Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Robyn Stapleton - Fickle Fortune

Robyn Stapleton is an extraordinarily talented singer of traditional Scots and Irish songs.

Last year she won BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year and next month has her debut album, Fickle Fortune, coming out.

I met Robyn last autumn when took part in the photography I was doing for the MacMath project. Then a couple of months ago I received a phone call from her.

She had completed recording her album but didn't feel she had the right photo for the cover and wondered if I might be able to help.

Initially we talked about a narrative image, perhaps taking inspiration from one of the songs on the album - skipping barefoot through the heather had obvious appeal, but we were at the wrong time of year to make that happen.

We discussed the style of the music and the audience she was hoping to attract, which included keeping one eye on the international market (about 5 million people live in Scotland, but there are about 40 million people who live outwith Scotland who call themselves Scottish, or of Scottish descent).

Robyn has been blessed with striking Celtic looks - pale skin, blue eyes and wonderful curly red hair. In terms of branding for the music she sings, it doesn't get much better - so the more I thought about it, the more a close up headshot seemed to be the way to go. A simple, yet striking portrait.

These things are never as quick and easy as many people think they are, and the shoot took 2 or 3 hours as we played with lighting and expressions - although quite early on we realised a particular lighting style gave a painterly quality we liked. Far more time than the photo shoot was then taken in the editing afterwards as I played with subtle shifts in light, shadow and tone to enhance the effect we were after.

Robyn Stapleton by Kim Ayres

To say I'm pleased with it would be an understatement - it captures everything I set out for, and then some. Fortunately Robyn is delighted with it too.

The official release will be next month, but I received my copy last week.

It's always a little bit odd, to see something I've created on a physical album cover, rather than in the back of the camera or on a computer screen. After it leaves my hands and is sent to the graphic designer, more adjustments are made to the image for style and practical considerations before sending it to print, so it's never identical. But I'm thrilled to see it has worked out so well and has the impact we were seeking.

Fickle Fortune by Robyn Stapleton

I'm also delighted to tell you it sounds amazing too.

For more about Robyn Stapleton, here are her web and Facebook addresses:


Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Return to the Red Kite Feeding Station

The grandchildren are staying with us this week, so I took the boys to the Red Kite Feeding Station, which is only a few miles from here.

Despite, or perhaps because of, all the frustrations trying to get a vaguely decent photo last year (see Photographing Red Kites), I took my camera along with me again, determined to have another go.

As before, the sheer number flying about, and the speed with which they moved, meant I was initially overwhelmed with staring at a mass of gliding and swooping birds.

Stay still, dammit!

It didn't help much either that the guy standing next to me had a lens on his camera the size of a small bus, which felt more than a little intimidating. Additionally he had it set on high-speed burst, which meant eveytime he clicked, it was like a rapid-fire machine gun going off.

Which was kind of necessary.

By the time you've lined up the camera and pressed the shutter release the birds have moved, so the best tactic appears to be - make your best guess anticipating, and then take several thousand shots at once while hoping one of them will work.

Last year I took about 350 photos and was satisfied with only one of them.

This time I took about 240 and felt that about 5 weren't too bad. I would have taken more, but then I remembered I was supposed to be looking after 2 young lads under 10, so I put the camera away and we went for a hot chocolate.

At this rate, give it another 746 years and I might start feeling I've got the hang of it...

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


"It's huntigowk today"


"Aye, huntigowk"

"What on earth is huntigowk?"

"You don't know what huntigowk is?"

I continue with my blank stare

"I can't believe we've been together for 24 years and you don't know what huntigowk is. It's April Fool's Day. When you catch someone out you shout 'huntigowk!' It's an old Scots' word."

"I think you're making it up. This is an April Fool's joke isn't it? You're waiting for me to believe you and they you're going to shout 'April Fool' at me."

"Pfft... go and look it up"

So I turned to my Scots Dictionary - bought for me by my wife many years ago precisely because of the number of times I accused her of making up words.

It wasn't in there!

However, before getting too smug, I thought I'd better check the Internet, and sure enough there are plenty of references. It appears I was wrong once again.

I wonder if there's a word for people who think they've outwitted an April Fool when none was being played on them?

While hunting the word in my Scots Dictionary, I did come across 'hochmagandy' though. I asked Maggie if she knew what that meant and she blushed.

You can look that one up yourself.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Photographing Jessica Florence Jewellery at In House Chocolates

I was approached by Paula Gibson to do some photography for her jewellery business, Jessica Florence, but it wasn't direct product photography she was after.

Up until now, her photography has been focused purely on the handmade bracelets, rings, earrings and necklaces she creates, however she's reached a point where she wants to take it up to the next level and put it into a lifestyle context.

So over several weeks we used Pinterest to create a mood board to develop the look and feel of the kind of images she was after, and eventually decided a model in a cafe would be a good idea. Hands holding an espresso cup or latte glass with bracelets on wrists seemed to express the right feel.

Concept at the ready, we now needed a place with the right atmosphere, but despite bouncing suggestions back and forth we struggled to think of anywhere that fitted the vision.

Until I suggested my favourite haunt, In House Chocolates - which does the finest hot chocolate in 100 miles - and has a wonderful decor with an old stone wall on one side and wood panelling painted a luxurious deep red on the others. Not to mention it smells divine...

Obviously it would have been tricky to to a full photo shoot while the place was open but owner, Gillian, very kindly allowed us to use the place on a Sunday. She even made us all a hot chocolate just before we began!

Paula brought along Leigh to model the jewellery, and her daughter, Holly, to assist and to do a wee bit of modelling too.

Holly, Paula and Leigh

Over the next couple of hours we shot various combinations of clothes, jewellery and coffee types, periodically stopping to gesture to people through the locked front door that the place was actually closed and they couldn't come in to buy any handmade chocolates. By their expressions, some people clearly thought we were being greedy by locking them out and were just going to eat all the chocolates ourselves.

Not to say we weren't seriously tempted...

Many thanks for Gillian for her extraordinary generosity and hospitality. Do make sure In House Chocolates is on your "must visit" list if you haven't been there already.

Of course if you have been there, you already know you'll be looking for any excuse to return.

Here are a couple of shots from the shoot:

And a bonus pic taken by Paula while I was photographing Holly.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Photographing the Solar Eclipse

Although it wasn't going to be a total eclipse in this corner of Scotland, there was going to be something in the region of 90%. And I wanted to have a go at photographing it.

Knowing it can be dodgy to point my camera directly at the sun, I figured I needed an ND filter, which reduces the amount of light entering the lens. My friend, landscape photographer, Allan Wright, came to my rescue and supplied me with a couple.

However, all the weather forecasts were predicting heavy cloud cover for Castle Douglas and it was looking like there wasn't going to be the slightest hope of seeing it.

When I woke up this morning, the sun was streaming through the curtains and I got all excited - the weather forecasts had got it wrong!

Except, that an hour later, thick cloud covered the skies.

I decided to head out into the garden with my camera on a tripod, just in case, with the ND filters attached to the lens. And as I looked up, suddenly I saw it through a patch of thinning cloud.

I took a quick photo, but it was way too dark. With all the cloud cover, there now wasn't enough light hitting the sensor. I had to increase the ISO, open the aperture wide and although I got an image, it wasn't inspiring.

I realised I needed the eclipse to be next to something - to give it some kind of context, so I moved the camera and tripod back towards the house until the chimneys were in the picture. I took a bit more time to play with the settings and as the clouds moved across the scene - sometimes blocking it completely, but sometimes allowing it to show through - I felt I was on to something

But then I noticed a couple of crows periodically flying onto the chimneys and spent the next 10 minutes frantically clicking, while they mostly moved behind the stacks and flew off moments before I took the shot.

However, in among the 107 photos I took this morning, there are a couple I am really pleased with.

Which is just as well, because apparenly I'll be 124 years old before I'll get another chance to try again in Scotland...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Photos, music and video from The Cracked Man EP Launch

Our EP launch for The Cracked Man at the Gordon House Hotel last Friday was a great success. Marcus and I felt it was our best performance to date, while the support slots from both Alan McClure and Blue were wonderfully enjoyable. The crowd was with us all the way.

A superb night all around and greatly enjoyed by all who came along.

Immediately below you can listen to the 3 tracks from our EP. You can even buy them to download if you wish - just click on the relevant bit (please note, although it says "buy album", you're only able to buy the tracks individually).

Under that you will find a selection a photos from Pete Robinson of PR Imaging. I did take my camera along, but in the end it stayed in its case. I toyed with the idea of getting it out, but decided that evening I would just enjoy being a musician instead, and leave to Pete the responsibility of trying to make us look cool.

And at the bottom of this post you will find a video Pete made of a song we played that's not on the EP - The West.

It's a full on Cracked Man indulgence fest...

Alan McClure


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Waiting for a parcel

Lee is currently making delivery number 1, you are delivery number 62.
Lee is approximately 6 hours 15 minutes away from you.

Lee is currently making delivery number 41, you are delivery number 62.
Lee is approximately 1 hour 15 minutes away from you.

Lee is currently making delivery number 59, you are delivery number 62.
Lee is approximately 15 minutes away from you.

At least the days when you had to wait in all day when expecting a delivery are slowly disappearing. More and more couriers now have parcel tracking enabled. And in the case of Interlink Express, they tell you the driver's name and you can follow him on Google Maps.

I've been waiting for the parcel containing 300 CDs of the new EP by The Cracked Man to turn up.

It's been a nerve-wracking experience as it's only 2 days until the EP Launch (at The Gordon House Hotel in Kirkcudbright, if you can make it along).

When we booked the venue and announced the launch to the world I thought I would have at least 2 weeks leeway for the CDs to arrive, but somehow more and more of that leeway was getting used up. At this point, if anything had gone wrong, there would be no chance to correct it, and we would be having our EP launch without the EP...

Fortunately Discwizards - and Lee - pulled through and the artwork looks good and the CDs play in the CD player.

Huge sigh of relief.

I do wonder though, what degree of detail is available to the parcel tracking system?

Lee is currently calling in on Mrs Smith with whom he is having an affair.
Lee will be delayed by approximately 17 minutes.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Do you still love me despite my...

I'm afraid it's another visit to the archives this week - this time from May 2007. Normal (whatever that is) service will hopefully be resumed next week.


“Do you still love me despite my […insert perceived undesirable body part(s)…]?”

“What’s that, oh love of my life?”

“How can you still love me with my […insert perceived undesirable body part(s)…]?”

Actually I heard her the first time, but was attempting to give myself time to think. An array of possible strategies need to be formulated, considered, worked through and accepted or rejected before replying. And all within a fraction of a second.

Any delay in answering is going to be taken to confirm that the […insert body part(s)…] is/are* […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…] and therefore you no longer love her, indeed have probably never loved her and your entire 24 years of relationship have been nothing more than an empty sham.

Of course a straightforward answer is completely out of the question. Consider:

“No, I…” You won’t get any further with this line of thought because your genitals will have been removed in a sudden and violent reaction.


“Yes, I still love you…” will only elicit the response:

“Oh, so my […insert body part(s)…] is/are* […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…]!” resulting in an angry and/or* insecure partner on your hands.

“What’s wrong with your […insert body part(s)…]?” might give you a few moments extra thinking time, but is a delaying tactic only. After the […insert body part(s)…] has/have* had its/their* […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…] reiterated and exaggerated further, you will still be expected to announce your verdict.

“I love you BECAUSE of your […insert perceived undesirable body part(s)…]” is a dangerous route to take unless you are particularly adept at verbal gymnastics. It is not recommended for the amateur, or for certain times of the month.

Feigning a sudden migraine/cramps/heart attack* is an emergency response and can only ever be used once in your relationship. If you used it up in your first year together, any attempt to repeat the tactic, even if it is 24 years later, will be met with cold suspicion, even if you are genuinely suffering a sudden migraine/cramps/heart attack*.

“Oh for goodness sake, woman. Haven’t you realised yet that after 24 years together I love you for being you? Your body is a part of who you are, no matter what size, shape or quality it has.” On the face of it, this appears to be quite a good answer, but don’t be fooled: your astute partner will still pick up on the fact that you didn’t actually deny that her […insert body part(s)…] does/do* have […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…].

So what possible answer can you give to such a question other than diving out of the nearest window and running up the road as fast as you can, making sure you never look back?

My tried, tested and patent pending response to this most destructive of apparently casual questions, is “Do you know why your […insert body part(s)…] is/are* so special to me?” and then proceed to relate a memory of a shared event or experience, where the […insert body part(s)…] took centre stage. Then again, this should probably only be attempted after at least 10 years of being together, by which time you should have built up a backlog of such incidences.

This morning, however, I discovered one more answer, which seemed to get me off the hook:

“Ha! That gives me an idea for an excellent blog entry!”

*delete as appropriate