2015: A year of achievement

Let’s not bother with the humblebrag and just get straight to it: I’ve had a f**king good year when it comes to photography. And I’m going to relish it!

But let’s not get too carried away here; I’ve undoubtedly had my fair share of good luck this year, combined with some planning. But at some point, lucky shots happen too often to be just flukes. And I have been getting better at taking photos and being critical of my own work. God knows I’m my harshest critic! But this post is my celebration of how well I’ve done this year, and this is my pat on the back to myself.

The year started slowly: it took my over 2 weeks to get out with the camera after New Year. I decided to sign up for a workshop at the start of February with Grant Ritchie at Real Edinburgh to try and get my mojo back. And oof! Did it ever…here’s one of my photos from the night, which made it onto the BBC News website (twice), is currently my most popular photo on Flickr (18,500 views), and was the first photo I sold commercially. You can see Forth Ports using it on their website as one of the carousel of background images.

Forth Rail Bridge Sunset Feb 7th 15

The following day I was inspired to go out and get the sunset again. That resulted in this image, which I liked but didn’t think anything of at the time.

Salisbury Crags sunset

However, I ended up entering the photo into the Ordnance Survey’s OS Photofit competition to have winning images on the covers of all the OS’s refreshed paper maps. Well, turns out I won the competition for the Edinburgh Explorer (1:25,000) map! I couldn’t believe it! So anytime you buy Explorer 350 then you’ll see this photo on the front. Not only that, but the image was chosen to go into the OS’s 2016 calendar, along with 11 other very fine photos. You can buy it here (https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/os-2016-calendar.html) if you wish. I also see today that OS have used it as their daily Instagram photo to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

Then, in July, a rare lightning storm rolled across Edinburgh. Again I have to thank Grant Ritchie for alerting me to this. I was off work, and tracked the lightning strikes all day, until finally at about 1am we had lightning over the southern and eastern parts of the city. I had a great view from the living room window, and captured a whole load of lightning strikes over Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill. I ended up combing around 13 images into a blend to make a truly dramatic photo, and at 3am I posted it to Twitter and went to bed.

The tweet went mental, including a retweet from J.K. Rowling. It’s currently sitting at nearly 60,000 ‘impressions’. Small fry by Twitter standards, but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re phone won’t stop buzzing all day! That photo netted me an interview on Boogie in the Morning (a popular local drive time radio show), a TV interview for STV News (watch here), publications in four Scottish newspapers, and thousands of views on social media. It was pretty intense! I ended up selling some prints through Real Edinburgh too, which was nice.

The remainder of the year was much calmer, mostly due to cracking on with writing my PhD thesis. I ended up selling some more photos, including one to Schlumberger for an ad campaign, and various to friends. The cash raised from these and newspaper sales allowed me to upgrade my camera (twice) and so looking forward to making the most of it in 2016.

Amongst all that, I was a finalist in a competition run by Yelp for Edinburgh Festival photos with this picture:

RoyalMileFireworks-26.08.15 And generally have had lots of love on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for my photos through the year. Two things capped off the year: firstly, I had asked friends if anyone was interested in buying a calendar I had put together to help me get a bulk discount. The response was, frankly, amazing! I wanted to sell 15 and sold 60! So thank you to my friends for supporting me at the end of the year (keep an eye out for the 2017 calendar). And secondly, just before Christmas I was contacted by a researcher for National Geographic, who want to use an old photo of mine in one of their books! I will believe it when I see it, but nonetheless, it would be a great honour for me to be published by such a venerated institution. Fingers crossed that this happens next year.

All in all, an amazing year for me photography wise. A Happy New Year to you all, and see you next year!

Britannia Fireworks

A nice surprise

Gosh! It’s been a while since I last wrote anything. I’ve been rather consumed by my PhD writing since the summer and have been neglecting other aspects of my life. Not to say nothing exciting has happened!

Back in May I found out that one of my photographs had been selected to be the front cover image of the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 ‘Explorer’ map for  Edinburgh. It has since been published and I now have a copy of the map courtesy of OS. It looks great (of course!) and I’m so proud to see my photo there.

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to find that OS also chose the photo to be in their 2016 calendar! How cool is that? It was a surprise since OS didn’t tell me that they were selecting it; I found out on Twitter. I was going to ask for a cheeky free copy, but then a few days later one landed n my doormat. Result! Mine is even the November picture (although the photo was taken in February), meaning it ties in nicely with my November blog entry🙂

WP

Money raised from the calendar sales will go to the OS’s chosen charity, Holding Little Hands. You can read more about the calendar on the OS blog.

Hiroshima: 70 years ago today

It’s now 70 years since America dropped the first atomic bomb in warfare. The target: Hiroshima. There’s plenty of information, images and debate about the bombing (and the subsequent one of Nagasaki) so I won’t cover that here.

I have, though, written already about my experience meeting a survivor. The suffering – mental and physical – that survivors carry around must be incredible. And in the name of freedom and democracy too.

Only a month after visiting Hiroshima with my friends Neil and Rami, I got to see the vehicle of Hiroshima’s destruction: the Enola Gay . It’s currently on display in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. It is a really beautiful aircraft. Deceptively so. I suppose most warplanes are, to be honest. They are engineering marvels and triumphs of human imagination, ingenuity, endeavour, and purpose. But most are also anonymous. Most of us do not know, even roughly, how many people have died through the power of the aircraft in front of us at a museum, or an airshow. It could be thousands, dozens or none. In that way it’s easy to lose sight of their true purpose: killing.

Not so with the Enola Gay. We don’t know for certain how many people died when it dropped ‘Little Boy’, but estimates range from 90,000 to 160,000 (Source: Wikipedia). Think that over…one aircraft alone accounted for at least 90 thousand deaths.

I beautiful piece of engineering, no doubt. But standing next to it gave me the chills. It made me angry, sad, frightened. An odd sensation to have looking at an inanimate object. But it’s not to blame. We are. Humans. For all that we’re brilliant, we’re also terrible.

R.I.P. the victims of pointless wars.

Some recent Netflix viewing

Ugh, been ill again. FML and all that. Thankfully there’s been some decent sport on The Council Telly (that’s non-satellite/cable TV for non-UK readers) – The Open, The Davis Cup and The Tour de France are, or continue to be, entertaining. But man cannot live on sport alone (I know, right!?). Netflix to the rescue for a few days, then, and here’s what I was watching:

Films

  • Zombieland – excellent and hilarious action comedy with Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, and Abigail Breslin (and zombies, natch). Rule #2 Double Tap.
  • Whip It – Drew Barrymore directed coming-of-age-rom-com (I suppose?) with Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig and some great cameos. Fun, funny, a bit predictable and nothing we haven’t seen before (overbearing mother, rebellious teen falls out with best friend, it’s the journey not the destination, etc.) but definitely recommended.
  • Obvious Child – described as “hilarious” by one critic I read before watching this, and classified as a romantic comedy. Well, a rom-com perhaps, but not hilarious. It is, however, very sweet and touching. Think Knocked Up but with some real heart. Recommended (but not for the jokes).
  • Hot Girls Wanted – Incongruous in this list, a documentary on young women going into the porn industry in the USA. Hardly an eye-opener, but it is pretty depressing nonetheless.
  • Clean Spirit – In the Heart of the Tour – A fascinating documentary following the pro cycling team Argos-Shimano during the 2013 Tour de France (topical!), focusing on their top sprinter Andre Kittel. No narration, great camerawork, subtitled and recommended even for non cyclists.
  • Happy Gilmore – Classic(?) Adam Sandler comedy about a crap ice hockey player-turned-Pro-Am golfer (also topical!). Fun and ridiculous with a great villain in Christopher McDonald, the seasoned pro who’ll stop at nothing to win The Championsip.
  • Tucker and Dale vs Evil – I totally missed this when it came out, but absolutely 5 star recommendation. Comedy horror, brilliantly done, with Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as the eponymous heroes. I literally lol’d all the way through. Great film.

TV

  • Game of Thrones – Season 5 [blinkbox] – Well, I sat and watched this in two sittings, so I must’ve enjoyed it, but to be honest it ended with a feeling of dissatisfaction. I worked out what it was when I read the Atlantic’s series covering the episodes…Ramsay Bolton appearing all the bloody time! Anyway, nice ending, can’t wait for the final season.
  • Mad Men – Season 7 (Part 2) [blinkbox] – Speaking of final seasons, Mad Men finished after, what, 8 years? What a wonderful show. and the only TV drama I’ve really got into in a big way. A teary final couple of episodes, but what else would I expect. Watch it and love it.
  • Bojack Horseman – Season 2 – Absolutely quality (in the Scottish sense) cartoon on Netflix. Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris and Aaron Paul head this superbly well written surreal black satire on Hollywood, fame and media. Again, much lol’ing, but with a tragic main character and puns. Genius, and hope it continues. Here’s a trailer:

Scottish Brewery Locations

In a fit of uber-procrastination, and inspired by a forum topic I was reading today, I decided to put together a map of the locations of Scottish breweries!

I’m not a beer drinker, so this was really nothing more than a way to avoid writing my PhD thesis, but I’ve also added in the 3 cider breweries in Scotland since that is what I do drink.

The list of beer breweries came from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_breweries_in_Scotland), and are based on postcodes alone, unless there’s already a Google Map location or the website for the brewery had a more accurate position. All locations are clickable and will bring up a link to the brewery website. Information is correct as of 4th June, 2015.

The map is also public, so if you have a Google account you can make changes to it, and update it with more information if you wish. Please share around and, of course, enjoy responsibly!

I’m a winner!

And not just according to my mum, either!

I didn’t spot the email at first. Gmail kindly sorts some emails automatically into “Social” and “Promotions” groups, for which you don’t get a new email notification. I generally treat these groups as spam, and ignore them.

But Lo! Today I found an email from Ordnance Survey. I had to read it a couple of times:

Dear Kit
Thank you for entering OS Photofit. I am delighted to tell you that your photo has been selected to feature on the first phase of our newly branded OS Explorer maps. Your photo will feature on Explorer 350 Edinburgh.

The new covers are already going into production and we hope to see the new designs rolled out across our retailers and available on our website from early summer.

As soon as they are available, we will send you a complimentary copy of the map featuring your photo and name credit.

Well…that was unexpected! The OS Photofit competition is basically a clever way of the Ordnance Survey (OS) getting free photos (i.e. they don’t have to cough up a licence) to put on the covers of their maps. Photos are uploaded by area of the UK, and voted on, by the public with a final decision made by OS. This was the photo I submitted for Edinburgh:

image

The final map cover will have the edges heavily cropped, since the map images are in portrait, not landscape, but that should show Salisbury Crags (the rocky bit, if you’re not familiar with Edinburgh) with the Tron (black spire) and Edinburgh Castle in the background.

The viewpoint for the photo is a great spot to be. If you fancy popping up there yourself, it’s easy to find. Just take the steps up the city facing side of Arthur’s Seat and when it levels off a little, you can turn off the path. Here’s a map:

I’ve had a lot of luck this year with photography. There are many, many, many wonderful photos of Edinburgh, so I’m pretty chuffed that one of mine will be on the cover of the 1:25,000 OS map! And, of course, a hearty congratulations to all the other winners!

You can read more about the winners on the OS blog: http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/blog/2015/05/latest-osphotofit-winners-announced/

And the full selection of winning photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/osmapping/sets/72157649182501294/

8 weeks on…

It’s been close to 8 weeks since I had a life-changing operation to fix a problem that’s been with me for 4 years. Reading back my last post, right before going into hospital, I can see how anxious I was!

And I was pretty scared. I remember lying on the bed waiting to be knocked out and not being able to control my shaking. 8 weeks later and I still have an uncertain future.

The first couple of weeks were, literally, agony. My life revolved around lying in bed watching Netflix, taking medication (3 different painkillers, an antibiotic, an incontinence pill, and mild laxatives, not to mention anti blood clotting and anti nausea jags in hospital), eating and emptying the catheter bag. Having the catheter was probably the single most regularly painful and inconvenient thing to deal with over 2 weeks. The relief when it came out was amazing!

But that was only one thing dealt with. I had another 3 or 4 weeks of poor sleep, regular pain and generally sitting around looking at the best weather of the year (so far) from inside the house.

I don’t think anything prepares you for how slow recovery from major surgery can be. I was told 6-8 weeks for pretty much full recovery, but while things are certainly much much better now than, say, 7 weeks ago, I still feel a long way off being recovered. I think this has been the hardest part: dealing with expectations of what I should vs. what I am feeling like.

Dealing with pain on a regular basis (I still am, but manage without painkillers now), poor sleep, boredom, physical inactivity, and (despite my wonderful friends visiting regularly) a lack of human interaction day-to-day all takes somewhat of a mental toll. It’s hard to pick oneself back up, shake off the beating and get back to something resembling a ‘normal’ life.

Added to this, I am not certain the operation has – or will – fully resolved the problem. I’m certainly very concerned about one aspect, and while I try and ignore it, it’s almost impossible to do so. I will see the surgeon in a couple of months to review this, so there’s still time yet for improvement.

In the meantime, this is my last week booked off work, and I’ve been up and about trying to get back into the swing of leading a normal active life. Being back at work will help; it will certainly keep me extremely busy, and I’m looking forward to not being on my own for large parts of the day.

So, onward, and hopefully upward. The adage of ‘one step at a time’ feels appropriate here. As does ‘keep on trucking’.