Monday, 31 August 2015

Holly Burns - The Fine Art of Compositing

So what does it take to create a fine art composited image?

It is not the case that you can simply merge any photographs you like to create a cohesive composite. All images used must be carefully considered and prepared for use.

But why? What are the considerations that essentially make or break a composited image? Lets break it right down to what has to be 100% right before even clicking the camera shutter.

1. Perspective.
The geometrical perspective absolutely has to be the same throughout a whole image. If just one element possesses a different geometrical perspective, the eye will immediately recognize this and the brain will realise it is wrong. The viewer may not be able to specifically distinguish what is odd but will know something is definitely off.

2. Lighting.
Lighting differences will be apparent in the final composite image if the shadows are different between separate images. For instance, if your main image has been taken on an overcast day with no apparent directional shadows, you cannot use any images that contain directional shadows. Or if your main image has light coming in from the left, you will not be able to use any photographs with light coming in from the right – all lighting conditions must be consistent so it all looks as if it is coming from the same source.

3. Depth of field.
In a photograph, you only have one plain in focus, so it is important to never have more than one in focus in a composited image. This means you cannot place an image that is completely in focus in a background scene that is out of focus and vise versa.

4. Colours and Tones.
If the colours and tones in the image aren’t the same than it’s blindingly obvious that they weren’t taken in the same place/time. You will see it the most in the highlights and shadows. Now unless you are taking all of the photographs in the same place and at the same time, this cannot be helped. Natural light can change from minute to minute and from place to place. How I combat this is to take some time in postproduction to digitally alter the shadows and highlights so that they have the same tonal qualities, making a more cohesive scene.

5. Wind direction
Just like how lighting must be consistent, so must wind direction. This may seem very obvious but I’ve seen it many times where a subjects dress is blowing in the wind but her hair is completely still. This would not happen if it were real, so it cannot happen in your composited image.

If all these aspects are taken into consideration before clicking the shutter, you will form a good foundation and have the building blocks in which you can build upon to create a good, solid, cohesive composited image.

Holly Burns

Monday, 24 August 2015

Tom Langlands - To the Rescue

Sometimes you get asked to put your skills to different uses. That was certainly the case for me recently when I was asked by Dumfries and Galloway Canine Rescue Centre at Glencaple to judge the entries to their annual calendar and Christmas card dog photography competition. I have to say there were some very interesting and well caught images and it certainly wasn't an easy task to sort out the final winners.

Having met the various members of staff who worked there we got chatting about the challenges that wildlife photography poses. In a round about way they had also encountered the difficulties of photographing animals. They often had to take images for their publications and to advertise rescued dogs in order to seek new homes for them. They found the hardest part was making the dog look interesting and fun and capturing something of its personality that would endear it to those who may be able to offer it a new home.

I agreed to help them out and try to use the skills that I had learned over the years to hopefully create exciting images that said something about the animals involved. To be honest I also fancied the challenge of doing something different. So for a morning, I set myself up at the kennels and, ably assisted by Sarah and Zoe, attempted to get interesting domestic dog shots. I was particularly keen to get action shots as the Rescue Centre felt these were possibly the shots that they found the hardest to do themselves.

Sarah and Zoe brought out selected dogs one at a time and I gave them guidance on how I wanted them to get the dogs to run - sometimes head on and sometimes side on. It didn't take me long to discover that each different dog did indeed have a very different personality! What is it they say - never work with animals and children! All the dogs did amazingly well although some were more interested in exploring the newcomer - i.e. me!

As you might expect some ran much faster than others and some refused to run at all. However, for me it was a totally different application of my animal photography skills. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the dogs did too and by the end of it Sarah and Zoe deserved a well earned break as they had probably run around as much as the dogs!

It was also a great insight into the wonderful work that Dumfries and Galloway Canine Rescue Centre does and also the hard work and enthusiasm that everyone involved puts into their work.

Tom Langlands

Monday, 17 August 2015

Kim Ayres - Macmath: The Silent Page

Macmath: The Silent Page, was a project created to bring to life a series of old folk songs, held in the archives at Broughton House in Kirkcudbright, many of which had not been heard for over a hundred years.

I had been called in to create a photo that could be used for publicity and the CD cover, once the songs have been recorded.

Broughton House itself seemed the ideal location to shoot the photo and on an earlier trip there, Ali Burns and I had explored the house and gardens to find the best spot. Fortunately we decided on an indoor scene as it was chucking it down with rain on the day of the shoot.

Arranging 7 people in a way that flows is not an easy task. This wasn't to be some all-in-a-line press shot, but an engaging photograph where the eye needs to be led into, round and through the ensemble and their surrounds. Given the historic nature of the project, I wanted the final image to have a feel of a classic painting with finely tuned arrangements of people, objects and setting

Wee pin-man sketches done beforehand will only get you so far. It's not until you put everyone together can you start to get a sense of who needs to go where. Not just due to height, but also where the splashes of colour of clothes, instruments and hair might compliment or clash.

Take a photo - rearrange the group. Take another - swap two people about. Take another - swap them back but move someone else. Take another - ask this person to lower their head and that one to raise their left arm...

And so it goes on. Each time refining and finessing until you reach a point where you feel you're as close as you're going to get before mutiny sets in.

But that's just the first half of creating a photo such as this. There's still the editing.

Inevitably there is not a single photo that has all the elements just perfect. In one someone will be blinking; in another the fiddle is at an angle that throws the compositional lines out; in another someone's arm is casting a shadow over someone else's face. So the ideal combination has to be created from several photos. In this way it is much more akin to the processes used by the old master painters.

And then there are subtle tweaks of hue and saturation, brightness and contrast, levels and curves, while unwanted reflections are painted out from the glass panels on the bookcase.

Finally, to enhance the narrative I decided to overlay some of the handwritten text and music from photos I had taken directly of some of the pages of the Macmath volumes.

Left to right: back row: Emily Smith, Aaron Jones, Jamie McClennan
front row: Wendy Stewart, Ali Burns, Claire Mann, Robyn Stapleton

Peter Renwick, the project manager, took various bits of movie footage of the shoot and gave it to me immediately afterwards, so I decided to create a little behind-the-scenes video.

Ali Burns forwarded me a copy of a recording at one of their rehearsals, of the song Johnie Scot, which I added as a sound track.

I've also put together a folder on Facebook (you don't have to be a member to view it) of all the photos I did for the project, which includes individual portraits of the performers. If you're interested, you can find them here:

Ali and the others will be turning the songs from the project into a CD, which you can pre-order from here:

Kim Ayres

Monday, 10 August 2015

David Moses - Street Photography in Dumfries & Galloway

When you think of street photography you think of Cartier-Bresson’s Paris, Trent Parke’s Sydney, Vivian Maier’s New York (you should google all of these photographers by the way) - places thronging with people and with impressive architecture around every corner. At first glance it seems to be the preserve of the Global City. But street photography isn’t about grand places, it’s about people interacting with their environment. Which means that you can practice it wherever you are.

When I approach street photography, I have a few things in mind. Light, composition, energy and emotion. I try to see my surroundings in those terms rather than merely taking a snapshot.

By observing in this manner I have realised what a strange and unusual place Dumfries & Galloway is. I have no interest in showing some pastoral idyll - the Dumfries & Galloway that I love is not like that. It is a place of hard contrasts and where people are "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts.”

Adopting this philosophy of street photography allows me to work with a great level of freedom. I can abandon trying to represent how things look and concentrate more on trying to capture the emotion of a time and place.

There is a huge debate going on around ‘Street Photography’ at the moment. The main criticism levelled at it is that it can be boring. Just people walking around. Michael Ernest Sweet stated that the work of photographers like the ones I mentioned above are “now lumped into this same genre that produces hundreds of thousands of dull, hackneyed candid images of random strangers by hopeless photographers every single day.”

To separate yourself from the deluge of the mundane you must try to see the beauty and uniqueness wherever you photograph. So if I can offer a piece of advice at this stage - don’t settle for merely representing what you see. You must impose yourself, your vision on what you are photographing. Otherwise anybody could take the pictures that you could take. Look for interesting things - be they light, shadow, shape, expression, movement, action, emotion, beauty.

Wherever you go, take your camera with you - you never know what interesting things you will see.

Even if you are just walking down the street to the shops.

There are always opportunities for great shots.

When you go out to shoot, aim to come back with only one good picture. Don’t worry about getting lots. One good picture is all you need from a day’s shooting.

I realise that this has been a fairly rambling and chaotic blog, but that is what street photography is like. You have no control and must just respond to what you see.

In my opinion there must be people in your shots - it’s about the human experience. Look for expressions.

Go back to the same places over and over until you get the shot.

So I hope that gives you some inspiration and or tips to go out and do some street photography.

*disclaimer - this is how I approach this subject. Others will probably have conflicting opinions. It is entirely subjective.

You can find more of my work at

Monday, 3 August 2015

Allan Wright - Skye at Last 5

Onwards from Elgol pursuing the heart of Skye on this fine day I decided to tackle a decent hill and get a measure of the famous Black Cuillin Range. A little research and a good look at the OS map revealed a route I felt I could manage. A lesser hill called Sgurr na Stri (my gaelic is woeful so no idea what it means!) afforded a stunning perspective to Loch na Leachd and Loch na Cuilce with sandy shallows sporting an almost iridescent aquamarine, a colour I find intensely satisfying.

The vista from this summit proved to be pretty awesome taking in Loch Coriusk, Loch Scavaig, Rum and Eigg. I used to be highly impressed with panoramic images that had been shot with the bulky great Fuji film camera, knowing the fitness level required getting all that weight to the summit etc. These days of course we simply shoot panned sequences and get Photoshop to stitch them together to get the same result. Oh the love of digital!

Back down to the Sleat Peninsula with characteristic moody light picking out the settlement on Aird of Sleat. I find fascination in the way people settle in these remote places, the restored vernacular cottages and the new eco-builds. The scenic value, proximity to nature and strength of community defines rural dwelling nowhere better than on Skye. If there is one, green, blue and white ought to be the colours of the Skye flag,

Back to Armadale and the MV Loch Coruisk Calmac ferry as a subject was bound to be fair game and planning for this shot took time. Using the OS map and a reccy along the shore defined the precise location to line up the boat and the Knoydart Mountains peaks at the end of Loch Nevis. Also it required timetables and a watchful eye on that elusive light show Skye tends to perform. The combination of 400mm lens and tripod nailed it, but it's the combination of that red funnel and the rugged land features that characterise travel on Scotland's West Coast.

Twin hamlets of Toskavaig and Tokavaig on North Sleat are favourites, sleepy and interesting with great view to the Cuillins. Camped up by the shore and bagged a long exposure sunset with the incoming tide, perfect.

Allan Wright