Monday, 31 July 2017

Kim Ayres - Butlers, Castles and Tea on the Lawn

Simeon Rosset is a freelance butler - the real kind, not the strippergram, although he says he periodically gets enquiries about it. He served his time as head butler at Leeds Castle and now hires out his services for events such as exclusive gatherings, weddings, and shooting parties, and can be found butlering anywhere from Scottish castles to European palaces to Super yachts.

Our paths crossed when he was looking for a photographer for a particular event, and although I was unable to help him on that occasion, we subsequently met up for morning coffee, which merged into lunch. What was going to be a general introduction to each other turned into a few hours of questions, storytelling and idea swapping. It wasn't long before we started talking about creating a butler-in-action shot.

And so last summer later I found myself out at Craufurdland Castle near Kilmarnock.

Although this castle was built in the 18th century, the land has been in the family for nearly 800 years. The current descendants/owners/custodians are Simon and Adity Houison Craufurd and their two daughters, Indra and Manisha.

We decided to do the shoot in the library, as a wall full of books would make a timeless backdrop. Many of those tomes dated back hundreds of years.

Simeon also runs a Butler School service, training potential butlers to the high standards required. On this day he was completing the training of Alistair, which gave us a 2nd butler to include in the shots.

The shoot went well. Everyone adopted their roles and got into the part, and it wasn't long before I managed to get a couple of photos I was really pleased with.

Don't be fooled into thinking this was a well behaved dog. This was the only shot where he sat still for a moment. Every other shot had him rolling on his back, nuzzling the girls dresses, clambering under the table, until eventually he had to be put out of the room.

And what better way to end the day than butler-served tea on the lawn?

Kim Ayres

Monday, 24 July 2017

Roger Lever - Revisiting past experiences

I came face-to-face with Maasai warriors on a fundraising charity trek through the African wilderness.

The ancient tribe were our guides as myself and 26 other trekkers hiked through the Rift Valley in Tanzania, raising more than £50,000 in total to help fight poverty in the developing world.

Over 5 days we trekked approximately 90km (or 101,003 steps, according to our pedometer), camped near the tribe’s villages and visited an Action Aid project that works with people living with HIV and Aids.

My diary (Part One)

I gazed with a sinking feeling in my stomach at the growing pile of things I had to take. My eyes then moved down from the bed, on which my kit was strewn, to the smallish looking rucksack waiting to be packed. My son, conveniently dismissing the fact that his old man was about to undertake an unforgettable trek into the African bush, had nabbed the bigger rucksack the week before.

The kit didn’t fit. My wife, and packing expert, Judy had earlier sneaked off to bed, leaving me alone to deal with my packing dilemma. I tried again. And again. By ten past midnight I finally fastened the straps and fell into bed with my alarm set for 5.30 am.

When the clock rang it felt like I had only been asleep for about 5 minutes. It was time to leave the comforts of our old home in Dumfries and Galloway and head first to London and then on to Africa.

By 2pm I had arrived at Heathrow airport. Clad in a mandatory bright red ActionAid T-shirt and feeling somewhat conspicuous, I sat myself down in a little corner of one of the airport cafeterias and started tucking into a burger, chips and pint of Heineken.

I thought of Africa where I know so many people are struggling to find the most basic food. The big burger, such an easily identified symbol of our fast track consumer society, suddenly didn’t taste so good. I met my fellow trekkers at Terminal 4. It was like a bunch of primary children. Twenty-six of us gathered together, some a little nervous, some a little shy but very quickly we were all chatting away.

All of us, hailing from the length and breadth of this easy land, had spent the last year fundraising for ActionAid in exchange for sharing in the privilege of following in 'The Footsteps of the Maasai'.

The eight-hour flight passed quickly as we ate slept and chatted to our fellow passengers. I was lucky enough to get a lesson in Swahili. As we approached JK airport Nairobi it was not yet daylight and the horizon started to change colour through yellow, orange and crimson.

We barely had time to settle in our hotel before we were bused to the Kenwa (Kenya Network of Women with Aids) offices in Pangani, and then on to Kiandutu slum on the outskirts of Nairobi.

We arrived in the dusty village still weary and still registering a certain disbelief that we were actually here – all the months of preparation, fundraising and packing were over.

But a colourful all singing, all dancing throng of locals waiting to welcome us instantly knocked us out of our restful weariness.

Everyone who could be there was there. There were women, little children and youth groups and before we knew it we found ourselves in the thick of it all. Our little group of kaki clad backsides, doing our best to keep up with our African hosts and shake off the inhibitions of our western culture.

Their warmth and brightness was incredible. It was an unforgettable experience.

We were then led slowly through the village, which consisted of an array of makeshift homes built from anything that was available such as sacking material or corrugated iron.

Tiny brown hands found ours and held them tightly as they trotted along by our sides. Now and again they would look up and smile trustingly, eager to show us around.

These endearing children were mostly orphans whose parents had died from Aids and many were themselves HIV positive. But just like kids anywhere, they were bright-eyed, bubbly, full of mischief and very excited by this strange old bunch of red t-shirt people.

Some pushed themselves forward to be photographed. Others however stood back and watched us from a distance often holding a smaller child close to them. Their dark un-laughing eyes conveyed a deep unknown sorrow or pain. Holding their gaze, for what must only have been seconds, left me with a sense of heaviness, which will never leave me.

In the village we were able to see for ourselves the work of the ActionAid-funded drop-in centre which included facilities for washing, disinfection, weaving, food supply and pain relief for those living with HIV and Aids.

The very sick were cared for within the community. Often they had to share a makeshift bunk bed. Too weak to move they would lie there, uncomplaining as they awaited their untimely death. A few of us were allowed the privilege of meeting these quietly courageous people. With no language between us they just smiled with us and offered their hand in trust and friendship.

Taking photographs in this situation I felt would not be appropriate so I preserve the feelings and images I experienced at that time in my heart and brain. One young woman lay with her baby safely cradled in her arms. We left quietly, allowing their care to continue unobserved.

Before we left the village, our ActionAid rep, Helen, handed over our gift of a food parcel consisting of sacks of rice, maize flour, sugar, lentils and cooking fat. A small contribution that was received with gentle gratitude.

Our visit over, we piled into our bus feeling overwhelmed by the mix of brightness and fun and the deep sadness, which had drawn all these people together. We were driven back to our hotel, back to our world of comfort and plenty.

Part 2 to follow in 6 weeks.

Roger Lever

Monday, 17 July 2017

Tom Langlands - Getting Down and Dirty

Emerald Damselfly

While there has been a fair bit of rain over the summer months it actually has not been that bad and temperatures have generally been warm. That means it's been good for the insects and bugs that frequent the edges of ponds and streams. That, in turn makes for good macro subject matter for the wildlife photographer.

Banded Demoiselle - female

Many people assume that a decent camera and a good macro lens is all that you need for this type of photography but the reality is a little bit harder than that. Because, you also needs oodles of patience and good fieldcraft skills. Many of the insects that I like to photograph have amazing eyesight and can detect movement from some distance away - usually well outside the range of where you would like to be with you macro lens.

Banded Demoiselle - male

As with many other types of wildlife photography you need to know your location, your subject matter and be very familiar with the equipment that you are going to use. Sometimes the only way to get some of these images is to lie down and get wet and dirty.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Here are a few of my favourite images taken over the last couple of months. For those interested in the technicalities of this type of photography these images were all taken with a hand-held, full-frame camera and a 100mm macro lens in natural light.

Common Darter Dragonfly

Tom Langlands

Monday, 10 July 2017

David Moses - Quick Tip to improve your photography - Work the Scene

One of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your street photography is to work the scene. You see, what most photographers do is hurriedly take one or two photographs and then move on. This can be for any number of reasons such as

1 – they are afraid of being seen

2 – they could be nervous of being confronted

3 – the photographer is afraid of missing something else

4 – don’t understand how to anticipate events

etc etc etc

So how do you work the scene?

Well, it is as easy as it sounds. You just stay where you are and take more pictures. I don’t mean literally stay where you are. I mean stay in the vicinity and concentrate on making that one very good frame. There is a very simple principle at work here, to whit, the more pictures you take, the better chance of there being a good one amongst them.

The thing with street photography is that it’s usually the small details that make the difference. You might see a glance in the other direction or a raise of the eyebrows. Perhaps you may notice a change of direction or someone walking across the frame at the right time. You could get lucky with the sun coming out from behind a cloud... you get the idea.

This advice isn’t just coming from me – it was drilled into me by studying David Alan Harvey who encourages photographers to ‘work the scene forever’.

The best way to improve your street photography?

For me, the best way to improve your street photography is to work the scene. It is really easy to do and yields the most results. If you want to learn how to ‘work the scene’ then you can join me for one of my upcoming workshops in either Glasgow, Scotland or Marrakech, Morocco. Click here – for more information.

David Moses

Monday, 3 July 2017

Jesse Beaman - Astrophotography with a Tracker

I have recently purchased an astrophotography tracker - a piece of equipment used to improve the quality of night photography images. In this blog I will describe what a tracker is, how and why it’s used, and also show my progress so far.

So, what’s a tracker? The Earth rotates on it’s axis and as a result the stars appear to move across the sky. Expose a DSLR for over 30 seconds and any stars captured will appear as ‘trails.’ This means as an astrophotographer I’m limited to approximately a 30 second exposure. To compensate for the short exposure I ramp up my ISO to 6400. This can result in very noisy images and limits the amount of detail that can be captured at night.

A tracker overcomes this limited detail issue. Below is a single, 5 minute tracked exposure at ISO 800 of 'The Great Rift' in the Milky Way near the constellation Cygnus.

Earth’s axis points almost directly at the North Star, Polaris. This is why Polaris always stays in the same spot in the sky as all the other stars appears to move. Polaris is the astrophotography trackers’ best friend. The tracker is mounted on a tripod, and here’s the key; the tracker is then manually aligned with Earth’s North celestial pole (right next to Polaris). The tracker then rotates to match Earth’s rotation. Mounting a DSLR on the rotating tracker results in the DSLR tracking any part of the sky it is pointed at.

Providing I get my polar alignment right, I can expose for about 25 minutes before stars become distorted - much better than the previous 30 second limit.! This means I now have the ability to lower my ISO to around 800 and capture far more detail in the sky. In doing so I have increased something called my ‘signal to noise ratio.’ Basically my RAW image now contains more color pixels (signal) and less fuzzy, distorted, hot pixels (noise).

Another 5 minute exposure at ISO 800, this time showing the Winter constellations.

The images that compliment this blog have had a little RAW editing to increase detail, but essentially they represent what comes out of the camera. The key to tracked astrophotography is in the edit, something I have not yet experimented with. Skilled photographers capture hours worth of separate images and then stack them in the edit suite to push the signal to noise ratio as far as they can. Compare this to the 5 minute single exposures featured here and you’ll start to realise how far I have still to go!

Whilst the images here aren’t exactly finished pieces, they represent the next step in astrophotography for me. I’m looking forward to learning how to use these improved RAW files to take my work to the next level. Notice in the tracked image below that the foreground is blurred due to the tracker's rotation. This is another obstacle I'll have to overcome before producing any finished work with the tracker.

For anyone interested in trackers feel free to contact me with any questions.

Jesse Beaman