Monday, 20 March 2017

Stargazing Scotland - Viewing and Photographing Celestial Events of 2017

Each year a large number of different celestial events occur in the night sky. Meteor showers, lunar phases, the aurora: different celestial events happen for different reasons, and each has it’s own unique beauty. In this blog I’m going to briefly explain some of these events before highlighting a few tips about how to view and photograph them.

Lunar Phases
On an Autumn night the full harvest moon rises as a giant, wobbly orange ball. Get up before dawn on the approach to new moon to see a slender crescent ascending from the East. Not only are lunar phases regular, they’re magnificent. With a bit of careful planning around the lunar calendar it’s possible to predict where and when the moon will rise and set. Combine this with a planned composition, get lucky with the weather and it’s possible to capture this beautiful phenomenon in all its cosmic glory. gives an accurate lunar forecast specific to your location. From March 29th, look West after sunset to see the evening crescent moon sinking into the horizon.

The Aurora
A description of the aurora is not necessary for the readers lucky enough to have witnessed this elegant form of space weather. For the readers who haven’t seen it, any description I can offer will fall utterly short of the ethereal dance of the northern lights. The sun ejects charged particles (solar wind) into the solar system, these are attracted to our magnetosphere and directed to the poles. They react with the atmosphere, making it glow in green, white, red, purple, yellow, blue…

Following will give a reliable solar wind forecast. There are other sites too but this is a good starting point. For reasons not fully understood, around the Spring and Autumn equinoxes a large aurora display can be triggered by the most gentle solar wind. Because of this, the best times to ‘chase’ the lights are the equinoxes. Time your trip with a new moon to maximise the detail in an display you see.

Meteor Showers
Comets originate from the outer areas of our solar system. When they enter the inner solar system radiation from the sun heats their core, stripping away parts of their bodies to form a tail of ice and dust. Sometimes these fantastic objects pass through Earth’s orbit, leaving their tails behind. Every year, Earth passes through the tails of past comets. As our planet ploughs through such a tail, ice and dust burns in our atmosphere as meteors.

With a little planning it’s possible to witness and photograph these amazing celestial events. The ‘peak’ of the meteor shower is when Earth passes through the thickest part of a comet’s tail. Because Earth is travelling in a specific direction through space, the shooting stars appear out of (or ‘radiate’) from a specific part of the sky. This is called the ‘radiant.’ Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which they radiate. Download the free planetarium software - Stellarium - by following the link below. You can use this to learn about the constellations for meteor shower viewing.

Below is some information about two of the best annual meteor showers. Also, follow this link to find out about other showers.
Any photographers wanting to capture shooting stars should plan a composition (at an area free from light pollution) to include the radiant. Then, during the peak of the shower, use an external shutter release to capture hundreds of images in succession. This will maximise your chances of a meteor appearing in your frame.

Perseid Meteor Shower
Peak: 12th - 13th August
Radiant: Perseus
Origin: Comet Swift Tuttle

Geminid Meteor Shower
Peak: 13th - 14th December
Origin: Comet 3200 Phaethon

The planets orbit the sun. Because of this they constantly change position in the sky; the name ‘Planet’ originates from the ancient Greek word for ‘Wanderer.’ It’s easy to follow the movement of the Planets, use Stellarium (linked above) to track their movements across the heavens. Below are some good dates to see some of the famous planets in our solar system.

April 7th. Jupiter at opposition. On this date, the largest planet in our system will be at it’s closest approach to Earth and therefore at it’s brightest. A pair of binoculars should also reveal its largest moons.

June 15th. Saturn at opposition. This is a good summer opportunity for stargazers and photographers. Saturn remains in the area of the sky close to the heart of the galaxy; a brilliant opportunity for any photographers wanting to capture two of the most beautiful celestial sights in one image.

I have covered just a few of the many exciting things available to view and photograph in the changing 2017 sky. If you have any questions about these events and how to photograph them please feel free to contact me.

Jesse Beaman
Stargazing Scotland

Monday, 13 March 2017

Allan Wright - Skye – A Photographic Communion

Renowned worldwide for having some of Scotland’s finest landscapes, Skye looms large on the landscape photography map. I had kept it in reserve until the time was right and so finally in August 2014 I commenced my exploration which extended extended over a two-year period totalling seven or eight weeks. The result is a new book with the title: Skye – A Photographic Communion published at the end of this month in softback at 130 pages it is available online at price £20.

Here are a handful of images and extracts of text from the book.

Up and over to the West of Carbost through Glen Oraid is the photogenic gem of Talisker Bay. On my chosen day in August, after a few dry runs, I got my chance to celebrate the beauty of this place. I arrived in time for a nicely-centred crimson sun dipping below the horizon out on the Western ocean. The bay made a fine subject with its shapely foreground rocks and a prominent stac, all strewn harmoniously along the shore. Long exposures were in order - during which I took a ‘slainte’ moment with a wee ‘deoch an dorus’ of Talisker spirit before ambling back to camp in semi-darkness. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Near the Point, an encounter with a roofless but otherwise fine stone cottage brings on a melancholy moment, despite the drama of its setting. In such moments, the sadness inherent in these places feels palpable: the truth behind the loss of former inhabitants, the stories of past lives and the hardships or abuses suffered pierces through nostalgic illusions of Hebridean tranquility. What was the story of this cottage, I wonder? Is its dereliction the result of non-sustainability, or was it abandoned through the ruthless actions of some Laird or other?

A huge variety of coastal subjects presented themselves to me on Sleat: and a lonely wee inshore fishing boat working quickly on ominously grey water ahead of an encroaching storm. Rising behind the mountains of Knoydart.

A couple of miles inland from Uig lies the Fairy Glen, a notoriously magical place. It has been labelled ‘preternatural’ - which, according to Wikipedia, means ‘suspended between the mundane and the miraculous’. This heavily-glaciated landscape evoked instant curiosity and showed great promise from the beginning. In practice, though, the Fairy Glen did not give up its secrets to me easily. It took me eight visits over two years before some special dawn light delivered a result. I am not big on superstition, but on this day I saw and felt the power of this magical place.

Uig is a busy ferry port on the north-west coast of the Trotternish Peninsula. From here Calmac ferries serve the Outer Hebridean ports of Tarbert, Harris and Lochmaddy, Uig served me well as an overnight stop, offering both logistical convenience and generous photo opportunities. On one particularly restless day and purely by chance I caught the widest of rainbow arcs linking both sides of the broad bay.

Allan Wright

Monday, 6 March 2017

Laura Hudson Mackay - You Can Find Me in the Forest...

Straight out of fairytales, forests are places where people can hide away or get completely lost. They are silent and beautiful in a weird and ancient-feeling way.

Spending time photographing in forests takes me back to my childhood and hearing my parents say those wonderful words ‘Once upon a time’. When they read to me, a doorway opened in my imagination that has never closed. As an adult, I still read fairytales, but also study them, researching folklore, myths and all things magical.

Bringing together my love for these stories and photography, I’ve begun a journey, crossing cultures and linking both the traditional and modern Celtic and Arabian storytelling themes. The project, ‘Confluence’ is an international collaborative project, which sits within Upland’s overarching programme of international development.

Together with Scottish storyteller, Anne Errington, Moroccan photographer, Houssain Belabess and Moroccan Storyteller Mehdi El Ghaly, we are creating a body of work based on the many themes, which link our traditional stories and cultures. And, just like the characters from fairytales setting out on a long journey, over the sea and mountains, and finally descending through thick forests, to eventually arrive at their destination, ‘Confluence’ is an exciting adventure leading us on a journey of discovery.

You can follow the story here  or search #confluenceupland 

Laura Hudson Mackay

Monday, 27 February 2017

Holly Burns - "Small, Fearless"

A very interesting and exciting opportunity unexpectedly arose through a simple request from my 7 year old son. During the opening night of Galloway Photographic Collective's November exhibition at Shambellie House, New Abbey, he asked me the question: "Mummy, why are there never any photos of me at your shows. Can I be in the next one?'

I was hesitant to say the least. My work tends to be very emotional and is an outward expression often dictated by my inner thoughts and experiences. Much of my work was created princibly for therapeutic benefit and I wasn't sure how I could integrate my son into this. As a brave hearted 7 year old full of innocence and little awareness of the big bad world, the only thing that I felt could possibly make him vulnerable was his small size.

I soon realised that the concept for an image based on him was staring me right in the face - I would create something that showed strength, rather than weakness, despite his small frame. The challenge for me was how to convey this concept of youthful strength within an image that suitably fits with my other work, as he wanted to be in the exhibition after all.

Just days later my friend told me he had come into possession of a taxidermy bear, not something that you often come across, and he immediately thought of me. I, in turn, saw my opportunity and swiftly captured those necessary shots of the bear. What better way to emphasise the small frame of a 7 year old than to place him in a position of authority next to this huge and wonderfully powerful animal. I wanted to show no matter how big and scary the opposition was, he could tackle it through his sheer bravery. In the GIF below, you can see the images that were collected and how I constructed them together to create the finished piece.

(refresh the page to see it again)

The work was completed and became apart of the collection for the current exhibition running at the Whitehouse Gallery, Kirkcudbright. Seeing his picture presented 4 feet squared on the wall has made him a very happy boy! Funnily enough, he was more comfortable in the limelight than I and was very open to discussing his modelling with visitors! Since then, he has also enjoyed seeing the image in print thanks to D&G life magazine.

On a personal level, nothing makes me happier than making my little one happy so I shall consider this image to be a success! On a professional level, this experience has opened my eyes to the idea of working in a manner that I wasn't very familiar with. I've realised that adapting my methods of working offer new opportunities to create and on this occasion it has proved very rewarding. As photographers we should always be open to considering taking different paths, be that on a conceptual or technical level. The outcomes of these endeavours can be very successful.

Holly Burns

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Kim Ayres - Café Largo

Café Largo are a fun-loving band with a latin-jazzy feel, who were looking for a strong 'Signature Photo' for promotional purposes, last winter.

Ideas were bounced back and forth and the one that grabbed my attention and enthusiasm the most involved shooting a scene on the beach, with a slight nod towards Jack Vettriano.

Of course outdoor shots are notoriously difficult to set up in Scotland, especially in Winter, and even more so because of the sheer number of wild, wet and stormy days we'd been having on the run up to the shoot. So looking for a dry day when everyone would be available had me fearful it could be May the following year before we'd be able to go ahead.

However, we provisionally set a date in early December and amazingly, in a week full of even wilder, wetter and stormier weather than usual, it turned out to be the only dry day.

We set off for a small beach at Mossyard, near Gatehouse of Fleet, which we had to ourselves for the morning, apart from one woman walking her dog who hurried past and didn't ask what we were up to.

Although it wasn't raining, it wasn't sunny and it wasn't particularly warm either, so I did all the test shots with everyone still wrapped up in coats and scarves, and it was only when I was pretty sure of my composition and lighting set up did we move everything into place and do the actual shoot.

Click on the image for a larger version

Liz, the wife of Alex - the waiter in the photo - very kindly shot some video for me using my old camera, capturing the process of putting the photo shoot together. I edited it down to 2 minute video, overlaid with "La Bamba" performed by Café Largo themselves. It's quite fun and really does give a good sense of the experience of the photo shoot.

Kim Ayres

Monday, 13 February 2017

Tom Langlands- Out of the Flying Pan...

It's always good to try different things and go for new challenges. Panning is a technique that I use from time to time along with other methods of Intentional Camera Movement. With Icelandic whooper swans being in the area at this time of year I decided to spend some time working on in-flight panning shots of these birds. It was a project that was to last for three or four days.

As a regular visitor to the reserve at WWT Caerlaverock - where I run photography workshops - I was familiar with the best locations to find the birds and also had the knowledge of when and where they would fly. I also have the advantage of having studied their behaviour over many years so can predict with relative ease when they are about to lift-off. That takes a lot of the guesswork and difficulty out of this kind of photography.

However, it doesn't make taking the photographs any easier. For this type of work I normally prefer to use a sturdy tripod with a gimbal head. For those not familiar with gimbal heads they enable the camera to be fixed to the tripod with a head that, once adjusted correctly, enables fluid movement of the camera in any direction. It is perfect for following birds in flight. Unfortunately, on this occasion the hide I wanted to use and the angles that the birds would fly at precluded the use of this invaluable piece of kit. So, the first challenge was that photographs would have to be taken hand-held.

For the technically minded I have experimented over the years with different shutter speeds and lenses and have worked out that my best success rate with panning shots of these birds is achieved with a hand held 300mm lens and a shutter speed of 1/40 second. For that reason I always take these shots with my camera set in shutter priority mode. Panning requires that the camera tracks the bird at exactly the same speed as the bird in flight. If I achieve that then the head of the bird will generally be sharp while I will get a sense of movement both against the background and also in the flapping wings.

However just to add to the challenge, whooper swans - and other long necked birds - don't always keep their head steady and level in flight - it will often bob up and down as they flap their wings. Experience tells me that 1/40 second at 300mm is the optimum arrangement. Also, still for the technically minded, I don't want to shoot with the aperture wide open as the depth of field can become too shallow when I'm not sure of exactly which part of the moving bird the camera focus has locked on to. Consequently I usually shoot with an aperture of around 5.6 - 6.3.

Of course, the hard bit is learning to lock onto the bird either as it takes off or in-flight and to ensure that the panning action is fluid and steady. Here's a top tip if you want to try this technique for yourself - position your body facing where you anticipate the panning sequence ending. Don't orientate yourself facing where the panning sequence starts otherwise you will get tired and in an awkward position towards the end of the pan - which is generally the position where you want to take the most shots. If you do that you will end up running the risk of increasing camera shake - not good!

All of the shots here were taken using the techniques I have just described. Swans are big but graceful birds and this technique gives them a sense of movement and gracefulness that static 'frozen' images alone can't convey.

Try it for yourself and have some fun but be warned it takes a bit of practice...

Tom Langlands

Monday, 6 February 2017

Roger Lever - Waxwing Winter

Waxwings are one of our most beautiful winter visitors. They arrive usually from Scandinavia or Russia in October on the east coast and work their way inland and south through to March.

In Dumfries and Galloway we often see them between November to January and in flocks of 20-50 birds, occasionally more.

They are attracted to trees with plenty of berries, usually Hawthorn, Rowans and Cotoneaster.
In December word soon got around via 'twitcher jungle news ' about a flock of birds feeding heavily on the bright yellow berries on a single ornamental Rowan tree near Heathhall.

When I arrived early that frosty morning there were nearly as many photographers as waxwings. The waxwings had a sort of routine whereby they would arrive in a big flock, perch on a nearby tree and then visit the berry clusters in ones and two's before taking off en mass across Heathhall I assume to another tree full of berries. They would then return some 15-20 minutes later. Just what the signals were passing between the birds I don't know but there was a definite coordinated response. They appeared to ignore our collection of green clad birders with big lenses attached to tripods pointing skyward into their 20ft tree at the side of the road.

This was my first ever real chance at getting a half decent image of one of these wonderful little birds. As luck would have it I did have my camera with me that day.

I joined the crowd and hoisted my long lens. One hour later I was happily driving home with a bunch of images I couldn’t wait to look at on my computer.

Needless to say there would have been thousands of photos taken during the period it took the birds to strip the tree bare of its berries which I guess would have been about 1 week. The weather conditions couldn’t have been better with early frosts and a bright blue cloudless sky. I was happy with my results but there must have been many outstanding images taken that week.

Roger Lever
Lever Photography

Monday, 30 January 2017

David Moses - Day in the Life Photography Sessions

With documentary family photography, it's all about taking time and enjoying the day to day routines and little moments. Finding the things that your family does and recording them is what Day in the Life is all about.

Having a professional come and spend time documenting your family is a very different thing to taking photographs yourself. When you invite me to come to your home and work this way, you are in the pictures too. The images become about the relationships in your home, the interactions and the emotions.

Who are Day in the Life sessions for? Families who don't want the usual 'say cheese' images. Parents who want to preserve their children as they are right now. Families who want to do something fun, unique and special. Parents who are creative and appreciate photography.

So how does it work? I arrive for breakfast time and stay with you until the kids go to bed. You will have a day of doing whatever you want - if you want to stay at home then that's great, if you want to go for a bike ride, to the shops, walk the dog, play board games, bounce on a trampoline, read books, walk in the park, whatever your family wants to do.

To book now and for further information click here -

David Moses

Monday, 23 January 2017

Stargazing Scotland - Breaking Free from the Milky Way Cliche

The Milky Way galaxy is all around you. The sun, planets, moon, visible stars and the Earth are all part of a disc like structure of billions of stars spinning around a central point. Considering this, if you take a selfie on a smartphone then you’re a ‘Milky Way Photographer.’

But when I use the term ‘Milky Way Photography’ I’m referring to the use of a DSLR and tripod to capture 26 000 year old light from the brightest part of our galaxy; the spherical central bulge. In recent years photographing this has become so popular that it’s now a bit of a cliche. It’s often impossible to use the term ‘Astrophotography’ without conjuring those typical images of the galactic core.


There’s far more to Astrophotography than the pursuit of the Milky Way’s centre. Planets, the Moon, the Aurora, Meteor Showers and Constellations are just a few subjects appearing in different parts of the sky at different times of the year. Venus for example, is currently in the twilight evening sky.


Recently I have focused on refraining from relying on the Milky Way to create a successful composition, and I have found the process full of rewards. I feel like I have improved on my photographic abilities through experimentation with many elements of night photography, including experimenting with different light levels from the moon.

One of the hardest parts of Astrophotography is getting enough of an exposure to light your foreground. Often I must take several 15-30 minute exposures, edit them, layer them, edit them again and then blend them into my sky exposure to squeeze foreground detail out of an image like the one below.

Winter Mist

The moon can be used to address this issue. The only problem is the fact that it constantly changes in shape, brightness, size and position in the sky. This causes drastic changes in the colour and amount of light it sheds each night as it circles through its monthly cycle, not to mention the angle of light in relation to a planned composition. Another thing to consider is that too much light from the moon will wash away almost all other detail in the night sky; a problem if your focal point for an image is a subject in the cosmos.

Wigtown Reflections

Through experimentation I have found that a three day old moon (appearing as a waxing evening crescent) provides the perfect amount of light to maximise foreground detail, whilst still retaining detail in the sky. Using this method I was able to capture my favourite image from the Winter; ‘Orion.’ Making use of moonlight to enhance a composition instead of relying on the spectacular view of the galactic core can result in a more subtle composition.


The core of the Milky Way is not visible in the Winter in Scotland. Using this as an excuse to experiment with my photography has proved beneficial, and I will be entering the ‘Milky Way Season’ of 2017 with a fresh outlook on night photography.

The Galactic Core is breathtaking and I will continue to view and photograph it for both personal and business reasons, but from now on I will remember to think more creatively. The night sky is after all our window into infinity; it would be ironic to then photograph a single part of it over and over again.

Jesse Beaman
Stargazing Scotland

Monday, 16 January 2017

Laura Hudson Mackay - Shooting Film in the Sahara

On the recent Galloway Photographic Collective tour of Morocco, I shot exclusively using Black and White (6x6cm) film, with a Medium Format Hasselblad camera made 60 years ago in 1957.

Once there, I quickly realised what a challenge it was going to be, given the tour was with other members of the group who all shoot digitally. There were times when I did struggle to keep up. For me, taking quality photographs with any type of camera is about the process, slowing down and seeing more, taking time to capture an emotion or evoke a mood, and film photography does this particularly well.

On the road trip to the Sahara desert, the other members readily leaped from 4x4’s, with their digital cameras in hand, having noticed yet another fabulous vista to capture. I too would leap from the car, shoot one or two images, but then realise there was only one more exposure left of just twelve on the film. By the time I had loaded another, the digital shooters were back in the cars and on their way! They took many images at each location and over the course of the whole trip, collectively, this ran easily into the thousands. By comparison, I shot only 14 rolls of film (168 exposures total) as I had to overcome the challenge of taking longer to get set up at each location, the lack of any automatic functions on the camera and having to use a separate light meter.

Each evening, once settled back at our accommodation in Morocco, there was a buzz to share and edit images taken that day and to even post a few on social media, but not mine as I had to wait until I was back home to process the films before seeing the results. But that waiting, that anticipation, was exciting, if a little nerve wracking.

Other working trips in Morocco are planned, plus I am currently collaborating with two Moroccan artists on a joint art project. For each trip, the same type of film and camera equipment will be packed. I’m oddly even looking forward to waiting at the airports, while members of security hand check each film individually.

Compared to using a digital camera, a film camera requires the flexing of different ‘photographic muscles’ and by working these muscles, it is possible to get more out of photography and explore the craft to a deeper level of learning. Being more focussed, by the limitation of exposures on each roll, pushes the photographer to shoot with a clear goal in mind. 

Disconnecting from the digital life once in a while is rewarding and refreshing. Not every camera needs to have an LCD screen and batteries to produce great photography!More and more photographers seem to be getting into analogue photography. There is a re-emergence of film being used in fashion shoots and fine art photography. The movie industry is also getting on the band wagon with high profile directors such as Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams and Chris Nolan recently using film in the production of Hollywood blockbusters such as Silence and Star Wars - Rogue One.

Why despite its cost and apparent inconvenience is film photography growing as a medium, particularly amongst many young photographers? Perhaps it is because many have grown up using modern technology and are now favouring using film as it’s harder and more challenging to use. We appear to have reached a point at which digitally produced images we see have become indecipherable from reality and no longer represent trust. Viewers and creators are again looking for authenticity from photography.

LHM Loading Film in Sahara from Scott Mackay on Vimeo.

A collection of Medium Format Film photographs taken on the recent photography tour of Morocco will be on display at The Whitehouse Gallery, Kirkcudbright, in the GPC exhibition ‘The Art of Photography’ from 4 February - 4 March 2017.

Laura Hudson Mackay