Saturday, 8 November 2014

Botanic Lights - Night in the Garden

"This November, visitors to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh will be invited to enter the Garden after dark for a spectacular outdoor event featuring a magical combination of light and nature. It is the first outdoor light experience of its kind to be organised by the Garden."

When my mum (above, 84 later this month) heard about this event, she rallied the troops and 12 of us went along to see the gardens lit up last Wednesday. It was a clear crisp chilly evening and everyone from the youngest (Amy and Megan, also above) to the oldest, really enjoyed it. Although there are a couple of stand-and-watch set pieces at the Palm House and the Duck Pond, visitors are allowed to saunter at their own pace round the specially set out 1km walk which starts near the Palm House and winds round a lot of the gardens to finish near the cafe, where you can warm up with a hot drink before exiting back at the North Gate.

There is a small, shell-decorated folly near the start which I hadn't seen before. We were excited about seeing the Palm House so hurried past - I must return for a closer inspection as it was really beautifully decorated.

This slowly changed shades and lit up along the front. (Not like the disco that the top image suggests.)

The light works were greatly varied. Some were specially built installations like this I've-found-a-use-for-my-cd-collection artwork, to massive projections, while other areas were just lit with lights: some natural colours, some artificial colours, some steady, some changing. It was as if a lot of different artists were involved rather than just Scottish light artist Malcolm Innes and colleague Euan Winton. 

Although we arrived as a family group, I was quickly separated, scampering off into the bushes to get photos from better angles and avoid the other visitors who could easily bump over a tripod or jostle an elbow. The visitor numbers were good without being overcrowded - "tours" started every 30 mins and there was only crowding at the 2 main spots of the Palm House and the Duck Pond. In fact the Duck Pond viewing point was so continually busy that I didn't bother waiting there for a front row position. The sweeping spotlights and smoke on the water was a big hit, although I found more to photograph in some of the less obvious spectacles.

The subtly shifting lights at the bridge / waterfall were very well done. I was hoping to get a better combination of long exposure water blurring and sharply focussed plants but the stream was in Stygian gloom and disappeared by comparison to the surrounding spotlit flora.

Pleased (and suprised) to catch the full moon peaking out from behind the shrubbery

I took 2 cameras, 2 headtorches and 2 tripods along. (And 2 pairs of gloves, both of which I had on by the end.) I have to admit the challenge of taking photos there got me so excited that I lost contact with my family for the majority of the 90minutes we were there and I just dashed from one photo opportunity to the next like a man possessed. I almost feel like I need to go back and look at the thing without a camera to get the whole picture (paradoxically.) Since I got the compact camera (Panasonic Lumix TZ35) back in July I have not used my micro four thirds Panasonic Lumix G3 once. Shameless! Trading in the quality of the G3 for the panoramas and x20 zoom of the compact (vs x3 of G3). Also the TZ35 is considerably more portable and the quality difference, on a bright day, is negligible. So it was a delight to return to the G3 tonight and appreciate the swivelling tilting screen on the back that means when you have it sat on a tripod 18" off the ground pointing directly up into the trees you can flip out the screen from the back and review the image. Also when the camera senses it is rock solid (on the tripod) it will automatically (when set to automatic) take longer exposure shots if required. Many of them were 5 to 8 secs long and this, combined with a bigger sensor, makes for better quality results than the family were getting on iPhones and tablets.

The unnatural coloured light works well with the twisting branches of this tree. When I got home and uploaded the image I saw something just right of centre in the upper branches I hadn't spotted at the time...

I thought at first this might be an owl but I'm thinking more likely a pigeon.

This frames the Edinburgh new town skyline.
I wasn't so keen on certain exhibits but this one, above, was no doubt very popular for selfies and group shots - now where are the family when you need them? (I think they had gone indoors to the cafe at this point.)

This, on the other hand was very effective. Using the flat wall of the art gallery as a projector screen. The colours and patterns moved and changed in a continual and intriguing manner. Although projected from way over one side the angle of the image was square to the wall in a way it really shouldn't have been. Just in front of this was a chandelier of recycled plastic bottles and more cds that slowly turned like a mirror ball. This I liked much less and felt they would have been better off with a mirror ball.

After popping into the cafe I assumed that was it, however, out the back was one of the best areas of the evening with illuminated perspex poles creating reflections in the pond (impressive mix of electricity and water!) while the lighting round the trees nearby made a very effective backdrop. 

Again some of the "natural" lighting on the small exit paths made a very enticing and charming walkway. Look out for the hi-tech globe (touch it) which I videoed but didn't get a decent photo of.

At its best the addition of lights to the gardens enhanced this special place, turning it into a magical wonderland. In fact the gardens are pretty special in the daylight and just jamming some lights in there could have been a cheap and tasteless venture. 2012's decorated tree (also by Malcolm Innes) was an example of skilled light craft and outshone most of the tacky Christmas lights we get at this sordid time of the year. Despite this I did not have very high hopes for this project - or rather I thought they might have one or 2 nice set pieces and a couple of torchlit trees on the rest of the walk. However I was impressed with the amount of hard work and thoughtfully manipulated spectacles here. It is not all high art but it is not intended to be and the mixture should appeal to all ages. And it is great fun to wander round the place at night - like visiting any favourite haunt in the dark, it is both familiar and strange. The ticket price is quite high but they have put a LOT of work in here and I didn't even try to follow the cables or work out how they would power such a spectacle. (And it all has to be weather- and crowd-proof.) Highly recommended. And deep joy for the photographers!

Sold out this weekend, watch the forecast, wrap up well and go along!