As it is now December I feel that it is reasonable to talk about Christmas. They say that you should never work with animals or children. I never work with the latter but as a wildlife and nature photographer I spend a lot of time around the former. However, I don't often get asked to work with animals as such but there were two occasions this year when that changed.
Back in June I was asked if I would judge the Dumfries and Galloway Canine Rescue Centre's photography competition. These were all images of much loved dogs that would form the Centre's 2017 calendar. I was also to select an image that would be used as a Christmas card. It was a great day and it was a pleasure to look at all the photographs of these well loved family pets.
I had been asked previously if I would also take a photograph that could be used in another Christmas card for the Centre. Having given the matter some thought beforehand I went prepared to photograph one of the Centre's dogs at an old style window - the type of window that I knew the centre had. To my horror, when I arrived I noticed that the centre had replaced all of its old, traditional-style windows with modern ones. Undaunted, the centre agreed to bring a dog over to my home the next day where I had an outbuilding with the type of window that I wanted to use. I went home and as I planned the shoot I suddenly remembered that a friend of mine had a Santa Claus outfit that I persuaded my wife to wear.
The following day 'Misty' duly arrived complete with handler and my wife donned her Santa outfit. It was June and the hottest day of the year! Working with animals is never easy and although Misty was a lovely dog it was difficult to get her to pose just the way I wanted. I wanted to create a sense of anticipation and excitement on the part of the dog but also with a glance to the viewer in order to draw them into the story. The sun beat down and my wife sweltered. We took a few breaks but eventually I got a shot that I was happy with.
It has now been turned into a Christmas card to raise funds for Dumfries and Galloway Canine Rescue Centre. If you want to support this very worthwhile cause then the calendars and cards are available for sale from any of the Rescue Centre's outlets across Dumfries and Galloway or by contacting the Centre direct.
This is a scan of the finished card.
Misty and Santa
In stark contrast to my Christmas card shoot in the height of the summer, the second effort at working with animals took place on a cold winter night at the end of October. Not only was it cold but it was also wet and windy. On this occasion I was asked if I would shoot a Christmas scene with 'modern' shepherds, a 'modern' angel and a flock of sheep. If that wasn't challenging enough it had to be shot in the dark. It was to be used by a local church for a Christmas leaflet outlining their services over the Christmas period.
Thanks to the local church a volunteer angel - who was appropriately called Angela - was found and thanks to the help of Annandale Young Farmers a farm with two young willing farmers was soon located. A third young farmer who was a genius with a sheepdog and a flock of sheep was also located. Conscious that I didn't want people hanging about in the cold any longer than necessary I went to the location in advance to decide where we were going to take the photograph and how we were going to light it.
The farmers were fantastic and after discussion two large tractors with floodlights were brought into the field. Bales of hay were positioned and after various test shots the sheepdog was put into action. I needed the sheep to be positioned in one specific spot in the background - between the angel and the shepherds. I also wanted them to be facing the action so that they became witnesses of the drama. It was a dream to see the shepherd and his sheepdog work their magic in the black of night. Bearing in mind that the rest of the field was in darkness the sheep had to be located, rounded up and driven into position. The whole exercise only took a few minutes. Somewhere behind these sheep in the darkness is a dog and off camera are various umbrellas and warm coats. Everyone was terrific and it really didn't take that long to get the shot I wanted.
The finished photograph was given to the Church's graphic designer who added the stars and the angel's scarf before forwarding to the printers. Below is the finished cover of the leaflet.
An Angel visits Shepherds tending their Flock.
Two entirely different Christmas shoots with different themes and each providing a unique challenge.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL