Category Archives: Urban

Urban Impressionism: Edinburgh Tour Buses

The use of camera movement and/or zooming during a long exposure is a technique I learned from one of my photographic heroes, Bryan Peterson. It takes experimentation to figure out which photographic subjects are likely to produce interesting images.

Edinburgh tour bus, impressionist photography using zooming and camera rotation

I really like this old style tour bus and I was delighted I could capture an impressions picture of this wonderful subject.

So a while back, I decided to try out this technique in an urban setting, namely central Edinburgh. I was quickly intrigued by the many colourful tour buses going by.

Edinburgh tour bus, impressionist photography using zooming and camera rotation

I love the colour red as it is an attention grabber in photographs.

The images in this post were taken with an exposure of 1/8s, turning the camera while holding the zoom ring. It takes quite a bit of practice, and I had to try my luck on a lot of passing cars and buses to get the three images you see here. I really look forward to trying this technique on other urban photography subjects.

Edinburgh tour bus, impressionist photography using zooming and camera rotation

This tour bus seemed to go by at a higher frequency than the others, and I therefore had multiple attempts at a “bus impression”.

Light Painting a Dancer on Calton Hill: Amy

Calton Hill is one of most popular locations in Edinburgh, because it offers a spectacular view of Princes street and the castle. It is where Amy wanted to get photographed and I was delighted to try out Calton Hill for light painting.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill with the city of Edinburgh as backdrop

Calton Hill offers a great view of the city of Edinburgh that I used as a backdrop.

One of the things I hadn’t anticipated is that some areas are closed to the public at night. In hindsight it makes perfect sense, for safety reasons. The problem was that I had a number of shots in mind that were now off limits.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill with the city of Edinburgh as backdrop

The big rocks provided a great combination of shapes and textures (elements of design), and I immediately knew I could use these as an interesting foreground.

While on some level it was annoying, I like to be thrown a challenge or two when shooting my personal projects. It is good to practice improvising because that is something that can happen on a job. And the more experience I have overcoming the hurdles the real world throws at me, the better prepared I am when it really counts.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland

Another location with lines, shapes and texture to use as a background. We tried some different poses, but this is my favourite.

The picture below is one I had I mind before the shoot and was the last set up for the night.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill, Edinburgh with the Balmoral Hotel as background.

The Balmoral Hotel is one of the landmark buildings on Princes Street, Edinburgh. Using a telephoto lens, I was able to compress the perspective and effectively use the building as a background.

Light Painting a Musician: Finlay Hetherington

I got to know Finlay though a mutual acquaintance and I was delighted he was interested in taking part in my light painting project.

Light painting of musician and education Finlay Hetherington in front of a graffiti wall with his trumpet

A very simple background can be made interesting by light painting. We both immediately noticed and liked the word ‘love’ on that part of the wall.

Urban settings can work very well for light painting, and I’m always on the lookout for new locations. Typically, I want as many elements of design as possible, i.e lines, shapes, textures and colours in my backgrounds.

Light painting of musician and education Finlay Hetherington in front of a graffiti wall with his trumpet

I like to try a number of variations for each backdrop.

A dancer introduced me to the the graffiti wall and the old building seen in the first three pictures. We never collaborated on a light painting project, but I always kept these locations in mind.

Light painting of musician and educator Finlay Hetherington with his trumpet in an urban location

This location was challenging to light paint because of the street lights nearby that forced me to use a faster shutter speed than I would have liked.

It was pretty chilly on the night of these light paintings, and Finlay’s trumpet was freezing cold and thus really hard to hold while standing still. But after some time warming up in the car, Finlay still had some energy for a final setup. So we headed out looking for a location near the sea. The lighthouse in Newhaven would have provided a great backdrop, but unfortunately, it was too late by then and the sky was just too dark. But I knew of a location nearby with lines, shapes and colours (mostly red) that could work just fine. The photograph below is the last light painting we did on the day, after which Finlay and I were just too cold to carry on.

Light painting of musician and educator Finlay Hetherington with his trumpet sitting on a flight of stairs in an urban location

Lines and shapes abound in this location. I only needed to paint my subject and the stairs because I used the ambient light for the background.

Maria at the Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh

In people photographs, you should never underestimate the importance of the background, even for close-up pictures.

Smiling model with Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh as background

Maria probably is the most photogenic person I’ve ever had in from of my camera.

The Innocent Railway Tunnel in Edinburgh is one of my favourite locations for photo shoots. This locations has lines, shapes, textures and with the proper white balance setting on the camera, colour. In other words, shooting at the Innocent Railway Tunnel allows you to incorporate a lot of the elements of design in your photographs.

Introspective model with Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh as background

Since we’ve done a number of photo shoots together, I trust Maria do give me many different expressions for each set up.

I had promised Maria that we would shoot there someday, and after a longish wait, it finally happened. Since it was rather late in the evening and the place was therefore relatively quiet, I could really work my subject and try as many poses and framings as possible.

Model with Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh as background

Finally, a more serious expression showcasing Maria’s blue eyes.

So I tried vertical as well as horizontal frames, and symmetric (see below) versus asymmetric (see above) compositions.

Model with Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh as background Close-up shot using a 400mm telephoto lens.

I had to use the symmetry of the location to frame my model Maria for a whole series of picture. This photograph was taken with a long telephoto (400mm focal length).

My 80-400mm zoom lens allowed me to quickly shoot quite a few variations on the composition above. Starting with a close-up and then zooming out for a couple of different looks. Note that I also had to ‘zoom with my feet’ but there was no need to interrupt the flow of the shoot by having to change lenses.

Smiling model framed by the arches at the Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh

Zooming out allowed me to show more of the interesting background.

I also had to take a full length photograph to complete the series.

Full length photo of model at the Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh

Close-up, medium shot and full length to complete the series of vertical compositions.

While a vertical composition feels more natural with the model and background as in the pictures above, it is always good practice to find a horizontal composition of the same subject.

Horizontal composition of model symmetrically framed by the Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh

Similar pose as above but framing the subject horizontally gives one an extra option.

Horizontal composition of model smiling and symmetrically framed by the Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh

We did poses with and without the jacket on, so it was time to try a variation without the hat on.

Note that for all of these variations, the model and camera only had to move a few meters. A great location like the Innocent Railway Tunnel can give you many options.


iPhone Photography – Urban Graffiti

If you are a casual DSLR  or point and shoot photographer, you’ve probably never used Photoshop actions and presets to edit your photographs and create a particular look. And you’ve almost certainly never applied a texture to one of your images.

Urban graffiti in Portobello, Edinburgh. Edited with the DistressedFX app.

I was introduced to adding textures to images in an online fine art nature photography class. I was delighted to find out you could do this on your iPhone. Here I used one of the textures from the DistressedFX app.

One of the great things about mobile photography is that you can buy apps that can give your photographs a different look and feel with a few button presses and slider adjustments. These apps pretty much do what many Photoshop presets and actions do. At a fraction of the cost.

Urban graffiti in Portobello, Edinburgh. Applied the Diana analog filter from Camera+

A different version of the photograph. This time I used the Diana analog filter from Camera+.

I personally use Camera+ to take my photos and do some minor edits, such as adjusting brightness and contrast. I also like some of the analog filters that app provides, such as the Diana and XPRO C-41 or their retro Ansel filter for creating contrasty back and white images. I would love to try VSCO and Snapseed, but I can’t use these apps on my good old iPhone 4.

Urban graffiti in Portobello, Edinburgh. Applied the XPRO C-41 filter from Camera+. for a crossed processed look.

In this version, I used the XPRO C-41 filter from Camera+. I’ve always loved the cross processed film look and this is one of my favourite filters.

One app I recently fell is love with is DistressedFX. It allows you to combine your photos with a number of textures to add mood to your images. The app also gives you many options to precisely adjust the blending of the textures and photographs.

Urban graffiti in Portobello, Edinburgh. Edited with Chrome filter from Camera+.

I rarely use this filter (Chrome from Camera+), but I liked the look it gave the image.

Another app for adding textures and other effects to your images is Mextures. It allows you to layer many textures and effects in one go and gives you a lot of control. But beware, these apps can be really addictive!

Urban graffiti in Portobello, Edinburgh. Applied the retro Ansel filter from Camera+.

The retro Ansel filter from Camera+ was applied to the image to create this contrasty black and white version.

iPhone Street Photography

One of the most remarkable things I noticed since I started taking pictures with my iPhone is that hardly anybody is paying attention to you while you snap away. You are not considered a serious photographer, and people move on. No big deal.

Red door with shadow of person. Taken with iPhone

I love the colour red in photographs. I go by this door very often, but hardly ever do I have a proper camera with me. So when I started taking pictures with my phones, I knew I wanted to photograph this door.

Try pulling a big DSLR and lens from your bag and people take notice. It is clear your purpose is to take photographs, and people tend to be on their guard. It is more difficult to remain discreet. There are ways to do so, but I found taking candid photos with a DSLR more challenging.

In my experience, the key to interesting street photographs is patience. Namely, find a spot and let the action come to you. It eventually will. For example, in the above photo of the red door, I found the scene without any people in it to be a bit bland. I gathered I could improve the photograph by including someone in the photo. When I noticed the long shadows produced on the day by the setting sun, I knew I had my shot. It was just a matter of time before people started to walk by. I took a number of snaps, but this one is my clear favourite.

Cartoon tiger on a wall with two people shadows. Fountain Park, Edinburgh. Taken with iPhone.

Another image playing with shadows. Taken at Fountain Park, Edinburgh.

The above picture was taken at Fountain Park, Edinburgh. I was early for a business networking event, so I looked for photo opportunities. I noticed the colourful cartoon tiger character. And once again, the sun was low on the horizon and I decided to take advantage of the long shadows cast by passers-by. It took a number of tries to get the composition I wanted and hone in on my timing. The above photograph is my favourite of a few good pictures  I managed to get.

Man taking break from work. Street art on the wall,. Taken in Edinburgh with an iPhone.

Man taking a break from work in the late afternoon light.

Sometimes you have to get lucky, as in the above picture of the man taking a break from work. I couldn’t have anticipated the photo opportunity as the door was closed, since I had no indication it could open any time soon. I was initially drawn by the street art on the wall. Fortunately, I was ready when the photo opportunity presented itself. He must have known I was taking pictures, but didn’t seem to care.

Street Photography – Let The Pictures Come To You

A long time ago, when photography was just a hobby for me, I’d spend hours walking around my hometown of Lausanne, Switzerland, looking for pictures. But I was making a basic “rookie” mistake. I was chasing the action, running all over the place, and as a result very often came up empty handed.

The two best things to happen with regard to my photography education were the internet and learning english. There is a wealth of information online, and the key thing I learned about street photography is to pick my spot and let the action come to me.

Older gentleman walking in front of a very colourful wall  in Edinburgh, Scotland

Colour is an important element of design I look for when I’m walking around with a camera. This wall immediately attracted my attention.

So when I saw this colourful wall surrounding a construction site close to where I live, I thought it would make for a great photo background. But at first, the street was pretty much deserted. A while back, I would have moved on looking for another picture opportunity. But having learned some of the secrets of street photography, I decided to stand across the street and wait. And sure enough, after a while, a number of people walked by and I was able to capture a number of frames that I like.

Gentleman with an iPod or other mp3 player walking in front of a colourful wall in Edinburgh, Scotland

On a different day when the sun was out, I was able to capture more people walking in front of that colourful wall.

Now, if I find a great spot for a photo but it is missing people in it to make better, I just stick around for a while. Chances are, I’m going to get a good photo opportunity sooner or later.

Edinburgh Urban Lips

“Always carry a camera, it’s tough to shoot a picture without one.” — Jay Maisel

I’m a big fan of photographer Jay Maisel. Jay always has a camera with him and takes pictures every day.

In a sense, I always have a camera with me, the one that comes with my phone. But the image quality I get from it is a far cry from that of my “proper camera”.

I was reminded of the importance of this a while back when I was wondering about the streets of Edinburgh. You never know when you are going to see something interesting. I cannot count the times when I saw something that would have made a good photograph but had left my “proper camera” at home.

Fortunately I had a good camera with me when these “electric” lips in an Edinburgh shop window caught my attention.

Bunch of red light bulbs in the shape of lips in a shop window, Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh is full of great photographic opportunities. Some obvious, some less obvious like these lips in a shop window.

Light Painting: Edinburgh Vintage Shoot

I have done more photo shoots with Maria than with any other model. Not only does she look fabulous in photographs, but she always has interesting ideas for photo shoots and that makes for fun collaborations.

I couldn’t really believe that it had been nearly two years since our last project. Time flies when you’re having fun. So when I wanted to further explore the light painting technique, I asked Maria if she was interested and if she had any ideas.

Model in a light blue vintage dress and hair against a blue garage door on Circus Lane, Edinburgh

This garage door on Circus Lane, Edinburgh, attracted my attention because of its texture and colour. It also wasn’t lit by any of the street lights, so it was dark enough for the light painting technique to work.

She told me that she had wanted to do a vintage-themed shoot for a long time. Now if you’ve ever met me, you’ll know I’m the opposite of a fashionista. So I had very little idea of what that meant, but having worked with Maria in the past, I knew that I could trust she’d give me some great looks.

I also ask collaborators if they know of some interesting locations. And Maria suggested the area around Circus Lane in Stockbridge, Edinburgh.

Model in a vintage light blue dress and vintage hair sitting on the steps of St Stephen's church, Edinburgh

The steps of St Stephen’s church in Edinburgh may not look like a great location for a photograph. But I recognised two important elements of design, line and pattern. And with light painting, it is possible to make nearly anything look interesting. Adding a  lovely young lady to the image doesn’t hurt either!

One of the reasons I love light painting, is that with this technique, one can make some ordinary backgrounds like a garage door on Circus Lane or the steps of St Stephen’s church look interesting. Such is the power of lighting!

Vision Training: Urban Abstracts

In the previous post, I described the benefits of abstract photography in refining one’s vision as a photographer.

Without a recognisable subject for our eyes to latch on to, do the lines, shapes and colours in the picture combine in some harmonious way? It’s another way to develop one’s mastery of the element of design.

Urban abstract photograph of colour obtained by multiple exposures of a coloured wall on an Edinburgh construction site

This multiple coloured panel wall was around some Edinburgh construction site. By using multiple exposures, moving and rotating the camera after each click of the shutter, I was able to create this urban abstract of colour.

Apart from close-ups, some of the techniques for producing abstract photographs include multiple exposures, moving the camera (panning) or zooming during a long exposure. These techniques not only work on nature subjects, but on urban ones too.

Zooming and rotating the camera during a long exposure, the graffiti on the wall becomes nothing more than an abstract of shapes and colours

Graffiti provides great opportunities for creating abstract photographs, and can be found in every urban area. By zooming while rotating the camera during a long exposure, I obtained the above abstract of urban colour.