February 12, 2018

Landscapes and Seascapes on the Forth

Sunrise to sunset along the banks of the Forth River with Edinburgh Photography Workshop

Edinburgh Photography Workshop’s “Introduction to Seascapes and Landscapes” is a great way for intermediate to advanced photographers to experience the diverse beauty of the Forth coastlines.

The River Forth starts in the hills of Stirling and makes its way east to enter the North Sea past Edinburgh. It was historically home to a vibrant fishing industry and is spanned by the famous Forth Bridge. This full-day workshop offers a great opportunity to get to grips with the use of ND and graduated filters in a variety of settings. You will have the chance to create a range of images, from powerful panoramas to abstract scenes made using in-camera motion blur.

Picking up from central Edinburgh two hours before dawn, attendees can relax as we drive northwards to the East Neuk of Fife to catch the first rays of sunlight. Photography locations are selected to take into account the weather conditions, tide-times and even the lunar cycle. The February 2018 workshop started slightly north of Elie, a picturesque former fishing village.

There are two great locations here to start the day with. The first shot of the day takes in Lady’s Tower, built in 1760 as a changing room for Lady Janet Anstruther, who would bathe in the waters below. There are rarely ladies bathing at 6:30 in the morning these days, but instead we were treated to a panoramic view of the day ahead. From this spot, looking west, you can see the tips of the three bridges that traverse the Forth at Queensferry. Looking south is the 100 metre-high Bass Rock where we end the day on the opposite side of the river. Just a few 100 metres away from Lady’s Tower is the Elie Ness Lighthouse. Built in 1908, it casts a shaft of light across the Forth every six seconds. By the time the group started to take photographs of the lighthouse the beam had gone off, but we were treated to some frosty grass and icy puddles that created an appealing leading line.

After an hour outdoors, sometimes working in biting wind flowing from the north sea, there is a welcome cup of hot coffee and breakfast snack with time to chat through any technical difficulties posed by using filters. Quite often participants are using filters for the first time when they attend the workshop. Drawing on his experience of photographing changing seascapes, instructor Rich Dyson will help attendees to become familiar with the way filters can balance light more evenly across a scene.

Our next stop is a short drive away and opens up different ways of photographing to create an abstract effect. These white birch trees just off the road are perfect subjects to practice in-camera blur. A slow shutter speed and a well-timed movement of the camera make for a really pleasing image.

The final location on the north side of the Forth is at Aberdour. A short walk from the car park down a steep hill takes us to the old, worn wooden pier. It is a bit of a clamber over some slippy rocks to get to the water’s edge but the effort is worth it. This location is perfect for extreme long-exposures, an effect you will often see in seascapes. In February, the sun can be quite high in the sky. So to achieve the smooth effect on the water, we had to use 6 or 10 stop ND filters to slow the shutter speed down enough to blur the waves lapping onto the rocks. In the distance, you can just make out our next stop in the workshop. The iconic Forth Bridge and its two sister bridges; the Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing.

The two towns of North and South Queensferry have long been journey points for travellers crossing the Forth. Indeed, they take their name from Saint Margaret of Scotland, wife of King Malcolm III, who is said to have established the village to ensure regular ferry crossings across the Firth of Forth for pilgrims travelling to St Andrews. The painting of the iconic Forth Bridge, which opened in 1890, is often used as a metaphor for a job that will never be finished. This red steel cantilever bridge used to continually be painted working from one side to the other and back. Advances in paint technology mean there can now be a 30 year break between paint jobs. This is great news for photographers, as it frees the vista from maintenance-related scaffolding.

The Road Bridge opened in 1964 and hasn’t been quite as hardy. The unforeseen explosion in traffic numbers has led to the need for a new road bridge, the Queensferry Crossing, which opened in 2017. From the Port Edgar Marina we get a stunning panoramic view of all three bridges. Here we learn how to capture a set of photographs that can be processed in a tool such as Adobe Lightroom to create one spectacular wide image. A short drive through South Queensferry and we are now underneath the Forth Bridge with a picture post-card view back down the Forth. This spot is one of the most beautiful locations for seascapes anywhere that you will experience so close to a capital city.

A short stop for lunch and we start to make our way along the south side of the river, skirting the UNESCO status city of Edinburgh. Early Scottish photographers David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson made picturesque calotype photographs of the fishwives and fishermen that lived in the Newhaven, now part of Edinburgh. Today, Newhaven Harbour is the landing point for passengers from the large ocean-going cruisers that sail down the Forth in the summer months. The small boat that ferries the passengers from the cruise ships to land pass by this lighthouse built in 1869. It’s not often that you can enjoy such easy access to a lighthouse from the road, which is why this is a much-photographed seascape location.

The penultimate location for the Seascapes and Landscapes Workshop is the old pier and harbour at North Berwick. In the 8th century, travellers would take a ferry 7 miles from North Berwick to our first location of the day at Elie. These days the harbour is home to pleasure cruisers and boats filled with bird spotters, who journey to the Isle? of May and the Bass Rock to see the rich array of birdlife that inhabits the Forth. From a photographic perspective, a welcome addition to the harbour area is these south-facing painted doors of the boatsheds, where the lobster fishermen store their creels.

Our final location for this tour is a beautiful hidden gem of the Forth coastline. Seacliff Beach, a small private beach near North Berwick, is home to the smallest harbour in the UK, with an entrance just three metres wide. From the rocky outcrop at the east end of the beach, we are in touching distance of the Bass Rock and also have a fabulous view of the 14th-century Tantallon Castle. Despite its imposing cliff-top location, the castle was attacked several times – by James IV, James V and most severely by Oliver Cromwell. It is now a ruin, operated by Historic Scotland. Whilst the sun was setting at this final location, the blue hues of the sea and sky combined to create a memorable final image for the workshop.

The Introduction to Landscapes & Seascapes workshop is ideal for intermediate photographers who have a reasonably good understanding of exposure and composition, although advanced photographers looking for new locations will also find much to enjoy.

We do walk over some rough ground to get to some of the locations, but anyone with an average level of fitness will be able to enjoy the wonderful shooting spots. In order to get maximum benefit from the day, you should bring a filter system such as Lee, NiSi or Cokin that allows you to drop both ND and Graduated filters in front of your lenses. A good starter set would comprise 2 and 6 stop ND filters and 2 and 3 stop graduated filters. You will also need a sturdy, stable tripod, as some of the locations can be quite windy and a cheaper tripod may be blown over and damage your expensive camera equipment.

The workshop costs £150 and runs once a month from September through to March. To book your place click here.

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