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.
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…
The best feature of the castle, in my opinion, isn’t castle. It’s the views of Edinburgh and over to the Fife coast.
The One O’Clock gun, which faces into the city…
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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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…
There was plenty of music on the streets as well as in the hundreds of official venues…
As well as some more unusual street performers…
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!
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.
The secret is too pick the location, pick the subjects well, and exclude those skies from your compositions.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
3 Legged Thing are a British company that designs tripods with a very different attitude. They design a tripod as a modular concept so that it does more than just holds your camera. For information on that I would definitely recommend visiting their website because they will explain it far better than I can, and I don’t expect to use all the possible features or configurations.
They also design them to be a bit sexy…
Anyway, this is my initial few thoughts on the Punks Billy – currently the only Carbon Fibre tripod in the Punks range. I would like to say that I purchased the Billy with my own money from Jack the Hat, and that neither 3 Legged Thing or Jack the Hat have paid me to write this and all opinions contained within are my own.
The reason I purchased from Jack the Hat and not directly from 3 Legged Thing was the delivery service. Jack the Hat delivers to the Highlands and Islands postcodes of Scotland without any fuss and even next day using Royal Mail Special Delivery by 1pm. Sadly, 3 Legged Thing does not, and I wasn’t in a position to wait for a courier to sit on my delivery for an extra day just because they don’t like my postcode (even though I’m about a minute from the main Inverness-Aberdeen road which they drive along more frequently).
In this review I am not going to write about the specifications for the tripod because you can get them direct from 3 Legged Thing’s website here. What I am going to write about is how the tripod shapes up in actual use.
When it first arrived it was in a very funky box, and struck me as being very well engineered, with excellent accessories, but sadly not including spikes as standard. It is possible to buy more feet, and three different ones for different terrain are offered, but this does then increase the overall cost. Given that two of their main competitors; Benro and MeFoto, both send their tripods out with a set of spikes included it is a bit disappointing. It should be said that you do generally pay quite a bit more for many of the similarly specified Benro tripods so it could be argued that you’re paying for them anyway.
When I put Billy up to his full height, I thought he was less stiff that I had expected. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed at the time, and somehow I needed up with a very odd angled image of it in the kitchen.
Billy (and Travis) are two of the taller tripods and as an added bonus for me, being only 5ft 3″ that means that without the centre column the camera is still at veryclose to beingeye level. I like removing centre columns as it allows a tripod to go much lower, reduces carry weight, and so I feel it gives me more flexibility. The image above shows it with the centre column but I then took this out (very simple to do) for the shot below, and used it without the column for my first outing.
As it was blowing a hoolie as we say up here in Scotland. I took it to the beach on the north sea coast to see how it would cope. Putting the camera on it actually made it much more stable, and even having the legs at almost their full extensions and splayed to the middle of the three leg positions, I was not more impressed.
The leg with the orange band at the top unscrews to become a monopod which is part of the modular design of the tripod, although I am not a great user of monopods it might prove handy.
Carrying it on my rucksack was a doddle and I didn’t notice it was there as its weight is very minimal for the support offered. It does fold like a travel tripod; the legs go fully up the other way to that show in the image, so the head sits between them, but when on my tripod this configuration works better for me.
I really liked the big chunky grips on it as the air temperature was barely above freezing and the windchill was making it considerably below. I was using fairly thick gloves for every moment except the final shooting, and it operated fearlessly with my gloves on. In Scotland this is very important. Big grips and larger knobs are very useful.
Carbon Fibre comes into it’s own in the cold. It is way nicer to handle that Aluminium and I was actually glad the Travis (Billy’s non-carbon twin brother) was out of stock. Billy is basically the same as Travis but being carbon is around 220g lighter whilst, evidently, being stronger for it too. It would have been nicer still if one leg had a leg warmer, but rubber please not foam as the foam ones soak up water. A couple of strips of the same rubber as is on the leg adjusters would be nice. It would give you more grip in the wet too.
Using the centre column enables you to use the ‘Toolz’ carabiner to attach a weight, such as a water bottle, to the bottom of the centre column via its hook. This also can aid stability although I didn’t find it necessary even in the gale force winds I experienced.
Having removed the centre column you loose that attachment point but you still have the three eyelets on the head attachment plate which you can now use for the same purpose amongst others. This would place the weight very slightly off centre in its attachment but if it’s handing this should still be ok.
I have constructed a three way sling using three accessory carabiners and a piece of cord which I can rest bottle or even rocks in. One carabiner into each hole on the plate and the cord suspends between them. I didn’t use it on this outing, and it may just live in my bag unused. I wouldn’t be out in conditions much more difficult that I encountered today so this was a fairly good forward looking test.
I started off on the beach getting shots of the crashing waves and I was very pleased with the results (see above). The tripod held my Nikon D600 with Nikkor 14-24/f2.8 lens (which is not light) very securely, much more so than my MeFoto Roadtrip does. Already Billy was proving he was worth the money.
I moved on from the beach at Kingston (sadly not Jamaica) to the sea wall at Portgordon, and the variable leg angles proved very useful. My MeFoto Roadtrip annoyed me a lot by having less positions, but the Billy has three very useful angles and so I could actually have each leg at a different angle to take into account the terrain. Billy had one leg set short and at the most extreme angle sticking onto on the sea wall (which I was hiding behind), one leg in the middle position on the rocks to my left side, and one leg in the most upright position and on the debris and pebbles to my right (seaward) side.
The wind was seriously strong and I was struggling to stand up in the gusts, which shows what Billy is capable of standing in.
Using this configuration meant that I personally was being bent over a bit more than I would have liked and I actually wished that I had brought the centre column with me. I would also have like a bit more height from an aesthetic point of view, to get higher up onto the waves and to capture the swirling seas coming into the harbour. You live and learn, and I have already put his column back in for the next trip. Removing it is simple and it can always live in my rucksack if needed. It really doesn’t weigh enough to make a substantial difference.
After not being initially confident in the stability, and having a concern about the tripod being so light it wouldn’t stand up to wind, I was really pleased with the performance so far. Admittedly I did find as much shelter as I could in my shooting positions but that was more to do with my staying warmer, and reducing spray, as it was giving Billy the best the chance.
As the hail started to fall I had moved along the coast again to Strathlene near Buckie, and took temporary residence inside a beach shelter.
I could work with Billy at full height (minus the column), using my heaviest lens, without any issues at all. I was out of much of the wind, although the hail was finding every conceivable gap.
As the quick release plate is compatible with Peak Design products, so I was able to use my hand strap and the tripod at the same time. This was great security for when I released the camera from the tripod, and convenient. There is no safety mechanism on the release of the camera quick release from the head; you absolutely must have a good hold of the camera before you loosen it. I know some reviewers have moaned about this, but it’s just a case of forming a working practice (or habit) to get around it. I don’t see it as a problem because, to be honest, you should have a good hold of the camera at this point in proceedings anyway.
The hail continued but I still managed to get some decent shots:
Having frozen my arse off for a couple of hours I decided to make a break for a cafe to warm up, and the public car park proved to be both my undoing and Billy’s.
The public toilets were closed but they didn’t let you know that until you’d gone up the chequer plated slope to the door, which meant you then had to come down again. I hadn’t realised that the chequer plate slope would be colder than the surrounding ground, and with the previous rain combined with spray coming off the sea, it was covered in a thin layer of invisible ice. The car park itself had some puddle but these weren’t properly frozen so I hadn’t worried.
Completely unprepared, I slipped on the ice and was airborne from the top of the slop, for a few milliseconds, before crashing onto the tarmac of the carpark at the end of the slope.
Poor Billy got a few war wounds in the process, but at least it will give him some genuine Punk character I guess. I was bloody annoyed at the time. First outing too.
My left knee and my left hand didn’t come off too well either…
…I guess I won’t be playing Twister for a few days.
My camera equipment, cosy within the Lowepro heavy duty padding and armoury of my Whistler 350AW was absolutely fine. Thankfully.
Although one trip, two if you count falling over, really isn’t enough to make a full review or judgement on Billy, I have to say that over all I am, so far, I am impressed. I would have liked slightly thicker legs, but that’s probably more for my confidence than because I feel they’re actually needed. I come from the old heavy tripod is good school, although I detest carrying them.
I am delighted by the three position legs, and the removable centre column. I love the weight and ease of carrying. I love the chunky grips and the smooth running head, although I would have really liked the head from the more expensive range with its built in panoramic bit.
Had I the requisite £400 then I might have gone for the Albert to gain some extra height but that’s because I spent a lot of time on the side of lochs and I do like to put the legs in the water, and so its feet are often a foot or more below my feet, but given the price difference and the colour way (which is way more me), I am very happy so far.
Because I like to put the legs in water, I also like tripods which you can easily take apart and clean or dry out. 3 Legged Thing make lots of the tripod user serviceable and there are great how-to videos and exactly what you need to do available on their website and YouTube channel.
I would like an L plate thing because I’m a landscape photographer and lazy, but then would it interfere with my use of the Peak Design hand strap?
I would like a set of free spikes included, and as it stands that adds to my cost, and so does adding the panoramic bit for the head which is also available as an extra. The Punks range is the cheaper range of the two 3 Legged Thing offer, but don’t let that fool you, these are not cut price or cheap tripods. For the money, I have to say it is one of the best I’ve every seen and knocks spots of other similarly, and many more expensively priced, tripods.
No, it’s not a Gitzo. But then neither is Gitzo anymore (it’s a rebranded Manfrotto by the look of it and not the same quality as the original).
The Billy and the Travis are the most conventional designs from 3 Legged Thing, and I like them all the more for it. I’m not big on centre columns as you can tell, and I remain unconvinced about telescopic ones.
I anticipate that Billy and I will have a long relationship, although possibly not leading to marriage, and I will update again in due course with some longer term observations. Until then, enjoy my site and please take time to comment, like, and share as it does my Google rating no end of good. You never know, one day I might even make some money at this, and if you want to buy me a cup of tea in the meantime, there is a link on the menu to Paypal Me. Thanks for reading.