Tuesday, February 24, 2015

And I'm not looking forward to the journey home...

I realised today that there wasn't any chance of me writing an original blog post this week, so I thought I would take a quick dip into the archives.

With this blog being something like 9½ years old, there is a whole host of stuff either unread or long forgotten by the vast majority of my current readers.

So here for your delectation is one of my favourites from the past. Originally written in September 2006 it was composed over the course of a delayed train journey. Scribbling notes into the the pages of my Sudoku book, making observations to pass the time, became a way to save my sanity.


5.34pm: I speed-stride through Glasgow Central Station – I refuse to attempt to run as it is so long since I last tried, my body has forgotten how to coordinate my torso with my legs, so I settle for walking briskly; very briskly - and leap through the door of rear carriage with literally only a few seconds to spare. Cramped, standing room only. The engine revs, a sudden jolt and we’re away.

Part of me had known that this train never leaves the station at 5.30pm, no matter what Scot Rail’s timetable might say, but this was closer than I’d expected. In fact the train had actually arrived in Glasgow on time this morning, which threw Dave out completely. He always has to wait at least 15 minutes when meeting me off the train, so was somewhat surprised to wander into the station only 10 minutes late and find me already there, halfway through a Sudoku puzzle I’d started an hour and a half earlier, just out of Dumfries.

5.36pm: “Hello? Hello? I’m on the train. The TRAIN. Hello?” I’ve only elbowed one person in the ribs while getting out my mobile phone to let Maggie know I've caught the earlier train after all.

5.42pm: I try to fill in another number in the Sudoku grid, but the combination of heat, movement and claustrophobia mean I quickly start to feel travel sick. A flicker of disappointment crosses the face of the guy opposite me who I think had been mentally filling in the gaps before I put the puzzle book away.

5.49pm: First stop and enough people depart the train for me to flop down on to the only available space, next to a smartly dressed woman who proceeds to squeeze her body up against the window, trying to put as much distance between us as is humanly possible in a double seat only 3 feet wide. I’m self consciously aware that my earlier exertion and the crowded conditions means that I’m dripping in sweat. I feel like the odorous tramp everyone worries will sit next to them.

“And then he… he… he opened a triple pack of curried chicken sandwiches!” she will wail later. Her body shaking uncontrollably as she sobs at the memory.

“There, there,” her mother will reply soothingly, “it’s all over now…”

6.02pm: Another station and there’s now enough room for me to find a double seat of my own, but the smartly dressed woman gets off the train anyway. I wonder whether it was her stop.

6.13pm: We reach Kilmarnock; only the front two carriages are carrying on from here. It transpires that I didn’t need to shove the granny out the way nor tip up the pushchair in my haste to avoid being left in the wrong section, as the train is allowing plenty of time for the transition.

6.25pm: They really are allowing a lot of time. The rear carriages have left for Ayr.

6.35pm: The driver periodically revs the engine, teasing us, but we’re still not moving anywhere.

6.38pm: The driver announces that we will be underway as soon as a technical fault is fixed.

6.56pm: I’m getting a bit worried about the number of people using the toilet. I distinctly remember seeing a sign saying it should not be used while the train is in the station. If this goes on much longer, the rear carriage will become grounded.

7.12pm: We’re told to disembark. Out on the platform the driver is talking into his phone while making a rough headcount of the passengers. Coaches are being arranged to take us the rest of the way. The lady in the wheelchair rolls her eyes, while the woman with three children under the age of four is clearly at her wit’s end.

7.35pm: A taxi arrives for the woman in the wheelchair. She offers an old woman sitting nearby a lift. I overhear someone saying the bus will be here in half an hour.

7.41pm: An irate passenger is verbally abusing the woman at the ticket office. She hands him a Scot Rail Compensation form.

7.44pm: The woman at the ticket office looks like she’s calmed down, so I go up and give her a friendly smile; it’s not her fault the train broke down. She gives me a Scot Rail Compensation form before I can open my mouth.

It says that if my journey is delayed by half an hour then I can claim half the fare back of that leg of the journey. More than one hour and I can claim the entire amount. Whoopee. Two and a half hours stuck on a cold Kilmarnock Railway Station Platform and I might just be able to claim back £5.95.

7.50pm: Word has spread and there is now a long queue of weary passengers with nothing else to do except pick up a form and borrow a pen.

7.56pm: a young woman plonks herself next to me on a bench and lights up a cigarette. It’s over 16 years since I gave up smoking and I resent people forcing me to breathe their stinking, cancerous fumes.

7.57pm: F***, I could do with a cigarette.

7.59pm: According to the woman with three kids, the flush in the station loo isn’t working properly. I don’t think there’ll be much loo roll left either judging by the long trail of it attached to a 3-year-old running about.

8.02pm: The bus has arrived. It will have an overall longer journey time, and be less comfortable, but the next train to Dumfries isn’t for another 40 minutes and it’s getting cold. The heat and sweat from the beginning of the journey is a distant memory, unable to be recalled with any clarity. I follow the crowd out of the station.

It’s one of those Luxury Coaches with curtains at the window, a downstairs loo (not to be used while parked) and a little button you can press, next to the air vents, that apparently calls for a hostess. I can’t see anyone who looks like a hostess.

8.05pm: “Hello? Hello? I’m on the bus. The BUS. Hello?”

8.06pm: Maggie reminds me I get travel sick on buses.

8.10pm: The driver periodically revs the engine, teasing us, but we’re still not moving anywhere.

8.18pm: Apparently the driver can’t engage first gear. Everyone is getting off the bus.

8.45pm: A cheer goes up. The next train to Dumfries pulls into the station. This is the train I would have caught if I’d accepted Dave’s offer to stay to dinner instead of deciding to catch the earlier one to ensure I’d be home in time to put my children to bed.

8.50pm: The train starts moving. Another cheer goes up. A deep golden, full moon is just rising over the horizon. Only an hour to Dumfries now and a further 30 minute drive to Castle Douglas. I phone Maggie.

“Hello? Hello? I’m on the train. The TRAIN. Hello?”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Cracked Man EP Launch

12 months ago Marcus and I formed The Cracked Man

The best description I could come up with to describe our music was, "Original foot-stomping, spine-tingling, brow-twitching, cheek-spasming, tea-dunking music that will leave you breathless but deeply satisfied"

Towards the end of last year we began recording 3 tracks to make up an EP. Then Christmas and New Year got in the way. However, the artwork has now been created, the tracks have been mastered and everything has been sent off to Discwizards.com where we're getting 300 printed up.

We played around with several ideas when trying to think of a cover for the EP, and decided to go for a mix of both our heads blended into one. Originally I was going to split it straight down the middle, but after playing in Photoshop I discovered it was more interesting if it wasn't exact. So although the top half is an even split, my nose is more dominant, it's Marcus's upper lip and my beard.

That was quite fun, but then I played with aging it - sepia toning and a mold-speckled glass overlay - and then it leapt to life like some bizarre Edwardian creation. I knew we had the cover I wanted

On Friday 13th March, we're going to be officially launching the EP with an event at The Gordon House Hotel in Kirckudbright. As a wee taster of the EP, I've put together a short video of photos of us performing and about 40 second bursts of each of the 3 tracks.

On the day of the launch, if you're interested, you'll be able to buy CDs or download the tracks online. But if you're in the area, do come along to see us play live.

And if you don't live nearby, then we're open to travelling if you fancy being our manager for the country you live in.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Edge Lighting

One of the turning points in my photography was when I discovered side-lighting on faces. Lit from one side only, the landscape of the face came to life - lines, textures and depth all became exaggerated and a powerful sense of character emerged from the screen. So much more interesting than bland front-lighting.

The next great discovery for me was back-lighting. This creates a real separation from the background and makes the person or object you are photographing leap out of the photo.

A more recent discovery has been edge-lighting - a place inbetween side and back. I've been using it for years as part of the mix, but where the beauty comes is when it, and only it, is being used.

Last year I did a series of photos in collaboration with sculptor, Lucianne Lassalle, and model, Kat (Night Phoenix). It was a day spent in play and experimentation to see what might happen. Kat was progressively coated in chalks, powders, clay and even paint, by Lucianne, while I tried out different compositions, angles and lighting.

Among the 300 or so photos I took, there are a great deal of interesting, fascinating and quite beautiful images. However due to life getting in the way for all three of us, nothing has yet been done with any of the photos, although we have recently started discussing potential ways to move forward with them and ideas they have inspired.

Because of these conversations I was looking back through the images and came across a few where the lighting had "failed" - I was using two off-camera flashes and only one had fired, meaning the effect I was after didn't materialise on those shots.

But for some reason, when looking at these photos this time round I was suddenly struck by their potential. I pulled them into photoshop, converted them to black and white, then started playing with the lighting levels - gradually making the shadows and mid-tones darker and darker until they were completely black, leaving only the areas where the light had directly hit the body.

And the images that emerged made me go all goose-bumpily. I was amazed at how wonderful they looked.

I phoned Kat last night and she's delighted with them and more than happy for me to put them up online, so I knew exactly what this week's blog post was going to be. Later in the evening she sent me an email, saying:

I love the slightly abstract feel of them, the mystery to them, the capacity for the viewer to create their own story, how they are real and confront the viewer with their realness. I adore the juxtoposition of a real persons body with cellulite, sags and skin things aka "flaws" with the beautiful poses and almost serene atmosphere or otherwise energetic vibe. I like the challenging nature of that challenging society (certain mainstream media) views of what beauty or sensuality is. To think I have been a part of this :D
Deep, beautiful, emotive, challenging and abstract. We did good and you did amazing!
Definately worth an earful of clay!

As always, feel free to click on the images for larger versions

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Photography Workshop - Light, Composition and Storytelling

Storytelling is at the heart of good photography. It's not just about documenting a scene in front of us, it's about generating thoughts in the viewer that go beyond the image.

In order to be able to create storytelling images consistently, an understanding of light and composition are crucial. The content of a photo - what's actually in it - is only one aspect of an image. How that content is arranged and lit can dramatically affect its mood and emotion.

On Sunday 15th February, assisted by Lynne Atkinson of Alice Rose Portraits, I'm running a photography workshop in Castle Douglas on Light, Composition and Storytelling. This workshop is designed to teach techniques to improve the impact of your photography.

Details below, but if you would like to book a place on the course either email or phone me, or follow this link and scroll down to Week 3 - 15th Feb:

If you know of anyone else you think might be interested, please forward these details on to them

Sunday 15th February – 10am to 5pm

Kim Ayres & Lynne Atkinson

Course Description
The content of a photo is only a part of it – how that content is arranged and lit can dramatically affect the emotional impact of the image. This course is an introduction to composition, lighting and understanding storytelling when limited to only 2 dimensions and a fraction of a second.

Course outline
– Introductions to the course and each other.
– Composition techniques and understanding dynamic tension.
– Tea/coffee.
– Introduction to lighting methods.
– Break for lunch – either bring sandwiches or pop into Castle Douglas to pick some up or visit a cafe.
– Split into small groups to create a narrative photo.
– Tea/coffee.
– Review photos and discuss experiences.
– Final round up.
– option to join a Facebook group to post images from the day for feedback after you have had a chance to edit them at home.

What to bring
– lunch or money to buy some
– camera
– a basic understanding of how to use your camera, including how to adjust shutter speed and aperture
– lead to connect your camera to a computer
– An interesting prop or 2 – could be an object or an outfit – something to include in a storytelling image
– flashes/speedlights if you have them and would like to use them (optional)
– laptops are not required, but if you want to bring one that’s OK. Wifi is not available.

St John’s Church – Located at the crossroads of Cotton Street and Abercromby Road. From the A75, enter Castle Douglas and head for the town centre. At the crossroads with the clock tower turn on to the A713 to Ayr. The church is less than 100m on the right.


To book a place on the course either email or phone me, or follow this link and scroll down to Week 3 - 15th Feb:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Le Haggis at The Big Burns Supper

The Big Burns Supper is a 9 day festival in Dumfries of "music, theatre, comedy and much more".

One of the highlights is "Le Haggis" - a cabaret style show featuring all of the above. I was fortunate enough last night to get in and was able to drag my friend Allan along with me

It was a huge amount of fun - not least when Allan was pulled up onto the stage, partially undressed and beaten with bunch of roses.

I have the photos and will be teasing him mercilessly for many months to come.

This blog isn't the place for posting those photos, however, here are a selection of others I took.

If you think the guy with the big sideburns looks familiar, I photographed him several times before when he was the lead singer with The Yahs

Feel free to click on any of them for slightly larger versions, or click through to an album on my photography Facebook page for several more images from the evening.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Wedding of Ann and Dale

Dear Kim,

We just wanted to say thank you so much for making our wedding day special and as un-weddingy as we wanted it to be! We loved our photoshoot experience and really appreciated your advice and that you made it fun.

We will both remember our day forever!

Also, thanks for being our witness...

It's very rare for me to do wedding photography. The formal structure of traditional shots have very little appeal.

And then, the problem with taking photos of large groups of people you don't really know and haven't had time to build a decent relationship with, is no one wants to be in them. Everyone knows they have to happen, but most end up trying to hide behind everyone else and not be seen.

The best outcome you can hope for is an "it'll do" reaction, which for a creative photographer is pretty soul destroying.

However, every now and then, someone talks me into it.

In this case, it was Ann and Dale who were coming up to Scotland from London.

Over the past 18 months or so, they had been to several weddings, each seemingly larger, more expensive and more lavish than the last - and they ended up with an overwhelming desire just to run off and get married without telling anyone - not even their mothers. It was just going to be the 2 of them - no family, no friends, no entourage - and Gretna Green was their destination.

Gretna Green is a small town right on the Scottish-English border and, with a long history of romatic elopements, is built entirely around the wedding industry.

Here's Wikipedia's entry about why this is the case:

It has usually been assumed that Gretna's famous "runaway marriages" began in 1754 when Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act came into force in England. Under the Act, if a parent of a minor (i.e., a person under the age of 21) objected, they could prevent the marriage going ahead. The Act tightened up the requirements for marrying in England and Wales but did not apply in Scotland, where it was possible for boys to marry at 14 and girls at 12 with or without parental consent. It was, however, only in the 1770s, with the construction of a toll road passing through the hitherto obscure village of Graitney, that Gretna Green became the first easily reachable village over the Scottish border. The Old Blacksmith's Shop, built around 1712, and Gretna Hall Blacksmith's Shop became, in popular folklore at least, the focal tourist points for the marriage trade. The Old Blacksmith's opened to the public as a visitor attraction as early as 1887.

The local blacksmith and his anvil have become the lasting symbols of Gretna Green weddings. Scottish law allowed for "irregular marriages", meaning that if a declaration was made before two witnesses, almost anybody had the authority to conduct the marriage ceremony. The blacksmiths in Gretna became known as "anvil priests", culminating with Richard Rennison, who performed 5,147 ceremonies.

With 1/6th of all marriages in Scotland each year going on in such a wee town, there is a finely honed, almost conveyor-belt system in place, where various hotels offer easy tick-box options for everything from large, grand weddings down to 2 people eloping for the weekend.

Ann and Dale didn't want the standard, wedding photography packages on offer, where they would have been guided through the expected poses and postures by a photographer who had done it thousands of times before and wouldn't even remember them the following day.

So instead, Ann found me on the Internet and talked me into going to their wedding, recording the event and then doing a wee romantic photo shoot with just the 2 of them. No family, no extras, no large group photos.

And, as it turned out, with no one else in tow, I ended up being one of the official witnesses, along with a woman who worked in the adjacent shop.

Despite the dreich weather, we had a wonderful afternoon. After the ceremony we went back to their hotel for a photo shoot - individual, personal and built around them and their personalities.

I felt privileged to be a part of their day.

Wishing them both a very long and happy life together.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Demi and her boys

Demi wanted some family photos of her and her 2 boys.

The problem, she said, was her boys were not easy to photograph. One would be continually pulling faces, while the other would instantly fall into the only muddy puddle in a 20 mile radius. Formal shots seemed out of the question.

We met up for a hot chocolate and decided an afternoon on the beach would be a way to go about it. We would attempt a few family shots together on the rocks and then I would just follow them with the camera and catch them charging about, being themselves.

This required finding the right combination of availability and dry weather, which meant it was postponed several times. What had started off as a late August possibility eventually took place at the end of October. However, we were blessed with a sunny day and a deserted beach.

As expected, the boys found it near impossible to sit still in front of the camera, but it didn't really matter. Instead, the focus was on capturing personalities and interactions, which meant we ended up with a disc full of relaxed, fun and natural shots.

The beach we went to, not coincidentally, was only a few minutes drive from Cream of Galloway, so after a lot of throwing stones in the sea, clambering over rocks and attempting to fly a kite, we headed off for ice cream

However, it doesn't matter how beautiful the setting, or how skilled the photographer, in the end the family favourite was of them sticking their heads through the painted board...

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

2014 in Photographs

For the past 5 years, in early January, I've posted my favourite photos of the year before, so it seems a reasonable idea to continue the trend.

You can find previous ones here: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

There's a varied selection, so hopefully something for everyone - although I don't expect anyone to like all of them. However, I'm always interested in feedback, so if you'd care to leave a comment about which one(s) are your favourite, or any personal observations, it would be warmly appreciated.

As always, you can click on the images to see larger versions

Adam Booth - Artist Blacksmith

It stirs something quite primal being in a blacksmith's forge. The flames, the glowing metal, the sound of the hammer shaping that metal on an anvil. At the beginning of the year I was given the opportunity to photograph artist blacksmith, Adam Booth, which was not without its difficulties in terms of space and light (or rather lack of). For more on this and others taken at the same time, click through to:

The Cracked Man

Leaving the band I'd helped to create, Scruffy Buzzards, was not an easy thing to do. However, developing a new musical partnership with Marcus in The Cracked Man has more than made up for it, as we now create "Original foot-stomping, spine-tingling, brow-twitching, cheek-spasming, tea-dunking music that will leave you breathless but deeply satisfied". For more about the formation of The Cracked Man, click through to:

In Preparation

Rebecca won my Valentine's competition and after various discussions decided she liked the idea of back stage in a run down theatre. It really came to life once I got the lighting right. Rebecca guest blogged about the experience, which you can read by clicking through to:

Jupiter and its moons

The Orion Nebula

Neither of these photos will win any awards, or mean anything to anyone else, but to me, they were amazing. Taken just with my camera and a 200mm lens I captured images I couldn't make out with the naked eye. I could see Jupiter, but not its moons, and the Orion Nebula was just a tiny dot in the sky. The idea I was capturing light that left the Nebula over 1,300 years ago gave me goosebumps. For more about these photos, click through to:

Journeyman Spectacular

This is fiddle player, Claire Mann, in rehearsals with Gavin Marwick's Journeyman Spectacular - a gathering of astonishingly talented musicians based in Scotland. I photographed one of their rehearsals in the afternoon before a gig in a local (packed out) village hall. They went on to be shortlisted for Live Act of the Year in the Scots Trad Music Awards 2014. For more about this shoot, click through to:

Fantastic Mr Fox

As part of a series of photos I've done of authors as characters from literature, I photographed Polly Pullar as Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox. With face-painting, costumes, hens, rare-breed sheep and even a deer making an appearance, it was amazing fun. For more photos and stories from the shoot, click through to:

Thomas McConnell

At the Boswell Book Festival I met the young and talented, Thomas McConnell. With such a grand setting I was sure we could get an interesting photo, and I was pleased with this. For more about this and the Festival, click through to:

Amber, Daisy and Bluebell Wood

From the moment the idea was first suggested, I knew the combination of a friend's daughter on a white pony in a bluebell wood with the evening sun cutting through the fresh spring leaves would be a winner. What I wasn't expecting was the constant rain over the 2 week window where the shot might be possible. I was beginning to think the shoot might be delayed by another year. For more photos and stories from this shoot, click through to:

Cows at Sunset

Back-light is the photographer's secret weapon. You know how your uncle said you should always have the sun behind you when you take a photo? He was wrong. The best photos nearly always have a strong light source behind them. However, you do have to be extra careful when pointing any kind of lens directly at the sun - use the digital display, never the viewfinder. Precautions in place, even cows can look pretty spectacular as the sun is setting behind them. For more about back-light, click through to:

Sean Taylor

Gina and Amelia

Gatehouse Midsummer Music Festival is a regular event in my calendar. These two images feature people I've photographed before. Sean Taylor is an amazing musician who I've been delighted to watch perform several times now. My first photo shoot with him resulted in a photo he used for his following album, Love Against Death. Gina, on the other hand, was last seen on this blog dressed as Lara Croft (see my post, Tomb Raider). A year after the shoot she gave birth to her daughter, Amelia, who attends various music festivals with really stylish pink ear-defenders. For more about the Gatehouse photo shoot, click through to:

Howl's Moving Castle

The last of the authors as characters from literature shoot I did was with Joan Lennon who played the character of Sophie. Our friend, Renita, volunteered to be the scarecrow, but insisted I use Photoshop to remove her legs... For more about this shoot, click through to:

Georgia Gordon

This photo wasn't planned, wasn't set up, and was forgotten about until I was looking at all the shots on the computer the following day. It was a quick snap as we were heading over to a patch of rocks on the beach to do the main shoot with the young and talented, Georgia Gordon, but it turned out to be my favourite of the session. For more about this photo shoot, click through to:

Burning The Wickerman

The climax of The Wickerman Festival is the burning of a 40 foot high willow sculpture. Because I'm friends with the guys who create it, I'm in the fortunate position of being the only photographer allowed to be up at the base of it as it is lit. All the press and the festival goers are a good 60 metres further away. It's quite a magical moment. For more about the experience of being at the foot of The Wickerman, click through to:

First Taste of Autumn

Returning to the theme of back-light mentioned earlier, I was out in the woods, as the sun was setting - it's a wonderful time to capture some stunning images. For more about it, click through to:

Trading Journeys

I was up early in the morning to catch Alice Francis who was on a trek with a horse-drawn cart from Auchencairn to Wigtown as part of an art event called Trading Journeys. It was damp and misty, but this was my favourite photo of the bunch. For more about this and the other photos from the session, click through to:

Mrs Green's Tea Lounge

Mrs Green's Tea Lounge is a wonderful cafe in Dumfries. Mrs Green herself has a great fondness for all things retro and loves dressing up. The women who work there are of a similar mind. The lengths they all went to for this photo was wonderful, and this ended up being one of my favourite shoots of the year. For more about this shoot, plus a video of the making of, click through to:

Fred and Ginger

Winner of my Spring Fling competition, Lynn decided she wanted to do a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers style shoot with her husband. Once again, the lengths they went to to get their costumes and look right, left me in awe. It was a wonderful session. For more about it, and some extra photos, click through to:

James Ewart Racing

Horse racing isn't something I'd ever had anything to do with in my life, but an encounter with James Ewart, who runs a racehorse training facility in the Scottish Borders, led to me spending a day out there with my camera. This shot of James on Tradewinds ended up on the cover of the Business Supplement Magazine of Dumfries and Galloway Life, which were doing a feature on him. For more about photographing race horses, click through to:

The Cracked Man and his Grandchildren

At the Wickerman Festival back in the summer, I took to wearing a top hat and round glasses as part of my stage outfit for The Cracked Man. In the October break, the grandchildren came to visit for a couple of days and I discovered they loved our music, so I had to create an album-cover style image featuring them. I only have the one hat and pair of glasses, so once I had the composition worked out, we took 4 photos, swapping the hat and glasses each time, then I stitched them together in Photoshop.


I did a shoot for a project involving some of SW Scotland's finest traditional musicians (the woman with the dark hair and black top is Claire Mann, featured in the Journeyman Spectacular photo above). A square-cropped version of this will be used as the CD cover once the recordings have been done, so a huge amount of attention to detail was required. And in the end, this is a composite of about 7 different (but very similar) photos. For more about this image and the project, click through to:


My final pic(k) of the year is one I've not published on this blog before, but was taken in Dalbeattie Woods one cool, semi-misty morning. It has such a sense of serenity to it - do click on it to see it larger. If you've been reading the descriptions in this blog post, by now you should recognise the use of back-light...

I hope you've enjoyed my selection - please leave a comment below with any thoughts or observations, and let me know your favourite.

Wishing each and every one of you all the very best for 2015