Monday, 27 February 2017

Holly Burns - "Small, Fearless"

A very interesting and exciting opportunity unexpectedly arose through a simple request from my 7 year old son. During the opening night of Galloway Photographic Collective's November exhibition at Shambellie House, New Abbey, he asked me the question: "Mummy, why are there never any photos of me at your shows. Can I be in the next one?'

I was hesitant to say the least. My work tends to be very emotional and is an outward expression often dictated by my inner thoughts and experiences. Much of my work was created princibly for therapeutic benefit and I wasn't sure how I could integrate my son into this. As a brave hearted 7 year old full of innocence and little awareness of the big bad world, the only thing that I felt could possibly make him vulnerable was his small size.

I soon realised that the concept for an image based on him was staring me right in the face - I would create something that showed strength, rather than weakness, despite his small frame. The challenge for me was how to convey this concept of youthful strength within an image that suitably fits with my other work, as he wanted to be in the exhibition after all.

Just days later my friend told me he had come into possession of a taxidermy bear, not something that you often come across, and he immediately thought of me. I, in turn, saw my opportunity and swiftly captured those necessary shots of the bear. What better way to emphasise the small frame of a 7 year old than to place him in a position of authority next to this huge and wonderfully powerful animal. I wanted to show no matter how big and scary the opposition was, he could tackle it through his sheer bravery. In the GIF below, you can see the images that were collected and how I constructed them together to create the finished piece.

(refresh the page to see it again)

The work was completed and became apart of the collection for the current exhibition running at the Whitehouse Gallery, Kirkcudbright. Seeing his picture presented 4 feet squared on the wall has made him a very happy boy! Funnily enough, he was more comfortable in the limelight than I and was very open to discussing his modelling with visitors! Since then, he has also enjoyed seeing the image in print thanks to D&G life magazine.

On a personal level, nothing makes me happier than making my little one happy so I shall consider this image to be a success! On a professional level, this experience has opened my eyes to the idea of working in a manner that I wasn't very familiar with. I've realised that adapting my methods of working offer new opportunities to create and on this occasion it has proved very rewarding. As photographers we should always be open to considering taking different paths, be that on a conceptual or technical level. The outcomes of these endeavours can be very successful.

Holly Burns

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Kim Ayres - Café Largo

Café Largo are a fun-loving band with a latin-jazzy feel, who were looking for a strong 'Signature Photo' for promotional purposes, last winter.

Ideas were bounced back and forth and the one that grabbed my attention and enthusiasm the most involved shooting a scene on the beach, with a slight nod towards Jack Vettriano.

Of course outdoor shots are notoriously difficult to set up in Scotland, especially in Winter, and even more so because of the sheer number of wild, wet and stormy days we'd been having on the run up to the shoot. So looking for a dry day when everyone would be available had me fearful it could be May the following year before we'd be able to go ahead.

However, we provisionally set a date in early December and amazingly, in a week full of even wilder, wetter and stormier weather than usual, it turned out to be the only dry day.

We set off for a small beach at Mossyard, near Gatehouse of Fleet, which we had to ourselves for the morning, apart from one woman walking her dog who hurried past and didn't ask what we were up to.

Although it wasn't raining, it wasn't sunny and it wasn't particularly warm either, so I did all the test shots with everyone still wrapped up in coats and scarves, and it was only when I was pretty sure of my composition and lighting set up did we move everything into place and do the actual shoot.

Click on the image for a larger version

Liz, the wife of Alex - the waiter in the photo - very kindly shot some video for me using my old camera, capturing the process of putting the photo shoot together. I edited it down to 2 minute video, overlaid with "La Bamba" performed by Café Largo themselves. It's quite fun and really does give a good sense of the experience of the photo shoot.

Kim Ayres

Monday, 13 February 2017

Tom Langlands- Out of the Flying Pan...

It's always good to try different things and go for new challenges. Panning is a technique that I use from time to time along with other methods of Intentional Camera Movement. With Icelandic whooper swans being in the area at this time of year I decided to spend some time working on in-flight panning shots of these birds. It was a project that was to last for three or four days.

As a regular visitor to the reserve at WWT Caerlaverock - where I run photography workshops - I was familiar with the best locations to find the birds and also had the knowledge of when and where they would fly. I also have the advantage of having studied their behaviour over many years so can predict with relative ease when they are about to lift-off. That takes a lot of the guesswork and difficulty out of this kind of photography.

However, it doesn't make taking the photographs any easier. For this type of work I normally prefer to use a sturdy tripod with a gimbal head. For those not familiar with gimbal heads they enable the camera to be fixed to the tripod with a head that, once adjusted correctly, enables fluid movement of the camera in any direction. It is perfect for following birds in flight. Unfortunately, on this occasion the hide I wanted to use and the angles that the birds would fly at precluded the use of this invaluable piece of kit. So, the first challenge was that photographs would have to be taken hand-held.

For the technically minded I have experimented over the years with different shutter speeds and lenses and have worked out that my best success rate with panning shots of these birds is achieved with a hand held 300mm lens and a shutter speed of 1/40 second. For that reason I always take these shots with my camera set in shutter priority mode. Panning requires that the camera tracks the bird at exactly the same speed as the bird in flight. If I achieve that then the head of the bird will generally be sharp while I will get a sense of movement both against the background and also in the flapping wings.

However just to add to the challenge, whooper swans - and other long necked birds - don't always keep their head steady and level in flight - it will often bob up and down as they flap their wings. Experience tells me that 1/40 second at 300mm is the optimum arrangement. Also, still for the technically minded, I don't want to shoot with the aperture wide open as the depth of field can become too shallow when I'm not sure of exactly which part of the moving bird the camera focus has locked on to. Consequently I usually shoot with an aperture of around 5.6 - 6.3.

Of course, the hard bit is learning to lock onto the bird either as it takes off or in-flight and to ensure that the panning action is fluid and steady. Here's a top tip if you want to try this technique for yourself - position your body facing where you anticipate the panning sequence ending. Don't orientate yourself facing where the panning sequence starts otherwise you will get tired and in an awkward position towards the end of the pan - which is generally the position where you want to take the most shots. If you do that you will end up running the risk of increasing camera shake - not good!

All of the shots here were taken using the techniques I have just described. Swans are big but graceful birds and this technique gives them a sense of movement and gracefulness that static 'frozen' images alone can't convey.

Try it for yourself and have some fun but be warned it takes a bit of practice...

Tom Langlands

Monday, 6 February 2017

Roger Lever - Waxwing Winter

Waxwings are one of our most beautiful winter visitors. They arrive usually from Scandinavia or Russia in October on the east coast and work their way inland and south through to March.

In Dumfries and Galloway we often see them between November to January and in flocks of 20-50 birds, occasionally more.

They are attracted to trees with plenty of berries, usually Hawthorn, Rowans and Cotoneaster.
In December word soon got around via 'twitcher jungle news ' about a flock of birds feeding heavily on the bright yellow berries on a single ornamental Rowan tree near Heathhall.

When I arrived early that frosty morning there were nearly as many photographers as waxwings. The waxwings had a sort of routine whereby they would arrive in a big flock, perch on a nearby tree and then visit the berry clusters in ones and two's before taking off en mass across Heathhall I assume to another tree full of berries. They would then return some 15-20 minutes later. Just what the signals were passing between the birds I don't know but there was a definite coordinated response. They appeared to ignore our collection of green clad birders with big lenses attached to tripods pointing skyward into their 20ft tree at the side of the road.

This was my first ever real chance at getting a half decent image of one of these wonderful little birds. As luck would have it I did have my camera with me that day.

I joined the crowd and hoisted my long lens. One hour later I was happily driving home with a bunch of images I couldn’t wait to look at on my computer.

Needless to say there would have been thousands of photos taken during the period it took the birds to strip the tree bare of its berries which I guess would have been about 1 week. The weather conditions couldn’t have been better with early frosts and a bright blue cloudless sky. I was happy with my results but there must have been many outstanding images taken that week.

Roger Lever
Lever Photography