Monday, 25 July 2016

Kim Ayres - A Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Each year, Castle Douglas High School final year pupils have the chance to be part of an Enterprise Group, where they design and create products, which they then have to market and sell.

This past year's group called themselves High Tea and created, among other things, cake stands from recycled vintage china. They went on to win the regional Young Enterprise Award for South West Scotland, ahead of 10 other schools, which took them into the Scottish finals last month. Although they just missed taking the overall winner, they still came away with the Marketing Star Award and the Best Trade Stand Award.

High Tea's Trade Stand - awarded best stand in both the regional and Scottish finals

Rewind to late last Autumn, and I'd been asked by Andrea Thompson, commissioning editor of Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine, if I would take some photos they could use for publicity and she could put in a magazine article about the group.

A Mad Hatter's Tea Party theme was decided on and I met up with a few of the group for a hot chocolate to discuss ideas, strategies and potential venues for the shoot. A little over a week later we all met up at Cally Palace Hotel in Gatehouse of Fleet, with the full team in action. It was like one of those high production shoots with lots of different people in charge of hair, makeup, props and outfits, and there were even a couple of them recording the experience with cameras and video.

I have to say I was extremely impressed with the level of organisation and cooperation, which meant the shoot ran much smoother than some I've been involved in.

And this was reflected in the result. Because I was able to focus my time and energy into getting the lighting and composition right, rather than having to chase everyone and see they were all doing their jobs correctly, I was able to get some great pictures.

However, the point I go click is only one step on the journey to the final images. Once I have the photos on the computer there are a thousand directions I can go in.

In this instance I decided to try and create an illustrated feel by creating an effect so as the image moves out towards the edges it becomes increasingly like a drawing. This has the effect of the characters coming to life out of the pages of a storybook, which I felt tied in with the whole Alice in Wonderland theme.

I then gave the whole thing a slightly desaturated, sepia tone, which creates the look of old hand-tinted photographs. This, I felt, tied in with the Victorian/Edwardian setting of the Lewis Carroll story and the retro crockery used for the cake stands - harking back to days gone by.

Here are a few of the final pics, but you can find the full set on my Facebook page here

Mad Hatter's Tea Party, with emphasis on the cake stands


The Queen of Hearts

The White Rabbit

The Mad Hatter

A couple of weeks later I got a call from Andrea asking if I had a version of one of the photos that wasn't faded at the edges. She wasn't promising, but there was the possibility it might appear on the front cover of the January edition of Dumfries and Galloway Life, and they needed a version that would allow for writing to show up on top of it.

Fortunately I had a cleaned up, edited version that I hadn't done the final illustrated effect to, as that had been a key stage before trying out different post-production techniques. I sent it straight over to her.

When the January edition hit the shelves, we were delighted to discover we had indeed made the front cover!

Front cover for January 2016 edition of D&G Life

A few weeks later, a couple of the High Tea students edited together a video of the photo shoot. It gives a real sense of everything that went into the shoot, and reinforces the idea that great photos rarely happen by accident.

Kim Ayres

Monday, 18 July 2016

Roger Lever - One Night Stand

My previous visits to Skye have often proved rather dismal due to inclement weather conditions.

Spring this year (2016) however Skye enjoyed some of the best weather in the country with temperatures into the mid 20’s. Driving to the Isle of Raasay from Dalbeattie usually takes about 7 hours on a good run but on this day a rather tragic accident had blocked the road just north of Broadford. The road system on Skye does not allow any alternative route north so it was a case of sitting it out until the police decided it was ok to allow traffic to move.

We arrived at the boat terminal at Sconser just in time to catch the last ferry to Raasay. The short 20 minute crossing has been a relatively new route created by CalMac since Raasay House Hotel opened on the Island in 2013. Raasay House has undergone a complete renovation following a fire which gutted it in 2009. The setting, the friendly atmosphere and the good food all make this a must go to hotel next time you plan a trip to Skye. This day however that was not our destination.

View from the front of the Hotel overlooking the ferry Terminal with the Cuillin Hills behind.

About half way along the island on the one track road there is a path leading to the summit of Dun Caan, a distinctive upturned bucket shaped mountain which can be seen from miles around.

It is a while since my friend Joe and I had camped at the summit of a Scottish Mountain but something we have longed to do again since camping on Suilven more than 10 years ago.

Whilst Joe remains as fit as ever I have suffered serious back and knee problems which have restricted most of my sporting activities in recent years, so carrying a heavy backpack proved quite a challenge for the one and a half hour climb. With lots of huffing and puffing and groaning I did make the summit.

I had done this once previously with my wife Judy 2 months prior to this trip but without the heavy rucksack. It was somewhat easier then but the weather was more arctic like. The views however from the summit were spectacular.

From Dun Can.

With snow still on the mountains it is important to take a number off different exposures so you have a choice when it comes to editing. It can then be possible to combine more than one image for best results. With that and a little giggery pokery on photoshop CC I managed to create the feel of the place. It was cold, with snow flurries but we still had a magnificent panoramic vista in front of us. In these situations a dedicated panoramic camera such as the Fuji 645 Rangefinder (used by Colin Prior in the old days) would give phenomenal results. This image of course is cropped from my Nikon D800 NEF image.

Having rested and admired the 360 panoramic views Joe and I had to find a suitable place for the tent, preferably sheltered from the then cold northerly wind. There was only one such spot which proved to be perfectly adequate.

We were bother ready for food after pitching the tent. Our previous attempts at preparing a meal on another trek had failed miserably when the few matches we did take along proved too damp and our fry up never happened. Guess what, the same thing happened again. I didn’t see the look on Joe's face but i am sure it must have been one of “oh God No, not again, disgust, what a plonker etc. etc.” What I hadn’t told him was that I had slipped a lighter into my pack at the last minute before leaving home. After about 10 minutes going through about twenty damp useless matches finally piped up ‘Oh, I’ve just remembered something” and proceeded to lift the lighter from its hiding place.

The look of relief on Joe’s face was choice. We proceeded to enjoy our unartistic mix of bacon, egg, black pudding fry up and a cup of weak tea followed by a couple of mints. Anything on the top of a mountain in these conditions tastes absolutely wonderful.

With the light and the temperature dropping rapidly I grasped my camera for a tour of the flat peak of the mountain. The sun was beginning to set over Skye to our West with the light changing by the minute. Here are just a few of the shots I took.

In this shot the tent is blocking out most of the harsh light from the sun but in doing so it also allows the colours in the sky to be more visible as the tent remains in silhouette. Adding a little on camera flash exposes the tent just a little and lights up the reflectors.

Taking shots into the setting sun can be rewarding or darn right disappointing. Again it is important to take variable exposures once you have picked your position. Sometimes a graduated filter can help to get a balance of exposure between the relative underexposure of the foreground and overexposure of the sun.

We both slept well even though there was a continuous cold wind flapping the tent about for most of the night.
By morning the wind had eased and as luck would have it I stepped out to relieve myself just as the sun was rising over the Scottish mainland.

In this shot I had to drag out some of the detail in what was underexposed foreground. The sea was relatively calm but creates an interesting pattern on this exposure taken on a tripod.

Turning the camera round the little bit of sun from behind me in the East was creating some nice highlights on the Cuillin mountains. Again it was a case of dragging out some of the detail in the foreground and getting more definition and drama by making it into an HD image.

I dived back into the tent for my camera, donned a few extra layers and waited for the display. Unfortunately the sunrise wasn’t that amazing as there was much more in the way of cloud cover. Shafts of light moved along the Eastern horizon creating an ever changing pattern of light. Even though I was shivering I managed to grasp a few shots as the scene changed. Resting the camera on large boulders acts as a very suitable tripod in these situations. With a little editing I was well satisfied with some of my images and well worth the effort to climb that wonderful little mountain.

A well earned rest and just a little indulging in a special brew.

We had a very enjoyable real meal at the hotel before catching the next boat back to Sconser and home.

Roger Lever

Monday, 11 July 2016

David Moses - Colour Street Photography

Colour photography isn’t just taking photographs in colour. It is about using colour in such a way that the colours become subjects in themselves, an intrinsic element of the photograph that is as important as anything else. Strong colour can really elevate a shot, so don’t just have colour in your images for the sake of it - it must add something.

My main influences in this regard are two of the great all time colour photographers - David Alan Harvey & Saul Leiter.

The way I approach it is to consider colour as a primary device in my photographs. By this I mean it becomes part of my decision making process. So when I’m looking for a picture I am on the lookout for (in no particular order)

1 - Subject
2 - Action or gesture
3 - Emotion
4 - Composition
5 - Colour
6 - Light
7 - Shadow
8 - Direction

Trying to recognise these things and act on them when you have no control over a scene is such a huge challenge, but one that is immensely satisfying.

So the next time you are out shooting, pay close attention to colour. Seek it out and see what it can add to your photography. Don’t overlook it. It doesn’t need to be a big wash of colour, it may just be a splash, something that draws the eye.

If you want to learn more about street photography, I offer one to one tuition and can cater for small groups. Please get in touch to find out more

David Moses

Monday, 4 July 2016

Stargazing Scotland - Celtic Magic and Quantum Physics

My interest and respect for indigenous cultures started in 2013 when I began studying the Sami people - the indigenous Reindeer herders of Scandinavia. In all honesty this likely stemmed from my own envy of their lifestyle - I yearn for a more natural existence. Sometimes I find myself wishing I was born in a simpler time. You could argue my interest in the indigenous folk of the World is a direct result of escapism.

A Norwegian South Sami man lassos a Reindeer during the roundup.

This interest eventually led to Expedition Norway; during the Winter of 2014 I travelled alone to Lofoten and then to central Norway to document through film the relationship of the Sami people with the natural world.

With the South Sami people of Norway I discovered many things, including my own interest in Astrophotography and following that, astrophysics and the visible Universe.

One of my first Astrophotography images. Jupiter hangs in the sky whilst the Northern Lights dance over Sami country.

That interest has led to my current position as a night photographer and tour operator. I take inspiration from the cosmos and apply it to landscape photography. I also run Astrophotography and Stargazing Tours with the aim to increase appreciation of the cosmos. However, I haven’t pursued my fascination for indigenous culture since expedition Norway.

Colours in the Spring Galloway Gorse reflect those of the Red Supergiants that orbit the Supermassive Black Hole at the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Out of curiosity my partner Helen recently lifted an old book titled "The Celtic Tree Oracle" from the shelf. This led to a conversation about Celtic Cosmology and the relationship that the pre Roman inhabitants of the British Isles had with the natural World and visible Universe. This led to the decision to rekindle my interest in indigenous cultures by applying their interpretation of nature to my own photography.

The Celts were immersed in nature; during their time Britain was covered in forest, consequently trees play a major role in their belief cycle and annual calendar. Each month in the Celtic calendar is allocated a species of tree. My birthday is in March, therefore according to Celtic Tree Lore, Ash is my tree. This seemed like a good starting point from which to work.

I was surprised to learn that for the Celts, the Ash represents the infinite links between the microscopic world within our world of the macroscopic, and outward into the vastness of the cosmos. Perhaps this is because a single Ash tree can support a huge amount of biodiversity. It really is like a miniature city existing within one organism. This is used as a metaphor to illustrate the fact that your actions leave a fingerprint on the Universe itself, therefore you are part of an interconnected chain of events that shape the Universe.

Ash Trees on the river Bladnoch play host to a multitude of Biodiversity. Above, the Milky Way Galaxy plays host to a multitude of stellar life (and potentially other organisms). Moving outwards, the Universe plays host to countless other galaxies. As of above, so below.

This seemed like a strange coincidence considering my own interest in quantum physics and the theory that all possible events exist in a wave form of mathematical potential. Events are only determined once observed or experienced by ourselves as conscious manifestations of the Universe. Each person’s experience combines to leave a network of traces on the fabric of spacetime. It also links to my interest in the theory that the Universe is of infinite scale.

I’ve been stuck in an inspirational rut for a few weeks now, but inspiration can creep up on you from the most unexpected places. I decided to move a lamp last Tuesday night. That illuminated a hidden part of our bookshelf and led to Helen spotting "The Celtic Tree Oracle," resulting in the return of my interest in native culture and the decision to explore this through my photography. Strange how something as simple as moving a table lamp can result in newfound excitement and inspiration. Again we return to the idea that all actions, no matter how simple, link within a chain of events that combine into something greater. The Celts would interpret this using the Ash Tree's microscopic inhabitants. A quantum physicist would interpret this with a wave of mathematical possibilities that shape the Universe. I’m looking forward to exploring other cultures to find their own interpretations of the Universe, and applying this to my photography.

Watching the heavens through the top of a Sami Roundhouse.

Jesse Beaman
Stargazing Scotland