Monday, 25 January 2016

Kim Ayres - Dance with a slow shutter speed

Alexandra retired from professional ballet dancing when she was 40 and then went on to become a fitness instructor. Now in her mid-60s, she is still incredibly fit and lithe.

We were put in contact via a mutual friend, and last summer she came to this corner of Scotland to collaborate with me in a series of photos for 2 separate projects.

When hunting for a potential venue for the shoot, I came across the Dumfries School of Dance, which is based in an old school house. With high windows and a wooden floor, it had just the atmosphere I was looking for.

In exchange for the use of the studio we were asked if we could do a couple of photos for the Dance School itself. I was specifically asked if it was possible for some slightly abstract ones of the dancer, and a black silk scarf was left with us if we wanted to use it.

In order to show the space, give a sense of movement, and have an abstract feel, I decided using a slow shutter-speed while Alexandra danced would be a good approach.

Using natural light only, I put the camera on a tripod and set the shutter speed between 1/3rd and 1/5th of a second.

It was a dull day and there were no colours to make a feature of, so in post production I converted the images to black and white.

Kim Ayres

Monday, 18 January 2016

Allan Wright - I finally made it to St Kilda

Uploaded in high resolution, so worth clicking on Full Screen to watch

I finally made it to St Kilda, it happened early last June when, along with 2 other members of the Galloway Photo Collective I headed to Harris via Skye hoping to reach this remote archipelago. Thwarted by grim weather, worst for many years, the outlook was pretty bleak, so we abandoned the trip after only one rather good day & night on The Isle of Harris.

I had work to do on Skye so I stuck around there for the next 10 days, finally there was a break in the weather and I made a dash for it. It was a real wave-thumper of a sail out, most passengers on Angus Campbell's Kilda Cruises power boat were sick. I was lucky riding shotgun so kept my eye on the horizon, this did the trick.

I'd logged many images of St Kilda in my mind over the years so there was a familiarity which took shape straight away, but this was my time to do my thing so forget those! I have faith that nowhere ever looks quite the same ever again, so I'm always game for bit of "re-interpretation" and my excitement at being here did not subside for the entire 3 days.

In the care of our National Trust for Scotland its future as a World Heritage Site is assured. Their role is to defend and further comprehend its unique ecology and archeology. During the summer a dozen or so work-party volunteers enliven the human wildlife of the island. I was privileged to join one of these very sociable gangs for a ramble to some hotspots on the other side of the Island. Apparently there is a long waiting list for this work such is their popularity, a fair few return many times.

I have been asked which bits I liked the best - always a hard one in such an intensely interesting destination such as this. Off the top of my head here are three:

1) The outrageous Bonxies, aka Great Skuas are a bit of legend I would say. Probably for the first time in my life, for a second or two at least, I actually knew what it feels like to be attacked by a wild animal. I can't claim it was bad luck, I was warned that up a certain Glen they would have a go at me, of course the wee boy in me just had to check that one out didn't he! Whack and whack again across the top o'ma heid they came one after another working as a team, crafty and forceful, watching my every move, angling to come at me from directly into the sun to avoid detection. I was both shocked and exhilarated - what a game this is - how to get a shot of these menacing bruisers and not lose an eye in the process. I reckon they are the living embodiment of a WW2 Heinkle bomber. Anyway if you want peace, stick your walking pole up high in your backpack above the head and they leave you alone.

2) The Village on Hirta is simply breathtaking, with the texture & graphics of the rudimentary dry stone cleats & cottages, the echoes the past are redolent in an almost intoxicating way. For me, images of that lost civilisation are never far from mind and the inherent sadness of its failure is palpable. But I found joy in touching stone and marveling at those outer/outer Hebridean people's resilience and practicality in the face of what we might regard as hard core austerity.

3) The outlying satellite island cluster of Boreray demanded attention but the light was full and bright i.e. not forthcoming for dramatic interpretation. Sunrise would be right behind and so that might work. A groan inducing alarm call at 3.45 was close to being ignored but with some rare discipline I'm off up the hill up to "The Gap". The curious and wonderful thing about this exact place is that invariably "virgin gappers" report a powerful sense of shock and revelation when the rocks of Boreray emerge to view as they reach the crest of the hill having huffed and puffed their way to the edge of the cliff for the first time. I did that too and wow, a full-on crimson dawn getting into its stride, no choice, it had to be a time-lapse sequence.

I'd like to go back.

If you haven't watched the video yet, scroll back up to the top of the page

Allan Wright

Monday, 11 January 2016

David Moses - Photographing Floods at Newton Stewart

Storm Frank gave Newton Stewart a miserable end to 2015. It hit already saturated ground and quickly inundated Newton Stewart High St, flooding pretty much every property along it. As far as can be made out, the wall that protects the High St, collapsed at it’s head exposing everything behind it and offering no protection at all. In no time the power, telephone, internet and mobile networks were down (much of this is sited along the river) and people were scrambling to protect their businesses and properties.

By the time the worst could be diverted the damage had already been done. But people got into action and did everything they could to help. And that really was what interested me photographically. I wanted to go and capture the selfless effort that many were putting in to help out their fellows.

Taking these type of pictures is about finding a balance. I didn’t want to get in the way of operations that were helping and I certainly didn’t want to exploit anyones distress. But it is important to get shots that honestly show the impact on peoples lives and how they responded to it.

This way of shooting is my default photographic style. What I am doing is not thinking about individual images, I’m thinking about how things work together to create a structure for the events. So, and this is rather counter-intuitive, it becomes about what you don’t see as much as what you do. The upshot of all this is that it allows the story to unfold. It’s a very simple philosophy that gives me a platform to work from in any situation. It’s how I learned photography and it has stuck with me ever since.

If you want to learn more about having an approach and gaining new skills to improve your photography then come along to my Street Photography Workshop on 23 Jan in Dumfries. There are only a few spaces remaining so booking is essential.

To book now click here -!/p/workshops

David Moses

Monday, 4 January 2016

Tom Langlands - The Wonderful Whooper Swans of Iceland

Every year some 25,000 whooper swans fly from Iceland to overwinter in the UK. Although Iceland can get very cold in winter it is also one of the most volcanic places on the planet. Consequently, warm volcanic springs in some parts of the island mean that not all whooper swans have to migrate to escape the cold. Around 2,000 birds will remain in the warmer parts of Iceland all year round. Their natural habitat is a wetland one. Nests are constructed near to good clean water sources that provide the main food source of aquatic vegetation. Whooper swans live in family colonies and larger groups, becoming territorial mainly during the breeding season. Interestingly, not all adult whooper swans breed and only a small percentage account for the perpetuation of the species. Three or four cygnets is the norm with occasional broods of five or six. Generally birds will pair for life and whilst 'divorce' is uncommon it does occur occasionally.

Around mid October as the winter chill spreads south from the North Pole the whooper swans prepare to head to warmer climes. Some of these family groups will have youngsters that are only a couple of months old. Calm, moonlit nights are a favourite for the migratory flights. Birds will gather and characteristic whooping and head bobbing signals their intention to fly. Running on land or water to gain speed they stretch those huge white wings and lift off. They don't fly particularly high in the sky and tend to stay close to the surface of the sea. With almost silent wing-beats and only the occasional whoop cutting through the silence of the night they make their way to the Scottish coastline. It is a perilous journey and not all of the birds will make it. Some will become separated from their family groups and others may perish in bad weather having been blown miles off course. This is not a journey of choice but of necessity and survival. If all goes well many birds will rest on the Isle of Lewis before heading further south.

Some 500 Whooper Swans come to the Solway area near to Caerlaverock. It is always exciting to see parents arriving with new offspring, for the same birds tend to return each year. However it is a sad occasion when a bird known to have left Iceland remains unaccounted for. Once here, whooper swans are sometimes seen alongside our resident Mute Swans but, with their distinctive yellow and black bills emitting frequent ‘whooping’ noises, they are easy to distinguish.

Each winter at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve at Caerlaverock they catch many of the whooper swans to enable them to further their research and understanding of these birds. The swans are weighed, measured, have blood samples taken to check for viruses and toxins, and ringed.

With international law now protecting whooper swans it would be reasonable to assume that the birds should reach their normal lifespan of 10 – 12 years without facing significant danger. Sadly, this is not the case; lead shot is still a major problem. Although banned in the UK it is permitted in Iceland. Shot from spent gun cartridges or fishing is swallowed by the birds and just 3 pellets will cause a prolonged and painful death.Despite international protection a staggering 14% of whooper swans have lead pellets embedded in their bodies as a consequence of being shot. However, despite all of the hazards the swan population is actually healthy and growing steadily to the extent that that the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust no longer regard whooper swans to be a conservation concern.

Long may the current optimism continue for these wonderfully vocal birds are part of the Solway scene and somehow winter would never be the same without them.

Tom Langlands