Monday, 29 September 2014

Giles Atkinson - Have you thought about Group Shots?

At some point when discussing a couples wedding day, we always come round to the inevitable ‘group shots’ discussion.

I have always been a little torn about these, the creative side of me finds them boring and to be honest, more often than not so does the Bride and Groom! All they really want to be doing is to be getting on with the important job of celebrating!

Although, they can be boring, at the same time they are important, it’s not often that you have all your friends and family together in the one place and who knows when they will all be together again?

I decided this year that I wanted to inject some more creativity into the group shots to make the experience a little more fun as well as memorable!

I had first started thinking about this back in 2011 whilst shooting the group shots for Tessa & Fabio at Castlemilk in Lockerbie. They asked for a shot with all their friends striking the ‘Blue Steel’ pose from the film…..Zoolander!

Following this, whilst shooting bridal prep, a bride asked me if we could recreate the poster from the film Bridesmaids? A quick google to see which picture she was talking about, then after the ceremony, we found the ideal spot, not too far from the reception.

 So earlier on this year, whilst talking to Amy and Duncan about their wedding in the summer at their farm, we started to hatch a plan for a shot of them with their bridesmaids and ushers.

Duncan was to supply the hay bales and I would supply the smoke grenades! This was one of those photos where everything just came together. I love it because there’s lots going on and it keeps the viewer engaged.

For me this is a much more interesting ‘Group Shot’ and hopefully more people will see what's possible and think more about their Group Shots.

Although,  I can't expect to do away with the more traditional style group shot favoured by the parents and relatives, I would always encourage at least one 'fun' shot per wedding. Provided the couple are up for it then the possibilities are endless!

Giles Atkinson

Monday, 22 September 2014

David Moses - Keep It Simple Stupid

I’ve got a real buzz about simplicity at the minute.  It’s in everything I do - from portraits and landscapes to cooking dinner and trimming the hedge.  I don’t know where it’s came from but it’s like a hook that I’m hanging everything on.

This is a very good thing, by the way.  Having a hook to hang yourself on gives you a way to approach any challenge - photographic or otherwise. So my hook is simplicity, sounds simple right?  Not quite.

This image is my favourite from a recent shoot for Dumfries & Galloway Life Magazine.  It’s a very simple headshot of Walker Miller, a vet from Stranraer.  By focussing on his eyes and filling the frame with his face you get a real sense of intimacy in the picture.  There is a very direct address between the viewer and the subject which I think makes for a powerful image. 

In terms of lighting it couldn’t be simpler.  He is sat just inside the doorway to his stable.  If you look closely you can see me standing just outside the doorway in the reflection in his eyes.

I find that by keeping things very simple it allows me to interact with my subject.  I can wholly concentrate on finding their character and capturing that.  I think with this portrait I achieved that.  It’s so important in portrait photography to give your subject time.  They need to relax and trust you if you want to get an image that is meaningful.  

Simple composition, simple lighting = all your attention on working with your subject.

To sum up, if you want to improve your photography just imagine me giving you a KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid - so that you can concentrate on the more important things.

David Moses

Monday, 15 September 2014

Lynne Atkinson - Backlighting

One of my favourite things to do on a summer's evening is to take a walk along the dee where we live with my kids. I've been taking them on this walk for years, ever since I began to shoot manually, as my fascination with backlighting drove me to practise whenever the opportunity arose.

Although backlighting can be achieved at any point of the day, the best time of day when the sun is out is the golden hour, an hour before sunset or an hour after sunrise, when the sun is at its lowest. I love the backlit effect as it gives your subject a lovely glow from behind and creates distance between the subject and the background. It can also produce a certain hazy mood which I adore!

The first few times I tried this it was a nightmare. I found it almost impossible to focus on the subject with the glare in my lens, let alone reading the meter to get correct exposure. What resulted were images which were very often out of focus, bleached out and with lens flare obscuring the subject. I soon figured out that where I was going wrong was having the sunlight directly behind my subject, and that this wasn't necessary when looking to achieve this effect. As you can see in this shot I took at the beach of my husband and youngest daughter, the mood is achieved without the direct glare of the sun.

If preferring to have the sun more directly behind your subject, you can get your exposure and focus set by getting down in a position whereby the subject temporarily blocks the sun, then back into position when the settings are correct. I spot meter on the darkest part of the face, as well as over expose, as the face is inevitably going to be dark in comparison to the bright light behind the subject. It is useful to look for natural reflectors to fill light on the dark face, in the form of having light coloured walls behind you or even wearing a white top will help, but otherwise you can use a reflector to bounce the light back int the subjects faces. Fill in flash can also be used, but at a low setting to keep it as natural as possible.

Another good tip is to have the sun diffused by large objects such as trees. Or in the case of the featured image I used reeds, which help to hide the sun from the lens.

Photography is all about lighting, and this is just one small area in such a vast field. There are so many more techniques with backlighting which can be explored including creating a starburst effect with the sun, but I feel this is worthy of a blog all by itself.

Lynne Atkinson - Alice Rose Portraits

Monday, 8 September 2014

Tom Langlands - Bottlenose Dolphins of the Moray Firth

A Bottlenose Dolphin in Early Morning Light

There are only two populations of resident bottlenose dolphins to be found in UK waters. One is a pod of some 130 animals at Cardigan Bay in Wales and the other is a pod of around 190 animals in Scotland's inner Moray Firth. This latter group is the only population to be found in the North Sea. How long they have inhabited these waters is uncertain but there are fisherman's tales of 'Louper Dogs' (leaping dogs) going back to the 1800s. It is thought that these stories refer to the amazing bottlenose dolphins.

Chanonry Point on the Moray Firth

Several weeks ago in July, I headed north to Chanonry Point on the Black Isle to spend a full week photographing these highly sentient creatures in their natural habitat. By the lighthouse at Chanonry Point the waters of the Moray Firth narrow and here, close to the shore, lies a deep channel through which salmon run on their way to their breeding grounds. This is one of the best places in the world to see dolphins hunting at close quarters.

Breaching Dolphins through Early Morning Mist

Twice a day, just after low tide I positioned myself on the point of the shingle beach and with camera pointed into the firth I spent several hours awaiting the arrival of the dolphins as the waters rose around me. Sometimes they would approach from far out at sea and other times it would seem that a pod already located in the inner firth would make their way back out to sea. The weather was fantastic and obliged by providing a variety of atmospheric conditions from early morning mist and light rain through to brilliant sunshine. Some of my favourite shots were in the mist and rain shortly after dawn.

Dolphins strike the water with their tails as they hunt for salmon

Fish Supper

I could ramble on about how I got the shots but I won't because the real thing I've learned about wildlife photography over the years is to observe. The right equipment and settings will help but many great wildlife images have been taken on 'average' equipment. The real secret is to 'Look and Learn'.

My best shots came towards the end of the week after I had studied the dolphins twice a day for several hours at a time. By the third day I was beginning to read their behaviour. I saw how they approached the channel, spread out in small groups, splashed the water with their tails to either attract or confuse the fish, chased and stunned their prey and how they ate it. I began to predict when certain things would happen including when they were likely to breach. The result was that when I captured 'The Triple Jump', quite literally during my last hour of photography of the week, I heard so many other photographers around me complain that they missed it because they didn't expect it to happen. Many had just arrived that morning and hadn't had time to study their subject.

The High Jump

Luck and chance play a big part in wildlife photography but you can greatly reduce these factors by studying your subject and learning how it is likely to behave. Do that and your ratio of 'keepers' to 'discarded' images will increase significantly.

The Triple Jump

Tom Langlands

Monday, 1 September 2014

Kim Ayres - At the base of The Wickerman

The Wickerman 2014 - a willow sculpture, 40 feet high, created for the Wickerman Festival held in SW Scotland in July every year.

Off in the distance, Del Amtri are playing the last track of their set - a cover of Motorhead's Ace of Spades. The sound randomly seems to get louder and quieter depending on the direction of the wind. 60 meters away up to fifteen thousand people are starting to gather behind a dry stane dyke in anticipation of the highlight of The Wickerman Festival.

Press photographers are filing through a gap in the wall to a fenced off corral so they can get an uninterrupted view of the event. I am standing at the base of the 40 foot high willow sculpture in the shape of a highland dancer.

View of the Festival from the base of The Wickerman (click on images for larger versions)

Since the festival began 12 years ago, every year Trevor Leat and Alex Rigg ( spend about 3 weeks building a giant wickerman, which is then ceremoniously set fire to at midnight on the Saturday of the festival. Each year has a different theme, and this one was tying in with the Homecoming Scotland initiative. In order for the dancer to be able to balance on one leg, the drape over the shoulder was reinforced with 2 long steel poles.

As Trevor and his assistant, Xander, are putting the last preparations in place - straw at the base, fire rope around the leg, and pouring diesel onto the straw, I am in the unique position of being the only photographer right up there with them.

A sense of scale as Trevor and Xander make last minute preparations

Further down the hill there are professional press photographers who would have chewed off their right arm for the opportunity to be standing where I am. Fortunately for me I've known Trevor for several years and have done lots of photography for him before. Using his special status he's managed to take me up there with him.

Despite this being the 4th time I've been in this position, I still get a childlike thrill when the lights go out. For about 20 minutes I'm just watching Trevor and Xander moving around with wee head-torches bobbing in the darkness. The rain from earlier in the evening has stopped and a few stars are showing through the clouds. Periodically an excited voice carries over the noise of the crowd as someone screams, "BURN IT!!!"

The crowd is gathering

I remember I have a camera over my shoulder and start fiddling with the settings.

"What time is it?" asks Trevor. I pull my phone out my pocket.


Over the next three minutes, I'm asked again about 4 times. The anticipation is building and building. The crowd is getting louder, with sections of it chanting.

"Ok, it's midnight!" I say.

Trevor and Xander light their long poles and walk round behind the sculpture, aware the crowd will see the movement of light. They take up position either side and stand for a few moments, building the tension. Then they turn and place the flaming torches onto the straw.

It catches immediately.

We move away as the flames start shooting up the legs.

I'm now firing off the camera at an extraordinary pace, constantly checking the small images on the back, continually making adjustments to the settings.

Because the fire is so much brighter than the surrounds, the basic problem is if you expose for the flames, then the wickerman doesn't show up, but if you expose for the willow, then the fire just becomes a white blur.

It doesn't hang around - I only have a few minutes to get as many photos as I can at as many different exposure settings as possible in the hope that some of them will work.

Fireworks are now going off too, although at this point, it's difficult to get a good photo containing them and the wickerman together as I'm so close. The press photographers down in the corral are in the prime position for that - and it is their photos that will be filling the papers over the next few days.

Kim Ayres