Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Spring Fling 2015 - Studio 29 on the Pink Route - Win a Photography Session

My image in the Spring Fling Brochure

There's an old saying in photography that the beginner thinks it's all about the camera; the more experienced thinks it's about technique; but the master knows it's about light.

Film Noir style is all about light and shadow

This weekend (Saturday 23rd to Monday 25th May) will be my 5th Spring Fling - the annual Open Studio event that takes place each year in Dumfries and Galloway, where over 90 artists and makers throw their doors open to the public.

In previous years I've printed up large framed versions of some of my best images and told people the stories behind their creations; I've taken photos of people smiling and staring into the camera; and I've even photographed visitors dressed up as Humphrey Bogart, complete with trench coat and trilby.

I'm Humphrey Bogart and So's my Wife

This year I've decided to do photography demonstrations throughout the weekend, showing how changing the light within a scene can dramatically alter the mood and emotion of an image.

My wee studio in the front room of our house is way too small to do this (and accommodate a stream of visitors at the same time), so I've changed my venue to a wonderful old church about 5 minutes walk down the road from where I live.

St John's used to be a fully operational Roman Catholic Church until they made the decision to sell it due to structural problems. The new owners did all the repairs and restored it, and now hire it out as a venue for anything you might want a large space for.

If at all possible, do come along and say hello.

And like last year, you can even enter a draw to win a photography session

Last year's winners decided to go for a Fred and Ginger theme

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Chasing Bluebells

It's mid May and the sun now doesn't set until 9pm, so an evening stroll in the woods reveals the most wonderful light. Low sun cutting through gaps in the trees highlighting patches of moss, unfurling ferns and budding leaves.

Beech leaf

Unfurling fern

Mr Snuffleupagus?

But now the bluebells are also out.

Ever since the camera became my primary creative outlet, at this time of year I've attempted to capture bluebells through the lens. They are one of my all-time favourite flowers, with a delightful scent that always takes me back to childhood. But taking a photo that captures that sense has continually eluded me.

This evening, however, I think I got as close as I ever have.

As always, click on the images for larger versions

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Election Shock - Redux

As the country goes to the polls tomorrow, I went back through my blog to discover what I'd written about the last election, 5 years ago.

I came across this and realised we could be in for repeat reaction...

In a massive surprise, the population woke up this morning to discover politicians had been elected to govern the UK.

People have been seen shuffling aimlessly about the streets, wearing pyjamas and dressing gowns and clutching cups of tea, with looks of shock and disbelief on their faces.

"I think we've all been duped," said Castle Douglas man, Kim Ayres. "Of course, when you think about it, we should have seen it coming. But we didn't. Politicians..." At this point he gave an involuntary shudder.

When asked who he thought we'd all been voting for, a look of stark confusion spread across his face. "I dunno really. Real people, I think. I mean, you know, people with feelings. People who care about more than just themselves. Personally I was hoping that nice woman in the post office would get in. She always gives me a warm smile and helps me work out the best way to send a parcel."

At this point our attention was drawn to the upper window as Mrs Ayres, a local mixed media and textile artist, was seen leaning out screaming, "Bastards! Politician scum!" A small cheer went up from a group of OAPS on the other side of the road.

Scenes like this are being echoed across the country as it is slowly dawning on the population of the UK that it could be years before they get another chance oust politicians once and for all.


Think carefully how you vote, folks, or we will be trapped in a never-ending cycle - doomed to repeat this scenario every 5 years for all eternity...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Solace of Cupboards

David Mark Williams is a poet, and we've been good friends since we met nearly 10 years ago, shortly after I moved to this corner of Scotland.

6 years ago, as I was beginning to develop my photography, a photo I took of him had a profound affect on the my approach to portraiture and reset the course of my career. Out went seeking rusty doorhandles, peeling paint and crocuses popping up through the snow, and in came moody portraits with texture, landscape and lots of shadows.

Don't mess with The Poet...

Over the past couple of years I've been dipping in and out of using the video capability of my camera. Although I don't see it replacing my photography any time soon, there is something quite fascinating about the moving image, while trying to keep my photographer's eye.

So it seemed appropriate that Mark (as he's known to his friends) and I should start a project together where I would film him performing his poetry to camera.

We've decided to see if we can create a handful of short films, each one different in filming style, as a way of me to develop my understanding of filming and editing, and for Mark to have a vehicle to expand the number of people exposed to his creations.

Our first venture was "The Solace of Cupboards" - about a man who finds peace away from the busy office, by standing in the stationery cupboard.

By starting with this one, it allowed me to tie in with that original photo, by filming it with a single light coming from the side, giving that feeling of nestling in the shadows.

Hope you enjoy it

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.