Monday, 29 December 2014

Kim Ayres - Fantastic Mr Fox

I met wildlife photographer and author Polly Pullar at the Wigtown Book Festival last year, and we got chatting about the Authors as Characters series of images I'd been working on.

In subsequent emails she decided Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox would be one she would love to try. As well as having a love of foxes she also has a bit of land with sheep, a deer and some laid back hens. Gradually the idea formed of doing a shoot with Polly dressed up with tweed jacket, plus-fours and face paint, with a chicken under her arm coming out of the hen house.

She lives near Aberfeldy - up into highland Perthshire - with her partner, Iomhair, and invited me up to stay for a couple of nights to do the shoot. I arrived late afternoon and as Iomhair was preparing dinner Polly gave me a tour of the grounds and buildings so we could start thinking about the best place to do the shoot.

We looked at the hen house and the barn, but then we climbed the hill to where this lovely old, gnarled tree, surrounded by lichen and moss covered rocks, jutted out of the hillside. And in the early evening sunlight it was just stunning. There wasn't time to do the shoot there and then before the sun disappeared but we both knew the combination of tree and light would be perfect. We just had to hope the following evening would offer up the same conditions.

Fortunately luck was on our side. It was overcast until mid afternoon, but then the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds and by early evening the skies were clear. Polly changed into her outfit and her friend, actress and playwright Anna Hepburn, set to with face paints.

Quite quickly it became clear the hen house option wasn't going to work. The size, layout and difficulty with lighting meant I couldn't create out a way to make the cool photo I had envisioned.

We shifted into the barn and used hay bales to create a backdrop for some shots of Polly as the fox with a couple of chickens under her arms. While they were fun, I still didn't feel I was getting the awesome shots I really wanted. So then we climbed the hill to the tree.

The moment I took my first test shot my heart leapt with joy - the light could not have been more perfect. Polly clambered into place on a rock with her back against the tree and in a act of serendipity I could never have planned, a couple of her sheep came wandering up to see what was going on.

Here are a selection of the final photos. Click on them for larger versions, or follow the link through to my Facebook page for the full set -

I couldn't have arranged those sheep if I'd tried

"This is my chicken, not yours. Go find your own..."

Even Ruby the deer made an appearance

In the barn...

Photographer, fox and the remains of a bottle of wine

Kim Ayres

Monday, 22 December 2014

Tom Langlands - Getting into Their World (Part 2)

In the first part of this series of blogs about photographing wildlife I wrote about the importance of getting to the same eye level as your subject. This will immediately make the viewer feel that they now ‘occupy the same space’ as your subject. At this point you will have engaged the viewer. How do you then build on that engagement and draw the viewer further into the image? A big part of the answer to that question has to do with how you crop the image and also being aware of the background.

Fill the frame with your subject. Either get in close at the time of taking the shot or crop in tight afterwards. Sometimes the latter is the best approach especially where birds are concerned. If you zoom in too tight on a bird at the time of the initial shot you will have a problem if the bird suddenly spreads its wings and you find the wingtips missing in the final shot.

The point of getting in close is it removes superfluous clutter or unnecessary open space in an image and helps focus attention on your subject. Combine this with a shallow depth of field to throw the foreground and background out of focus and the viewer has little option but to be drawn into the main subject matter which fills the frame and is also the only sharp part of the overall image.

Working with aperture priority and fully exploiting depth of field are key to good wildlife photography. I spend as much time watching the background in my shots as I do watching the subject. Avoid messy, cluttered backgrounds unless they say something that is essential to the story.

Red Squirrel
Show the wider context
The alternative approach is not to crop in as close and instead show the subject in its wider environment. When adopting this approach the wider context must say something specific about the environment and habitat that is your subject’s world.

Northern Gannets
It should enhance the understanding of how and where your subject lives but not detract from the subject itself.

White-tailed Eagle

Tom Langlands

Monday, 15 December 2014

Allan Wright - Skye at Last - 2

My approach to any given piece of landscape, at least for my paid professional work, generally requires a good deal of driving and map study. I will usually drive from end to end of the selected region making copious notes on aspects, points of interest and in particular how the main iconic features might best be approached. I often find the most northwesterly part of an island delivers a wildness and solitude that helps me settle in and on this recent trip to Skye I headed straight for The Vaternish Peninsula.

I often find myself getting under the skin of a place just by being receptive and engaging with locals and happily this time a chance encounter revealed a whole new dimension to landscape appreciation. Here I met Sheila Parnel, an energetic and knowledgeable lady farmer, working for the RSPB and managing pasture specifically for the benefit of the recently resident but iconic Corncrake, that famously shy and elusive symbol of Hebridean agricultural ecology. Today she and some volunteers were gathering & burning the poisonous Ragwort prior to late silage making for the local herd of Highland Cattle. I joined in for a while and shot the breeze on this balmy August day, I so love my job on such days.

The wide curve of Ardmore Bay below promised rich pickings as I noted the herd of peculiarly near-white Highland Cattle, a nicely positioned ruined farmhouse and a beckoning cliff top to boot. The cattle were amazing, appearing freshly shampooed and very content. Highlanders are snapped thousands of times in a tourist year but I still love to have a go myself, after all, good shots still sell consistently well and these near albino versions were lovely. Turns out the ruined farmhouse is used as a warehouse by the local wine club distributor, a gentleman in his 80's who, with his wife who has the cattle, moved here from down south 20 years ago - now that is a lifestyle choice if ever I saw one!

Over to the cliff top where I was promised a view of "The Dragon" drinking from the Atlantic, I saw it instantly but I am not sure how easily others see it?

Feeling energetic still I jumped on my bicycle, sometimes the best tool in the bag, and headed to the East side of Vaternish. Can't help but be fascinated by housing styles on the island from stunning new eco builds to vernacular "tumbledowns" sitting side by side it is clear Skye is having its own housing boom. Back to base camp(er) and a day spent reading whilst the rain hammered down. Next day a glance at the ferry timetables directed me to Armadale and the chance of a shot at the Mallaig-Skye Ferry. Planned a shot for later with specific conditions but caught the atmosphere with shot through the trees.

North on the Sleat Peninsula are the captivating hamlets of Tokavaig & Toskavaig, an archway to a ruined castle on a promontory,

a cute little rainbow and the Cuillins slipping in and out of view made the day, made a note also to return at my earliest convenience, mmh, Skye - I am starting to understand what all the fuss is about.

Allan Wright

Monday, 8 December 2014

Roger Lever - Alpha1 and Still Breathing

On a recent trip to Glencoe filming for my 1000 Faces Scotland project, my friend Ash and I stayed at the wonderful Clachaig Hotel which nestles just off the main road near the bottom of the glen. Our evenings were spent in the bar eating, drinking and meeting visitors and locals. One evening a good looking young guy with a broad Highland accent came up to me and asked if I would be interested in filming his friend. “She’s just over here. I can introduce you.” We wandered across the stone floored room to a group of young people who were chatting away. “Lindsay, these are the guys doing the 1000faces project” “Lindsay’s a very special person” said the young guy. In front of me stood a shortish very good looking young woman with frizzy medium length blond hair dressed in the classical highland Berghaus mountain gear everyone seems to wear in the Highlands these days. She was also wearing breathing apparatus in the form of plastic tubing inserted into both nostrils. Her big smile greeted us and before we knew it we had organised for her to come into the Visitor Centre next day for a film shoot.

Next day arrived and Lindsay appeared on queue with her friend. We made the normal preps for the filmshoot and sat Lindsay down, hooked her up to the lapel mic and introduced her to the aims of our project. There she was in front of the cameras smiling as she does with her tubing in situ. “Now Lindsay” said Ash, “is there anything you would like to talk about that you feel the rest of the world should know about you?” For the next 15 minutes Lindsay talked about herself and her life with Alpha1 Antitrypsin Deficiency Syndrome. Ash and I stood there speechless jaws hanging whilst Lindsay described how this rare condition had transformed her life, how it took so long to diagnose, her life in a hospice preparing to die at any point, how she attempted suicide on more than one occasion and how she then decided to take this debilitating condition and deal with it in her way.

At the age of 45 Lindsay has been a police inspector, suffered severe injuries in a car accident, attended Glasgow school of Art becoming a top model, having 5 children by 2 fathers and diagnosed with Alpha1 after her fifth child. This condition essentially destroys lung function. There is no treatment except the possibility of a double lung transplant which may extend her life for a short time should she survive such a very complex risky operation.

Brought up in the Highlands amongst the most amazing mountain scenery and with mountaineering in her blood, Lindsay decided to take her life by the scruff, reduce her drug intake to a minimum and start climbing again. ‘climbing!!’, grade 1 rock faces at that, when she struggles with 22% lung capacity doing what you and I do daily without even thinking about it. Give her a sheer rock face however and with her oxygen supply she spiderwomans her way up them with apparent ease. How on earth does she do that? She does things normal people would not even contemplate. ‘A crazy woman’ some people might say but being crazy has kept her alive and not just living! Lindsay awaits her call up for a lung transplant knowing that she could suddenly deteriorate and die at any time.

Read More

Roger Lever

Monday, 1 December 2014

Giles Atkinson - 10 Christmas ideas for the photographer in your life.

Everyone knows a photographer, whether they be an old hand or a budding new talent, well if you are stuck for Christmas present ideas this year, here's a few ideas that might help!

1. Photographers Coffee Mug - You can't beat that first cuppa in the morning, unless of course it's served up in one of these fancy photographer mugs.

2. Gorilla Pod - The amazing Gorillapod when you need a tripod to work in the most awkward of positions there's only one tripod you need.

3. iPhone Camera Lens Kit - The iPhone camera is pretty fantastic but add one of these lens kits and it become something really special!

4. Lenspen - Regardless of what camera you use, at some point you are going to need to remove dust or greasy fingerprints of the lens. I can highly recommend the Lenspen.

5. Digital Picture Frame - A great way to show off photos, rather than having them sitting hidden and unseen on a computer drive somewhere.

6. Camera Bag - You can't fail with a Lowepro camera bags and they even come with with a lifetime warranty.

7. Handmade Camera Strap - What about a new camera strap? Have a look at some of the beautiful handmade camera straps on the Etsy website.

8. Inspire 1 Drone - This should keep 'em busy! the latest drone from DJI a snip at just £2380 will shoot up to 4K video and capture 12 megapixel photos with the built-in Inspire 1 camera.

9. GoPro - Who wouldn't want a Go Pro? Get the latest Hero 4 Full HD Action Camera.

10. Portable Drive for storing images - It's always advisable for every photographer to backup all their photos to an external drive(s), you only need one computer crash and all your images to be lost forever to appreciate this! I always use Toshiba drives.

Giles Atkinson