Monday, 28 July 2014

Lynne Atkinson - Photographing Children, Naturally

I remember assisting my husband at a wedding some time ago, and whilst setting up the rows of guests in lines in order the throw confetti I overheard a couple commenting upon the approach not being as natural as they would have liked. This isn't the first time I've heard this criticism, but I would have loved to have been able to explain to this couple that this preparation was totally necessary to set up the shot effectively. Without a certain degree of planning it would have been one big disastrous mess... people would be standing in front of the photographer and crowding the couple, throwing the confetti randomly at different times to one another, and the chances of getting that shot would be slim.

Believe it or not, even the most natural and candid shots are usually very carefully set up by a photographer in certain situations. Don't get me wrong, there are many photographers who shoot purely reportage style photography in an unobtrusive fashion, usually with a zoom lens and out of sight, but I find that when photographing children in a short space of time this approach isn't always the best one to take.

Much time and thought is taken when planning a photography session. Location is the first box to be ticked; I select the location based upon what it is I'm looking to achieve in a certain shot. For example, with the image taken recently of Joseph I knew I wanted a location with earthy and neutral tones as I wanted the colours in the Indian headdress to be the main focus.

Time of day and light is also extremely important when looking at getting the perfect shot. With the featured image, we had gone to the beach when the light was behind clouds so it was diffused. This creates a beautiful even light, which helped me to get the shot I had envisaged. I wanted Joseph's eyes to be a focal point of the image, which was easier to achieve given that the light was so even, so there were no shadows or the risk of him squinting.

I am a big fan of photographing in the early evening in the height of summer, when the sun is going down and there is a beautiful glow during the golden hour. In these situations, I'll ask the children to play but position them so that the sun is where I want it to be. In the case of this image, I asked them to sit on the log with the sun behind them so I could backlight them, after this they were just left to do their own thing.

If photographing kids in the middle of a glaringly sunny day, I make sure I choose a location which offers lots of shade so that we can shoot there. I will place them in the desired spot, then usually try to keep them entertained so that they remain there. This is where bubbles, balloons or other fun things are brought into the shoot to give the kids something to focus on for a second or two. This shot was taken beside a wrecked boat, which offered much welcome shade in the height of the winter sunshine for a number of photoshoots from last year.

I am also a big fan of getting children to look deep into the lens as I love these pensive shots which focus upon the eyes, and have a few tricks up my sleeve to entice them to do this. One of these is a now rather shabby looking homemade 'lens pet' which is supposed to look like a bird, which I made with an old scrunchy and some felt and which wraps around my lens. He's admittedly a little funny looking, but certainly does get some rather inquisitive stares, giving me time to get the shots I'm after.

The key to getting the best results out of children is to have fun with them. I've been known to wear bunny ears, sing songs badly, make animal noises, play hide and seek and chase them around a field for what feels like hours...anything to try to engage with them and make them relax. Many of these natural shots were achieved because I had managed to gain a certain level of trust with the kids in the short space of time we had together.

Oh..and I find the occasional fake moustache works wonders too!

Lynne Atkinson - Alice Rose Portraits

Monday, 21 July 2014

Tom Langlands – White-tailed eagles

Photographing white-tailed eagles in their natural habitat on Mull proved to be one of the more challenging wildlife photo shoots that I have undertaken. The only way to get the images I wanted was from a boat and I’m not a great seafarer. So it was with great trepidation that I booked two trips with Mull Charters and bought a packet of travel sickness pills. Both proved excellent value for money!

My biggest concern was choosing the right lens. I had no idea how far away the birds would be. Martin and his son Alex who run Mull Charters were able to give some good guidance before we sailed. I opted for a fixed focal length lens of 300mm and two travel sickness pills.

It was a bright morning and conditions were calm as we left Ulva Ferry point and headed down the coastline to some high cliffs where a pair of eagles was nesting. As we moved away from land the sea was no longer quite as calm and I spent much of the 30-minute sail concentrating on the horizon. Once in position, one of the eagles could clearly be seen sitting on the top of the distant cliffs. Alex threw out pieces of bread that brought seagulls and even a bonxie around the boat. The resultant feeding frenzy attracted the eagle and it was soon off its perch and majestically winging its way to us.

The first thing that struck me was its size. With a wingspan of around 2 metres it is a seriously big bird. Martin threw a large mackerel into the water and the eagle took its time circling the boat before starting its descent – a medium paced glide that seemed to pick up speed as it streaked along the surface of the water before grabbing its ‘prey’ and immediately heading back to the nest. It was all over in a flash. It would be around twenty minutes before it returned and it would only do this two or three times. Reviewing images and histograms after each pass of the eagle was important in order to consider exposure adjustments.

When photographing birds in flight I set the exposure for the whole scene and then compensate by over or underexposing depending upon where the bird goes. Sometimes they are high in the sky against a bright background and the next moment they are flying across the face of dark cliffs and seconds later over the top of sparkling water. The result is I find I am continuously adjusting my exposure as I track the bird. Time of day is also important. If the sun is high the underside of the bird tends to be in the shade. Trying to find ways to avoid dark underbellies is tricky.

My second trip to the eagles was in good evening light. With a lower sun it was easier to get a more even light top and bottom of the birds. Low sun also highlights the edge detail in the feathers and brings the texture to life. We visited two separate sites and although the birds performed well there was a different set of challenges. Despite using bait that was clearly too large for the seagulls to eat, it didn’t stop them grabbing it, flying off some distance and then dropping it. The sea eagle then swooped much further away than planned and there was no time to change lenses. It was an occasion where a zoom may have been the answer. Also, as the sun dropped the light levels were continually in a state of flux and the hardest part was ensuring that the bright white tail feathers didn’t get burned out. The other problem for me was that the sea was quite rough. It becomes much more noticeable on a boat after the engine has stopped and trying to focus through a zoom lens on a moving target from a boat that is bobbing about is both difficult and seriously nausea inducing.

For a first attempt I was reasonably pleased with the results but it is definitely an experience to be repeated. Even without a camera it is an amazing experience to witness the success of the white-tailed eagle reintroduction programme and to watch our largest bird back in the skies again.

Tom Langlands

Monday, 14 July 2014

Roger Lever - Mingulay

If you ever get chance to visit Mingulay then take it.

A small boat leaves from the Isle of Barra daily, weather and sea conditions permitting. It is the most Southerly of the Outer Hebridean Islands, roughly one mile long and half a mile wide and is uninhabited except maybe for people working on the small NTS property and students doing Bird surveys.

I camped just off the main beach for a few days in the company of puffins, seals and the local Bonxies, the Gaelic name for the Great Skua.

It is also a good way to lose weight . If you take a few healthy eating supplies and spend a good bit of time exploring, the kilograms disappear without you realising. You can replace all those lost calories with a good old fish supper when you get back to Barra.

It also helps to have a good set of binoculars and a camera because the wildlife is pretty exceptional and you can get fairly near to most except perhaps the cliff dwellers, the guillemots and razorbills. You would need to be a mountaineer to get anywhere near these.

The puffins are the main residents on the sandy hillside overlooking the beach. One can go and sit in amongst them and be mesmerised by their behaviour and flying skills.

You could of course spend longer there if you want solitude to write a book!!

Might just try that sometime.

Roger Lever

Monday, 7 July 2014

Kim Ayres - Photographing the New Collective

Photographing a bunch of photographers was never going to be the easiest assignment of my career.

There's been a turnover of members at the Galloway Photographic Collective this past couple of months. Allan Wright, Roger Lever and I are still at the heart of the Collective, but we are now joined by four new members - portrait and editorial photographer, David Moses; wedding photographer, Giles Atkinson; children and family photographer, Lynne Atkinson; and wildlife photographer, Tom Langlands - see our "About us" page for more details.

With new members, a new group photo was required.

My idea was to photograph us in the woods, each of us holding up a flash to light up our faces. It should create a slightly moody atmosphere as spill-light would illuminate some of the surrounding trees. Everyone was asked to bring a flash with them to the shoot.

Group shots are considerably more complicated than single portraits. The more people involved, the more chances there are of someone blocking someone else, someone blinking, someone looking in the wrong direction, or someone making everyone else laugh - which is no good if you're going for the serious photographer look.

Then there's the additional problem that I had to be in the shot. Setting a 10 second timer and heading over to join the others in the semi-darkness across roots, fallen branches and rocks to arrive and position myself before the camera goes click is not without its challenges. Then it's back over to the camera to see who was blinking, looking in the wrong direction, blocking someone else or, in this case, whose flash had or hadn't fired.

Flashes not firing, not syncing up and not appearing in the photograph turned out to be an unexpected problem. In my usual everyday photography I can use the built in flash on my camera to optically trigger my Canon flashes. However, not everyone had Canon flashes and I couldn't figure out what the problem was.

Needless to say, with 7 photographers gathered together, everyone had an entirely different solution to suggest.

In the end we settled on setting the camera for a 3 second exposure, which gave everyone the chance to manually trigger their flash as soon as the shutter opened.

Click on the image for a larger version

I have since discovered when the on-board flash is used in Master/Commander mode, it sends a pre-flash, milliseconds before the main one, which can end up triggering other flashes early. There are a variety of ways around this, however, as the old saying goes, "experience is something you gain immediately after you needed it the most"

Giles filmed one of the shots with his iPhone, which I turned into a short video.

To showcase this new incarnation of the Galloway Photographic Collective, we are all exhibiting at The Workshop Gallery in Castle Douglas until July 29th.

Come along and see examples of all of our work.

Finally, we would like to say a big thank you to Morag Paterson, Ted Leeming and Phil McMenemy for their contributions to the Collective since it's creation a little over two years ago, and to wish them all the very best in their future photographic endeavours.