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


  1. As the teacher who worked with the young enterprise team and accompanied them on the shoot I just wanted to say what a truly wonderful experience this was for myself and the young people. What Kim doesn't mention (I believe out of modesty) is what a gem he is to work with. He treated our young people as professionals not as school kids out on a jolly, consulting with them throughout the process and explaining everything that he was doing so the whole thing became a really valuable learning experience. He also, very generously, allowed us free use of his images on our Facebook page and trade stand. The front cover of the magazine is framed and proudly displayed at the entrance to our school and the edited image we had blown up to A0 which will also be going on display in our school.

    1. Thanks for your warm and generous words, Gemma. The whole team were a delight to work with and I was so pleased they won the regional finals and walked away with a couple of very well deserved awards from the Scottish finals. :)