxed feel, and it is probably as much now a holiday or weekend retreat as anything else. Settled back before the 800s it became a Royal Burgh in 1310, thanks to Robert the Bruce. It was once the bane of the Church as it held a Sunday market for many years in spite of their protestations and attempts to move it to a weekday.

The town is fairly interesting, but similar to a lot of small Fife coast towns, and it is the harbour that holds the main attractions for the photographer.

The harbour is best reached on foot after parking in the town centre, and this will involve a fairly brisk descent, although the cobbles can be avoided by taking the Castle Walk where you will get great views out to sea.

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It’s worth watching for seals and birdlife. Here a Grey Heron is trying his luck
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Visitors on Castle Walk as seen from the harbour cobbles

Although Castle Walk remains, sadly the castle itself does not. Cleared away in 1706, it is, from a purely photographic point of view, a bit of a disappointment not to have it to add into the scene. But, there are still a lot of wonderful opportunities for photographs around the harbour and town.

There is almost an element of film set about the harbour, and the quaint houses leading to it are appealing in themselves. The cobbles and painted buildings also appeal.

A number of small on-shore fishing boats still work out of the harbour, and there is a ready supply of crab and lobster which can be purchased. The town also boasts a number of small cafes as well as the fish and chip shop, mini-marts, and butchers.

It is a perfect retreat location that is ideal for a romantic getaway, or a day trip, and it convenient to Edinburgh and most of Fife itself.

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STOLEN LEICA EQUIPMENT

Yep, you read that right. A highly organised, and probably professional, raid was carried out on my favourite camera shop last weekend.

Over £160,000 worth of gear was stolen, all of it Leica, and includes multiple copies of the same models was taken from Ffordes Photographic

If you are offered any Leica equipment it would be well worth checking it against the published serial numbers to see if its ‘hot’ property. Even if you’re tempted by a great price, and your underlying lust for equipment you normally can’t afford, just remember this:

  • Leica won’t service it for you, they know it’s stolen so they probably won’t even return it to you,
  • you won’t be able to sell it on, because everyone in the business knows about the raid
  • you won’t get it insured, because they all know too,
  • and you could even find yourself in court for receiving stolen goods.

AND on top of that you will know that you’re a part of the loop that has hurt an exceptional independent retailer. Yes independent, not some big chain. One shop, an amazing toy shop, in rural Scotland, that does wonders for photography and photographers in the area and beyond.

Here is a LINK to the list of equipment – please report any sightings to the Police. Full details on the link and on their website.

 

August is Festival Month

August is the main month of festivals in Scotland, although they take place in various places all year round. In Edinburgh you have the entire month of August as one big long, often over crowded, festival which includes the legendary ‘Fringe’.

It was nice to see that ‘Donald’ payed us a visit…

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There was plenty of music on the streets as well as in the hundreds of official venues…

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As well as some more unusual street performers…

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As the residents recover and traffic, parking, transport, and the pavements get back to some sort of normality, we know Edinburgh will gear itself up now for Hogmanay and do it all again next August.

 

Meanwhile, up north in the Highlands, although not overly far from Inverness we had the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival.

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More in line with traditional ‘festivals’ this three day very family friendly event also boasts the joys of the blue portaloo, the inevitable wait for one, and the pervading smell that goes with it. But enough of my bugbear of the festival scene…it was also a magical experience of music, magic, songs, dance, and performances ranging from big names such as Paloma Faith to small local bands having their very first big stage outings.

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The loos weren’t the only thing that was blue…
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Love the tartan heart

 

 

Edinburgh : Royal Botanic Gardens

Well, it’s been a while since I posted. Lots of things have happened and there have been many ups and downs in life. Work has taken me to new places, and life changes, choices, and chance meetings have lead to my moving to Edinburgh just over a week ago.

After five months, I now have a home office space again, broadband that actually means I can upload photos and keep in touch with you all, and access to my iMac for processing images.

Over the next few months I shall be exploring my new home, and bringing you some of the images that I am shooting.

So, without further ado, may I present you with the first blog entry in this series:

Edinburgh : Royal Botanic Gardens

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The gardens were founded in the 17th Century as a centre for science, both research and education, and this continues today. Technically, the gardens are actually in four sites and hold the second richest collection of plant species in the world. At the Edinburgh location they hold the rock garden, peat and woodland gardens, ten greenhouses, and the specialists collections which include the Chinese Hillside.

The gardens are open to public year round with free entry, but you do have to pay to get into the greenhouses. To fully explore all the gardens would take several days so on this trip we concentrated on the greenhouses and the more exotic plants contained therein.

Current admission, at the time of writing, is £6.50 for adults including an optional donation (£5.85 standard admission) with reductions for concessions, groups, and free admission for those under 15 or essential carers.

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As well as having lots of plants and trees to look at, there are installations of art around the gardens at various points as well as many architectural features which are, in themselves, interesting.

The gardens also boast the ‘best view of Edinburgh without climbing Arthur’s Seat’ evidently…

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There are also several well located toilets plus three places to grab a coffee or a meal and these serve everything from tea and cakes to a proper Sunday roast.

Whilst you are allowed to take photographs, you need a permit for a tripod, and images cannot be sold or used for commercial purposes without the proper licence. As this blog is editorial by nature, unsponsored, and the images are not being made available for sale I am quite happy to show you my best shots of the day in the hope of encouraging you to also visit one of Edinburgh’s prime attractions.

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For more information about the gardens please visit their website www.rbge.org.uk

Please note I have watermarked the images to prevent them for being used without permission elsewhere. Please respect this as I don’t want to get into trouble with the RBGE either. Thank you. 

 

Dull grey overcast skies? So what, you’re a photographer aren’t you…

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The day had started off quite promising, but the wind strengthened and turned to the north west. It got progressively stronger and progressively colder on the Moray coast as the weather poured in, threatening us with more gales, more sleet, more ice, and (potentially) even some more snow. The sky was pretty boring, and mainly shades of steel, and the light was fading faster than anyone wanted. But…if you’re a photographer, in Scotland of all places, you should be able to cope with a little unfavourable light and some generally unpleasant weather.

Did we turn for home? Did we heck!

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That dull, boring, grey sky created a diffused light perfect for capturing details – shapes, shadows, colours, textures – these are the things you shoot on dull grey days with steel skies.

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The secret is too pick the location, pick the subjects well, and exclude those skies from your compositions.

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Look for natural colours and amazing (and sometimes even odd) details. Choose your location based on the potential for natural colours and irregular textures, and you can’t go wrong. There will always be something to photograph!

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With modern cameras you don’t need to be afraid of the ISO, just use a standard lens, a standard zoom, or a macro, or anything you like really, because your equipment isn’t as important as your ability to see images in front of you.

Use a tripod to get the balance between slow shutter speeds and reasonable apertures, remembering that water moves, and make the most of the abilities of your camera to record details.

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Look for odd things in the natural environment, the way that sand and rocks have moved and are being eroded, or how sand is left in ruts and turns or on rocks.

It’s all about excluding the bland and focussing on the details of the subject, which is, what grey dull light is really great for.

 

New Year – New Skye

I know, I know, you don’t have to remind me. Yes, I said I was done with the Isle of Skye. Too many tourists, too many photographers, too many images splashed about all over the internet. Done to death…or so I thought.

But sometimes you get an invitation you just cannot resist…

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I have never been one for following the crowd like sheep, although for some reason I frequently find them endearingly photogenic. It is very true that I had indeed had quite enough of Skye after my fifth visit of 2017; jostling with the tourists, and swearing loudly as they, in the main, continue to demonstrate that they have no idea how to drive on a single track road, or deal with the said sheep.

(Helpful tip – just drive at them, they move)

I had got this chance to see a part of Skye that, aside from one particular lighthouse, is not really part of the tourist trail. It is too far for the casual tourist, doesn’t attract the serious hillwalkers or climbers, and from initial inspection of an OS map doesn’t appear to hold anything that might attract the photographer either.

But, my invitation wasn’t to Blythe the photographer, or Blythe the writer, but to Blythe the soul within. Photography was just a bonus and so, from that point of view, I had no expectations or pre-planned desires. I was, an open book, waiting for something to fill the pages.

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Neist Point – and that particular lighthouse

The weather was what you’d expect from Skye in winter – it was cold, wet, snowing in the mountains, and just…well…fairly crap everywhere else.

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Although it did give us a rainbow or two, from the warmth of the cottage.

I first went out to Skye before the New Year, on one of those non-days that occur between the festivities of Christmas and the celebrations that greeted the start of 2018.

It was completely unexpected, but quite delightful, and although I only stayed the one night (having been partially rescued from the icy roads, and having abandoned, ie. safely parked in a bay) my car near the Sligachan Inn, the trip provided me with a view of Skye I had not seen before. It also provided me with delightful company, and the invitation to return for the Hogmanay.

The weather at home was a passable coldness, with light snow and nothing to worry about, the weather at the remote NW of Skye was equally even handed, but the weather in the middle of the two was ice and snow, and many degrees below freezing. I had planned to stay at the Cluanie Inn on that first night, but it was shut and I was faced with the (to be honest not very) difficult choice of a night away or a potentially hazardous journey after dark. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut instincts.

I was supposed to travel back again on the 31st but would I make it? The forecast was for more snow, more ice, more very low below freezing temperatures, and you only get one shot every 12 months to start a New Year. There was only one thing for it, to return on the 30th, a day early. I made it in before the snow came down in the heavy falls that beset the roads again, driving with the snow chasing my tail all the way from Drumnadrochit to the Skye Bridge.

Folk think when they reach the bridge they are best part there, but in truth Skye is a bigger island that many give credit for, and it can take the same time again to reach your final destination. From Broadford the weather sort of improved; from the cold ice and snow to a cold rain and hail. I took the Slig’ turning for Dunvegan and moved westwards to find, thankfully, much less snow and ice than had caught me out on the preceding Wednesday.

On reaching Dunvegan I was then back to that unloved single track for the last of the stretch through Glendale and onto the wee township of Milovaig (upper, lower and what is just Milovaig – although could be called middle). I still haven’t completely worked out which is which, or when exactly each one becomes the other. That’s Skye all over…lowers are physically higher than uppers, middles don’t seem to have “middle” names, and house numbers don’t even always run in the same direction! Not that anyone puts a number on their door to give you a clue anyway…

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The roads are broken and potholed on much of Skye and the damage done on my first trip, with a stone chip to my windscreen, had expanded under the heat of the car to a two foot crack across the bottom of my windscreen. Not to worry, its not in the line of sight and it can be replaced, at the end of winter, when the chance of repeating the process lessens a little. Be warned, there are stones flying on Skye right now…oh, and take your wellies, the burns are in spate and walking boots are useless.

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The wonder of winter on Skye is the ever changing light. You can watch unimaginable combinations of colours and see the light pick out contours you cannot normally see. Contours that unless you frequently walk the hills, the mountains, the glens, and the steep sea cliffs you might not appreciate even by looking at the map.

In winter the air clears, and as it bites into your flesh, you can see for miles; to the neighbouring island of Harris, with its mountains clad in fresh white coats of snow, and the lower hills of the long island chain of the Uists. From there, it is ocean until you reach the coast of the USA. The Atlantic, stretches across this part of the planet and brings you weather into the North and Western straths of Skye that creates a microclimate that can be radically different from the rest of the island. Although, I would add, that I did take thermals…

It can be much, much, windier, but it can also be quite a bit warmer than even ten miles to the east or the mainland of Western Scotland. It is also, frequently wetter, and wet was a constant companion on every day of the trip. But it also brought with in the light, the wonderful soft, pastels and deep infused colours.

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Walking down to the pier in the morning you could watch the sun rise and the light play across the landscape, ever changing the colours of the heather clad hills, the rocks of the cliffs, and the clouds dancing above. No two mornings, in fact no two moments, were ever the same. You couldn’t just the potential of a day from looking out the window, as it would change in a heart beat or just a few miles.

As the light constantly changed, it was a landscape photographers delight and nightmare in one gift. You have to watch and wait, but not too long or you will miss the moment, you have to prepare but no so long you get cold or soaked, you have to accept the cold, the wind, the rain, and the mud. But the rewards for doing so are worth the moments of discomfort (and the laundry).

Whatever you wear it will not be enough – the rain will find the way around the neck of that waterproof, the burns will come atop your boots, the wind will bite into your hands, nose, and without a decent your ears.

I stayed from the 30th until the morning of the 4th, experienced a wonderful New Year’s eve and took off out to photograph aspects of Skye on all of the first three days of 2018.

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A little bit of irony

I got to see some entertaining and amusing sights, spent the 2nd of January in a largely closed Portree with only a bookshop and the Co-op open for company.

I got to see the light poke it’s slender fingers through the sky to mock the ocean by Neist Point, and to return to the Fairy Glen (near Uig) and try, once again, to capture the wonders of the landscape with only a short day and a limited amount of light.

ST0RM__0BS0151Because of the high side to the glen the sun disappears right behind it a good hour before it goes from the rest of the sky. It plunges you into gloom before you can barely find your best spots. You have to be ready, for the moments of light will not last long, and the land is camouflaged in colour, one conical hill against another, so that although it is quite marvellous it is very hard to do it justice.

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It is very popular with visitors, at all times of the year, and you either wait for (sometimes) hours for them to all remove themselves from your shot, or just use them in your images to convey the sense of scale and go with the flow.

The Fairy Glen has been the stuff of legend for millennia, and whilst the workings within are more than likely those of man and woman, it is hard not to see why and how the place got its name.

Could I fall in love with Skye all over again? Maybe.

Maybe like any long term relationship there are moments where you question what you are doing together before you reach into your hearts and find the things that hold you together are stronger than the things that are pulling you apart.

2018 got off to a wonderful start, for many reasons. Long may the passions continue, the senses be stirred, and may my love affair with Skye be have been rekindled once again.

New Year = Site revamp

Whilst most people are watching bad films or falling asleep in front of bad films having eaten far too much dinner, I have spent Christmas adding new stuff to my website.

So, if like me you’re not thinking about another turkey sandwich but about getting outside and experiencing the world around you, possibly with your camera, and possibly even with new bits of kit (if Santa was kind), then you might want to take a look and what I’ve been up to and, you never know, you might even be inspired.

Click on the image below to be taken to my image website

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Slip sliding away in the Cairngorms with Billy and my (almost) new Nikon D800

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It was a fabulous day, cold, but fabulous.

Getting to Aviemore wasn’t the level of difficulty I was expecting. The roads were well gritted and quite fine to drive on at a decent speed, even in the darker and colder spots. The problem was that not everyone seemed to realise this, and so I spent the whole the journey in a convoy of trucks doing no more than 40mph. It was almost as bad on the way home.

The side roads, and the minor roads, were still covered in snow and underneath was a lethal layer of ice, but if you kept to those that were gritted and most well used it was easy to travel. Getting on and off of the car parks was a bit more interesting, but the main road in and out of Aviemore from the North was fine. There was no point in rushing though as there was no way to overtake the convoy.

I got there around 11am, desperate for tea and a pee, to be stung for £4.80 for a cup of Earl Grey and a small piece of cake, and that’s on top of £1 to park the car to eat it.

I moved on from Glenmore Forest Visitors Centre, the culprits of this high charged refreshments, and then parked on the verge, thankfully knowing where the parking spots are under the snow and ice and where it was safest to do so. One pound for an hour parking? It’s as bad as parking in the city.

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There were a few people out, and everyone of them seemed to be carrying a tripod. I had hardly had an original idea.

I got to work quickly because although the light was just what I wanted I knew it would be disappearing all too soon.

As we approach the Winter Solstice the working day for photography in the Highlands and North East of Scotland is really quite short. It has its advantages because you don’t need to get up at some ungodly hour to catch the sunrise, or the best of the light. The sun is never that high in the sky to remove all the shadow and spoilt the points of interest, and being weak it is often a warm light. Unlike your feet and hands if you stand too still for too long.

The ducks on Loch Morlich are a wise and talkative bunch; no sooner had a photographer appeared and the host flew over to demand feeding. Disappointed. they would then return to the unfrozen shallows in the sheltered part of the loch and await their next hope.

Loch Morlich overlooks the Northern Corries of Cairngorm, including the ski-centre, and the snow was majestic. The sunlight on it was lighting up the slopes and defining the shapes in the faces of the mountains, which the darkness of the rock usually obscures. Given the light, I shot with a view to capturing the scene in colour but when I got home I realised it would look good in mono’.  The advantage of shooting Raw is that you retain this choice, and I have processed images as both.

At the moment it is taking me quite a bit longer to process my images, as I struggle to get to grips with Affinity Photos after the simplicity of Lightroom. I miss being able to get a light-box display of all the images in the folder and then easily moving from one to another. In Affinity Photo I have to individually open each file into Develop, then from the processed Raw move into the main image processing space. At least Adobe make Bridge free now and this enables me to see large enough previews of the image to determine the keepers. I hope that Affinity will come up with something like Lightroom as their Photo app is more akin with Photoshop itself, but with additions normally associated with Lightroom.

I was really happy with the 3 Legged Thing Punks Billy, which is easy to operate even with winter gloves on. I use Sealskinz gloves, which I find warm enough without being bulky. Although having leather palms they aren’t perhaps the most environmentally friendly, they do grip well even in the cold and wet.

This outing was the first since I replaced my Nikon D600 with the D800. I had had some issues with oil and dust which meant I had spent a lot more time retouching dust spots from images than I would have liked. I returned my D600 under it’s used warranty and replaced it with an almost mint Nikon D800.

The D800, purchased used from Ffordes, was great. Having the larger pixel count meant that I was able to then crop images much more radically than before.

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Even using just half the original image frame, I still had an final image with sufficient information, and pixel resolution, to print to a decent size. The image above was shot in portrait and cropped pretty much across the middle, leaving this the top half. I initially thought I wanted the grass in the foreground but decided against it, and I didn’t take a lens long enough to capture just the area of the frozen loch that I envisaged in the final image.

I was also amazed by the level of detail and the way the ice crystals sparkle towards the top of the frame. I am also impressed with the lack of noice even at high resolution. Earlier this week I had been out as the sun dropped and captured an image using ISO3200 which I would never have thought of as more than a record shot before. It is perfectly useable and appears on my Instagram and Twitter feeds as well as my Facebook page, but I think I could probably get away with printing it to A4 at least if not A3.

As can be expected at this time of year in the mountains the light faded quickly, and my idea to go to more than one location was written off. The sun rapidly sank behind the hills and the (photographic) day was pretty much over.

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One last shot and it was time to head home and in another long, slow, crawl behind more lorries and nervous car drivers.

I understand that it snowed later that evening, and the temperatures plummeted further below freezing. It had not got above -4C all day, but this is nothing compared to the winters past where temperatures like this would last for weeks on end.

It is quite funny that many of Scotlands ski centres have just taken delivery of snow making machines that they are struggling to get into position, because of the snow…

The last time we had a white Christmas, and a long period of snow, was the winter of 2009/10, one which holds some very precious (and highly entertaining) memories for me. Perhaps this year will see a repeat of those conditions?

But this time I hope I don’t get snowed out for three whole weeks!!

 

 

 

Goodbye Adobe (updated)

Well I did it. I cancelled my Adobe Photographer’s package subscription at the point of renewal. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am not happy to work from the cloud because it simply isn’t practical in the Highlands of Scotland where we struggle to get a mobile signal let alone wifi.

I have not been a fan of the subscription model, and being tied into a monthly contract for 12 months, ever since it was launched. Whilst I do appreciate it spreads the cost, you are then tied to it. I also resented being tied to Photoshop when I only need Lightroom, which was always the much cheaper free standing package.

So, what will I be using? Affinity Photo.

I have this on my iPad Pro and it’s superb. It almost makes me want a bigger iPad, as in one with more storage, so that I can use the pencil features. The desktop version I will have to get used to, and after over 25 years with Adobe it will be a big shift.

I might regret it, or it might be liberating. If I regret it then I can always take a new subscription with Adobe in due course, but at least I would do so knowing that I had given it a go without.

Update 17/12/18

I have to say that after a couple of days processing two shoots (from Raw) with Affinity it is a good replacement for Photoshop but it doesn’t replace Lightroom. It is very difficult to accurately assess images without opening each one individually as it has no catalogue feature. I have downloaded Adobe Bridge, which is free, but it feels like too much of a compromise and increase in workflow.

I also find Affinity is very power hungry on the computing front and this means I have to wait for transitions to take place more than I did with Lightroom.

It has slowed my workflow down, and sometimes I am not noticing things until well into the edit which I would have seen immediately and corrected (like minor lens distortions). It probably doesn’t help that I have just moved to the D800 and am dealing with bigger files with more definition.

I have now downloaded a trial of On1 Photo Raw 2018 for 30 days to see if this is better suited. I still like Affinity on the iPad Pro, and I can see uses for it, but more for Photoshop than Lightroom type edits. I, as an ‘right in-camera’ type shooter that doesn’t use special effects, don’t really use Photoshop that much, it was Lightroom that I used most so I feel there is more work to be done.

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Processed from raw with Affinity Photo
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Processed from raw with On1 Photo Raw 2018