Monday, 31 October 2016

Stargazing Scotland - Night Photography: behind the scenes

In this blog I want to show you that there’s much more to creating a photograph than just snapping that final shot. I’m going to walk you through the creative process of one of my favourite images from conception to the final piece. Every now and again I’m in the right place at the right time with my camera, but ninety percent of the time I visualise what I want to achieve before finding the landscape and conditions to fulfil my vision. Because of this, I might visit a location several times before everything comes together in the right way, enabling me to produce a final piece.

I started by making the decision to break free from the rule of thirds; I was starting to find it very limiting and repetitive. Instead I resolved to make use of natural symmetry and contrast to lure the viewer into the centre of the frame. In my favourite images I do this by finding a ‘bow tie’ shape in the landscape, combining this with a lead line to compliment the ‘bow tie’ and pull the eye to the focal point. Having only adopted this technique recently, I decided to make use of it again. Below is an example of this technique from a previous piece.

In the above image, the tree-line creates the natural bow shape, which is complimented by the star trail revealed by a long exposure. Finally, a lead line adds extra interest to pull the viewer into the frame. This image came with its own stages of completion, but for now I’ll just use it as an example.

After searching up and down an area of river in Wigtownshire with trees on either side, I found a location looking downriver that I liked. And whilst I was pleased with the result of my first visit to this location, I decided I wanted to to make more use of the natural shapes available to me in the conifer woodland on the left and the deciduous woodland on the right. I knew the location had great potential, but I had to wait for the waterline to drop before I could get closer in for further experimentation.

After returning for some experimentation I was satisfied with this as starting point for a final piece. Here, I have my ‘bow tie’, and a subtle lead line in the river. I also love the way the conifer woodland contrasts with the deciduous woodland on opposite sides of the river. However, I wanted a more obvious lead line. To achieve this, I realised I had to wait. As my understanding of the night sky has increased, my ability to apply this to my photography has also improved. It dawned on me that the lead line I needed was the Milky Way, only it wasn’t in the right part of the sky… yet.

Our planet faces a different part of the night sky as the seasons change, resulting in the constellations rising a little earlier every night. I decided to wait for the bright part of the Milky Way to rise into position, thus creating an obvious lead line to compliment the natural shapes in the composition. I also knew that Mars and Saturn would be aligning in Scorpius later in the year, the constellation at the focal point of this image.

After waiting for the part of the night sky I desired to move into position over the space of a couple of months, I was finally rewarded with my final image. It turned out to be a close call. The summer solstice was fast approaching, bringing brighter nights and threatening my image of a detailed Milky Way. This, combined with terrible weather and lunar activity, made it hard to find the conditions necessary. Finally, one Sunday morning around 3am, I was at last blessed with clear skies over a dark, moonless landscape. As a bonus, there was some striking purple atmospheric glow (a phenomenon similar to the Aurora but less dramatic). Since yellow and purple are at opposite ends of the colour wheel, this glow complimented the warm, ancient light emitted by the red supergiants in the galactic centre perfectly.

After getting the exposures I needed, all that remained was to take them back to the edit suite and get to work. But just before packing up an Otter dove into the river right before my eyes, after watching it fish for a while I looked up into the sky to immediately see a bright green fireball scour across the heavens. The buzz you get from a double encounter like that is phenomenal, and it made standing out in the frost for three hours whilst my camera exposed all the more worthwhile!

Jesse Beaman
Stargazing Scotland

Monday, 24 October 2016

Tom Langlands - The Battlefields of WWI

I make no apology for the fact that this blog is longer than I would normally write but it marks the centenary of one of the most horrific events in human history - so please bear with me.

Earlier this year I undertook a tour of the Battlefields of WWI with local company Solway Tours. I don't normally go on organised tours but I reckoned it was the best way to see a lot of places and to get expert knowledge in a short space of time. I was right on both counts. Solway Tours was outstanding. We travelled all around Ypres in Belgium and down through France to the Somme. I have to admit that prior to this trip my knowledge of this incredulous war was scant. I now know much more and although perhaps I shouldn't have - given the ongoing wars in the world today - I found it difficult to comprehend man's inhumanity to man. The scale of industrialised slaughter - 17 million dead and 20 million wounded - beggars belief.


Having been deeply moved by what I saw I decided to return a few weeks ago - just after the centenary of the commencement of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July - to make a more detailed photographic record of the places I visited. But it was more than just a desire to record. As a photojournalist I wanted to create a sense of mood and atmosphere. I wanted to express the emotions I felt - the death, destruction sadness and perhaps a modicum of hope for our warmongering species. I also wanted to further the act of remembrance of this appalling conflict and to attempt to ensure that we never forget all those - on all sides - who died or were affected by this war.

These are some of the images I took over both trips along with my brief notes of why I took them and why they are significant to me. With a few exceptions I felt that most of the images were more powerful in black and white or when desaturated of vivid colour.  That in itself was an interesting experiment in the psychology of perception and emotions. I hope that you don't 'enjoy' these images but rather that they stir something inside all of us that makes us reflect on war and what it means to go down the route of armed conflict.

Early morning light over Vlamertinghe Cemetery, Belgium. This is just one of dozens of cemeteries all along the western front that was located adjacent to or near field hospitals. It was calm and serene but the long shadows cast by the morning light were a stark reminder of what lay below my feet as I walked across the grass. This small cemetery holds over 1,100 soldiers.

A lone poppy at Essex Farm Cemetery, Belgium. It was the skeletal trees here that invoked the imagery of death more powerfully than trees in full leaf or flowers in bloom. The single red poppy against a white gravestone was like a shot that still rang out across the decades. This cemetery contains over 1,200 dead of which 104 have never been identified.

The grave of one of the unidentified soldiers at Essex Farm Cemetery, Belgium. There was something cold and stark about this. The rose and the beautifully kept graves somehow belied the horrific reality of what went on here. Everything felt rose-tinted but for all the wrong reasons. The long shadows spoke volumes to me.

The shattered, bullet-riddled remains of a tree that once stood tall in Sanctuary Wood, Belgium when battle raged all around it. Despite the modern crosses and all the acts of remembrance that have taken place here - it still lies dead, shattered and broken. That is the price of war.

Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, Belgium - just a few hundred metres from the battleground. A small cemetery holding 636 dead, it was serene but the dark trees around the edges and the dark clouds overshadowing the rows of white graves gave it a sense of foreboding.

This single red rose that was bending through the unmarked side of the gravestones seemed to be a marker for all the dead and not just the name on the front face of the stone beside it. For this reason I often wandered along the unmarked sides of the graves for here was the faceless, inhuman side of war.

Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium the final resting place of some 12,000 men of whom more than 8,000 are only 'known unto God'. In addition 35,000 whose remains were never found are commemorated on the walls around this cemetery. There was a brightness and hope in the light that shone through the dark clouds. It flickered across the gravestones bringing a sense of life and movement that somehow transcended the true horror of it all.

The Brooding Soldier memorial to the Canadians at Vancouver Corner, Belgium. This was the site of the first ever gas attack that claimed the lives of 2,000 men. It was the wispy nature of the clouds that seemed to speak of gas and the way it spread silently across the landscape. The light was catching the top of the memorial and it seemed to highlight the soldier's thoughts as he looked down contemplatively on another horror unleashed on the battlefield.

This is the German cemetery at Langemark, Belgium. Here are buried more than 44,000 dead. It was a strange, surreal and very different feeling from the allied commonwealth cemeteries but it was every bit as thought provoking in its mood and atmosphere. It was none the less death in all its finality.

The last post at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium - as held on every night of the year, irrespective of the weather - since  1929 (with the exception of the 4 years when the Germans held Ypres between 1940 and 1944) On the walls around the Menin Gate Memorial are the names of another 55,000 soldiers whose remains were never found.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I believe it is important that we never forget and I urge anyone to take a trip to these hugely emotional and thought provoking sites.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

- from 'For the Fallen' by Robert Laurence Binyon

In memory of my grandfather Alexander Nairn and his brother James Nairn
- neither of whom I met thanks to this conflict -
and to all those who gave their lives in this and all other wars.

Tom Langlands

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Art of Perception - An Exhibition by Galloway Photographic Collective

The Art of Perception photographic exhibition opens to the public from 15th to 30th November 2016, at Shambellie House, New Abbey, near Dumfries.

The exhibition will feature works, diverse in style and technique, by each member of Galloway Photographic Collective: Allan Wright, Holly Burns, David Moses, Tom Langlands, Roger Lever, Jesse Beaman/Helen Cockburn, Kim Ayres and Laura Hudson Mackay.

This is the second year that GPC have had the opportunity to show work at Shambellie House and just as in 2015, there will be opportunities to meet each of the photographers, chat with them about photography and anything else for that matter! They will even make you a coffee if you ask nicely.

Here are Meet the Photographer dates for your diaries:

Roger Lever - 15 November

David Moses - 16 November

Holly Burns - 16 November

Laura Hudson Mackay - 18 November

Kim Ayres - 20 November

Tom Langlands - 22 November

Allan Wright - 25 November

Jesse Beaman/Helen Cockburn (Viridian Skies) - 26 November

In addition to The Art of Perception exhibition there will also be The Royal Photographic Society, Scottish Members' Print Exhibition on display.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Allan Wright - In Search of Stock Shots on the East Coast

A dominant motivation for me in image creation falls into the category of quirky, street , fine- art & abstract themes, I get excited by the possibilities here. Sadly the business model for these is far from fully developed, (read almost non-existent). Having said that I probably spend a larger part of my time producing what can nominally be classified as “Stock Images”. A pursuit I do however find quite satisfying nonetheless.

I have an ongoing responsibility for supplying fresh images for up 20 view calendars per year and there is very little scope for repetition, thus my road mileage is considerable. This time of year is particularly productive in terms of light quality and colour palette so I tend to get busy about now.

The East Coast is a different animal from the West, it is more man-made and manicured than the rugged wildness of its Western counterpart, but still very rewarding. As I write this, Fife and Angus have just been in my sites and so here are a handful of “stock shots” that I’d like to share.

Near Dunfermline I caught sight of a ubiquitous “turbine farm”. Big deal maybe, but it was the dramatic sky and the juxtaposition of a live oil refinery on the skyline that jazzed it all up a bit. Unsuitable for the calendar market but has possibilities in a more generic context.

Kelly Castle NTS, East Neuk of Fife. I have failed to score with this subject a fair few times, insufficient planning generally being the cause. Today though even at completely the wrong time of day for conventional approaches, the light was so strong and the garden so resplendent that with the help of bracketing and slight HDR I managed a usable image.

On a sunny day Pittenweem is a photographer’s banquet, boats, nets and classic pan-tiled vernacular buildings always deliver. Today however I found a departure from cliché with a homecoming boat and a big harbour sky.

Elie is the posh enclave of the East Neuk. It is easy to see how it evolved this way with its fabulous beach and recreational value. Unusual for the east Coast it offers sunset options.

Angus has a lesser profile in the Scottish inventory of scenic locations, however dig a little deeper and there are plenty treasures to be unearthed. The series of Glens to the North which constitute the Southern Cairngorms, the Angus Glens as they are known funnily enough, have drawn me over the years. It seems by accident I have left the best to last. Camped out in Glen Esk and caught a beautiful frosty sunrise which in steady increments illuminated this gentle and stunning piece of landscape. Love to see Highland Ponies contentedly as part of a working highland shooting estate.

North River Esk view

Aberdeen is an important subject and like other dynamic cities has landmarks that are constantly evolving, often last year’s classic views are conspicuously dated and thus devalued. The illustrious architecture or Marischal College has acquired a ruby tinge since my last visit and so a hand held grab at dusk makes for a punchy offering.

Next stop Inverness.

Allan Wright